Friday, April 12, 2013

KOF Finales: 2003

King of Fighters 2003 has 2 endings: a bad one with little plot, and a good one with a lot of plot and team-specific endings.

The fork in the road comes midway through the game, when a mysterious masked figure conjures up Kusanagi from 2002 for you to face.

Esaka time.

Kusanagi (who has the same moves as the old Kyo) has one strategy: attack.  Forever.  It’s at this point the game’s hyperactive speed really starts beating you over the head, because Kusanagi is the most aggressive opponent I have ever faced in any fighting game.  He almost never uses a normal attack and opts instead to charge you with all of his special moves, pummeling you into a corner until you can get a well-timed attack in.  It’s very tricky to fight against conventionally, but his absolute recklessness can work well in a strategy.  For example, constantly using Yuri’s reflector attack with the weak punch button almost guarantees victory, because he either charges directly into it or shoots a fire spark that bounces back at him.  He never learns.  So long as he is attacking every time he gets the chance to, he's happy.

How you beat Kusanagi determines your ending.  Once you beat a few more opponents after your fight with him, the masked figure appears and congratulates you for winning the KOF tournament.  However, she says she wishes to see whether or not you are the chosen one (whatever that is), and sends you to one of two tests that determine the ending.

I’ll first cover the bad ending, which you get if you finish off Kusanagi with a normal attack or special attack.

I already don't like where this is headed.

The masked figure teleports you inside a giant flying aircraft called the Sky Noah, where your team is greeted by Rose Bernstein, daughter of the late Rugal Bernstein.  Even while he’s dead you cannot escape the big R!

It’s established in the other ending that the masked figure is the 2003 tournament’s sponsor, but in the comic, it’s the Bernstein family.  I like to think it’s both.
Heidern has an excuse for not catching the massive airship, by the way.  The comic shows Heidern and his team all bore witness to its humongous size in the middle of a mission.  They tried to track it, but it’s both cloaked from radar and has a jamming device for trackers.  Since they didn’t have anything on hand that could follow it well enough, they lost sight of it.

You may notice that Rose doesn’t look like much of a fighter.  King of Fighters participants may sport some ridiculous outfits, but giant poofy dresses look impossible to jump around in.
Well, she isn’t a fighter.  She didn’t inherit her dad’s uber power, her brother did.

The dark framing in that screenshot may make Adelheid Bernstein look like a sinister fiend akin to his father, but he’s really not.  In fact, I’d almost go as far as to call him a good guy, or at least an anti-villain.  He’s goaded by his sister into fighting others, but he’s really a softie.  In the comic, he becomes friends with Heidern (really) and in King of Fighters 13’s story mode, he even assists Heidern, as he seems to have him on speed dial.  He and his sister are still criminals though, so he can't officially associate himself with any authorities.

But that’s getting ahead of myself.  That doesn’t happen until after 2003.  For now, Adelheid and Rose are simply fighting people brought their way for fun and possibly profit (in the comic it's for revenge against K' after the events of KOF 2002).

Dang.  I thought we could settle this over tea or something.  Why does it always have to be violence?

So you fight Adelheid on his giant flying ship while Rose plays a tune on her piano in the background, at least for a while.  Eventually the piano stops and is replaced by heavy rock accompanied by techno synth.  I guess they have a band to take over once Rose tires out.  She could definitely afford it.
Once it kicks in, the song is fittingly intense.

Adelheid is similar to his father in his moves, but significantly different in his execution.  For one, he’s a little weaker and doesn’t do as much damage, but makes up for it with impressive speed.  He uses the Repukken, but he kicks the ground instead of swiping it with his arm, and he can use the genocide cutter, but only as a super special attack after sliding along the ground (so he’s touchable).
He got his dad's reflector too, so spamming projectiles back at him doesn't work.
So, for the most part, it’s a much faster and agile Rugal in a game that was already too fast to begin with.  I hope you like losing, because you will experience a lot of it.

Save me...


But even after her brother's defeat, Rose doesn’t show any desire to give up.

Without continue bonuses, maybe.

But Adelheid is a graceful loser, and tells Rose to let your team back down to earth.

Is he talking to Rose or the player?

After that, text runs on a black screen, reading “The defeat of believers… That presages a new tale.  The prelude has begun… and then again…”

I don’t know what it means either.  It might be a translation error, but I'm pretty sure those were all but purged at this point in the series.

The credits do not play.

Well, that was a lame ending, but since it has its own boss and introduces characters that become important later on, it’s worth getting at least once.  Apparently the manual for the game after this one says that officially, the Ikari Warriors team is the one that beats Adelheid.  We all know who did all the work though.

You get the good ending if you finish off Kusanagi with a super special move or leader special move.
In that ending, rather than teleport you to the Sky Noah, the sponsor teleports your team to a mysterious underground chamber and takes off her mask.

That would be such a shock if she weren't in the opening!

Your team asks a very valid question to this revelation: Why?  Why did she sponsor the tournament again?  Why did she teleport them here, and how?  Why did she sic a crazy rampaging Kyo copy on your team?  Why did she get so much weaker after KOF '96?  These are questions she does not answer at all.  Instead, her twin sister steps up.

That's double the illusory doubles!

Believe it or not, Kagura has brought her twin sister (the one killed by Goenitz), Maki, back from the dead.  She says she did so through the Yata Mirror’s powers, just like with Kusanagi.

In the games, Kusanagi was simply created through Chizuru’s memories of the old Kyo with the mirror’s powers (according to SNK).  In KOF 2002, most people believed Kusanagi was a final Kyo clone.
The comic went with both.  Since in the comic, KOF 2002 actually happened, Kusanagi was a part of it and indeed a clone made by NESTS.  However, at the start of the 2003 comic, Kusanagi was killed by K’ in an overblown explosive fight scene.  Right after that, the comic showed Chizuru bringing the clone back to life to serve under her so that it can finish its unfinished business, apparently much like she’s doing with her sister Maki now.
There’s obviously some kind of unspoken limitation on that, of course, otherwise she’d be using it left and right like Impure World Reincarnation.

Unforgiven?  What did I do that was unforgivable?  Beat you in '96?

What follows is pain.  Lots and lots of pain.  Chizuru fights much like she did back in the Orochi Saga, but has longer-ranged attacks that do more damage coupled with the game’s usual speedy AI.  It’s much less a matter of keeping track of where she is like in ’96 because the game moves too fast for you to think about that!
Maki is even worse.  The Yata mirror must specialize in making extremely aggressive and cheap opponents, because like Kusanagi, Maki hammers you with special attack after special attack.  Unlike Kusanagi though, Maki rarely gives any kind of opening to attack, and is much more unpredictable and fast.  Chizuru is a skilled fighter, but Maki is a beast!
And you'll need to keep an eye on her, because she abuses the shit out of the dodge roll, which she seems to be able to use in rapid succession with no breaks, meaning that if she used the dodge roll at all times, she would literally be invincible!

Dodge roll to the left, dodge roll to the right.  Repeat ad nauseum.

Victory is partway reliant on luck and projectiles.  Luck in that you need to hope Maki doesn’t take the reigns too often (they share one health meter of 3 bars) and projectiles in that the Kagura twins’ reckless attack patterns tend to leave them without guard, so hitting them at a distance beats them to the punch.

It's amazing how I still have fun with these overpowered bosses.  It makes me look like a masochist, but it really does feel like a proper victory when you finally beat them, continue bonuses or not.

Plus we get a new rendition of the classic song Fairy.

After beating the Kagura sisters, the plot really begins to thicken.  After finding out there's a badass version of the Bernstein Bears and a character from over 4 games ago is hosting the tournament with a dead relative, what could they possibly pull out from under the rug next?

Finding out she was being mind-controlled the whole time.
The person who has been pulling the literal strings on Chizuru is named Botan.

Botan is a member of “Those From the Distant Land,” an immortal clan of super-beings that have existed for thousands of years.
Botan has the ability to control others by using her special puppet strings she attaches to them.
The comic explains why she can’t just mind control any one of your party members or the president or someone with more authority, by the way.  The more willpower something has, the longer it takes her to have full control.  For example, it doesn’t take long for her to control a cat, and dead bodies she can control in an instant.  Chizuru, however, was someone she had been slowly taking over long before the tournament started.  Also, the person being controlled never seems to know that they are, making it more mind mind manipulation than simply brainwashing.

But Botan can’t fight.  Not without an incredibly elaborate Kyo puppet made of a special wood like in the comic.  Her partner Mukai handles that.  He appears from the shadows and thanks your team for weakening the seal on Orochi by defeating/weakening Chizuru…. Oops.

Not to spoil anything, but I'm pretty sure that's technically not true.

Mukai explains that all they had to do was control Kagura and let the tournament unfold so that you would fight her and weaken the seal enough for them to break it.  At least, that’s my interpretation.

"And my GBA ran out of batteries.  It was boring, man."

Now that the seal is on the verge of breaking, Mukai’s job is pretty much done, but since your team doesn’t “seem to intend to quietly stand by,” Mukai takes some time out of his undoubtedly busy schedule to test your team and see if they

This really shows off the new cutscene art.

This is where you fight him.  That creepy snake chained up in the middle is the Orochi seal.

Mukai is one tough, tall customer.  See if you can find a theme in his arsenal:

He grabs you to turn you to stone for a free hit, picks rocks up off the ground and throws them, protrudes stone pillars from the top and bottom of the cave, and for his leader special attack, emits a white light that turns you to stone no matter where you are if you’re not guarding (in the comic, it’s named “Netherworld Agony”).  Like… Whoah, man.

A lot of these attacks are nigh unavoidable, and they practically make sure Mukai has something prepared for everything.  If you get too far, he’ll use his pillars or throw rocks.  If you get too close, he’ll grab you and turn you to stone.  If you just stand back and guard, waiting for the right opportunity, he’ll just run up to you and grab you; with the game being as fast as it is, you probably can’t react fast enough either, because as with other bosses, Mukai seems to pull these moves off with a button press instead of a complex command!  If he doesn't just grab you, his pillars can break your guard after just a few hits from them.

I hope you’re not too prideful to use one of the continue bonuses, because Mukai is insanely difficult without one.  He is one of the hardest, cheapest bosses in the franchise for sure.

Rock beats fire.  Don't you play Pokemon?

But as much as Mukai frustrates me, I really like him as a boss.  It may sound like a minor point, but he has great animations that show off 2003’s technological improvement.  The room of the Orochi seal room is an excellent backdrop for a boss fight to take place, and Mukai’s music is just right for the situation.

His boss theme doesn’t sound like previous, more grandiose final boss themes in The King of Fighters.  It sounds more like buildup music to the real final boss, which is what makes it so fitting.  Continuing King of Fighters’ traditions, Mukai, like Krizalid and Goenitz, is only the start of a bigger picture, and beating him is certainly not the end of the tale.

Well, it is the end for King of Fighters 2003, but you know what I mean.

Part of Mukai's character is that he's fascinated by the potential humans have, and makes it a point not to underestimate them.  Considering later revelations, it's easy to understand why.

That battle didn't count.

Their master isn't seen until 13, unless he's referring to Gaia.

That might seem like a translation gaffe, but it makes a bit more sense later on.

With that, a giant hand comes out of the wall, holding other members of Those From the Distant Land, and Mukai gets on for his getaway.

Your team, on the other hand, is teleported away.  To where depends on which team you’re using, but most of them are taken to what I believe to be the same canyon Orochi did in '97.

It might seem like a deus ex machina cop-out that Mukai can just leave out of nowhere and teleport your team away, but once again, it makes sense later on; specifically, in the very next game.

But I've only glossed over the regular ending.  For the most important and best ending in the game, you must beat Mukai using Kyo, Iori, and Chizuru, the last of whom must be found through a character select code in the arcade version.

King of Fighters 2003 introduced many new hanging plot threads and questions that would all be paid off in due time, and that is what makes it such a great way to kick off the Tales of Ash.


  1. I MUCH prefer battlign Adel then Mukai and i don't care much for the ending XD
    Reason being,that i dislike Mukai as a bass,from a design standpoint.
    Adel is much more impressive and his moves,despite being Rugal's,have an extra flare about them that make Adel even more fun to fight 8D
    TL;DR Adel over Mukai,any day B)

  2. Mukai is unique and a well thought out design, so his theme or direction as a design is so specific that also those who love and appreciate the design are bound to be in themselves specific people.