Sunday, January 29, 2017

King of Fighters Retrospective Bonus Round: KOF: Maximum Impact

We’ve gone over the main King of Fighters titles in my long retrospective, but there is still some ground to cover.  The King of Fighters has had some spin-offs, the most prominent being The King of Fighters: Maximum Impact and its sequel, Maximum Impact 2 (bafflingly renamed KOF 2006 in America).  These were the first King of Fighters games to be made specifically for the PS2 and utilized full 3D characters and environments long before KOF 14.  I remember seeing advertisements in magazines and was skeptical.  It isn’t in the series colorful 2D style, the story is completely unrelated to the main games, there were no teams and there was Mortal Kombat’s not-that-well-received transition to 3D around that time.  For years I would forget the Maximum Impact games existed, but after getting my hands on them, I think they’re worth giving a fair shake.

Like I said, the story of the Maximum Impact games aren’t canon.  They star a new pair of heroes and a few new characters while the SNK veterans we know are side characters with motives of their own.
Both games take place in Southtown, that ever-important villain magnet, where a new KOF tournament is being run.  In the first game, it’s run by a local syndicate controlling Southtown called Mephistopheles (which also goes under the public name of Metatron).  Mephistopheles is run by a badass-looking gangster named Duke, who is using the tournament to challenge his enemies.

Duke rose to power by having his personally trained assassin Lien Neville kill a rival gang leader named Fate, who is said to have been greatly admired by his peers for his honor and civility.  The heroes are two brothers Fate raised as his own children: Alba and Soiree Meira.

Soiree on the left, Alba on the right.
Alba is dead set on avenging Fate by killing Duke, while Soiree is much more laid back and cares more about the fun of the fight.  In the end, Alba beats Duke in a fancy stadium under a graveyard, but Duke gets away, almost like magic.

As it turns out, Mephistopheles was only a sub-division of a much bigger, Illuminati-type organization known as Addes.  A higher-up division known as Kusiel hosts the tournament in the sequel.  There, a mysterious woman with a butterfly motif warns fighters, particularly the Meira brothers, to stay away.

What she’s attempting to get them away from is the tournament’s mandatory evil sponsor, the leader of Kusiel known as Jivatma.

For the most part, Jivatma’s goal seems to be to gather the planet’s most interesting specimens for his people to study.  These include Dr. Makishima, the inventor of Maxima’s power source, Kyo, who can shoot flames, and the Meira brothers, both of whom Jivatma and Luise seem to know by other names.
Without going into too much detail, the best way to describe Jivatma is

Seriously.  That’s what he is.  Joking aside, I kind of like the idea of an alien villain of mysterious origin trying to study all the weird shit in these games, and his design looks very foreign compared to the usual KOF folk.  Some people complain that he sticks out and doesn’t belong in a King of Fighters game, but I say that’s the point!  I would've done one of the KOF finale articles detailing how it ends, but the dialogue, penultimate opponents and story changes so much between characters you'll just have to play it for yourself.

Other new characters include the pop idol witch Mingon Beart, her dark sister Ninon and the deadly assassin Lien Neville.  The handful of new characters are bunched with all sorts of KOF regulars.  K’, Maxima, the Ikari Warriors, Seth and even Rock Howard join the fray.  Yes, Rock Howard, a fan favorite from Mark of the Wolves, is in both games, and he’s not the only neglected character from the main games they brought back.  Fio Germi from the Metal Slug games, Bonne Jenet even Richard Meyer are in the sequel.  You probably have no idea who Richard is because he hasn’t been playable since the original Fatal Fury!  What’s next, Hwa Jai?

He's the owner of the Pao Pao Cafe everyone goes to.
Sadly, most of the unlockable obscure characters don’t have stories outside of their unlockable prologues, but they are given some unique intros with other characters.

Every single character has one alternate outfit they can use, allegedly for second players to be visually distinguishable.  They’re designed by a man known as Falcoon, an SNK artist who also did the character artwork for KOF 2003.  Every alternate outfit looks completely different and sometimes like a completely different character.  They’re a nice little bonus that takes advantage of the game’s transition to 3D.  I don’t think enough alternate outfits in games these days take the risk in changing the appearances of their characters as much as these games do.  Multiple colors for every outfit that can make them look like other SNK characters further adds to the charm.
Can you imagine if they made players pay to get the outfits?  That would be fucking stupid and insulting!
This is Clark's.  Apparently it's based on a movie that was popular in Japan at the time.
The only thing that hurts Maximum Impact’s characters is the voice acting.  The Maximum Impact games were the first ones in the franchise to have an English voice cast and spoken dialogue for cutscenes and it’s all actors nobody has ever heard before.  To be fair, it’s not as bad as Ignition’s big fuck-up in that game we don’t talk about, but that’s not saying much.  Some of the actors do their jobs well enough, but even then translations are so direct it can lead to some awkward line readings, which can get some ironic laughs if you can take it for what it is.  The sequel has the Japanese voices as an option and I’ve heard worse, so I never took much of an issue with it, but it’s bound to make some people cringe.

How the game itself plays has a few new rules to adjust to.  There are no teams this time around.  Everyone fights one-on-one, which lets the character be in the spotlight for the story (what little there is) and makes fights go faster, if you’re fighting for best two out of 3.

The 3D fighting aspect takes a page from Tekken’s book by adding sidestepping and dial-a-combos the game calls “stylish moves”.  Much like in Tekken or DOA, stylish combos are executed with pre-determined sequences of buttons to press in quick succession.  I think they make these games more beginner-friendly.  You don’t need perfect timing to pull them off like the main series demands, but veterans can still master canceling combos into super attacks and air juggling for some sick chains.

Maximum Impact 2 expands the gameplay further with more ways to recover from being knocked down and a sort of counter maneuver called sabaki.  If you use it right before your opponent hits you, it leaves them open to a follow-up counter or evasion for one second.  If both players are particularly skilled at their timing, there can be counterattacks from a successful sabaki being countered by another sabaki until someone stops.  It reminds me of countering in Street Fighter 3, where it’s extremely useful, but difficult to pull off right.

Apart from that, it’s the same KOF we’ve always known.  The dodge rolling, knockdown attacks, and different jumps are all there.  The dev team wanted to make Maximum Impact different without losing the King of Fighters feel and I’d say they succeeded.  Everyone returning has their moves input with the same button sequences and the animations all follow how they look in the games down to the last motion.  It really feels like a 2D King of Fighters game directly translated into 3D and it’s pretty to look at.  Backgrounds look nice and have that SNK attention to detail with a few cameos thrown in if you get a good enough look.  I can’t say that much about the soundtrack though.

They seem to have wanted to go for a music style that mixed KOF’s variety hardcore music with the kind of dance-like funk of something like Tekken.  They can set the tone and get you in the mood, but they aren’t memorable melodies.  I’m glad they tried something new regardless.

You can even hear some of the KOF 94 American music in this one.

The King of Fighters Maximum Impact and Maximum Impact 2/KOF 2006 are both nice fighting games for fans and newcomers, but obviously if you were going to get one it should be the second.  With over 30 characters, refined gameplay, slightly better English voice acting, a Japanese voice option, some extra minigames and a more concrete story, it’s a much more complete package.
The first Maximum Impact does have a “special edition” that I just happened to get.  It has a special packaging containing the game and a bonus DVD made for it, but trust me, the DVD isn’t anything special.  It contains some promotional videos about the new mechanics and characters, voiceless text scrolls of every character’s prologues you can just real in the manual, some Falcoon concept art and a documentary on the game’s creation.  I wouldn’t pay extra for it, but it did make me feel nostalgic.  I really miss the days when games had promotional DVDs for the sole purpose of introduction like that.

Unfortunately, like a lot of the main series, neither Maximum Impact game has been made available for download, but if you’re a KOF fan you most likely have the PS2 for KOF 11 anyway.  It seems to be mostly ignored, but although they aren’t as good as the main series, I have a lot of fun with them.  If you’re a fighting game player and especially if you’re a King of Fighters fan, then you won’t be disappointed.  It's got the KOF look, control, love of other SNK properties, awkward translation troubles and super tough bad guys in an evil organization to fight.  What's not to like?

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