The first time I had ever heard of The King of Fighters was in a magazine back around 1994. I remember it had a screenshot showing Terry Bogard from Fatal Fury facing off against Ryo Sakazaki from Art of Fighting. Crossovers in fighting games are pretty common now, but back then, it was very novel, so it seemed like a really cool idea. However, I quickly realized that it would only include characters from SNK games, and honestly, I thought that was kind of lame. After all, how could it be a true “king of fighters” if it didn’t at least include some Street Fighter characters? But I knew that having a fighting game with characters from different companies could never happen (SNK vs Capcom was several years away), so it was really nothing more than an interesting novelty for me.
Aside from King of Fighters ’95, I was largely unaware of the series until the late ’90s. When I finally had a home internet connection, I was very surprised to learn that the series was still going, and new installments were being released every year! I had to give SNK credit for following through on it.
The first game in the series I played was King of Fighters: Dream Match 1999, which was actually the Dreamcast port of KoF ’98. I read about it in the Offical Dreamcast Magazine, and I was feeling kind of nostalgic for the Neo Geo, so I gave it a rental.
I have to admit, even though a lot of people might disagree, I do not think that KoF ’98 makes a good introduction to the series. As I’ve said in a previous post, I’m not a hardcore fighting game fan, and I enjoy them as much for their presentation as for their gameplay. For someone as unfamiliar with the series as I was, KoF ’98 was just a big confusing mess of characters that I had mostly never heard of before, with no context to help me get to know them.
Still, I was kind of attracted to the series based on what I had seen and read of other installments on the internet. I really wanted to try some of the others instead, but ’98 was all I had access to at the time.
It’s kind of ironic me that even though King of Fighters is considered SNK’s flagship franchise, I’ve very rarely ever actually seen them in the arcade. I suppose they’re more common in Japan. However, the one instance where I was able to really spend a lot of time with a KoF game in the arcade was King of Fighters ’97, and to this day, it’s still my favorite one in the series. I love it’s story and atmosphere, with the TV broadcast style and ambient sound effects, but of course, some nostalgia plays a part in it, too.
The thing about KoF, however, is that they have a fairly high learning curve. Due to their team-based nature, you essentially have to learn three characters at once. It’s daunting enough for me to have to learn one character in a fighting game, but when I’m juggling three characters, I get confused. So, I tend to stick to the few characters I’m familiar with in KoF rather than jump around to different characters like I do in other fighting games.
Despite that, though, I do kind of like the customization aspect of it. Every KoF player seems to have their own custom team, so in a way, it personalizes the experience. I think that’s part of the appeal of the series.
I guess I don’t have too many interesting things to say about The King of Fighters. It’s a really fun series of fighting games, and I’ve enjoyed it a lot.
For the next article, I’ll be veering away from fighting games to discuss a different kind of slugfest…