"In short, The King of Fighters '98: The Slugfest really does feel like a complete game that could have stood alone—precisely as you see it here—and even fetched a similar price. It's the reason that you might feel good about reaching for your wallet. Unless you're a history buff, unless you care to learn more about each character featured in the series and his or her evolution over the years... you won't spend much time with any but this final selection."
King of Fighters Dream Match 99 should have been SNK's triumph. Released for the most powerful home console around at the time--the Dreamcast--the slightly modified port of the previous year's King of Fighters 1998 was the most polished home conversion available and boasted gorgeous environments, brief load times and plenty of the furious action that gained the franchise its reputation as one of the finest brawls this side of Street Fighter II. It should have been the start of big things for SNK... but it wasn't.
Skip forward nine years. The SNK Playmore logo now adorns plenty of the boxes that you'll find while exploring any decent game store, but it's not even representing the same company as the one that released King of Fighters Dream Match 99. The Dreamcast hardware is a distant memory to everyone but retro collectors and Sega fans, replaced several times over by increasingly powerful consoles. As for The King of Fighters, the series is about to see its twelfth main installment and already there's talk about whether or not it'll come out on top as long-time rival Capcom plans for the imminent release of Street Fighter IV.
That's a whole lot of drama and might even seem slightly irrelevant, but it's worth knowing something: to really appreciate The King of Fighters Collection: The Orochi Saga, you need to be interested in the evolution of the series and its place within the industry. The more you care about such things, the more you'll get out of everything. Unless you have that historian's interest, most of what's here will seem redundant and unnecessary (sort of like those two adjectives).
As you may have heard, there are a total of five selections included on the one disc. The first of these is King of Fighters '94, an underwhelming entry nowadays because it doesn't feel like it would have taxed even the Super Nintendo hardware. Probably that isn't true at all and any 16-bit machine would've slowed to a crawl just rendering the large characters and their animations, but the genre and even the King of Fighters franchise have come such a long way since 1994 that it's difficult to look back with any degree of certainty. Everything feels dreadfully archaic without nostalgia or curiosity to support it.
The next option for your consideration is King of Fighters '95, which really doesn't fare much better than its predecessor. At some point there was a port to the Saturn, one that I can't imagine pushed that system's limits at all, so that should give you an idea of what to expect now. There's some furious fighting action and most of the beloved characters are here, but they all feel insanely cheap. Just surviving a round on the default settings--even the first one--can prove taxing.
Then things improve a bit. King of Fighters '96 looks better and plays smoothly than both of its predecessors. The color palettes might seem limited by today's standards and there's not much activity in the background, but it all feels more balanced than anything in the early installments and you get a sense for where the series would eventually head. From a modern gamer's perspective, this is the first installment on the disc that feels truly worthwhile.
King of Fighters '97 continues in much the same vein, enough so that it feels more like a mild refinement than a sequel (despite boasting plenty of new content). Balance is largely the same and the game's greatest strides are in the final moments as you work your way through a gauntlet of surprise opponents. Here, it's possible to see the series making efforts to separate itself from contemporaries. The dramatic showdowns have persisted--in slightly evolved form--to this day.
Finally, there's The King of Fighters '98: The Slugfest. This is the title that SNK reworked into The King of Fighters: Dream Match 1999 for the Dreamcast, and you'll find it to be at that approximate level of quality. Visually, it represents another significant leap over its predecessors, with the amount of background animations significantly increased, the on-screen indicators more streamlined, the animations more fluid, the color depth more impressive and the general presentation throughout polished to a sparkling sheen. Even some sequels such as The King of Fighters XI (an enjoyable title in its own right) don't seem to have made any great strides beyond what you'll find here.
In short, The King of Fighters '98: The Slugfest really does feel like a complete game that could have stood alone--precisely as you see it here--and even fetched a similar price. It's the reason that you might feel good about reaching for your wallet. Unless you're a history buff, unless you care to learn more about each character featured in the series and his or her evolution over the years... you won't spend much time with any but this final selection.
If that were the end of the story, it wouldn't be difficult at all to recommend The King of Fighters Collection: The Orochi Saga to fans of the franchise who are looking for a final fix on the PlayStation 2 hardware. However, there's a wrinkle and its name is The King of Fighters '98: Ultimate Match. Scheduled for release early next year, the upcoming PS2 title will retread some of the most worthwhile ground that this current compilation covers, but with enhancements that justify an individual release. This of course leaves the gamer on a budget forced to choose between one or the other. Are you more interested in the promised enhancements in that future title, or are you anxious instead to own a collection of earlier installments for easy access? It's worth contemplating.
Staff review by Jason Venter (November 15, 2008)
Jason Venter has been playing games for 30 years, since discovering the Apple IIe version of Mario Bros. in his elementary school days. Now he writes about them, here at HonestGamers and also at other sites that agree to pay him for his words.
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