"Individually, these are all solid fighting games, particularly the first (’94) and the last (’98). Together, their flaws are much more apparent. If you like one or more of The King of Fighters games, chances are you’ll enjoy this collection – especially if you’ve been longing to have the series in high-quality handheld form."
Fighting games are a challenged breed. They’ve fought hard to survive a post-arcade world but have ultimately failed to sustain the industry-leading popularity they once had. But if you’re reading this review, one of three things must be true: (A) you’re a fan of The King of Fighters series and wonder how it runs on PSP, (B) you like the genre and wish to play every fighting game released, or (C) you wandered in by mistake.
The latter group should pick up and leave now. The King of Fighters Collection: The Orochi Saga has enough gumption to enamor the nostalgic gamer, as well as those who don’t care for the past but appreciate a higher class of game development. However, it will not, under any circumstance, convince non-believers (those troubled souls who never liked the fighting genre) that this is a valuable way to spend their time – and thirty dollars.
The Orochi Saga comes with five titles from The King of Fighters series (’94, ’95, ’96, ’97 and ’98). Each game is displayed in old-school form: the graphics, character selection screen and viewing aspect ratio are exactly the same. This means that the PSP’s lovely widescreen – which presents games and movies in the 16:9 aspect ratio most TV shows and many movies have adopted – is not utilized. Instead, the games are presented in their original 4:3 aspect ratio, which looks very good on the PSP’s ultra-crisp screen but forced the developers to create a reverse-letterbox effect, placing thick black rectangles on the left and right sides of the screen.
This may seem a bit disappointing at first (shouldn’t all PSP games fill out the screen?) but is hardly noticeable once you start playing. With 24 playable characters divided evenly among eight different countries (Italy, China, Japan, USA, Korea, Brazil, England and Mexico, all of which feature a specific character set), The King of Fighters ’94 is a memorable – though extremely dated – addition. The short move list and lack of a true combo system may be depressing to younger fighting fans but should come as no surprise to gamers old enough to remember that in 1994, combos were brand-new via the innovative Virtua Fighter (which had not yet launched in America and would not be played outside of Japan for a full year).
Regardless, The King of Fighters ’94 still offers some cool and clever moves, with Chang pulling off a ridiculously long attack that can be executed at any time with a simple rolling motion. In fact, you might mistake it for an early Mortal Kombat Brutality, which may very well be where Midway got the idea. Ralf and Clarke share a cool three-hit punch attack – its simple execution mirrors that of other fighting game moves (hold back, then push forward and punch simultaneously), so it won’t be mistaken for a combo.
There are other cool moves, such as Heidern’s crazy attack where he leaps toward his opponent, flips upside down and grabs his victim by the head and spins his own body around several times, creating a helicopter effect that does a fair amount of damage. The downside to these moves is that the majority of them are not that enticing – most could be mistaken for a bootleg copy of Street Fighter II. The same could be said for the character designs, their attire and the various backdrops you’ll encounter. Once all the moves have been mastered (which doesn’t take long, especially if you’ve played this series before), the warm feelings of nostalgia will start to wither away. For a collection, The King of Fighters ’94 absolutely had to be included. But it’s hardly the game you’ll spend the most time playing.
The King of Fighters ’95 took the sports game approach to sequels and did very little for the fighting genre in terms of progression or innovation. It does, however, introduce some new characters (such as Billy Kane, who carried a staff that could break in two for long-ranged attacks and magically snap back together as if there was a spring attached), and lets players select their own character trio, as the pre-made sets are no longer enforced.
Hot on the heels of Tekken, Mortal Kombat 3 and the growing Virtua Fighter series, it was about time for The King of Fighters to speed up its gameplay. Thus, the overall game is faster, though not so much that a casual player will notice. The same could be said for the graphics – the animations are more refined, the colors are more vivid and the health bar now has lines running through it (trivial things, essentially, that only a hardcore fighting fan will catch). Everyone will see that the character lineup has increased to 27, but with some moves rehashed and others taken away (ex: Clark has a new set to make him stand apart from Ralf), The King of Fighters ’96 may feel like more of the same – if you’ve played the previous iterations to death.
If there’s any game in the series that could be accused of going mainstream, it’s The King of Fighters ’97. This sequel offers Advanced and Extra play types (selectable via the character selection screen) that influence how the game moves and feels, including its speed and whether or not the characters can run. The developers made additional move changes but most of the previous year’s content remains intact. New backgrounds give players something different to look at. Still, this is primarily the same game all over again.
Undoubtedly, The King of Fighters ’98 is one of the most successful chapters in the series. When you play this iteration – a port of the original (not the upgraded version expected to be released on PS2 next year) – it’s easy to see why. Nearly 40 playable characters are offered, including guys like Heavy D who had not appeared in the series since ’94 and Heidern who was mysteriously absent from The King of Fighters ’96 and ’97. It’s the complete King of Fighters package with the fastest and most responsive gameplay yet (though again, the minor tweaks are not something a casual player will notice). The backgrounds and character models look fantastic and are on par with the PSone’s best 2D releases.
Individually, these are all solid fighting games, particularly the first (’94) and the last (’98). Together, their flaws are much more apparent. If you like one or more of The King of Fighters games, chances are you’ll enjoy this collection – especially if you’ve been longing to have the series in high-quality handheld form.
But before shelling out the $30 asking price, you should know that this is one of the slowest-loading fighting games released in the past several years. We’ve been spoiled by lightning-quick PlayStation 2 games, and with a hard drive packed with every console, PlayStation 3 has the potential to be even faster. So while a 10-second wait between battles may have seemed normal during the PSone era (perhaps even a blessing if you’ve played the PSone version of Mortal Kombat 3!), it is horrendously slow by today’s standards, even for a PSP game.
Freelance review by Louis Bedigian (December 08, 2008)
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