"You could, in fact, buy the entire compilation for ‘98 alone, and not a single person would blame you. But included is five years of iconic team battling all held together by an over-branching plot that would do numerous RPGs proud, the trip back in time is indeed appreciated. "
King of Fighters is perhaps best known for being SNK’s crossover title that conglomerates its best-known figures from titles such as Art of Fighting, Fatal Fury and Ikari Warriors, but most of you probably didn’t know the series was originally meant as a side-scrolling brawler until eternal enemies Capcom spat out the definitive Final Fight. Unwilling to let go of the idea to meld all its series’ together, instead they designed King of Fighters ‘94 which would involve a slightly flawed 3 vs. 3 ‘tag’ battle scheme starring unchangeable national teams that sometimes had absolutely nothing to do with the countries they represented. Team England had a sum total of zero English combatants in its trio of bouncy-breasted beauties, but the real problem with these set squads was they could be horrifically broken; some featuring too similar a cast, leaving a team of grapplers often at the mercy of a team specialising on projectile attacks.
King of Fighters ‘95 put an end to this. Though it still featured twenty four of SNK’s biggest and brightest all-stars and they were still sorted into various teams, the national angles were abolished and a player could edit together their own trio of doom. It was also the real starting point of what would be known as the Orochi Saga. Which is convenient, seeing as this particular collection’s focus is aimed directly at it.
Ruthless businessmen, Rugal Bernstien was always openly the money and the muscle behind the KoF tournament, but was seemingly killed in the previous title. However, as tournament fighter bosses are wont to do, he re-emerges the next year sporting some particularly new demonic abilities and the admittance to sculpting the corpses of the fighters he defeats into pagan-tinted statues. It’s usually down to the team lead by King of Fighters’ exclusive hero, Kyo Kusanagi to save the day, aided by his pyrokinetic-fuelled martial arts, he’s part of a clan sworn to foil Orochi’s attempts to take over the mortal realm.
King of Fighters ‘96 was the first title to really shake things up, dropping a lot of the previous cast and entering long-time high-tier favourites like Fatal Fury‘s Geese Howard and Art of Fighting‘s Mr. Big. The power gauges that SNK had always championed were given double meaning thanks to the state of your fighter’s health bar, granting you a super special awesome boost should your power bar fill while your health bar is in the red. It also marks Rugal’s first absence from the tournament, hinting that the almost-completely cybotic Omega Rugal’s defeat in ’95 signifying his death ; the new tourney is instead sponsored by Chizuru Kagura, who seeks to bring enough strong people together to re-strengthen the weakening seal holding back Orochi. The game eclipses with the battle against Goentiz, a deceptively polite cult-ish leader commanding strong wind powers that speaks in the tones of a holy avenger, sent from the heavens to bring the blighted into a new spiritual utopia.
Come the next year, and King of Fighters ’97 makes significant changes to the game and the cast. Vanished has Geese’s villain team of himself, his half brother, Wolfgang Krauser and Mr. Big only to be replaced by a gang of underhanded henchmen such as Geese’s long-time lackey, Billy Kane, voted in by the Japanese gaming public. Original characters are brought in to form a new three-way team compromised of a trio of Orochi-followers that mimic the ever-present team of heroes, and the game itself gets it first significant overhaul in the series. Players are offered the option of the Advanced mode that builds upon ‘96‘s new gauge-building features, offering players the same super mode based up the gauge and health status, as well as the choice to use a full bar to pull off a super move or enter a brief MAX mode, where the fighter’s standard attacks are magnified. Otherwise, nostalgic battlers can use the Extra setting to revert back to the kind of system used in the ‘94-’95 editions where the gauges only fill by charging them or by successfully defending yourself against attacks.
It also marks the last real battle against the forces of Orochi, having the demonic overlord present as the end of game boss. Last year’s sponsor, Chizuru, joins the always-present girl’s team and the bosses are present mainly as warped clones of those fighting , such as a demonic version of Kyo’s newest rival, Iori, who killed two of the villainous characters off from ‘96 while in his psychotic Riot of Blood. Orochi possesses a number of combatants, but can be finally sealed once his strongest manifestation is put down.
Though this marked the end of the Orochi ark, SNK-Playmore kindly included King of Fighters ‘98 and you can all be very thankful they did. ‘98 took a break from demonic cults, overlaying plots and personal grudges to simply allow fighters to get together and kick the living crap out of each other. Characters long since dead like Omega Rugal re-debut for no other reason than to nostalgically combat, and even teams such as the American Sport’s Team, compromised of a swift boxer, a martial-arts loving basketball player and a muscle-headed NFL star, make their first (and only) appearance since they showed up right at the start of the saga in ‘94 (though a long-running series joke has them receive invites to future tourneys only to be beaten up by stronger warriors and have their invites snatched). The slaughtered Orochi followers from the last outing are available as hidden characters and even alternative builds of many fighters are included such as long-time favourites Terry and Andy Bogard being available in both King of Fighters and Real Bout: Fatal Fury modes. Iori even teams up with Mature and Vice, the pair who fell foul of his Riot of Blood possession back in ’96. Maybe this game isn’t strictly (or even remotely) a part of the Orochi saga, but it remains the most polished and most filled-out title on the compilation; one that would eventually be remodelled into the depressingly underrated King of Fighter: Dream Match ’99 on the Dreamcast in later years.
You could, in fact, buy the entire compilation for ‘98 alone, and not a single person would blame you. But included is five years of iconic team battling all held together by an over-branching plot that would do numerous RPGs proud, (there’s a KoF RPG produced, but it never saw the outside of Japan -- grrr!), the trip back in time is indeed appreciated. From ‘94‘s clumsy and oft-broken beginnings to ‘98‘s euphoric gallery of mindless 2D violence, The Orochi Saga is a nod back to the times of arcade dominance that won’t appeal to everyone, but will effortlessly nestle into the nostalgic corner of many of our hearts, or even carve a new level of appreciation to those raised on the 3D antics of Tekken and the ever-declining Soul series.
To think, King of Fighters may have never worked out so well if not for the street punk-hating antics of one Mayor Hagger. Thanks, Mike -- we owe you one.
If you enjoyed this The King of Fighters Collection: The Orochi Saga review, you're encouraged to discuss it with the author and with other members of the site's community. If you don't already have an HonestGamers account, you can sign up for one in a snap. Thank you for reading!