The King of Fighters '98
|The King of Fighters '98|
Neo-Geo CD cover for The King of Fighters '98.
|Series||The King of Fighters|
|Mode(s)||Team Battle; Up to 2 players simultaneously|
The King of Fighters '98 (commonly abbreviated as KOF '98) is a 1998 fighting game released by SNK released for the Neo Geo arcade and home console. It is the fifth game in The King of Fighters series. This installment was advertised by SNK as a "special edition" of the series, as it featured most of the characters who appeared in the previous games (from KOF '94 to '97), regardless of whether the character was killed off in the series' ongoing storyline (which would be resumed in the following game in the series with a new story arc).
Ports of KOF '98 were released for the Neo-Geo CD and the PlayStation. A Dreamcast version titled The King of Fighters: Dream Match 1999 was also released, which featured much of the stages remade in 3D. The game was also remade for the PlayStation 2 as The King of Fighters '98: Ultimate Match, which expanded the number of playable characters.
As KOF '98 did not feature a plot, the SNK staff took this opportunity to add Rugal (who died in KOF '95) as well as various alternate versions from various characters to the game. KOF '98 has been commonly praised by several video game publications as the best KOF from the series due to its graphics and gameplay. Ultimate Match, however, was criticized for how similar it is to KOF '98.
The gameplay does not differ much from the previous game, KOF '97. Like in KOF '97, the player has a choice between two playing styles: Advance and Extra, with a few slight modifications to Advance mode (unlike in KOF '97, the character will resume to normal if the player performs a Super Special Move in MAX state). This time when one character loses a round, the losing team is given a handicap in its favor. In Advance mode, this means that the player's stock capacity for Power Gauges is increased by one. In Extra mode, the time it takes to charge one's power gauge to maximum level is shortened.
Ultimate Match includes additional characters not featured in the original version of the game, such as Eiji Kisaragi from KOF '95, along with Kasumi Todoh and the Boss Team (composed of Geese Howard, Wolfgang Krauser, and Mr. Big) from KOF '96, as well as the boss characters Goenitz and Orochi, essentially including all the characters featured in the KOF series prior to KOF '98. New moves were added to the USA Sports Team to improve their playability, and EX versions of certain characters not featured in the original version were added, including King with her Art of Fighting 2 moveset, Ryuji Yamazaki and Blue Mary with their Real Bout Fatal Fury 2: The Newcomers moveset. The Orochi versions of Leona and Iori Yagami are also playable, and both also appear as mid-bosses in the Arcade Mode. New stages were added to the game such as China and Hong Kong to show appreciation for KOF's high popularity in such regions; it is also the only fighting game to feature an accurate representation of Saudi Arabia in one stage, as the country was a major market for the NEO GEO line in the early 1990s. A third fighting style is also introduced in addition to Advance and Extra, dubbed "Ultimate" mode. Ultimate mode is a customizable style that allows the player to choose between features from Advance or Extra mode, such as which kind of Power Gauge to use. It also includes a 'Neo Geo' mode, which is a direct port of the original Neo Geo console version.
All the regular characters from the previous game return, along with several characters from preceding installments such as Vice and Mature (Iori's teammates from KOF '96), the American Sports Team (Heavy D!, Lucky Glauber, and Brian Battler) from KOF '94, and the Old Men Team (or Veteran Fighters Team) composed of Heidern, Takuma Sakazaki, and Saisyu Kusanagi, all characters whose last appearances were in KOF '95. Rugal Bernstein from KOF '94 also returns as a Team Edit character, with his alter-ego Omega Rugal (the cyborg version of Rugal from KOF '95) serving as the game's final boss in the Single Player Mode. Shingo Yabuki (who originally appeared in KOF '97) continues as a Team Edit character, but also appears as a mid-boss character during the Arcade Mode. Additionally, the characters of Kyo Kusanagi, Terry Bogard, Andy Bogard, Joe Higashi, Ryo Sakazaki, Yuri Sakazaki and Robert Garcia are playable with movesets from previous titles of KOF, while the alternate ones of Mai Shiranui and Billy Kane are based on their moveset from Real Bout Fatal Fury 2: The Newcomers.
In The King of Fighters '96, several moves from Kyo Kusanagi were changed in order to adapt him to the new game system. However, the original moveset was still popular between gamers and as such, an alternative version of Kyo was added to The King of Fighters '97. The introduction of this version was noted to be "a hit" within gamers, the staff kept adding new alternative versions of other characters in KOF '98. Since this game did not have a storyline, the SNK staff decided to return Rugal Bernstein as the boss character noting that "he's the only character who truly represents the ultimate KOF boss." Additionally, some of his special moves were redesigned, which the staff found to have made him the strongest version of Rugal as well as one of their favorites.
KOF '98 was originally released for arcades on July 23, 1998. It was ported to the Neo Geo AES on September 23, 1998, the Neo-Geo CD on December 23, 1998 and the PlayStation on March 25, 1999. The PlayStation version was published in North America and the PAL region by Agetec, becoming the first PlayStation installment in the series to be released outside Japan since The King of Fighters '95. A Dreamcast version was also released on June 24, 1999 under the changed title The King of Fighters: Dream Match 1999, reflecting the year the version was released. This game was released in North America on September 30, 1999. The original game is also included in The King of Fighters Collection: Orochi Saga compilation released in North America and the PAL region for the PlayStation 2, PlayStation Portable and Wii (the game was not included in the Japanese Orochi Hen compilation).
KOF '98 was later remade under the title of The King of Fighters '98: Ultimate Match in 2008, ten years after the original game's release. It was released in Japan as an arcade game for the Taito Type X hardware on March 2008, with the PlayStation 2 port released on June 26 of the same year. It was also published on the NeoGeo Online Collection The Best on June 18, 2008. The game was released in North America by Ignition Entertainment on March 3, 2009. In the European Union it was released on June 10, 2009.
During its release week, the Dreamcast port of the game sold 58,354 copies in Japan. As of 2004, the sales increased to 104,049. Famitsu magazine scored the Dreamcast port of KOF '98 a 30 out of 40, and GameRankings gave it a 70.76% based on a total of 19 reviews.
Various reviewers from video game publications have commented on KOF '98. While reviewing the compilation The King of Fighters: The Orochi Saga, Matt Edwards from Eurogamer noted KOF '98 to be the most enjoyable game from the collection as well as the most famous game from the series "that really made people stand up and take an interest in the series. We'd disagree in favor of some of the later games, but for its time KOF '98 was reasonably well balanced for a 2D fighter. And there's no denying it was a blast." The game also received praise by 1UP.com writer Richard Li who found it to be the most balanced game from the KOF series due to the fact it improved the game mechanics from the previous titles. Jeremy Dunham from IGN gave the game a 8.4, praising, apart from the gameplay and characters, the graphics, the music as well as the backgrounds design added for the Dreamcast version. However, he was disappointed with the lack of story in the game, noting the ones from previous games to be very entertaining. GameSpot's Jeff Gerstmann found it to be one of the best 2D fighting games, noting that although new players may find it hard to play due to the difficulty in executing various special moves and how difficult the opponent AI is. Although Andy Chien from Gaming Age found that the Dreamcast port of the game was well done since it does not have the disadvantages that it had in other consoles, he noted it "could have been a lot better." He also found that the game had a bug when he tried to perform a special move from Mai Shiranui, which unlike the other ports, is very inconsistent.
GameRankings gave Ultimate Match a 76.50% based on a total of twelve reviews. With ten reviews, Metacritic gave it a 72. Various publications for video games and other media have commented on Ultimate Match with IGN writer Ryan Clements giving it a 7.8, saying that probably this game should only be recommended to fans of The King of Fighters due to how old its graphics are as well as the little balance it has with 60 characters being playable. James Mielke from 1UP.com complained on how the game is very similar to KOF '98, but found the controls to be comfortable and intuitive for any fans of 2D fighting games. However, Heath Hooker from GameZone found that the gameplay and sound from the game make up for the graphics even though there is not much difference between KOF '98 and KOF '98: Ultimate Match. In 2013, KOF '98 Ultimate Match was ranked as the 15th best arcade game of the 1990s by Complex, who also called it "possibly the greatest SNK fighting game of them all," and included it on their list of 25 best 2D fighting games of all time in 2013.
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