The King of Fighters '94
|The King of Fighters '94|
Cover artwork of the Neo Geo CD version
Eikichi Kawasaki (executive)
|Designer(s)||Toyochan (Toyohisa Tanabe)
|Composer(s)||Papaya (Masahiko Hataya)|
|Series||The King of Fighters|
|Mode(s)||Up to 2 players|
|Arcade system||Neo Geo MVS|
The King of Fighters '94 (officially abbreviated KOF '94) is a fighting game released by SNK for the Neo Geo-based arcade system in 1994, as the inaugural game in The King of Fighters series. The game was soon also released for the Neo Geo home console systems, including a Neo-Geo CD version. In 2008, KOF '94 was one of sixteen games included in SNK Arcade Classics Vol. 1 for the PlayStation 2, PlayStation Portable and Wii.
KOF '94 is a crossover featuring characters from SNK's previous fighting game properties Fatal Fury and Art of Fighting. It also includes revised versions of characters from their pre-Neo Geo games Ikari Warriors and Psycho Soldier, as well as original characters created specifically for the game. The plot features the creation of a new King of Fighters tournament created by the criminal Rugal Bernstein.
SNK developed KOF '94 with the initial idea of using several games from the company in order to attract gamers who played these games. The characters' designs, as well as its innovative gameplay system based on using teams of three members, were both well received. The success of the game allowed SNK to produce a long collection of sequels in The King of Fighters series.
In 2004, to commemorate the tenth anniversary of the series, SNK released a remake titled The King of Fighters '94 Re-Bout. It features the original game and a new version with higher resolution graphics.
The basic gameplay system of KOF '94 is similar to SNK's previous games like the Fatal Fury series, Art of Fighting and Samurai Shodown. The game uses a four attack button configuration similar to Fatal Fury 2 and Fatal Fury Special, that consists of light punch, light kick, strong punch and strong kick. Like in Fatal Fury 2, specialized techniques are performed by pressing buttons in combination, allowing the player to dodge an opponent's attack or to launch a character's powerful knockdown attack. As with most other fighting games, each character has a set of basic, unique, and special moves that can be performed by the player with a specific series of joystick and button inputs.
Each player has a power gauge at the bottom of the screen which charges when the character is blocking or taking attacks. It can also be filled manually, although it leaves the character vulnerable to an attack, by pressing and holding three buttons at the same time. Once the power gauge is filled, the player's basic attacks become stronger for a short period. When the characters are in this state, their players can also perform the character's Super Move, which immediately consumes the entire power gauge. The players can also access their character's Super Move when the life gauge is 75% empty and flashing red like in Fatal Fury 2. Use of taunt moves can reduce the opponent's power gauge, slow down their manual charging, and stop them reaching the maximum level.
Notably, KOF '94 innovated the genre by replacing a traditional round-based format used in preceding fighting games with a format consisting of 3-on-3 team based matches dubbed the Team Battle System. Instead of choosing a single character, the player selects from one of eight available teams, each consisting of three members. Before each match, the players choose the order in which each of their team member enters the battle. When the match begins, the members chosen to go first on their respective teams will fight. When one character is defeated, the following member of the same team will take his or her place, while the character on the other team will have a small portion of their life restored (if energy was lost during the previous round). If a character is losing a match against the opponent, then the player can call one of the remaining teammates standing on the sidelines to jump in and perform a support attack. The match ends when all three members of either team lose.
The rich and notorious arms and drug trafficker, as well as a skilled and ruthless fighter, Rugal Bernstein has become bored with the lack of competition, so he decides to host a new King of Fighters tournament. He has his secretary travel to eight destinations around the world to invite fighters to compete in his new tournament. Unlike the previous KOF tournaments depicted in the Fatal Fury series, the new King of Fighters is a team tournament, with eight teams of three, each representing a different nationality.
Most characters come from other SNK games, such as Team Italy, which is composed of the three player characters from the original Fatal Fury (Terry Bogard, Andy Bogard and Joe Higashi). The leading duo from Art of Fighting, Ryo Sakazaki and Robert Garcia, are featured with their mentor and Ryo's father, Takuma Sakazaki, who make up Team Mexico. Team Korea includes Kim Kaphwan from Fatal Fury 2 as the leader of two convicts he is trying to reform (Chang Koehan and Choi Bounge). Team England is a mix of female fighters from Fatal Fury 2 (Mai Shiranui) and the Art of Fighting series (Yuri Sakazaki and King).
The two heroes from Psycho Soldier (Athena Asamiya and Sie Kensou) form Team China along with their mentor, Chin Gentsai. Team Brazil composes of Ikari Warriors characters Ralf Jones and Clark Still, as well as their commanding officer, Heidern. The game also features two teams composed entirely of original characters: Team Japan, including Kyo Kusanagi, Benimaru Nikaido and Goro Daimon; and Team USA composed of Heavy D!, Lucky Glauber and Brian Battler.
According to an interview with veteran designers of The King of Fighters series, the prototype version of the game was a side-scrolling beat 'em up, titled Survivor. It would only use core characters from the Art of Fighting and Fatal Fury series, specifically allowing players to play Robert Garcia and Terry Bogard for location testing. However, the idea was eventually abandoned. Since SNK were attached to the idea of the two-series crossover, they eventually agreed to make their idea into a fighting game. Characters from Ikari Warriors and Psycho Soldier were also added to the roster. The concept of a three-man team was one of the ideas kept from the side-scrolling version. The title "The King of Fighters" was re-used from the subtitle of the first Fatal Fury game, Fatal Fury: King of Fighters.
The King of Fighters series director Toyohisa Tanabe asserted that the Art of Fighting and Fatal Fury fighters were added specifically for adults, and the newer KOF characters were aimed to appeal to younger and newer audiences. Characters such as Benimaru Nikaido and Chang Koehan were added to have an off-beat variety to the cast, which he has previously deemed to be too serious. SNK artist C.A.C Yamasaki commented that although the lead programmer thought the game would not sell well, he believed it would eventually become popular. Ten people arrived at the first location test, but larger numbers came to subsequent tests. The SNK staff also had troubles with advertising the game due to a lack of money and some of their ads were noted to be of a poor quality.
Designers wanted a new, "snazzy" lead character who would easily fight Fatal Fury and Art of Fighting characters. He was named Kyo Kusanagi in order to relate him with the Yamata no Orochi legend. The boss character, Rugal Bernstein, was developed to be "the mightiest (most violent) and most evil boss character ever". The game was developed to have a "Fugitive Team" composed of Chang, Choi, and an unknown criminal, but Kim Kaphwan was placed in their team. The English Team was composed of King from Art of Fighting along with Billy Kane and Big Bear from the first and second Fatal Fury games. Designers had several problems with Big Bear concerning capacity and the Art of Fighting staff insisted on adding Yuri Sakazaki to KOF. Yuri replaced Billy Kane, and later Mai Shiranui took Big Bear's place to form the England Team (later known as Women Fighters in the following games).
Most of the characters from other games were meant to have some of their moves changed or removed in order to balance them with KOF's new characters. However, designers focused in adjusting the imbalance of certain characters without removing any move. In the end, creators of the series noted that the Art of Fighting characters were the strongest ones in the game. Nevertheless, other characters such as Terry and Andy Bogard became the ones who got the designers' utmost attention and were given new moves.
Neo Geo systems
The King of Fighters '94 was released in Japanese arcades on August 25, 1994. Home versions of the game were released later that same year for the Neo Geo ROM cartridge based system on October 1 and for the Neo Geo CD on November 2. In 2012, KOF '94 was announced to be included in the set of twenty pre-loaded games being shipped with SNK Playmore's new handheld game console Neo-Geo X, but it was ultimately replaced by The King of Fighters '95.
On November 6, 2007, the Neo Geo version was made available for download on the Wii's Virtual Console download service, for a price of 900 Wii Points. The North American and European versions followed on November 23, 2007 and January 7, 2008, respectively. In 2008, an emulation of the game is included in the compilations SNK Arcade Classics Vol. 1 and The King of Fighters Collection: The Orochi Saga, both released for the PlayStation 2, PlayStation Portable and Wii. It was also released by Sony Computer Entertainment for the PlayStation 3 and PlayStation Portable on December 21, 2010, as one of the first games in the NEOGEO Station line-up.
A remake, titled The King of Fighters '94 Re-Bout, was released for the PlayStation 2 in Japan only on December 28, 2004, commemorating the tenth anniversary of the franchise. Re-Bout features the original 1994 game and an enhanced version featuring higher resolution graphics, a Team Edit option feature similar to the later KOF games, the ability to play as Saisyu Kusanagi and Rugal Bernstein, arranged music, new stages and an online versus mode. SNK Playmore commented that they received negative fan feedback regarding the game's simple upscaling and smoothing of character sprites, so they decided to create brand new high resolution sprites for the following games in the series.
A North American version was meant to released for the Xbox. It was actually completed and was even reviewed by some publications, but was then canceled on March 23, 2006 for an undisclosed reason.
The game received a variety of licensed media released in Japan in 1994–1995:
- The original soundtrack The King of Fighters '94 (PCCB-00162) and the arranged soundtrack The King of Fighters '94 Arrange Sound Trax (PCCB-00165), both released by Pony Canyon.
- The art book The King of Fighters '94 (GMC-2) published as part of the Gamest Mook series by Shinseisha.
- The Laser Disc audio and video release The King of Fighters '94 (PCLP-00539) by Pony Canyon LD.
- Several manga published in the Gamest Comics collection by Shinseisha:
- A yonkoma manga by various artists, titled The King of Fighters '94 4-Koma Ketteiban (ISBN 4-88199-150-7).
- A selection of illustrations and short strips by various artists, titled The King of Fighters '94 Comic Anthology (ISBN 4-88199-196-5).
- Ryo Takamisaki's six-volume adaptation series titled The King of Fighters '94 Gaiden (beginning with ISBN 4-88199-168-X).
The game was well received, with reviews generally praising the deep combat system and the matching up of fighters from different SNK franchises, though the inability to choose team lineups in Team Battle Mode was a near-universal complaint among critics.
A reviewer for Next Generation argued that King of Fighters '94 was a particularly worthwhile arcade game, since the three-character teams meant the player would effectively get three lives for each credit, providing a high value per quarter at a time when most arcade games were much more expensive than they had been in the past. Reviewing the Neo Geo home version, GamePro remarked that the character selection is massive, but very unbalanced, and that most of the new characters are "goofy looking" and underpowered compared to the other fighters. They nonetheless concluded that "The King of Fighters is the very best non-Shodown game available for the Neo Geo, and it's one of the most playable fighting games ever", citing enjoyable gameplay additions such as the dodge move and juggle combos.
In a review of the Virtual Console release, Lucas M. Thomas of IGN praised KOF '94 for its graphics, including fluid animation and vibrant colors, but concluded that buyers might be better off waiting for the improved sequels to arrive on the Virtual Console. According to IGN's Jeremy Dunham, the game "was essentially a cross between Fatal Fury and Art of Fighting," with a faster control response. He added commented that the creation of three-on-three battles was an advanced feature for a game from 1994 and the idea of 'borrowing' characters from other games from the company was also innovative. Reviewing the Virtual Console release, Dan Whitehead of Eurogamer identified the use of characters from multiple franchises and the Team Battle Mode as the most distinctive points. He concluded the game to be "a solid, technical fighting game that, like most SNK outings, skews more towards the hardcore player than the casual punching aficionado." According to Kyle Knight of Allgame, the graphics and sounds, while better than most games of the time, were subpar by SNK standards. He concluded The King of Fighters '94 is "a very good fighting game, but it lacks some refinements that would have made it great."
Electronic Gaming Monthly gave KOF '94 its Game of the Year awards in the categories "Best Fighting Game" and "Best Neo-Geo Game" of 1994; additionally, Mai Shiranui was awarded the title of "Hottest Game Babe" of the year. In Japan, the game was awarded the title of "Best Game of 1994" in the Eighth Annual Grand Prize by the arcade magazine Gamest, also placing first in the categories of "Best Competitive Fighting Game" and "Best Direction", fifth in "Best Graphics", and third in "Best VGM" (several characters from the game were also featured in their list of 1994's top 50, including Athena at #3, Kyo at #4, Yuri at #7, King at #8 and Mai at #10).
The game was acclaimed in a number of retrospective articles and top lists by several publications. G4 noted that The King of Fighters '94 was regarded by some fans as the "Street Fighter beater" and was unique due to its team system. Maximum similarly called it "the first beat-em-up to offer more than the Street Fighter series" and said that the game "helped spearhead the SNK renaissance". 1UP.com lauded the game for its large and well-balanced cast of characters, calling it "a hell of a cast in 1994". In 2010, UGO.com listed it among the Top 25 Fighting Games of All Time, while GamePlayBook ranked it as the seventh best 2D fighting game ever made. Complex writers ranked it as the eighth best fighting game of all time in 2011, as well as the eleventh all-time best SNK fighting game in 2012, commenting that "the unique team selection and elimination style matches of the series made their origin in this great '90s fighter."
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