Welcome to the fourth volume of 10-Hit Combo; the series for ActionAGoGo which takes a look at ten facts about some of the most iconic fighting video game series of all time. The King of Fighters series, whilst not being the most well-known series of fighting games out there, is however definitely one of the most prolific. Created by SNK and starting out in 1994, and comprising of it’s own unique roster, as well as various characters from other SNK series’ such The Art of Fighting and Fatal Fury, The King of Fighters games have grown a cult following ever since with 13 distinct main entries, wither a fourteenth on the way some time this year. The franchise has also enjoyed immense popularity in Japan, spawning several manga comics and anime adaptations, with a live action film reportedly happening to coincide with the release of the latest game. Though not as universally acclaimed as other fighting series such as Street Fighter or Mortal Kombat, it has remained an integral part of the fighting game genre, and are seen as classics in the eyes of plenty of gamers today, so without further ado, here are ten facts about The King of Fighters.
The original game, King of Fighters ’94 was initially envisioned as a side scrolling beat ‘em up game called Survivor; similarly playing out to the likes of Streets of Rage and Final Fight. However, SNK were adamant on developing a two-series crossover, so the idea was eventually scrapped and it was re-imagined as a fighting game. The name came from the subtitle of the original Fatal Fury game; Fatal Fury: king of Fighters. A major element that was kept from the original idea, however, was the concept of having three-man teams; something that had rarely been seen in fighting games beforehand.
The producer of King of Fighters ’94 was Takashi Nishiyama, who had previously produced and directed the original Street Fighter game during his time at Capcom. He and his colleague Hiroshi Matsumoto later left the company for SNK, where they worked on not only King of Fighters, but most of their other well-known fighting game series, such as Fatal Fury, Samurai Shodown and Metal Slug in addition. In an interview with 1Up.com, Nishiyama revealed details of his long-standing relationship with Capcom, and how a rift was created between him and them when he decided to join SNK. A likely reason why Fatal Fury characters were incorporated into the King of Fighters franchise is because Nishiyama stated in the same interview that Fatal Fury was the franchise he was most proud to have worked on, since it was his first at SNK.
The initial main character of the series was Kyo Kusanagi, who has gone on to appear in ever instalment of the series since, and has become a cultural phenomenon in Japan. Originally named Syo Kirishima, his name was changed to fit in with the tableau of the yamato no Orochi legend that the series’ mythos was initially based on. He was designed to have what was deemed a “fiery persona”, perhaps similar to that of Ken from Street Fighter; also likewise possessing pyrokinetic abilities, which were introduced to Ken in updated versions of Street Fighter II, which were inspired by the legend of Sheng Long. Like Ken, Kyo also has the same quirky and cocky personality; picked for the character to give gamers the impression that he would easily be able to take on other longer standing characters across other SNK fighting series’.
As previously mentioned, a lot of the mythology behind the series is based heavily on the Japanese legend of the Orochi; an eight headed and eight-tailed forked serpent. The final boss in the original game is called Orochi, though unique for fighting game at that time, was not actually a villain. There is also the Hakkeshu group, formed of the eight closest followers of the Orochi, and later on, the New Faces team introduced in King of Fighter ’97, comprising of three of the four heavenly kings of Orochi. Dragon-based mythology has been rife in fighting game series’ since Street Fighter II, having been featured in the likes of Mortal Kombat and Tekken to an extent, but as far as this tableau goes, King of Fighters has some of the most prominent and abundant references to it.
Aside from Kyo Kusanagi, only six other characters have appeared in each main entry in the series; Athena Asamiya from the Psycho Soldiers series, Ralf Jones from the TNK series, Ryo & Yuri Sakazaki from the Art of Fighting series, and both Terry Bogard and Mai Shiranui from the Fatal Fury series. These characters are among the most iconic in their respective franchises, and have since been cited as some of the most popular creations of SNK. Each of these characters can be compared in some way to some of the most popular fighting game characters of all time. For example, it’s possible to draw comparisons between Ryo Sakazaki and Ryu from Street Fighter, as well as drawing resemblance between Mai Shiranui and Kasumi from Dead or Alive.
Following negative reaction from fans after the release of the remake of King of Fighters ’94, King of Fighters XII was released in 2009 for seventh generation consoles. Criticism was levied against the poorly designed character sprites in the re-imagining of the original game, and so the prouder of the twelfth instalment and long-standing SNK employee Masaaki Kukino, insisted in an interview with Kotaku that all character sprites were 100% hand-drawn, abandoning the use of cel-shading, which had become extremely popular among developers at that time. Similar to how Super Street Fighter II Turbo HD Remix would be developed, the standards of 2D sprite presentation were significantly worked on with the advent of the twelfth King of Fighters game, and as a result, it receives extremely positive response from critics.
The series took on a more mature approach when it came time to release the first spin-off game in the series, King of Fighters: Maximum Impact for PlayStation 2 and Xbox. It had been compared to Dead or Alive 2, which primarily used sex appeal to sell, and to make it’s character roster stand out from that of other fighting game series’. To provide this, characters such as Alba Meira, Yuri Sakazaki and Mai Shiranui were included in the roster, and coupled with addicting gameplay, it made for one of the best fighting games of 2004, and was nominated as a finalist by GameSpot for the best of E3 award, ultimately losing out to Mortal Kombat: Deception. The series at this point had become known for appealing to both younger and older audiences, but this is most definitely where the series took a much more adult-orientated approach.
Though like many other fighting game series, King of Fighters doesn’t have a direct tribute to Bruce Lee; the closest being the inclusion of Hon Fu from the Fatal Fury series. The closest original homage to martial arts legend would arguably be the character K’, as he uses some of Lee’s trademark one-inch punches, and in some incarnations, he also wears attire similar to Lee’s trademark yellow tracksuit. He also wields pyrokinetic abilities inherited from the DNA of Kyo Kusanagi, which would go along with the whole dragon tableau that Bruce was known for, but aside from this, K’ is not a direct homage to the iconic martial arts actor.
When it came time to release King of Fighters ’99, Kyo Kusanagi was almost cut, as well as Lori Yagami, due to SNK wanting to replace him with their planned new lead character, K’. Due to overwhelmingly negative fan reaction, however, the two were later re-added as unlockable characters, and given their classic move sets, as well as their classic attire to satisfy veteran fans as well as newcomers. The game was later praised as one of the best fighting games of that year, but suffered from poor sales due to the advent of the PlayStation 2, and the fazing out of the Dreamcast, were the game was ported. Though it was released on the PlayStation 2 in Japan, this port never made it outside the country, leaving fans disappointed.
Though in fierce competition with one another since the inception of their respective series’, there have been numerous crossovers between Street Fighter and King of Fighters game with the advent of the Capcom Vs SNK series. They have been hailed as some of the best fighting games of all time, and widely sought after, since a lot of the games are fairly rare collector’s items. The two companies even paired various characters together from both franchises as sharing direct rivalries; for example, Chun-Li is depicted as having a rivalry with Mai Shiranui, and Kyo Kusanagi is depicted as having a direct rivalry with Ryu.