Name: King of Fighters Collection - The Orochi Saga
Genre: 2D Fighting
Platform: PS2, PSP, Wii (Reviewed on PS2)
As a longtime fan of the Street Fighter series, I can honestly say that before reviewing this game, I’d never played a King of Fighters game. To me, the series always seemed like a bootleg version of Street Fighter, with unoriginal characters and fighting mechanics stolen directly from Capcom’s legendary fighter. Still, I always recognized that at the time, KoF’s sprites were nicer than Street Fighter’s, and there seemed to be a better variety of fighting styles to choose from. As a result, I always had a strange fascination with the fighter, but never actually bothered to try the game out. After my experience with King of Fighters Collection - The Orochi Saga, I'm a bit torn as to whether or not the series holds any interest for me.
King of Fighters Collection - The Orochi Saga compiles five different King of Fighters arcade games into one disc. Beginning with King of Fighters ’94, and running through King of Fighters ’98, the American release of the Orochi collection offers a huge amount of KoF content; even more than the Japanese version, which was released two years ago and does not include KoF ’94 or ’98. Between the five games, there are literally hundreds of playable characters to choose from, though many characters seem unchanged from one iteration to the next. For those unfamiliar with the King of Fighting series, controls are similar to those found in the Street Fighter games, except with only two punch and kick buttons instead of three. Special moves behave similarly as well, with lots of quarter circle forwards and forward, down, forward-down moves to be found. For what is essentially a Neo Geo emulator, KoF Collection - The Orochi Saga is extremely responsive. The on-screen action tends to be very fast, but you’ll never feel like you’re at a disadvantage due to slow controls. On the PS2 controller’s D-Pad, it’s easy and satisfying to pull off the myriad special and super moves found in the game, and complex juggle combos are also unproblematic once you learn to pull them off.
Perhaps this is a result of my inexperience with the series, but I found the AI opponents in this game to be extraordinarily difficult to contend with. Even at the lowest difficulty setting, opponents regularly dismantled me any time I let my guard down for even a moment. Playing against a human opponent was more fun and competitive, allowing both players a chance to learn new characters’ moves and combos. With practice, I was able to play all the way through three of the five included games’ arcade modes, but few KoF rookies will have the patience or interest to stick with the game long enough to get good at it. Veterans of the series, though, will likely appreciate the level of challenge.
King of Fighters games almost always reuse sprites from previous games, meaning that characters in 98’s game don’t look any better than the ones found in 94’s version. Character designs are excellent, if a bit derivative, and offer a far broader range of character types, from standard martial artists like Kyo Kusanagi, to football-themed brutes like Brian Battler, to capoeira masters like Momoko. If King of Fighters is known for slightly superior sprites than Street Fighter, it should be even more notable for its lush, gorgeous backgrounds that put Street Fighter’s to shame. Regardless which of the five versions of the game you’re talking about, most backgrounds feature multiple layers of depth and a level of detail far beyond what most 2D fighters offer. Being a 10-14 year old game, character animations are somewhat limited by today’s standards, but fighters still move quite fluidly. Fame rate issue do pop up from time to time, but it’s never a jarring problem. There are some technical glitches that do hurt the game’s presentation, however. The most glaring is probably a sound glitch that makes the game wait until the next round begins to say “winner.” This leads to the computer voice over proclaiming “Ready? Winner!” just about every time a match goes to the second or third round. It’s very annoying, but fortunately, doesn’t affect the gameplay. In addition, load times between matches are very long, sometimes up to 30 seconds. For a game that’s all about quick head-to-head action and passing the controller around, these load times are cripplingly slow, an do in fact hurt the experience to some degree.
When it comes down to it, King of Fighters Collection - The Orochi Saga is a mediocre collection of good games. The series has a history of building off of the previous iterations, so having KoF ’94 when you also have ’98 seems redundant and unnecessary, unless you’re a devotee of the game’s story, which is mostly nonsense. This lack of differentiation between the games and the various technical issues keep the collection from being a “must have,” but it’s still a nice look into the history of 2D fighters, and for skilled fighters, there’s plenty of fun to be had. That being said, most people looking to experience KoF for the first time will be better off waiting for King of Fighters XII, due out next year.