The King of Fighters is a 2D fighting game series created by SNK
. The first entry was released for the Neo Geo
in 1994, and would be followed by twelve sequels and numerous spinoffs. There was at least one new KOF released every year from '94 through 2003; not even SNK's bankruptcy slowed the series down. However, since the abandonment of the Neo Geo, and especially since the adoption of high-definition sprites, new KOF games are released less often.
The King of Fighters is a four-button fighting game (with some exceptions, most notably The King of Fighters XI). The buttons are usually labeled as A, B, C, D and correspond to Light Punch, Light Kick, Heavy Punch, and Heavy Kick respectively. There is also a universal attack known as the "Blowback" or "CD Attack" that will always knock down the opponent; it is performed by pressing C+D in most games, or the E button in KOFXI.
The primary mechanic that separates KOF from other fighting games is its 3-on-3 battles; each player selects three characters to use, and battle continues until one team is completely defeated. There are typically 3-to-5 rounds, and when one player is KO'd, the other regains a small amount of life at the start of the next round. The exceptions to the above rules are The King of Fighters 2003
, which utilize Marvel vs. Capcom-style
In terms of actual fighting, The King of Fighters is comparable to Street Fighter
in general structure, but tends to favor the rushdown
style of play thanks to its numerous movement options. Perhaps the most important of these options are KOF's four types of jumps. In addition to the normal jump, there is the Super Jump (performed by pressing down, then holding an upward direction) which allows the character to travel across much of the screen, but makes them very vulnerable to attacks. The Short Hop, performed by quickly tapping and releasing an upward direction, causes the character to perform a much smaller jump. Finally, the Hyper Hop, performed by pressing down, then quickly tapping up-left or up-right, makes the character perform a far-traveling, low-height jump. These jumps allow the player to attack from several different angles.
Another unique quirk in KOF is how "command normals" (normal attacks which require a single directional input and a button press) are handled. For the most part, a command normal that is used standalone cannot be canceled out of; however, they have other special properties such as hitting as an "overhead" or forcing a knockdown. In KOF, a command normal can be canceled into from a normal attack, but (usually) surrenders all of its special properties in the process. Comboed command moves can then be special-canceled.
The Roll is another key mechanic. Replacing the Dodge from KOF '94/'95, rolling allows the player to get around certain attacks, most notably projectiles, and can be used to confuse the opponent after a knockdown.
In order to balance the numerous attack options in KOF, there are two separate mechanics implemented to help players deal with offensive pressure. Guard Cancel Blowback, performed by pressing CD while blocking an attack, causes the character to immediately perform their CD Attack; likewise, Guard Cancel Roll, performed by pressing AB while blocking an attack, causes the action to freeze for a short moment while the player's character rolls out of the way. Both of these attacks use 1 stock of super meter.
KOF also inherits "Desperation Moves" from Art of Fighting
. In KOF '94-'96 (and in the "Extra" mode in '97 and '98), Desperation Moves are available when the player has low health; however, players can also manually charge a meter to gain access to a Desperation Move at any time. Having a full meter at low life allows for the usage of Super Desperation Moves.
From '97 forward, Desperation Moves are strictly tied to a super meter, which in most cases hold a maximum of three "stocks" at the start of a fight and increase in capacity based on the number of characters that the player has lost.
This is a summary of each main-series KOF game. More in-depth information can be found on each game's respective page.
The Game That Started It All - KOF '94 The King of Fighters '94
is the first game in the series. It was billed as a crossover between Fatal Fury and the Art of Fighting, an idea born from Ryo Sakazaki's
appearance in Fatal Fury Special
. Additionally, characters from Ikari Warriors, Psycho Soldier, and SNK's various sports titles are represented in the game. Finally, original characters round out the roster, including protagonist Kyo Kusanagi
In KOF 94, players don't select individual characters, but instead one of eight countries. Each country consists of three fighters, whose order can be changed before the match begins. The game's boss is newcomer Rugal Bernstein
, who holds back for one round before becoming the most famous example of "SNK Boss Syndrome."
The game received a remake in Japan known as " The King of Fighters '94 Re-Bout
." It features more detailed sprites and allows players to edit their team members.
Orochi Saga - KOF '95 - '97 The King of Fighters '95
is the start of the first story arc in the series, which focuses on the awakening of Orochi
. The actual game is similar to '94, with the most significant addition being the ability to create custom teams. The USA Sports Team is replaced by the Rival team, which consists of Fatal Fury rival Billy Kane
, Art of Fighting rival Eiji Kisaragi
, and original rival Iori Yagami
. The boss is still Rugal Bernstein, who uses Orochi Power to become Omega Rugal, but players must now fight Saisyu Kusanagi
in the penultimate fight. The King of Fighters '96
establishes the style of character sprites used in the series until KOFXI and introduces Running and the Roll technique. Many fireball attacks were modified to become short-ranged; some characters would eventually get their normal fireball back in later titles, while others remain short-ranged to this day. Several characters are added, including Kasumi Todoh
from the Art of Fighting, original characters Mature
, and a Boss Team consisting of Geese Howard
, Wolfgang Krauser
, and Mr. Big
. The tournament is organized by Chizuru Kagura
, who the player fights in the penultimate battle. Goenitz
, who is one of the "Four Heavenly Kings" that seek to awaken Orochi, is the final boss. The King of Fighters '97
rounds out the saga. The game includes two fighting styles: Advanced, which is like The King of Fighters '96 but with a traditional fighting game super meter system, and Extra, which features the meter system, Dash, and Dodge from '94 and '95. The game features a new team of original antagonists known as the New Face Team. Additionally, Chizuru becomes a playable character, Billy Kane returns alongside two new characters from Fatal Fury, and Kusanagi fanboy Shingo Yabuki
is introduced. After the normal series of AI battles, players fight a crazed version of either Iori Yagami or Leona Heidern
, both of which are cursed with Orochi blood. After that, players fight full-powered versions of the New Face Team, and then Orochi is channeled through New Face Team member Chris
to become the final boss.
Dream Match - KOF '98
With the Orochi Saga finished, The King of Fighters '98
gives some of the older/"deceased" characters one last hurrah before moving on to the next saga. The game refines the mechanics introduced in KOF '97 and brings back a few characters from '95 and '96 that were absent in the previous game. Omega Rugal returns as the final boss of the game.
This game is one of the most well-received in the series. It received a remake in The King of Fighters '98 Ultimate Match
that features every character from '94 - '98 and allows players to mix-and-match mechanics from the Advanced and Extra styles.
NESTS Saga - KOF '99 - 2001
Starting with The King of Fighters '99
, KOF enters the NESTS Saga; this saga drops the Orochi plot in favor of a science-fiction-oriented setting. With this new story comes a new protagonist, K'
; Kyo and Iori are relegated to secret characters.
The game introduces the Striker System, Counter/Armor modes, and the Slide. The player now chooses four characters; the first three are controlled by the player, while the final character serves as an Striker. Strikers (like "Assists" in other fighting games) can be called into the fight at anytime to perform an single attack or other action. Counter Mode and Armor Mode are two separate powerups that can be activated when the super meter is full; Counter Mode grants unlimited Super Moves, while Armor Mode grants Super Armor. The Slide replaces the Roll in this game (and only this game), and allows players to attack during the move.
New characters include Maxima
, and Jhun Hoon
, with Li Xiangfei
crossing over from Fatal Fury. The plot of the game revolves around and organization that plans to use Kyo clones to take over the world, with NESTS agent Krizalid
serving as the final boss.
By the time of The King of Fighters 2000's
release, SNK knew that they were about to enter bankruptcy. With this title possibly being the last, they filled it to the brim with fanservice related to the company. When choosing a Striker, players are given two options: either use the fourth character as a Striker like in '99, or switch to an alternate character. These alternate characters include Nakoruru
, Fio Germi
, an early concept of Kyo known as "Syo Kirishima," and many others. KOF 2000 is less restrictive about when Strikers can be used that '99, and players can restore one Strike Bomb (at the cost of one stock of super meter) by taunting. The Counter and Armor modes return from KOF '99. The plot revolves around Zero, a rogue NESTS agent; he uses the Zero Cannon to demolish Southtown, the city introduced in Fatal Fury and Art of Fighting. New characters include secret agents Seth
, and Vanessa
; Kula Diamond
is also introduced as a secret sub-boss.
With SNK's collapse, it would seem that KOF was finished. However, Korean company Eolith
gained a license for the franchise and collaborated with SNK's former employees to create The King of Fighters 2001
. This game sees a radical shift in presentation quality, but is otherwise faithful to its predecessors. In this game, players can freely choose how many of their characters are playable and how many characters become Strikers, with the number of Super Meter stocks and the length of the gauge dependent on this decision. The game is the debut of the NESTS Team, which includes Kula, her caretaker Foxy
, and new characters Angel
, and also adds other returning characters. The game ends with a battle against the "original" Zero
(KOF 2000's Zero is said to be a clone) and Igniz
, the leader of NESTS.
Challenge to Ultimate Battle - KOF 2002
Eolith developed one more KOF game, The King of Fighters 2002
. This game, like '98, is not canonical, and therefore can use "dead" characters such as Mature, Vice, and the New Face/Orochi Team. It ditches the Striker System, returning to 3-on-3 battles. The games new features are Max Mode, which allows specials to be canceled into each other or Desperation Moves, and Hidden Super Desperation moves, which are very powerful attacks that can only be used at very low health. A NESTS Team member is fought as a midboss, while Rugal once again returns as the final boss.
Like '98, the game was well-received and was remade into The King of Fighters 2002 Unlimited Match
. This remake features almost every character from the NESTS saga. K9999, a character who is widely considered (even by SNK Playmore) to be a ripoff of a certain anime character
, is replaced by Nameless
; Nameless is functionally identical to his predecessor.
Ash Saga - KOF 2003, XI - XIII
Playmore, a company created after the original SNK went bankrupt, managed to buy back all of SNK's properties. No longer needing Eolith's services, they released The King of Fighters 2003
. This game shakes up KOF's traditional formula by introducing real-time tagging to the series. When choosing his or her character, the player selects a character to become the leader; this leader can use the appropriately-named Leader Desperation Move.
The new "protagonist" is Ash Crimson, though he acts as an antagonist against Kyo. Depending on the player's progress against midboss Kusanagi, players will either fight Rugal's son Adelheid
for the "bad ending" or fight in two more matches: a 3-on-2 against Chizuru Kagura and her deceased sister Maki, and a final battle against Mukai
of "Those From the Past." KOF 2003 was the final KOF release for the Neo Geo, and since the next game wasn't released in 2004, the series dropped its yearly naming scheme. The King of Fighters XI
, released in 2005, was the only "main" game in the series to be released on Sammy's Atomiswave platform. KOF XI introduces the Skill Meter, which allows players to Super Cancel and use the new tag mechanics: Quick Shift and Saving Shift. Quick Shift lets players tag out during a combo, while Saving Shift lets players tag out when they are hit by an attack. KOF XI adds new characters, such as Elisabeth Blanctorche
, but also removes mainstays such as Mai Shiranui
(though she and a few others would return in the console version). The final bosses are Shion and Magaki
, two more members of Those From the Past.
Years passed between KOF XI's release and the first gameplay footage of The King of Fighters XII
. All-new, high-definition sprites were drawn for the characters, and the game was made for Taito's Type X2 hardware. KOF XII is not a canon game and has no "official" teams. It forgoes the tag format for the traditional 3-to-5 round setup. The game's main mechanic is the Critical Counter; landing a counter hit with the C or D buttons while the game's "Critical Gauge" is full lets players freely cancel their attacks for a short time. The game was panned by fans and professional reviewers alike due to the lack of characters (20-22 compared to 30-40 in the previous entries) and stripped down movesets, short arcade mode with no final boss, and the essentially-unplayable online mode.
One year later, in 2010, The King of Fighters XIII
was released to arcades. It builds upon KOF XII's foundation, raising the roster count to 31 (with more added in the console version) and replacing the Critical Counter with the Hyper Drive Meter. Hyper Drive works like KOF 2002's Max Mode, with a few changes. KOF XIII also adds EX Special and EX DM moves. The game's story reveals Those From the Past's leader, Saiki
, who plans to use Orochi's power to alter the timestream so that he may eliminate all of humankind. In the last two fights, players battle Saiki, who has drained Mukai's life force, followed by Evil Ash, who is Ash possessed by Saiki.