Notable changes arrive here, but the core gameplay is still familiar enough and it's still a fun game.
By this point, the formula to KOF was becoming very familiar. SNK took a chance with the Striker system and added some fancy modes of battle which come at the cost of a super meter.
As the title says, the core gameplay will still be familiar to fans of the series, but upon choosing your fighters, you now have to make up a team of 4 characters. One of these will be your Striker, and that's a character that won't be in battle like the other 3. The Striker will only be able to assist you in a limited amount of times via jumping in and launching a quick attack before leaving. I can say this safely in 2021: I never saw much of a point to the Striker system. The attacks don't do much damage, the strikers can take hits, which end their attacks, and I rarely made use of Strikers. I will say, some of these can launch enemies into the air, so maybe if you really like to try combos, you can find more use for this.
There's also the Counter Mode, and the Armor Mode - I never found much use for these, either. Armor Mode sounds more useful, you don't get knocked down or stunned for a while. Counter Mode makes your attacks stronger, infinite supers, more chances to cancel moves into others, etc. - I may have cared more about this if I didn't need 3 meters stocked for it.
The roster also had some major changes. Numerous names from KOF98 don't return here, and the new characters are...fine, but they don't make up for the losses. K' and Maxima are the top dogs this time around, and in the original arcade version of this, Kyo and Iori are hidden. Yes, the two biggest names in KOF were hidden away, so I can understand if there is some hatred for this game.
Li Xiangfei and Bao were both ultimately weak and pointless additions to the series. Whip took me a while to get warmed up to, and I think it has to do with how annoying her AI could be at times. She has this move where she cracks her whip to the top of the screen, goes up and off the screen, and comes down in a different spot with an attack. You can imagine how the AI can use this to be bothersome. Jhun Hoon is another new character that was pointless to have, he's with the Korean team as Kim's rival. Kyo-1 and Kyo-2 were two totally lazy additions thrown into the roster. It's like SNK saw Mortal Kombat and thought "how can we swap palettes to make new characters?" - and at least MK ended up getting some badass ninjas out of that. KOF just gave people clones of Kyo.
Once you get into the game, none of that really matters. It's a fun time to play this, and the pixel art for the stages is still great, in general. The soundtrack still holds up well, and oh, let's not forget about the final boss: Krizalid. He's not as difficult as some people would like you to believe, but his supers can be brutal. SNK brought back the gimmick where the final boss has a weak first form and upon beating that, you face him at full power.
There's one more twist to this game. After most fights, you'll see a Battle Ability number. To this day, I'm not sure how this damn number is determined, but if it's high enough after the 5th fight, you can face either Kyo or Iori after beating Krizalid.
At the end of the day, the new quirks in the gameplay are what you make of them. I just saw them as SNK trying something different, and while I do appreciate the effort, I feel like it was ultimately for naught. The game is fine with or without them.