Wednesday, July 29, 2009
The Spotlight reaches its conclusion as the next battle arrives. As heads are about to clash once again, find out where the new conflict stems from... and why the fate of the world lies in the balance once more.
2003 - After the somewhat mixed opinions many had in regards to the NESTS saga, gamers had a chance to satiate their old school needs with the filler installment that was KOF 2002. However decent and competitive that title was, fans were expecting the saga to continue, and just when it seemed like they'd never produce a game again, SNK climbed out of the gutter and decided it was time to make a comeback.
Returning as the newly christened SNK Playmore, the company made a complete change in the direction KOF was going. With that, The King Of Fighters 2003 was launched in December 2003, to the delight of fans around the world. In contrast to its predecessors, the latest sequel in the epic fighting game franchise did what no other installment in the series has done thus far... GO FULL TAG TEAM. Yes, you heard right - gone are the days of simple three man battles and striker systems. Instead, crossover and combo flurry was now a reality in KOF, and it was known as the Tactical Shift System. Players could still choose three men to make up their team, but each fight now consisted of a single round only, with characters switching at the fly on a player's whim (and when the meter was charged), changing the dynamics of KOF altogether.
The tag concept, first popularized by other well known fighting games such as the Marvel Vs Capcom series and Tekken Tag Tournament, was an interesting gimmick in the sense that players could mix and match different characters and unleash devastating combos in the process. Fighters could jump in, assist, and take over for a teammate on a jinx, and that always came in handy when the tide of the match was turned against their favor. Super cancels, first popularized in Capcom's Street Fighter games and introduced in KOF '99, were more devastating in KOF 2K3. Linking a regular move to a super was easily done and provided more ways to punish your opponent. Player's could also "super tag" by using one stock meter to stun opponents and leave them prey to their teammates wrath. Also introduced was the "Tactical Leader System", where "Leaders" were also chosen per team to gunlock that character's special super move, which took up 3 stocks of the power meter, yet dealt a powerful blow that could crush a opponent's confidence entirely.
However obscure the storyline was for the past KOF titles, 2K3 chose to go back to basics, and reintroduced the Orochi plotline by beginning the first chapter of what would be now known as the "Ash Crimson Saga". The new story arc takes its name from the eponymous new character, Ash Crimson - a self-serving individual from France who can wield green flames similar to the past protagonists, Kyo Kusanagi and K'. Unlike those two, Ash is full-fledged bad guy, willing to manipulate others to meet his ultimate goals. To this end, he forms a team with two other newbies - Duo Lon and Shen Woo, and together they enter the KOF 2K3 tournament as the New Hero Team. Duo Lon enters to attend to personal business for his ninja clan, while Shen simply wants nothing to do but fight and be the best at what he does. Ash's intentions, however, are anything but noble, as he sets his sights on stealing the powers of the Three Sacred Treasures that sealed the Orochi years ago - these namely being Kyo Kusanagi, Iori Yagami, and Chizuru Kagura.
The identity of the tournament's sponsor wasn't made known until the player met certain conditions in the game. As it turns out, there were two very different paths one could take where they would face a different boss by the game's end if they didn't beat the middle boss, Kusanagi, through certain conditions. One path, considered the "bad ending" of the game, pitted players against Adelheid and Rose, the children of the late KOF boss, Rugal Bernstein.
In the case of the "true ending", players had to go through a sub-boss first, and it was none other than Chizuru Kagura. Paired with her mirror image sister, Maki, the priestess proved to be a more powerful combatant this time around. After the battle, it is finally learned that a mysterious group known only as "Those From The Past" were the ones responsible for organizing the tournament. Their purpose was as sinister as their own appearance: they wanted to ressurect the dark powers of the Orochi and harness it for their own needs.
To "test the player", the group allowed their most powerful champion, Mukai, to do battle. Using powers of petrification, the rock lord was more than a mere pushover, and even in defeat, he managed to break the Orochi seal and escape, leaving everyone wondering what the true motives of this insidious group really was.
Meanwhile, Ash Crimson made his move, and quickly took advantage of the confusion to steal Chizuru's powers. Iori Yagami was then warned that he would be next, and a furious Kyo swore to hunt down Ash by whatever means necessary.
'Successful reimagination' is an understatement to describe KOF 2K3's mark in the series. Personally, I consider it one of my favorite installments, and it's not because of the tag team aspect alone. No, the real reason is because most of my favorites got complete makeovers. Kyo has a new costume, K' got a new sprite stance, while Athena gets her long hair back... but it was none other than the lone wolf himself, Terry Bogard, who got my undivided attention. He sported a complete change via his "Garou: Mark Of The Wolves" look, with shorter hair, a bomber jacket, and new shoutouts for his moves.
This Terry was wiser, slicker, and more cunning than his younger cap wearing counterpart, and he had the coolness factor to show for it. His basic moves list remained intact, but everyone had to relearn how to combo with him all over again. It was a totally different style, and a welcomed change for players looking for new challenges to overcome. His brother Andy was also absent from the tournament, so taking his place was another MOTW veteran, the Mexican masked wrestler Tizoc! This idea did not sit well with mainstay Joe Higashi at first, but the new Fatal Fury team learned to compensate and adjust to the changes to work as a powerful team that was a force to be reckoned with.
It took two years before the next installment came, and a slew of non-canonical titles tided players over until an official sequel hit consoles again. By fall 2005, The King Of Fighters XI finally entered the arcade scene, with many noticeable differences over the last game. One obvious change was the game's title being numerically numbered, since the game was no longer qualified as a consistent release on a yearly basis. Additionally, the graphics had a minor upgrade, running on SEGA's Atomiswave hardware engine. It gave backgrounds a distinct 3D feel to them, and the visuals looked mighty impressive in this installment. Nonetheless, sprites remained the same and everything was still simple 2D fighting. The tag team rules from 2003 were carried over, with some minor improvements to the Tactical Shift System. Players could now "Quick Shift" characters in during a teammate's combo to unleash more damage, or utilize "Saving Shift" to get them out of a jinx. The biggest addition, however, was the "Dream Cancel", wherein a players could execute more devastating moves on their opponent... like linking a super with another teammate's super!
The story itself picks up where 2003 left off. Ash Crimson made away with Chizuru's powers, and it was up to Kyo and Iori to get it back. Filling in for Chizuru was Kyo's self-proclaimed student, Shingo Yabuki, and together they participated in a new tournament, once again sponsored by the mysterious group "Those From The Past". Ash himself participated for his own reasons, recruiting Shen Woo to his team once more and a new face named Oswald, who participates in the tournament to find the whereabouts of a mysterious new drug. Other old faces return and new guys show up to make up the other teams, but it was Kyo's team that eventually makes it to the finals. Prior to the final battle, they face up with a mysterious woman known only as Shion, who is vastly skilled in martial arts and wields a long spear. Her loss prompts the real threat and sponsor of the tournament to enter - a man known only as Magaki. After disposing of his assistant Shion, the final battle begins, and Magaki exhibits powers similar to that of the Orochi itself, whom he wants to awaken. However even with his dark powers, he underestimates Kyo's team and is subsequently defeated. Attempting to make an escape via an interdimensional hole, the cocky Magaki is killed when Shion's spear suddenly appears and hits him in the chest.
With that, the threat is seemingly over, but not before Ash Crimson steps in to take advantage of the situation. Having a 'Riot Of The Blood' induced state everytime he confronts something related to the Orochi, Iori Yagami goes into a rampage and starts attacking his teammates. Kyo is knocked down while Shingo prepares for the killing blow, but it is Ash's appearance that saves them both from certain doom. Hardly intimidated by the situation, Ash effortlessly makes quick work of Iori and steals his powers, making the score 2/3 and leaving Kyo the last target on his list. With the tournament over, he leaves the scene and everyone else wondering what his true motives really are...
Much like 2K3, KOF XI was another stunning entry into the series that I just had to play. Unfortunately, it wasn't released right away for the local arcades, so I had to wait a looong time until the home version actually hit the Playstation 2. Suffice to say, it didn't disappoint my expectations, and it was another wild party chalk full of characters, extras, and storylines a true KOF fan should never miss out on. My only concern was the loading times... it takes a lot longer to fight than previous entries thanks to the updated visuals, but once the battle starts and you let off some steam, you'll know damn well that the upgrade was worth it. Unfortunately, this game proved to be the last major KOF entry anyone would see for quite some time. It looked like the end of an era for some... but SNK Playmore had other plans. They weren't done with the series just yet, and they had big changes in store for it.
At last, we come to the end of Spotlight. Finally, after almost four years of waiting, the big day has arrived and The King Of Fighters is reborn with the newest entry to the series - The King Of Fighters XII. Sporting new visuals and back to basics gameplay, it is indeed being marketed to a new generation of KOF fans and seasoned veterans as well... but was it worth the wait? I got it and I'm about to find out. Check back soon... A review's coming up.XD