Publisher: SNK Playmore
Reviewer: George Damidas
Overall: 7.5 = Good
SNK has been going on a bit of a spree lately, releasing their back catalogue in compilations and over the various consoles’ online networks. The releases have been of varying quality, but this is definitely one of the more interesting ones. King of Fighters: The Orochi Saga brings together King of Fighters ’94 through King of Fighters ‘98: Dream Match into on collection, with the actual orochi storyline taking place in the middle three releases. Wii and PlayStation 2 owners are in for a treat. PlayStation Portable owners, well, not so much.
The King of Fighters series was unique for its time. SNK took characters from across their library—Fatal Fury, Art of Fighting, and Ikari Warriors—and tossed them together with new characters to brawl in a team-based tournament. Groups of pre-made, 3-fighter teams eventually evolved into teams of any three fighters, chosen from an ever-growing roster. The series soon eclipsed the other titles from which the characters were picked and has become a key franchise for the company. It has since attempted to transition to 3D, in an effort to appeal to a newer market, but I still prefer the style and feel of these earlier, 2D releases.
I am actually struck by just how playable the titles are today. Granted, the first two are so difficult as to be infuriating, but the others are absolutely fantastic. I was actually humbled when I found that the game defaults on difficult 1, the lowest setting, and I still couldn’t make any headway in King of Fighters ’94. Just take my advice and skip to ’96. Once you hit that third release, though, you’re off and running. You’ll encounter strange characters that are S&M lite in name and appearance—see: Vice and her leather trench coat—and lumbering giants that can barely kick, all in their pixilated glory. PSP owners have the option to view stretched, smooth stretched, or original pixel graphics, the latter of which I prefer, but make no mistake that the characters will always look pixilated. The game’s appearance does change, but the characters can only be smoothed so much; although, it’s a shame nothing helps the shoddy-looking stretched menu screen. Keep in mind that the newest of these games is a decade old, and SNK slowly focused more on animation than anything else. But I actually prefer for them to be left as-is—okay, you can fix the flickering shadows—rather than going with the recent popular HD-ifying route, which never works out. Warts and all, the collection is better for it.
The PS2 version got worn out for the review. I couldn’t get enough of it. The PSP version, with its horrible directional pad (original PSP) and numerous, lengthy load times, I didn’t enjoy nearly as much. The former is the one you buy to have a blast, and the latter you buy when there is no choice. So not only do you save money going with the console version, but you get the superior version. Sold. The Wii version is on par with the PS2 version, though it clocks in at the same price as the PSP version and has the added expense of either a classic controller or GameCube controller, as the remote and nunchuk combo isn’t advised. The game also has a plethora of unlockables, from characters to art to the original soundtracks for all of the games. Via the radial menu system a Challenge mode can be accessed, through which a series of trials of varying difficulty are selectable with victory resulting in a number of unlocked goods. It’s a healthy package, and fans will be hit with a wave of nostalgia whenever they check out some of the old promo art. I remember seeing some of the posters and ads back when I was checking out info for the release of ’97 for the Sega Saturn, and it was like I was refreshing NCSX.com all over again.
Newcomers will no doubt wonder what the big deal is. By now, they have most likely played one of the later releases, and it’s true that the changes are largely incremental tweaks that can be pretty trivial to all but the serious fan. That doesn’t stop the games from being awesome though, and I really couldn’t get enough of them. The focus on close combat is still refreshing and will most certainly find a warm welcome today. It could have done with a better menu system, for selecting the games and the bonus material, and the inclusion of King of Fighters ’99: Evolution would have rounded the title off nicely. As it is, Dream Match is a good gimme and stands as a solid end piece, while the menu is merely serviceable.
I have read some complaints from those more in the know. Apparently there are missing sound clips and animations, though I don’t remember the titles well enough to recognize the omissions. Others have complained about the controls, and it’s true that the dualshock will destroy your thumb and some special moves will go unrecognized, but on the whole, I didn’t have any serious problems with them. I found the PS2 version much more playable than the PSP version, with the latter being nearly impossible to do special moves. There was a good bit of loading for each, however, though much more for the PSP version. I still say that, aside from the MVS/AES and Sega Saturn import release with the expansion RAM cart, this is your best bet to experience King of Fighters.
It might seem strange to gush over games that are at least ten years old, but that just speaks to the quality of the material. The King of Fighters: Orochi Saga is a great way for longtime fans to get an affordable all-in-one convenient collection, while new players will get an introduction as to how SNK was able to shoot up the ranks in the fighting genre. The PS2 version is a great buy at its price ($19.99). The PSP version, on the other hand, is a pained experience that I was pretty disappointed with. The excessive loading and controls aren’t really a fault of the game, but they bring the experience down nonetheless, though the poor look and feel of the menus certainly is. The PSP version is the more expensive of the two and far inferior. The Wii version is a mixture of the PlayStation versions, but pricier: it’s as solid as the PS2 release but the same price as the PSP version, plus there is the additional cost of either a classic or GameCube controller for an optimal experience. Grab the PS2 version and have a ball, or the Wii version if you’re needing to fill out the library, but go with the portable version only if you’re in a pinch or need to have a fighter on the go.
(This review is based on a retail copy provided by the publisher.)