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Help me Become the King of Fighters

Dracula

Video Nasty
(He/His)
Hello Talking Time! I, Dracula, have lately been cracking back into the Street Fighter 30th anniversary collection on my Nintendo Switch, abusing save states to win against cheating computers in an endeavor to see some character endings and stuff. I have realized that I enjoy the little mythologies behind fighting games, and even if I'm not always super great at the actual games, I like all the design work put into the characters and the stages and so forth.

So a big blind spot for me is the SNK King of Fighters series. In college, I had a friend from Hong Kong who owned a couple of them on (I think) PS2, and we played them a lot. He won every single match. I had no idea who anyone was but it was all fresh and interesting coming from Street Fighter, where I knew every character's name and basic moveset.

I've long wanted to go back and experience one or more of those games, and I've noticed that many of them are now available on the eshop via the Neo Geo Archives series. So I'm looking for recommendations! I'd probably like to play one of the earlier games (maybe a Fatal Fury) and one of the later games (maybe the ones with years in the name), but let me hear from you which ones are cool or not cool.

Thanks!!!
 

WildcatJF

I would be liking that greatly!
(he / his / him)
Hello!

SNK fighters are great!

In terms of what's on Switch, I would recommend Fatal Fury: Mark of the Wolves and Fatal Fury Real Bout 2 from the Fatal Fury series, and King of Fighters 98, 99, and 2002. 98 and 2002 are Dream match games with bigger rosters covering the entire "arc" of the last few games, with refined mechanics. 99 is the first game to introduce Strikers and was the one I began with, so I consider it very fondly.

My favorite KoF is XI, which is not on Switch, sadly, but is on PS2 if you can track it down. It has a tag mechanic I like, and has a mostly solid cast (altho no Leona is a bummer). 94 and 95 are super early and imo a bit rough, so might not be the best place to start.

I haven't played XII - XIV but I've heard XIII and XIV are very good.
 

ASandoval

Old Man Gamer
(he/him)
So the fan favorite by a wide margin is KOF'98, and that's mainly because it had every character from the series at that point and was pretty mechanically tight. It's called dream match as it's not canon and features retired/dead characters however and if you're interested in checking out the little mythologies and what not, there's little in that game.

Of the main line KOF series I would say check out '96 and '97. They're the last two in the first major 'story arc' of the series (the Orochi saga), have some amazing pixel art and animation to go along with certain canon character match ups and all the different endings, and are just really fun to play (honestly as far as the games go in terms of just being fun fighting games, it's really hard to go wrong with any KOF game imo, but I'm bias!). I haven't really played much of the other games beyond 99 (also a good time but I don't like most of the new characters introduced following the Orochi arc) and only know the basic gist of everything that happens after those games, but I haven't disliked any of the games I played. The newest one, XIV, is really fun even though the 3D isn't as stylized or interesting as Street Fighter IV or V and I *really* miss the 2D artwork.

As for Fatal Fury, Real Bout 2 and Garou: Mark of the Wolves are must plays. If you want to check out the beginning of the series, go ahead but be warned that the original game is a small step up from the original Street Fighter and Fatal Fury 2 Special, though highly regarded, doesn't really hold up to modern standards IMO. Fatal Fury 3 is also a good time, but kind of tonally weird and off from the rest of the series.
 

YangusKhan

does the Underpants Dance
(He/Him/His)
So the Switch has '94 through '03, right? Broadly speaking, '94 - '98 is the Orochi Saga, and then '99 - '02 is the NESTS Saga, with the final entries in those respective storylines being a kind of "dream match" non-canon game, as ASandoval and Wildcat already mentioned, and '03 is the start of another storyline entirely.

Honestly I've wanted to know more of the series' story arcs, but I don't have the patience to play Arcade mode with the "canon" teams, so I couldn't tell you for example which single game from the Orochi Saga is the best one to experience that story. It's also not the best value to buy them all individually just for the story, as SNK released some collections for PS2 that put all the relevant ones together (however only the Orochi Collection was localized).
 

Sarge

hardcore retro gamin'
Even though it's not KoF, I will definitely recommend Fatal Fury: Mark of the Wolves as well. Tremendous game, with some splendid animation and one of the best feeling games in the SNK lineup to me. It's almost Capcom-ish in a way.

And yeah, KOF '98 is often cited by series aficionados as the best. Massive roster, and more polished than earlier entries.

EDIT: While I'm thinking about it, it's not an SNK game, but Capcom vs. SNK 2 is fantastic. Definitely worth a play to see SNK fighters in a Capcom context, as well as SNK mechanics available for Capcom fighters. Good stuff. There's also SNK's crossover, SNK vs. Capcom: SVC Chaos, which I didn't like as much but is also awesome for seeing SNK's spin on Capcom fighters.
 
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Riot.EXE

Fighting Game Enthusiast
(He/Him)
Hello!

SNK fighters are great!

In terms of what's on Switch, I would recommend Fatal Fury: Mark of the Wolves and Fatal Fury Real Bout 2 from the Fatal Fury series, and King of Fighters 98, 99, and 2002. 98 and 2002 are Dream match games with bigger rosters covering the entire "arc" of the last few games, with refined mechanics. 99 is the first game to introduce Strikers and was the one I began with, so I consider it very fondly.

My favorite KoF is XI, which is not on Switch, sadly, but is on PS2 if you can track it down. It has a tag mechanic I like, and has a mostly solid cast (altho no Leona is a bummer). 94 and 95 are super early and imo a bit rough, so might not be the best place to start.

I haven't played XII - XIV but I've heard XIII and XIV are very good.
Avoid XII like the plague. XIII and XIV are decent, but for very different reasons.
 

Phantoon

I cuss you bad
If you're going to play one from the Orochi saga I recommend '97. It pays really well, has a good character selection and the story is more obviously integrated into it. It's my favourite of the KoF stories, and the showdown with Orochi is really memorable, although hello there SNK boss syndrome...
 

madhair60

Video games
If you have an Xbox 360, One or Series S/X, King of Fighters XIII is free with Gold this month- it's also properly free with Gold, so you can get a free trial, redeem it, and own it forever. It's very good.

'98 is my favourite. I've been playing it with a friend for 15 years or so.
 

Dracula

Video Nasty
(He/His)
So, help me out here: I've always assumed Fatal Fury and KoF were related, and just after browsing the eShop last night to look at some of the games y'all recommended, I see that there is some character carryover. So what exactly is the relationship between these two serieses?

And by the way, I am only looking at items which are available on the eShop at the moment.
 

WildcatJF

I would be liking that greatly!
(he / his / him)
Fatal Fury came first. It established the first "The King of Fighters" tournament. King of Fighters the series is a bit of a culmination of many of SNK's franchises with a lot of original characters, and comes later in the FF chronology (save Mark of the Wolves, which is the last game chronologically in that series, but eventually the KoF timeline ties up with that game as well in XI). You'll find fighters from Fatal Fury, Art of Fighting, Psycho Soldier, and Ikari Warriors in 94, with others jumping in and out over each entry.
 

Phantoon

I cuss you bad
The Fatal Fury timeline has the Art of Fighting series happening in the late 70s, I believe, with Fatal Fury series carrying on from there in the early 90s. Then Ryo appears in Buriki One, set later on still.

King of Fighters is basically an alternate timeline with the same characters - Ryo Sakazaki and Terry Bogard are similar ages, which they shouldn't be. Also later on characters show up who are dead on the Fatal Fury timeline. Don't try to reconcile KoF to Fatal Fury, that way madness lies.
 

WildcatJF

I would be liking that greatly!
(he / his / him)
The Fatal Fury timeline has the Art of Fighting series happening in the late 70s, I believe, with Fatal Fury series carrying on from there in the early 90s. Then Ryo appears in Buriki One, set later on still.

King of Fighters is basically an alternate timeline with the same characters - Ryo Sakazaki and Terry Bogard are similar ages, which they shouldn't be. Also later on characters show up who are dead on the Fatal Fury timeline. Don't try to reconcile KoF to Fatal Fury, that way madness lies.
Hmmm that may be a better way of explaining it than I did, haha.
 

WildcatJF

I would be liking that greatly!
(he / his / him)
Art of Fighting is not as smooth a fighting series. SNK focused on visual impact far more than engaging gameplay. The first game is pretty limited iirc in that you can only play as Ryo or Robert in single player, but AoFII adds more playable characters from the first game with a few new additions (like Yuri, Ryo's sister). However, the best one is AoFIII, which was done a bit later on and changes out a lot of the roster and controls a lot better.
 

Phantoon

I cuss you bad
I'm pretty fond of the Art of Fighting series, but like a lot of SNK games it's not much fun against the CPU. Later SNK games are much better for that, but AoF2 and Fatal Fury Special in particular have annoying psychic CPUs. Against other people they're fun though!
 

MCBanjoMike

Infamous third lava dolphin
(He/him)
I love KoF '98 very much despite the fact that I've never properly learned how to play it. Just pick Athena and dive-kick your way to victory! I mean, it's more of a dive fireball, but still.
 

Octopus Prime

Mysterious Contraption
(He/Him)
That being said, since your stated aim is in piecing together the narrative from the bits and pieces offered in each of the games, Art of Fighting and Fatal Fury may be the better choices for what to stick with; there's a lot more focus on each character and an overall storyline than in KoF, which typically restricts things to just one particular group of characters, and most of that isn't in the games themselves.

Either way, Garou is easily the best choice
 

Peklo

Oh! Create!
(they/them, she/her)
Fatal Fury is the game that Street Fighter creator Takashi Nishiyama went on to develop after leaving Capcom and joining SNK, as a very direct evolution and refinement of the ideas conceived in the prior game. Because of Street Fighter II's cultural ubiquity, Fatal Fury is often mischaracterized as a callous rip-off, when its roots go deeper than that as well as having been in development at around the same time besides--it's an instance of convergent evolution with its own nuances as to how to approach the still-gestating genre. The strengths of Fatal Fury predict the unique appeals of SNK's entire fighting game line that it created: a much stronger sense of place, narrative and character dynamics than anything Capcom or any other competitor was ever able to concoct. If you're interested in the mythos and production history of the series as the finished work reflects, there's no one "bad" game to try, as they all contribute something to it. I'm speaking from the perspective of someone who primarily enjoys fighting games as single player experiences, and whether it's mechanics, aesthetic or narrative, any larger SNK tapestry is worth the time you put into them. For Fatal Fury specifically, I played about half of the series on Switch a while ago, so I'll put those thoughts below:

Thanks to Terry being in Smash, everyone's talking about Fatal Fury and SNK in a way that I really haven't witnessed maybe ever in my lifetime, so it's had me thinking about the series too. Figured I'd revisit everything that's on Switch, since it's mostly all there and the current sale commemorating Terrymania is in effect too. So:

Fatal Fury: King of Fighters - Character of choice: Terry

It's pretty scary how fully-formed the SNK fighting game concept feels, right from the start. An emphasis on setting, narrative that informs the action, the setpiece drama inherent to the flourishes and mechanics... I think it's what ultimately sets the wider line apart from the competition, in how easy it is to buy into the dramatics and characters. I love checking in with Geese's ongoing tantrums inbetween rounds, and I love when losing against him sends the player diving down the skyscraper, waiting for a life-saving credit. Billy is another highlight for the henchman who keeps throwing him replacement staves every time he misplaces his.

Fatal Fury 2 - Character of choice: Mai

Huge leap in the feel of play, for thinking the controls through and allowing more active ways to interact with the lane-switching system. This is where that expression really materializes to its utmost for me, especially in stages like Jubei's where you can smash through the screens dividing the lines, from either side, or continue fighting behind them partly obscured. Mai's stage allows her to use a special move only available there, rebounding off of the flagpoles in the environment, while Kim's stage places passing motorcyclists in harm's way if you manage to bump into them during the action. The liveliness of the stages isn't just expressed in their raw visuals (which are great), but how they interact as spaces for the action themselves. It's the closest any fighting game, especially of the era, has really come to embodying an interactive martial arts flick for me. Even the mechanical additions like the desperation moves work in such a way that prioritize maximum dramatic appeal than playing up the consideration for "balance."

This is also where one of the shining stars of fighting and video game bossdom makes his debut, and do I love Wolfgang Krauser more than anything. Unlike Geese, whose presence in the first game is as a sort of buffoonish overlord, Krauser only starts making his presence known more than halfway through the story--as an unknown menace tearing through the cast of the previous game, looking for the player. When met face to face, it's in a setting mixing grand opulence and hearty competition--all this man really wants is a challenge; there's no criminal cruelty or dark designs in his presentation and behaviour. What really immortalizes Krauser is the characterization he's granted through his voice acting, before and after rounds. "I'll chisel your gravestone! Sleep well!", "You were good! You fought well!" and "You were perfect! I met... my match!" are a full and satisfying arc all on their own, complemented by his mannerisms and vocal delivery, and there's nothing I can think of to improve on it. Geese was a milestone in big boss presence, and it's all the better he was immediately improved upon.

Fatal Fury Special - Character of choice: Krauser

Special's nature as a revision of the previous game mostly leaves one with the particulars to grapple with, of which there are enough to consider both uniquely satisfying experiences despite sharing so much between them. The addition of Fatal Fury originals--including Geese, and more importantly, Duck King--into the roster balloons up the arcade sequence into a veritable epic: we're talking fifteen sequential fights, and if you manage to get through all that without losing a round, there's the ultimate dream match challenger to contend with in the form of Art of Fighting's Ryo Sakazaki. It might be too much, even, but the nature of the game mechanics at this time render most rounds as extremely short encounters, where damage values are racked up high, and combos aren't prioritized as a tactical essential. It's much more about the fundamentals of movement in a way that's easier for beginners to understand, and more palatable for sustained play when execution isn't the end-all of every scenario. Fighting games aren't really designed like this anymore, unless it's something specifically positioning itself as a throwback, or an outlier with years of precedent powering it like Samurai Shodown. Special ends this era of Fatal Fury, and it does it with confidence.

Fatal Fury 3: Road to the Final Victory - Character of choice: Blue Mary

A complete aesthetic and mechanical overhaul of the series, Fatal Fury 3 is rough in the ways radical revamps can be and full of fresh creativity in others. The change to one main lane and two supplementary evasive lanes doesn't go over so well with me--the lane-switching in the previous games worked as a dramatic amplifier to the action, with monumental leaps between the planes, and was interstitial in nature. Here, you're expected to dive in and out constantly, with snappy maneuvers that are rooted to the ground and so lack the cumbersome majesty of the previous incarnation. It's fussy in ways that subtracts from the flow with micro-pauses aplenty, and drags matches on in an unsatisfying manner. Those are where the gripes mostly end, as Fatal Fury 3's visual splendor cannot be ignored. The super-saturation that's characterized the series so far is met with animation quality and colour palette choices that demand to be absorbed frame by individual frame. I don't really think of the criticisms related to play with this one--I just recall the places it took me through, and am content.

For The King of Fighters, specific recommendations are kind of out the window since with the mentality I have I'd just want to play them all eventually (and have), but some particular highlights:
  • '94 and '95 have to be played for Rugal and Omega Rugal as the final bosses. He has to be seen and fought to be believed.
  • '96, '97 and '98 are the all-timer streak; any one of them has a claim for series-best depending on your particular preferences. My heart sways toward '96 much of the time, for the debuts of one of the most overwhelmingly great lineups of women fighters in Leona, Kasumi, Mature, Vice and Chizuru; the rare appearance of Krauser; and much of the soundtrack. '97 is probably the presentational peak of the series with its own set of compelling newcomers, and is the storyline climax of the most iconic arc. '98 is the one most people actually return to to play with others, as it's just a great set of mechanics and a comprehensive roster.
  • '99 and 2000 are pretty reliable late-era SNK quality, but 2001 is where things change as it's the first game developed after SNK's bankruptcy and the upheaval of their existence as a developer. Igniz as the final boss is one of the more infamous SNK examples and you get the feeling it's maybe not for the best reasons. 2002 is... fine, but today goes more ignored still because the much later 2002 Unlimited Match revision has effectively replaced it in people's minds. 2003--the last of the games developed for the Neo Geo MVS hardware, and thus the last of them available on Switch as ACA releases--is where I'd point the series as having recovered, introducing the wonderful new lead character Ash Crimson (who's frequently mocked by some contingents of the fanbase) who kicks off the new story arc, transplanting some welcome additions from Mark of the Wolves and generally having a better handle on the aesthetic than the last few efforts.
That's the cutoff point as a Switch player, but outside of that XI is the best of the series past its heyday, and XII and XIII are the only games in the series I personally don't ever want to play again: I detest the visual style they adopted, with their dimorphic exaggerations in anatomy that always lead to more sexist portrayal of every character subjected to it, and the same caricaturish approach showing up in ugly, sometimes racist ways in the stage visuals. I was one of the few people actually relatively happy when the workmanlike 3D models of XIV turned up, in comparison.
 

Phantoon

I cuss you bad
Art Of Fighting actually has proper cutscenes for its story, so if that's a concern it's worth trying. It has two playable characters in Story Mode so it can focus on it.

KoF has a ridiculous amount of story but it's told through supplemental detail, not through the game itself. Like in KoF 95 the Korea Team are Kim Kaphwan who is trying to rehabilitate two criminals, Choi Bounge and Chang Koehan. That's why Kim is so straight arrow and the other two look like they'd happily murder someone. You'd never pick that up from the game, though.

If you lurked the Mad Man's Cafe in the day you'd have picked it up, GameFaqs probably has storyline information that would be helpful nowadays or the SNK Wiki. KoF 97 does have decent cutscenes )(and it should do as the culmination to a 3 (4?) game arc.
 
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