Review by Shirow
"The only game I'll still be playing 20 years from now"
-- Dream Match Never Ends ! Enter the 1998 King of Fighters tournament ! --
Because all long-lasting series must pull a slugfest at one time or another, SNK jumps in the bandwagon by releasing The King of Fighters '98. Also known as Dream Match Never Ends in the US, the latest addition in the popular fighting series is currently considered as one of the best 2D fighters because it combines crisp visuals, fantastic music and a superb game engine for a unique gaming experience.
Almost all the characters from the previous titles have been brought back to give '98 the best cast SNK could have ever crafted -- or any other company for that matter. Past warriors have risen from the dead to join the slugfest although popular picks, Geese Howard and Eiji Kisaragi, are missing along with less popular bad guys, Wolfgang Krauser and Mr. Big (although he can be seen in a background). But Vice and Mature, supposedly dead, are back and team up with Iori once more while the whole Sports Team seems to be as howlin' mad as ever.
And since you can make up any team you want, this gives way to a stunning amount of possibilities. Even if you do manage to get bored with the game, playing with a weird team consisting of Chang, Athena and Heavy D! is bound to arouse your interest again and you'll keep on trying different teams. This alone is enough to give the game a darn good lifespan but KOF '98 holds so much more that one does not even know what to drool at.
As this is a special edition, the game logically holds no plot. While this would have annoyed the fans since KOF is well-known for solid plots, the absence of a proper story is easily forgotten thanks to this surprising cast coupled with an excellent game engine that still remains a favorite although there are already 3 more titles in the series. Actually, there is a small plot but it's just that of '94 with Rugal acting like a jerk and you won't care about it yourself once you've started playing the game.
There are 2 modes of play for people to choose from, namely Advanced and Extra. Extra is meant for beginners and is desperation moves-friendly but lacks the nice advantages of Advanced which, among these, enables you to roll behind their opponents, thus giving you the sweet possibility to unleash a devastating combo on their poor soon-to-be-hunched backs. Each mode actually has its pros and cons but some characters fare better in a specific mode such that in these cases, you have no choice but to become familiar with that mode or you'll very likely become lose by a Perfect.
Once the 3 characters have been selected, you can battle your way up to mighty Omega Rugal who is back from the dead yet again. Our dear invincible friend is still obsessed with power and he's even stronger than before with moves that will take away half your life if you are not careful enough. As you test your skills against the different fighters that show up, you'll notice how many features the game holds.
Advanced mode thus still has the Smiley system which determines whether your power stocks will be passed on to the next character when your current fighter dies. A white, normal face means that the stocks will be kept while the dreaded red, angry face implies that you'll lose the 5 power stocks you took so much time to gather. And, if you're lucky enough, you'll be blessed with the yellow, laughing face which will add a stock for you to use.
You can even get out of certain holds by having one of your teammates drop in and hitting the opponent if that character is friendly enough. Watching Joe Higashi, one of the wackiest characters ever in the whole genre, drop in and punching the opponent while he's smiling is one of the finest moments in the game just as all the characters benefit from a drastic change in the visuals compared to '97.
This can be observed just by watching the intro as it is without doubt the best intro in any SNK fighter. Everything is now more colorful while the game is packed with breathtaking details, whether these pertain to the wonderful landscape behind the ferry or Kyo Kusanagi showing his flames to a conspicuously bouncy Mai Shiranui. Ryuji Yamazaki, the world's most fearsome criminal, looks really smart with his all-black outfit but his mad look betrays him as one senses the power surging through his veins.
The exhilarating part is that such details don't limit to just a few characters but instead, every single one of them is striking and the somptuous animation renders them darn charming. Backgrounds are packed with minute details which convey a unique feeling onto the player who is literally submersed in the game and who can barely put it away to do something else. You simply cannot refrain being amazed upon seeing what this game has to offer graphically.
'98 marks a giant leap in the audio with its entertaining music and clear sound effects. Instead of limiting memorable themes to the best teams, everyone now enjoys a theme which splendidly represents the fighter. Thus, Kyo has a dynamic and aggressive Esaka which never falters while Athena enjoys a sweet, melancholic theme which actually incites you to hold back only to be hit back by Psycho Attacks.
As strange as it may seem, my favorite music is the one that plays at the character select screen. I always found these boring and never paid any attention to these but in this case, SNK surpassed themselves. Even as I am typing this review, this theme is playing in my head (or you could say, destroying my brain). Just listen to it once and you'll understand why I'm so excited !
Voice-acting has never reached such heights with excellent actors who do justice to every character whether the latter is top-tier or low-tier. The female announcer sets everything with her melodious ''The King of Fighters'' and everyone else conveys his or her feelings to such an extent that the player will even turn into a cosplayer if he doesn't watch out.
The control is top-notch -coming from SNK, this isn't really surprising- and complaining about it because you lost just shows that you need to practice. The game requires a lot of practice and should you wish to master a character, you will have to spend countless hours assimilating all the pros of his normal moves and knowing everything about his special moves.
And if you are so finical about replay value, learn the sweet possibility that some characters exist in two versions. Yes, you read well ! The number of characters in this game is higher than what you can see. Characters which have changed styles and moves during the years can revert to their first form for the most nostalgic players. Either way, bring a friend over and if you something planned for the day, you can just forget about it right away because KOF '98 is one of those games that never get boring.
The loading times which I feared about do not pose much a problem. In fact, you will welcome these because the game is so fast you'll need to let the steam off during rounds. The challenge is omnipresent and there isn't such a difference between low-tier and top-tier characters when these are controlled by the crazy CPU. If you don't watch out, Chang will turn you into dog-meat. Being ported to the Neo-Geo CD didn't affect '98 in the least as the game looks and plays the same.
Endings may consist only of pics but even then, there are some teams that will allow you to see more pics which don't show up with the default teams. The artwork is the best you'll ever see in a fighting game and every single picture is a huge reward for beating cheap Omega Rugal. Even if you lose, you'll be eager to continue as doing so enables options which are determined through a roulette with the best one being Infinite Power Stocks, regardless of the mode you are playing in.
The King of Fighters '98 isn't just a fighting game - it is THE fighting game that at last showed the world what SNK was capable of. I still remember how I was thrilled the first time I played it at an arcade. 4 years later, as I inserted the disc in the Neo-Geo CD, the same feeling overtook me again. Even titles like Tekken Tag or Dead or Alive 3 don't have the charm of this title simply because KOF '98 has a depth that has not yet been matched.
Moreover, the only thing you'll think about upon starting this game -when alone- is ''Me Cometh To Beat Silly CPU'' and this alone will make you have a fun time. Whether you win or you lose, the sensation of playing this magnificent fighter is enough have you literally dream. Shingo Yabuki showing up to challenge you is one of the most awaited moment in the game and his cry as he shows just rocks ! It's all about buffering, rolling behind opponent and other crazy, baffling moves to show off your skills.
This isn't a game that you'll play for weeks or months. Thinking of 1 year ? Not even close ! Should you manage to get it, you will always cherish it and will play it with the same enthusiasm even 3 years later. The wondrous graphics, memorable music and unchallengeable warmth of the engine will see to that ! In any case, welcome to the best 2D fighter ever crafted. If you are the proud owner of a Neo-Geo CD, this is the only game you need. This may appear as a bold statement to you but that's just how it is.
~Get the soundtrack too
~You, for not having the game yet
~Me, for being addicted to it
~SNK, for destroying our social lives
Graphics : 10.0/10.0
Sound : 10.0/10.0
Control : 10.0/10.0
Gameplay : 10.0/10.0
Replay value : 10.0/10.0
Fun-factor : 10.0/10.0
Difficulty : variable
Overall : 10.0/10.0
Orochi's Words of Orochiness :
By bringing forth most of its characters and putting them in a game which shines with beautiful graphics and a crazy replay value, SNK may very well have created the perfect fighting game. Words can't even describe the excitement you feel when this game is on and when you know someone like Iori Yagami is just around the corner. KOF may be heading for 2002 soon but this one will always hold a special place in everybody's heart. This is a masterpiece ! 'Nuff said !
Reviewer's Score: 10/10 | Originally Posted: 02/11/02, Updated 11/09/02
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