Review by The Ragnarok
"This game brought the pole of standards higher from the ones set by Street Fighter II's reign."
It was 1991, and in that year, a legendary fighter would be released; Street Fighter II. Days were spent at the arcades, going on coin-popping binges until the behemoth fighter hit home on the SNES. Street Fighter II owned the newly established fighting spotlight.
Alas, all great empires must come to an end....
In the years between Street Fighter II's release and this game's release, Capcom repeatedly force-fed us remakes of SFII by the spoonful. Gamers became uneasy. We wanted something fresh, something new, something exciting. Street Fighter II, and it's countless remakes (Street Fighter II Turbo, Street Fighter II Hyper Fighting, Street Fighter II Rainbow Edition just to name a few) were no longer giving us what we needed to be satisfied. The gorgeous, yet underated Fatal Fury and Art Of Fighting series' of SNK would have to take a mundane back seat to Capcom for a long time.. until this Godlike cartridge fell into the palms of hardcore Neo-Geo owners across the land.
The King Of Fighters '94
King Of Fighters '94 would mark a revolution in the fighting game industry. At that time, there were three kinds of fighting gamers;
1) The gamers who were still suckling the SFII milk from Capcom's rapidly sagging breasts.
2) The numskulls who gave into Mortal Kombat's hype and actually thought it was decent.
3) And the gamers who saw a hint of promise in SNK's Neo-Geo.
It was the smart, third slice of pie that would go into stores worldwide, foaming at their mouths, and ready to make heads roll in order to get their hands on this masterpiece. And for what I went through to get it, it was well worth it. And I will tell you exactly why.
Alright, I'll admit. I wasn't too impressed with the stiff and somewhat goofy looking, pixelated intro this game unleashed upon me shortly after Neo-Geo logo faded. But it was when I investigated further I realized that this game would change the fighting world forever. The graphics; simply spectacular. Even today, the graphics fail to disappoint me, and seldom a fighter would reach such visual greatness as this. Sure, games like Vampire Savior and Street Fighter Alpha would have MUCH crisper and less pixelated characters and backgrounds, but they have never come close to the awe inspiring detail that is strung about this game.
The characters, albeit pixelated, were FAR better than the nearly-four-year-old recycled sprites in the various SFII remakes, and much greater than the stiff, ugly footage of human beings doing splits and punching eachother in balls seen in Mortal Kombat. The movements lacked not a frame, and the expressions were realistic.
Some spectacular special effects can be seen as well. The flames in this game, such as Kusanagi Kyo's Oni Yaki, are just gorgeous, multi-layered and well crafted sprites working in perfect harmony with each and every burning ember.
But the true beauty of this game's visuals lies in the backgrounds. Utterly beautiful. The detail of it all is almost ludicrous. Realistic scenes strung throughout the world, much like Street Fighter, would not be seen again until it's sequel a year later. In the Japan stage, the number of people rioting in the streets simply cannot be counted. You see all livestyles onlooking the amazing tournament. From fuedal style kimono clad spectators waving fans with the symbol of the rising sun, to schoolgirls in their uniforms cheering on the fighters contently from afar. Nothing was overlooked. Nothing.
The quality of this game's sound has seldomly been met, much less matched. Voices are crisp and without flaw. So clear, it's hard to believe that this was a cartridge driven game. It's that good. Hit effects sound nice. They don't sound odd or quirky, like the blocking sound in SFII which sounded like an old man banging on an empty trashcan with a cane. The screams uttered by falling characters are nice, and don't have the cliche'd echo which is in the SF series.
Music is in the same hand. The music in this game is beautiful, and I still listen to the tracks from the KOF '94 AST to this day. Although I must admit, my AST still doesn't compare to the game's original themes. They're upbeat when they should be, and dark when they should be. Some even have lyrics. Did I mention this was a cartridge driven system?
Now I must admit, story is never a very big deal when it comes to fighting games. It can either heighten, or hinder a fighting game experience. This game would be the beginning of a long running storyline which would continue in each installment of this series. The intrigue doesn't really show up until Yagami Iori does in KOF '95, along with the infamous Orochi's birth into the series. But this game indeed had a storyline. Kusanagi Kyo, curious about his father's sudden disappearance, enters the tournament which his father mysteriously disappeared in. After defeating all adversaries, he comes face to face with his father's attacker, Rugal Bernstein, the most stylish fighting game villain to grace a game until 1997 when Shinnosuke Kagami came along. It seems Mr. Bernstein has a bad habbit of turning people into statues, and guess who he wants to turn into one next! You!
Okay. It's an early fighting game. Beat people up for two rounds. The end.
It doesn't work that way here. First of all, what initially sets the style of this fighter apart from any other fighter is the three-on-three style of play (until Capcom would later mimic this in their Vs. Series and get the credit for it). This, obviously, makes the game more fun. Battles are longer and more satisfying. Unfortunately, in this first installment, you couldn't edit your teams. If you liked one character in the team, but hated the other two, you'd have to live with it. Of course, if you yearned for classic one-on-one gameplay, in the home version, you could also play ''Single'' mode.
Also, there is another innovation this game offers. Super Moves had already been unearthed by Super Street Fighter II, but the ''Desperation Moves'' weren't quite super moves. You could only do these given two circumstances;
A) You held the A, B, and C buttons long enough to fully charge your meter, however this left you open for attacks from the enemy.
B) You had less than 1/4 of your energy left and you life bar was flashing.
YAY! Supers could no longer be performed cheaply at the drop of a hat. And if you had 1/4 of your power left in this game, which is probably the hardest KOF game ever, you were pretty much dead. No DM would save your sorry ass. Which is why you wouldn't LET yourself get that drained.
Difficulty was adjustable in this home version. Nevertheless, the final boss, Rugal, was insanely difficult on ANY level, and his difficulty would only be matched by himself later in KOF '95 as Omega Rugal, and KOF '98 as Orochi Rugal.
Definately high. Even today, I repeatedly play this game just to get a nostalgiac surge of happiness in my post MvC depression, which would not be condoned by CvSNK.
If you have a Neo-Geo, and you don't have this ga-... wait a minute. What am I saying? EVERYONE who has a Neo-Geo has this game. I don't even have to recommend it to you. If you don't have it already, WHY ARE YOU HERE?! WHAT'S WRONG WITH YOU?! WHERE HAVE YOU BEEN FOR THE LAST SIX YEARS?!
Reviewer's Score: 10/10 | Originally Posted: 07/05/01, Updated 07/05/01
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