Review by Mechaman
"The definitive 2D fighting game series; Capcom notwithstanding."
The King of Fighters series is SNK's crown jewel in the increasingly Capcom-influenced
2D fighting arena. Tying together many of SNK's great 2D fighters, the KOF series
is renowned for its balance between hardcore skill-based action and wild moves.
KOF '97 is no exception, and until KOF '98 and KOF '99 arrive on a home system, '97 on the Saturn remains the real test of skill for fighting fans.
Gameplay is always where the KOF series aims. '97 retains most of '96's system, with certain modifications. Now, before picking teams, you are allowed to select either "Advanced" ('97's new system), or "Extra"(for '96/'94 fans). The differences are slight, but crucial: with Advanced you can no longer "charge" your super meter; it relies on blocks/hits to be filled. You can store up to three supers on your meter however, and an entertaining system of relationships between the fighters determines if you can keep the stocks between rounds(e.g. Kyo hates Iori, so if Kyo builds up his stock and is defeated, Iori will not retain any of the supers if he is up next. If Shingo follows Kyo, then the stocks are retained(because Shingo is Kyo's student)). Also present in Advanced are evasion rolls, special kinds of jumping, throw escapes, and more. "Extra" relies on you to manually charge the super bar(by holding down buttons), and has much more defensive gameplay.
Beyond the subtle differences for KOF fans, the object remains the same--pick a team of three fighters and battle other teams, one fighter from each team at a time. Defeat all members of the other team and you go on to the next match. Fighters have a choice of special moves; some are great at throwing you down and breaking bones, others are better at stand-up fighting, and the rest will simply hand you your rear on a silver platter.
After the media circus of '96, the time for the next King of Fighters tournament rolls around. This year sees mostly shiftings of existing teams, although there are several new faces in the ring. Interestingly enough, two people enter as single entries with no team: Iori Yagami, Kyo's rival(who seems to have killed his team from '96), and Shingo Yabuki, Kyo's student(who can't shoot flames and simply hits you harder than the rest). However, it seems that this year is only the start of something much worse than the end of '96...
As is usual for 2D games on the Saturn, the graphics are arcade-perfect. There's probably less than 1% of missing frames from the arcade, thanks to the need for a RAM cart(only 1M is needed; the 4-in-1 Action Replay will work fine). And as usual, SNK's attention on small details comes through: each stage's background is alive with action, be it the chanting crowds in Japan, the dancers and bystanders(keep an eye out for past SNK characters) of China's stage, the festivities at Disneyland(yes, Disneyland.), and others. During the loading screen, you also get neato embossed pictures of the fighters. Plus you even get a gallery full of original art of the fighters--some neat, some wacky. Audio is passable. The announcer is full of energy, but some sound effects(most notably character lines) are somewhat distorted. It doesn't distract too much from the main action of the game, which is what you should be concerned about.
Just like other fighting games: play to become a master, challenge your friends, and discover hidden secrets. If you're a fighting game fanatic, it's all here. At the very least it makes a great party game if your friends all enjoy fighters.
Unfortunately you won't be doing any rental if you're in the States; '97 for the Saturn is an import, and the line of KOF games for the Saturn stopped at '96(which was a blessing; the PSX is horrible at massive 2D games). If you enjoy 2D fighters and have a Saturn this game should already be on your shelf. You may want to pick up the KOF Collection; which includes all of the KOF games released for the Saturn and their original RAM carts. If you have a Saturn (with the converter) you may want to pick it up anyways; it can be had fairly cheap and is a good learning if you want to delve into the murky, biased realm of 2D fighting. further into fighting games.
Reviewer's Rating: 4.5 - Outstanding
Originally Posted: 11/01/99, Updated 09/03/02
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