Ask yourself a question - back in 1994 when you were playing the very first King of Fighters game, did you ever think you would ever be playing the 9th incarnation of the series in 2002; especially on the same gaming system? The chances are that you didn't... but, here we are in 2002 with another brand new KOF (and in many ways I do use the term "new" loosely ;).
When this game was officially confirmed by Eolith/Playmore, the main thing on my mind was whether this was going to be a worthy addition to the KOF legacy. After the disappointing King of Fighters games of 2000 and 2001 (particularly the latter one), most people had given up hope of seeing another truly great KOF game on the Neo Geo. KOF 2000 was the original SNK's last KOF. It was a decent game, but one that lacked interesting backgrounds and decent new fighters, as well as some of the "class" that earlier KOF's had (among other faults like the striker system).
After the original SNK had folded, along came the Korean company Eolith's KOF 2001, which beneath the surface was actually a good game and improved on KOF 2000 in many ways. Unfortunately it featured terrible stage designs that made 2000's look like oil paintings in comparison and also had some of the worst music that had ever graced a KOF game; gone were SNK's cool and memorable tunes, and in came repetetive tedious techno crap that was so bad it had to be heard to be believed. Oh, and did I mention the character artwork? For want of a better word it "sucked" and made a lot of great characters look very weird. Suffice to say, most fans were not happy with any of this and feared that Eolith had completely destroyed much of the respect that the KOF series had left. The future was not looking good... would Eolith/Playmore be able to salvage something from the wreckage?
Enter KOF 2002, with its promise to return The King of Fighters series "back to its roots". Eolith have decided the best way to do this is to draw inspiration from the most popular game in the series, KOF '98. Hence, this years competition is a "Dream Match" with no storyline, where many older characters come back to slug it out with each other. This means the return of old favourites like Shermie, Chris, Yashiro, Vice, Mature and Billy Kane, as well as the return of Rugal as the games final boss. Their reinstatement does mean the exclusion of some characters however, which is a mixture of good and bad. The good side is that people like Bao and Hinako are gone (I'm sure Bao's exclusion alone will make many happy), but the bad side is that a few much wanted characters like Eiji Kisaragi (from AOF) still haven't made the cut, while KOF stalwarts like King are now MIA completely.
Here is the full character line-up for 2002:
Kyo Kusanagi, Benimaru Nikaido, Goro Daimon
Not much new here - Kyo's voice sounds different however, and not quite as good as it used to.
Fatal Fury Team
Terry Bogard, Andy Bogard, Joe Higashi
The usual Fatal Fury team - Andy still has his outfit from KOF 2001, which looks cool!
Korean Team Team
Kim Kaphwan, Chang Koehan, Choi Bounge
Still the same old Korean team - I miss Jhun and was really hoping that he would make a return. Kim sports a bit of new animation though, especially in his standing pose... it looks like the animators went crazy here compared to the other characters!
Ikari Warriors Team
Leona, Ralf Jones, Clark Steel
Heidern is MIA again, although he does make an appearance very briefly when you complete the game, leaving Leona, Ralf and Clark to slug it out with their opponents.
Art of Fighting Team
Ryo Sakazaki, Robert Garcia, Takuma Sakazaki
The typical AOF team - Takuma has been given a massive overhaul though and no longer has projectile attacks. I'm guessing a lot of his fans won't be happy with what they have done to him.
Psycho Soldiers Team
Athena Asamiya, Sie Kensou, Chin Gentsai
Same old Psycho Soldiers team, but Bao has been removed - I'm sure that this news has launched many of you into a fit of joy ;)
Mai Shiranui, Yuri Sakazaki, May Lee Jin Ju
After being exiled from the Korean team, May Lee joins Mai and Yuri on the womens team. Although I kinda like May Lee, I would rather have seen Angel here ;)
KOF '96 Team
Iori Yagami, Mature, Vice
Thankfully Iori has seen sense and got back to being in a decent team (after being in the same team as the idiot Ramon last year)... now he is back with Mature and Vice, just like he was in KOF '96.
KOF '97 Team
Yamazaki Ryuji, Blue Mary, Billy Kane
Another old school KOF team back together. Yamazaki kicks ass.
KOF '98 Team
Yashiro Nanakase, Shermie, Chris
Some very popular characters that make their long awaited return (even if it may be for just one game). You can also select their powered up Orochi versions - see below for more info.
KOF '99 Team
K', Maxima, Whip
Whip joins K' and Maxima on the KOF '99 team.
KOF 2000 Team
Vanessa, Seth, Ramon
Although I don't mind Vanessa for some reason, I'm not too fond of Seth and I hate Ramon... why couldn't they have axed him in favour of King?
KOF 2001 (Nest's) Team
Kula Diamond, K9999, Angel
Foxy has gone on vacation again it seems, which leaves Kula, Angel and K9999 on the KOF 2001 team. Angel and her... *ahem*... assets probably would have been better off on the womens team though in my humble opinion ;)
Yashiro of the parched Earth, Shermie of the insanely violent lightning, Chris of the flames of destiny
The very popular Orochi team is back and as cool as ever. To select this team you must hold down start while selecting normal Shermie, Yashiro or Chris.
Kusanagi (Kyo Clone)
This is kind of an evil version of Kyo that plays more or less the way he did in KOF '95. To play as him, simply highlight Kyo on the character select screen and press up, down, right, left, down, up, left, right. If done correctly, Kyo's picture should change to Kusanagi - now just press any button to pick him.
Interesting info: The voice actor for Kusanagi is actually the same guy who did the voice for Kaneda in the anime movie "Akira". This isn't the 1st time Eolith have done something like this; any Akira fans will have noticed that the character K9999 is a homage to Tetsuo from the same movie. I noticed that if you fight Kusanagi vs K9999, they also have a special intro. K9999 shouts "Kusanagi!!!" to which he replies in Japanese: "That's Mr. Kusanagi to you punk!" (as far as I know that is what it translates to). Very cool =)
Thanks go out to Daemon for pointing this out to me.
Final boss - can be selected by moving the cursor to the blank space on the select screen (left of Yashiro). As far as I know this is only possible on the home cart and not in the arcade (MVS). As with all KOF bosses, Omega Rugal is very powerful and cheap; you can read more about him later in the review.
KOF 2002 hasn't undergone any massive changes, but there are a couple of fairly important ones, which should make most people happy:
Actually, the above should probably read "Lack of Striker System" . Unlike the past three KOF games, this one reverts back to the old-school KOF 3 on 3 matches, with NO strikers whatsoever. Although I liked the idea of strikers when they originally appeared in KOF '99, after a while they did start to annoy me a bit. Their removal may make a few KOF fans mad, but I'm sure the vast majority of people out there will be glad to see them go.
When playing in 1 player mode, you get a choice of what team you want to face next before each fight. The CPU gives you a choice of two teams and you choose the one you want to face - this can be handy for avoiding fights against certain annoying opponents ;)
After the 5th fight, you will get to fight one of the 2001 Nest's team - either Kula, K9999 or Angel (I think who you fight depends on how well you have been playing). After this you will get one more standard fight (which is against a pre-determined team as you cannot select between opponents here), and then you will face the final boss, Omega Rugal. Rugal only needs to be beaten once to complete the game.
By tapping A+B during certain moves you can cancel the move into another one. This takes one power stock unless you are in Max Mode (see below).
Max mode is activated by pressing B+C (this requires one power stock). This mode lasts for a short time (maybe 10 seconds or so - a small bar at the bottom shows you how much time is left), and during this time you can perform a SDM at the cost of just one power stock, or a DM for free (although Max mode will de-activate as soon as you perform one). While in this mode you can also cancel normal and (some) special moves into any other move without using a power stock; but doing this makes Max Mode run out a lot more quickly however.
Finally, a negative effect of Max Mode is that your hits will do less damage to your enemy while it is enabled.
By pressing back or forward + C or D you can perform an escape when your enemy attempts to throw you. This will only work if you pressed the same button (C or D) as your enemy did when attempting to throw you however.
Tapping A+B when landing after being hit will make you tech roll if you time it correctly, although this cannot be performed after being hit by certain moves.
The things I have listed above are probably the most important aspects of this years KOF - I could go a little more in depth, but I leave that to the experts and FAQ writers as I'm not exactly the BEST at KOF ;). See the end of this review (page 3) for links to KOF 2002 FAQ's.
he artwork for KOF 2002 is done by the same person as KOF 2001. I know you are probably thinking something along the lines of "HELL NO!", but this years character select pictures and intro are actually very well done. They are still different to what we were used to in the older KOF games, but on the whole they do look extremely good and I am very happy with the way they turned out.
Here's a couple of comparison shots so that you can see how much the artwork has improved from 2001 --> 2002:
Athena Asamiya - KOF 2001 --> KOF 2002
Joe Higashi - KOF 2001 --> KOF 2002
Yuri Sakazaki - KOF 2001 --> KOF 2002
The pics on the left are all from KOF 2001, with KOF 2002 pics on the right. I'm sure that you will agree the newer ones look FAR better!
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