King of Fighters 95, 96, 97 (Sega Saturn)

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Amon

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Sega Saturn

Yes, this weeks game of the week is three games. King of fighters 95, 96 and 97. King of Fighters 95 marked the beginning of the Orochi Saga, and the first to use the custom teams and required a custom cart. King of fighters 96 is the first game to achieve KOF's distinct look and continued the Orchi Saga. King of fighters 97 includes two special modes-Advance Mode (based on KOF '96) and Extra Mode (based on KOF '94 & '95). It also concludes the three part 'Orochi Saga' story-line begun in 95. Both 96 and 97 required a ram cart. And each note each game introduced new characters. On a side note while kof 98 (us 99 dream match) is technically part of the orochi saga it is non cannon.
 

Zaksund

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Ah, classic SNK Ports ... let's step back in time with some reflections shall we :)

-- About the games themselves --

('95)

Wow, what a game this was and being able to edit your team just made a good thing that much better. The artwork in this game is verrrry nice with the bold color bands on character sprites and the insane attention to detail in the backgrounds. I love the Garou and AOF stages in this game especially, man are they beautiful or what? When I think SNK artwork, I actually think more of 95's graphical style than Garou's. The artists had to love their job because everything is just so well done. This game was definitely the start of something big. '94 was the birth of a fantastic idea, and '95 kicked everything up a notch. Yes, there were infinites, absolutely sick dizzies, and a move damage rating that was just way too high. But with the crowds this one used to draw, I'd say way more was being done right, than wrong. Admittedly though, this is my least played of the 3, just because it's so hard to come back to its game play style after playing the subsequent games. But if I recall correctly, this is the last KOF with the "shirt rips on a special finish" thing that all of us looked forward to back in the day. Don't you even deny it!

('96)

Loved by some and hated by others. This is the point where I began playing more SNK and less Capcom. SNK touched up their art, redid some sprites, added more frames of animation for an even smoother look, and gave us quite possibly some of the best backgrounds ever to grace any fighting game. Graphically, especially at the time, no one could possibly complain with the way '96 looked. But the sound was no slouch either, bringing to the party sweet tunes like Esaka, The '96 Pyscho Soldier remix, Geese's theme, Mr. Big's Dust Man, and of course Chizuru's Fairy.

Not just going for refinement; however, '96 also introduced a roll which dramatically altered the way KOF was played. Range and retraction frames in a move had to be weighed as a well timed roll by the opposition could seriously punish you for a wrong move. A lesson my once TNT punch happy Joe knows all too well...

Body Tosses now had high priority, some characters got new linkers, and others had moves changed entirely. The entire game structure got a major shakeup in '96 that not everyone likes, but none can say wasn't ambitious.

The sweet chocolate syrup on this ice cream cone proved to be one "Boss Team" consisting of Wolfgang "I'll chisel your gravestone" Krauser - Fatal Fury 2, Mr. Big - Sub Boss of original Art of Fighting, and none other than the counter king himself ... Geese Howard - Original Fatal Fury (and Mr. Big's boss too). Now isn't that mean and nasty? (Obscure reference alert!!)

Fighting in Esaka on the overpass, battling it down to the cool Sax of Arashi No Saxophone, having the world look on as a lone Chizuru challenges all three of your team members and makes you struggle for a win, and finally the realization that what you've been fighting for is just so much greater than some stupid title as you square off against Goenitz. All these things mean that in terms of atmosphere, I think KOF '96 is still unrivaled. This is one of the very few fighting games that I actually have no problem with playing in single player mode.

Not to mention that it also has quite possibly the best intro of any game in the series (guess I did kinda just mention it, huh?)

('97)

I'm gonna say that '97 is closer to '98 than it is '96. This entry marks the end of the Orochi Saga, and is quite a sendoff.

Again, character balance and moves have been tweaked, meaning that a Kim master in '96 has new play tricks and subtleties to discover in '97. Some characters are even given brand new Desperation Moves, and it is here that I learn just how absolutely F-ing nasty Andy Bogard is in skilled hands (his high - low game is sick). Also, now it's possible to choose between EXTRA and ADVANCED play modes. I'd go into detail, but I'm guessing we all know the differences and how they work, right?

The change in graphics from '96 to '97 isn't nearly as dramatic as it was from '95 to '96, but there are still a few tweaks and frames added. At this point, considering the size of the character roster, it's a testament to SNK's art dept. how amazingly well each character animates. Nice little touches in the backgrounds such as huge waves crashing when a Power Geyser is executed in the USA stage help to round out a good showing, but overall the backgrounds in '97 do seem a little uninspired in comparison to '96. This is done to fit more with the game's theme of a television broadcast, as does the choice to replace music with ambient sound when a lot of characters fight.

The lack of actual music was a hard change for me to wrap my head around, as I play games worse when there's no music (My friends have actually tested and seen this happen!) But the change does make sense in context.

As far as game play is concerned, '97 feels tighter than it's predecessor and again much more like '98 minus half the characters, some of the moves, and all of the boring (I'm sorry, but the atmosphere of '98 is just plain dull ... game's great for vs. though).

And I think this one has the second best intro of the series.

-- About the Saturn Ports --

In terms of conversion quality, '95 is definitely the best, then I'd say '97, and then '96. It looks odd on paper that a 32-bitter needs to have a port of a 16-bit (or is it 24??) game toned down but more than anything else, these games should highlight just how important RAM is in a console. God Bless the cart port, eh?

('95)

There's really not really anything negative I can say about '95. The ROM cart works wonders for this conversion, and you have to wonder if they really needed to stop the action at all to swap chars (or maybe they could've made it less obvious). The new resolution takes a little getting used to, but other than that, it seems completely spot - on. If there are any differences they sure as hell ain't glaring and I'm just not hardcore enough to notice and/or care.

Verdict: There's probably something here that isn't perfect, but if you're determined to find something to nitpick about, then you've already done the same in games like XvSF, MSHvSF, Vampire Savior, Samurai Spirits 3, and RBS ... which means, CONGRATULATIONS! You buy games just to find stuff to b!&@$ about! Please honor yourself by taking a bow and then realize that when the difference is this small, no one gives a S#@!.

('96)

Hmmm, '96 is using a RAM cart which means that right out the gate, the game is going to have longer load times than '95. Now I actually own '96 on MVS and played the Saturn version this morning just for comparison. Things like the intro, menus, backgrounds, etc. are all pretty much in tact. Due to a resolution difference characters look a little skinnier to me, but for the most part retain almost all their animation. The load timer here is ~13 seconds at the start of a fight, and a little less than 5 when switching characters. The game play is 100% there - there isn't one thing in the cart version that I can't pull off on the SS port. In fact, I'm going to say that the worst thing about this game is that the sound effects are horribly sampled. Another personal gripe is the use of the arranged soundtrack instead of the original synth, but I can't hold that against the game itself as that's just a personal preference :p

Verdict: I literally played the MVS and SS versions of these games back to back this morning, and I'd say the Saturn port is 85 - 90% the game the original is. I say 85 - 90% because the sound quality is going to sway each of us differently. Honestly, for the price and at the time, it was arguably the best option for playing '96 if you didn't have a cab. Noticeably more animation than the PSX version, supposedly much faster loading than the Neo CD version (which I think this version is actually a port of), and way WAY cheaper than the AES cart. Its nuts how much flack this game got just because it doesn't load your character instantly like the cart version. You wanna bash FF3 suuure, that really was a bad porting job, but '96 *scoff* hardly.

('97)

'97 is in pretty much the same boat as '96 only the sound is a bit better (still not MVS perfect though). The load times in '97 are the exact same as in '96 as well, so you're lookin' at 13 & 5 which really isn't nearly as long as you think it is. Intro and menus? check! Some backgrounds (China Stage mostly) are missing small details, but hardly anything to complain about. In fact, if you haven't junked out on the Neo original, I doubt you'd even know what's missing. The most noticeable thing is that some fight intro's have been cut or shortened, but the actual fighting animations all seem to be there. Andy's Dam Breaker is fully there, Phoenix Flattener looks the business, Mai is still as bouncy as ever ... you get the idea. If something is missing, it can't be all that important because much like '96, the gameplay is 100% there.

Verdict: Re-read '96's verdict and change '96 to '97.

-- Concrusion --

Anyway, all three of the games look absolutely stunning in RGB. I've said it elsewhere and I'm gonna say it here too: On the Saturn, SEGA's 3D games that rely heavily on texturing (LB, VO, FV...) and Neo ports benefit the most from being run in RGB. I was running them in S-video before, I run them in RGB now, and I see the difference even with my glasses off, so don't gimmie that S-video is every bit as good stuff...you are cheating yourself by not running these through a SCART tv/RGB monitor.

Three games from a fantastic era of video games. It's odd, but when I think about it, most of my favorite fighters come from the mid to late 90's. I remember talking to my brother last weekend about just how old SF3 actually is. Back on topic, spend an afternoon with these games, and I guarantee you, you'll be amazed at how well they still play.

Do I still play these ports religiously; well I'd be lying if I said yeah. But I don't ever recall saying, even when I got '96, "YES!!, and now no loading like that accursed Saturn version!" Truth is, I bought that cart more out of respect for SNK's work more than because I felt the SS versions were somehow lacking. And at ~$8 the Saturn version is still cheaper than my cart, and gives you some pretty neat box art and manuals to boot. Well, they do look nice on a shelf at least, is all I'm sayin'

Favorite Team: Andy, Joe, Robert (sometimes Kensou)

What hurts the most: Xiangfei over Rick!? And you offer me Vanessa as a peace offering (now with 200% more match-costing command overlap!). That old wound still hurts a bit.

Secret Shame: I'm so shook when it comes to grapplers, it's not even funny.
 

sonicshuffle

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Nice reviews. The Dreamcast KoF are pretty good too - but with one each year, I never know which ones are the best on each system!
 

Philmartin87

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Well those were the good days , when I was a kid I used to play this game wonderful.
 
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