RETRO REBOOT | King Of Fighters 95 (Neo Geo/Arcade)

KOF 94 was a largely welcome fighting game from SNK that crossed over some personalities from Art of Fighting, Fatal Fury, and Ikari Warriors. This was a cool way to expand the tales of the combatants from South Town with other SNK properties. More would be to come with its sequel a year later, in what would become an annual tradition throughout the 90's, King of Fighters 95. 

Released in 1995, King of Fighters 95 continues the 3-on-3 team-based system from its predecessor. It also establishes some landmarks,as it officially kicks off the series' first storyline, the Orochi Saga. Introduced in 95 was one of the most popular characters, Iori Yagami. Yagami was created as a rival to series protagonist Kyo Kusanagi of the Hero (Japan) Team. Their fates tied to the history of their clans, their hatred in later years would temper more into a hated feud. Both characters, wielders of flames (Iori's being purple), would sport very similar fighting styles and skills.

Joining Iori on the Rivals Team would be Geese Howard right hand henchman, Billy Kane and Eiji Kisaragi, an enemy of Ryo, Robert, and Takuma's Kyokugen Karate form Art of Fighting. There's a tiny part of me that grew sadder that more Art of Fighting characters would be featured in later years, and the introduction of the Rival Team spelled the canon end for American Sports Team, but that's probably a topic for another day. Pour one out for Heavy D, Brian Battler, and Lucky Glauber...

The gameplay is very much the same as the previous entry, there aren't any notable overhauls in the combo system, Desperation Moves, and specials. The only notable change is the ability to freely create any combination of fighters to comprise a team. SNK also quietly dropped the team affiliations by region or country.

I've always spoken about how SNK games used to be vaguely viewed as variations of Street Fighter II, the fundamental differences in the King of Fighters games are very clear. KOF 94's mechanics sported a higher learning curve than Capcom's offerings, perhaps a little too sharp, as these games took some time to get used to. King of Fighters 95 does not address this, and its inputs remain incredibly tight, with little buffer room. Topped off with the game's final boss, Omega Rugal, who would kick off the time-honored tradition of SNK's horrifically difficult final battles. Rugal was already a tough match in 94, easily making short work of your 3 fighters. Now infused with the power of Orochi, Omega Rugal is an absolute nightmare. He's fast, incredibly aggressive, and seems to read your every move. What's worse, he's ONLY THE BEGINNING.

KOF 95's visuals use the same sprites for the returning fighters, with some new animations and effects. Because I have a strong attachment to this game, it's got some of my favorite stages. The elevator in the Kyokugen dojo that rises at the beginning of each round, to the lightning striking the tree in the background of the Korean Justice Team, these are excellent showcases of SNK's iconic sprite work and background animations. I mostly had the PlayStation version, which is a suitable way to play the game, save for the horrendous loading times.

With the series establishing a narrative, King of Fighters 95 was fairly pivotal with setting the groundwork for the lore to follow. I like to revisit the early KOF games, but their age does show, even for its time. The fighting is fast and flashy, but the controls are a touch rickety. It would take a couple more entries for the King of Fighters games to really find their footing, KOF 95 is very much a copy/paste of the inaugural game. I still have some strong nostalgia for this one, it was a simpler time in the franchise, before the roster would balloon. KOF 95 isn't a must-play, but it's fairly solid for what it is.   

    

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