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The King of Fighters series is undoubtedly SNK's magnum opus, the culmination of all of their expertise in 2D fighting games, combined into one massive series. There's an outstanding amount of history shown over the series' lifespan, and watching how it has grown over the years is something truly amazing. It's the dream of every SNK fighting game fan out there.
Nut its history means that it can also be extremely overwhelming, at least to beginners. Back in the early days of the Neo Geo, SNK tried different things to differentiate themselves from Capcom - Fatal Fury introduced the multi-plane system, Art of Fighting had gigantic characters, Samurai Shodown had weapons and World Heroes had wacky time traveling characters. The King of Fighters' gimmick is that there is simply a ton of characters, and each player gets to pick three characters to send them into battle one after the other. When one fighter falls, the next in line takes their place. Add in your usual array of super moves, and that's pretty much KoF. Of course, it's evolved significantly over the years - each game adds and subtracts characters, tweaks balance, and adds new subsystems, so the near ancient KoF '94 is a big stretch from the recent episodes.
On the character select screen, players are presented with a character roster of at least thirty different characters each, many taken from older SNK fighting games. The King of Fighters series inofficially began with Fatal Fury Special on the Neo Geo. SNK thought it would be a cool idea to stick in Ryo Sakazaki - the hero of their Art of Fighting series - as a hidden playable character in Fatal Fury Special. Fans loved the idea, and thus SNK gave the crossover concept its own series. The King of Fighters combined characters from Fatal Fury and Art of Fighting, and stuck in some from older, non-fighting games, like Ikari Warriors and Psycho Soldier. They also introduced a new hero, Kyo Kusanagi, who can wield the power of flames, and his rival, Iori Yagami. As the series progressed, SNK eventually added in cameos from Metal Slug, Robo Army, Kizuna Encounter and Buriki-One. It's essentially the whole Marvel vs Capcom concept years before Marvel vs Capcom. The King of Fighters demands that you're at least reasonably well versed in its history, or you'll be found staring staring at dozens of unfamiliar faces, being asked to pick three of them and made headway into battle.
But once one gets over that initial intimidating phase, there's something addicting about the huge character roster. In its almost twenty years of existence, the series has accumulated well over a hundred fighters. Each of them has a unique design (although not necessarily an unique style), most with their own deep background and history. All previous fighting games have had loose plots to justify everyone getting together to beat the crap out of each other - The King of Fighters is one of the few that tries to make any sense out of it. Granted, it doesn't do a great job - the in-game cinemas are confusing (and often poorly translated), so gamers have to rely on translated documents to figure out exactly what the hell is going on. But once you get into it, there's a whole world that easily rivals any RPG ever made.
This brand of personality shows through in the music as well. Folks like Kyo, Kim and the Ikari team usually have hard rocking heavy metal themes, while Terry and Blue Mary get jazzy tunes. The Art of Fighting team's songs tend to feature an acoustic guitar and use similar melodies. The Psycho Soldier team is practically defined by upbeat J-Pop style, some of the songs even have lyrics. Iori is almost always accompanied by a screaming saxophone. All of the King of Fighters music spans a wide variety of genres, and is undisputedl the most ambitious fighting game soundtrack out there. Although many songs are limited by the Neo Geo synth (at least until they switched over to the Atomiswave platform around 2004), nearly all of the games have had full arranged soundtracks produced for them. All of the Neo Geo CD versions and most other home ports feature arranged soundtracks.
Currently, there are three different main story arcs in the King of Fighters universe - the Orochi Saga (KoF '95-'97) focuses on a group of combatants trying to resurrect the Japanese demon Orochi; the NESTS saga (KoF 99-01) revolves around a mysterious organization that's trying to create an army of clones for evil purposes; and the Sacred Treasure saga (03 - current) deals once again with mysterious ancient powers. The first game isn't considered part of any plotline, and KoF 98, 2002, NeoWave and XII are considered "Dream Match" titles, where huge bunches of characters from older episodes are rounded up and stuck together, regardless of the plot. Yes, characters are killed in the King of Fighters universe, and once they're gone, don't count on seeing them again in the story (except for the odd appearance of Fatal Fury boss Geese Howard and some mysteriously "reborn" characters).
Up until 2003, the King of Fighters games came out on a yearly basis. Unlike sports games, which only offer small roster changes and minor updates, each new King of Fighters is distinct in some way, even if the basic gameplay usually remains the same. Some characters are dropped, others are added. Remaining characters get new moves or lose old ones. Almost every new game has completely distinct backgrounds and whole new soundtracks. There are usually minor gameplay variations or additional systems to spice things up - KoF '99-2001 feature "Strikers", which allow a backup character to quickly jump on the screen to execute a single attack, while 03 and XI feature a tag system that allows instant swap of characters. After 2003, SNK ditched the yearly updates, in order to relieve the pressure from releasing a game every year. It also reduced the confusion for the home releases, which often came out a year or two after the arcade version.
In any case, there really aren't any truly "bad" King of Fighters games, although the fanbase tends to look down on certain titles - KoF '94 has aged poorly since its successors improve on it so much, KoF 2001 has awful visuals and a terrible soundtrack, and KoF NeoWave (produced around 2004) is ultimately just redundant. For a long time, detractors used to argue that the series had stagnated, since the more recent games didn't look all that much different than the first titles from over ten years prior. It was a legitimate complaint, especially since SNK long refused to redraw most of the sprites in a higher resolution (except for the PS2 remake of KoF 94), but most 2D were unconcerned with the series' dated look. And even then, the design is so well done that it's hard to argue that any game is truly ugly. Still, its old school-ness required SNK to bundle games together in packs (2000/2001 and 2002/2003) for American release. SNK eventually caved in and brought the series to the third dimension with the Maximum Impact spinoff series, with generally pleasing results - but at the same time continued with the 2D games. The fruit of their hard work came about as The King of Fighters XII, which finally fetured completely redrawn hi-res sprites (though not in the full HD resolution), but disappointed with the smallest roster in series history. Only with the latest episode, King of Fighters XIII, the series has finally gotten back its mojo, and doesn't need to hide anymore from the likes of Super Street Fighter IV or BlazBlue.
Hopefully this article will get those unfamiliar with the series more acquainted with the many personalities found within. If you need a Ryu/Ken clone to fall back on, try out Ryo, Yuri, Takuma, K' or Kula. If you're more into Guile-type characters, there's always Ash or Robert Garcia (although he alternates between a charge and a command character in various games.) If you want slower, grappling-based characters similar to Zangief, there's always Goro, Chang and Tizoc. And of course, Terry Bogard is an all around good starting place for anyone, since he has lots of moves and good balance. The newer games from XI onwards are generally the best places to start with the series, since the faster pace and certainly the more refined grapgics are more appealing to the uninitiated, but long time folks tend to enjoy the Dream Match titles, '98 and 2002, due to their expansive roster and the focus on balancing it with down-to-earth mechanics instead of introducing any fancy elements. Regardless of the ultimate choice, there's a lot to see, and plenty of faces to suit your fighting style.
The main hero of the series, Kyo comes from a long line of warriors who wield a sacred flame. He would step away from the spotlight in later games, but would still be playable and remain one of SNK's most beloved characters. Also changes his outfit for each new storyline in the series. Genetic clones would be made out of him in later games, retaining his old moves while the real deal's moveset has had many alterations over the years.
A Japanese fighter who wields electricity and has the most ridiculous stalk of blond hair, giving Guile a run for his money. Also, as his manner of dress and win quotes would suggest that he is more than likely gay, if not metrosexual.
A large and bulky Judo fighter who utilizes his brute strength to whip the opponent around like a rag doll and pound the ground with such a force that even the spectators in the background shake. Probably one of the most normal-looking characters, compared to the more colorful designs.
The primary protagonist of the Fatal Fury series is one of the regulars of the KoF circuit, not to mention a really cool guy overall. "Come on, get serious!" is practically a household phrase by now. His Fatal Fury hat is also something of an icon in the SNK world. In some of the later games he would swap his classic appearance for the hatless leather-jacket incarnation from Garou: Mark of the Wolves, but would not lose a step in his awesomeness.
Terry's less popular (but still famed) brother who is trained in the arts of Ninjitsu and tends to be a bit more serious and calm than his bro. Quite the agile fighter and one of the three original stars of Fatal Fury. Also seems to be quite fond of Italy for some reason. He may be a bit short, but his actions are taller than his stature. Plus, he's got Mai madly in love with him. Sorry, hopeful bachelors!
Friend of the Bogards, and a very loudmouthed Muay Thai boxer. Although he started out looking a bit like Adon from the original Street Fighter, Joe proved to be something different altogether. As his personality would develop, so would his tendency to completely piss off enemies with his loud shoutings and make him a guy you'd hate to lose too. He even flashes his ass as a taunt. AUGH!
The main character from the Art of Fighting series makes his way into the KoF tournament with his brand of Kyokugen Karate. Naturally, he's a bit of a rebellious youth who protests to his dad's rough training. In an interesting parallel, he becomes somewhat toned down in later games of the series, almost to make him resemble Dan Hibiki, Capcom's bastardized mockery of Ryo. Maybe he's been slacking a bit in his practice...
Ryo's pal, who's rich enough to pay several bodyguards to fight for him. But he's too cool for that, and he also practices Kyokugen Karate. He is a very snazzy dresser, and his outfits have only gotten cooler as the series developed. Since his debut in Art of Fighting, Robert's special attacks have evolved to differ significantly from Ryo's moveset. Sounds a bit like two gi-clad young fighters from another game series?
Ryo's father, as you can probably guess by now, is also from Art of Fighting and likewise fights with Kyokugen style. But he also has his own original attacks, many of which are strangely altered in KoF 2002.
The hyper-hot ninja babe, and the most famed female fighter from SNK's archives. Also madly in love with Andy Bogard, to the dismay of drooling fanboys everywhere. It's totally irking when she cries out "Andyyyy!" when knocked out. Her prowess with fans and fire make her more than just a pretty figure. Many of Mai's moves, intro and victory poses count on her cocktease factor; she's a fan service character if there ever was one.
Ryo's younger sister, who somehow manages to be adorable and hot at the same time. She also pines for Robert, but tries not to let it show in the arena. Naturally, she also fights with Kyokugen Karate, but has her own special moves different from Ryo and Robert. Some of her special attacks even go so far as to poke fun of Street Fighter characters, like Ryu and Sakura. Ah, SNK, you crazy funsters!
A tough tomboy female who utilizes Muay Thai (though differently from Joe Higashi) and dresses up in male-looking suits. She surprised many back in her debut in Art of Fighting (back when her gender was ambiguous) when the player would finish her off with a fireball, only to have her top explode and reveal her bra underneath. Tee hee! King's appearance would become more feminine as the series evolved.
The hardass Tae Kwon Do master from Fatal Fury fights for lady justice! Kim is almost fanatically devoted to doing good, which makes him a bit insane at times. Before facing off against an evil character, his eye twinkles with a determination to rid the world of the scourge he sees before him! He also bears more than a passing semblance to Tom Cruise, whose ass he could totally obliterate any day of the week. He has two sons, both of which are playable in Garou: Mark of the Wolves.
A massive man with a bald head and a wild beard, and a former criminal who now fights on the Korean team, where Kim attempts to reconstitute him through strict discipline. He carries a massive iron ball which gives him lots of power and range, but naturally he is rather slow. Many consider him to be one of the most annoying characters to fight against.
Chang's partner in crime who just so happens to be a really agile midget. Wears claws on his hands and a hat, which gives him a bit of a Freddy Krueger-esque look. He is also under Kim's custody for rehabilitation. Like his big buddy, he's also one of the most annoying characters in the series to play against.
Once the star of an early SNK platformer (which sucked) and a pretty good shoot-em-up, now a fighter in the KoF tournament who uses her psychic powers to her advantage. Also has an extremely irritating voice in certain games (especially 98), and changes her outfit for every single new game there is. Now that's style! Has her own article.
A former Psycho Soldier who fought alongside Athena in the game of the same name, he's also taken up to fighting. He's a bit of a dork, but his powers are genuine (except in a few games where he loses some of his psychic ability). His favorite food is meat buns, which he even eats in the middle of battle to regain life.
A funny old man who fights with the Psycho Soldiers and uses the ever-popular Drunken Boxing style. Obviously based off of Su Hua Chi, the legendary geezer who trained Jackie Chan to kick some serious ass in Drunken Master. He doesn't mind indulging a bit in the middle of battle to better his abilities.
A hotheaded commando who fights with some highly aggressive moves, many of which generate explosions. He was originally known as Paul from the SNK shmup Ikari Warriors. He's got quite a loud mouth and is just the type of guy who really gets on the nerves of those who fight him.
Ralf's brother-in-arms, who tends to be more laid back than his partner and prefers grapples and throws to striking attacks. He was originally known as Vince from the SNK shmup Ikari Warriors. Dig the shades!
A hardass commando who has almost nothing left to live for ever since Rugal murdered his family. One of the most no-nonsense fighters in KoF, but it's easy to see why. He only has two purposes in life; to see that Rugal is terminated, and to ensure the safety of his adopted daughter. He would only stick around for '94 and '95, turning his leadership of the Ikari team over to his daughter, save for a comeback in 2001 and appearances in various dream matches.
A boxer from America. Heavy D! (take note of the exclamation point) is part of the Sports Team, and thus only shows up in Kof '94 and '98. Probably the least embarrassing member of the group, despite the ridiculous name, which is actually taken from a real life rapper.
In 1994, Shaquille O'Neal starred in his own deplorable fighting game called Shaq Fu. Coincidentally, SNK thought it would be cool to have a basketball player in their games, hence Lucky Glauber's existence. He's tall and attacks with... well, basketballs. He's also capable of some wicked legworg, though. He only shows up in Kof '94 and '98 as part of the Sports Team.
Rounding out the Sports team is the American Football player Brian Battler. Even with J. Max from World Heroes, apparently SNK felt that the world needed more hogskin tossers on their system. Kind of silly, and he only shows up in Kof '94 and '98.
The first big badass boss of the KoF series, Rugal takes pride in making statues of the strongest fighters around the world... whom he usually ends up killing. He lost one of his eyes against one of the eight direct heirs of the Orochi power. Uses Geese's Reppuken and Krauser's Kaiser Wave, but is most hated and feared for his patented Genocide Cutter, one of the most unstoppable all-purpose moves in the history of forever.
Kyo's rival, and a somewhat evil young man with loads of power. The Yagami bloodline has been tainted by a pact with the Orochi, and every now and then, Iori becomes uncontrollably insane as the Riot of Blood overtakes him. No, he is NOT emo, despite what the red hair would have you believe... well, okay, maybe he's just a BIT emo, but he's still cool! You wouldn't dare call him emo when he's in the Riot, or he'd eat your intestines.
A lightning-fast ninja who was originally a villain in Art of Fighting 2. Eiji first appeared in KoF 95, and was dropped from the roster until KoF XI, nearly ten years later. He is meant to be the descendant of Zantetsu from the Last Blade series.
The right-hand man of Geese Howard, Billy Kane hails from good ol' England and wields a mean red staff. Not just any old staff, mind you - it can extend and even ignite on fire. Billy has an obsession with heavy metal, as evidenced by his rocking theme music.
Kyo's dad, and the current patriarch of the Kusanagi bloodline. He's somewhat cocky and arrogant, like father like son, and he wields the sacred flame with much mastery. He was brainwashed by Rugal in 95 and was forced to fight his own kin, but Saisyu came to his senses and went into exile. Later, he would grant Shingo's wish and teach him to fight like a Kusanagi.
Heidern's adopted daughter, and just as serious as her dad is. Naturally, she has inherited some of his moves, but also has some of her own. Has luscious blue hair that gives Marge Simpson a run for her money. Much to her misfortune, the cursed blood of the Orochi runs in her.
A cute young martial artist who utilizes her father's style of self-made fighting, her father being Ryuhaku Todoh from Art of Fighting. Somehow, she's a more accomplished fighter than her dad. In early games, she has a poor grasp on the English language and looks up a translator dictionary before insulting opponents that she beats, which is just adorable. She's also the only original character from Art of Fighting 3 to appear in more than one game.
One of Rugal's secretaries and a rather attractive lady, she has the Orochi power of light and has been sent to work with Iori in the KoF 96 tournament. Iori's Riot of Blood would unfortunately kill her, but she still appeared in the dream matches. In KOF XIII, she reappears through mysterious means, and continues to support Iori.
The Yang to Mature's Yin, Vice has the Orochi power of darkness and is Rugal's other secretary. Her stance has changed a lot over the years, from a zombie-like posture sometimes to a hunchback in other games, while somehow still looking attractive. She also gets killed by Iori's rage, and returns later together with Mature.
A mysterious woman of mystical power, Chizuru is devoted to keeping the seal maintained upon the vile Orochi power. She takes over Rugal's position as the host of the King of Fighters tournament in 1996, and promotes the hell out of it to gather the strongest fighters around the world in order to defeat her most despised rival, Goenitz. She returns in 2003 and attempts to crush the uprising of the Orochi, but is unceremoniously slain.
The original pimp in fighting games, Mr. Big is one of the main villains of the Art of Fighting series. He's just too cool for words, and he can certainly beat up his opponents with his kali sticks. Plus, you can see him with his ladies before the fight begins. He has only been in the KoF series in the great Boss team in 96 (alongside Geese and Krauser), but SNK has not forgotten him and he appears in the home version of KoF XI.
Geese is the criminal mastermind that rules Southtown, and is the primary enemy in the Fatal Fury games. Although he is of German descent, he's studied Japanese martial arts to the point where he's an unstoppable killing machine. He's only shown up in KoF 96 and the home ports of 02 and XI, as well as in young form (with long hair and wearing a suit) in KoF Neowave. Don't laugh at his name, or he'll stain his hands with your blood.
The primary boss of Fatal Fury 2, Wolfgang Krauser is a huge German wrestler with an affinity for classical music. He's one of the few characters that speaks entirely in English, and is apparently the half-brother of Geese Howard. Wolfgang only appears in KoF 96 on the Boss team.
One of the most powerful figures of the Orochi, something can truly be said about the man who sliced out Rugal's eye. He has the power of wind, and his infuriating "make tornado appear right where you are" move is probably one of the most hated in SNK history. He's got a cool beard, though.
Hailing from Fatal Fury, Blue Mary is an officer of the law and one hell of a wrestler - she can crush a man's neck with her legs. Her real name is Mary Ryan, although she's nicknamed after a drink of the same name. Her partner/boyfriend was mysteriously murdered, which also lends a bit of irony to her title, and her jazzy theme songs fit her perfectly. Blue Mary's has a crush on Terry, and is usually seen with her faithful dog.
Shingo idolizes Kyo to the point where he mimics all of his moves. He aspires to use the same flame attacks, but Shingo lacks such powers. Names most of his attacks after himself (SHINGO KICK!) and is generally a source of comic relief.
A very physically fit young man who often shows off his prowess at the beginning of the battle with one-hand pushups. His red eyes signify that he's evil, and... well, he is. His blood is of the Orochi lineage, and has totally different moves in Orochi mode that are similar to Daimon's attacks.
A mysterious babe who doesn't mind letting her legs show, but seems to have something against showing her eyes, as her unique haircut would indicate. This may be because she is also of the Orochi bloodline, and has electrical attacks like Benimaru when in Orochi mode.
A kid of ambiguous gender (Chris could be short of Christina, for all we know), whose form belies his true power. Yes, he is also an Orochi, and is chosen as the one who will become Orochi itself. He has weird teleporting attacks in normal form, and flame attacks like Kyo with Orochi power.
The root of all evil, Orochi itself takes manifest at the end of the Orochi saga in KoF 97. Somehow managing to be cheaper than Rugal and Goenitz with destructive black projectiles, lightning strikes, a mirror that counters any attack, and the ultimate desperation move which fills the entire screen with ungodly energy! Only the combined efforts of Kusanagi and Yagami can vanquish his evil power... for a while, anyway.
After Kyo mysteriously disappears at the end of the Orochi saga, K' (pronounced K-Dash) takes over as the main hero of the game to kick off the (admittably confusing) NESTS storyline. He inherited his fire powers from genetic enhancement involving Kyo's genes.
A real big and powerful man, made even stronger thanks to cybernetic enhancements and the ability to analyze opponent data. Max has been buds with K' ever since they've been paired up to carry out tasks by their mysterious boss. You just gotta love the sideburns. Maxima is technically from the Neo Geo Robo Army - he's player two.
It may not exactly be the most original name, as... well, you can probably guess what her primary weapon is. As it turns out, she's been working for NESTS. She's not sure why, as her past is shrouded in mystery. She does manage to meet up with the Ikari team and join their ranks, but also has a connection with K'. Her code name is "Muchiko", which means "little whip".
A little boy with a stupid hat and dumb pants. Bao also has psychic powers similar to Athena and Kensou, and fights alongside them. He has an insanely annoying voice and is one of the most reviled characters in King of Fighters.
A cute Chinese girl with an adorable hairstyle and an appetite twice her size. There's not really much to say about her story, as she came from Real Bout Fatal Fury 2, essentially a dream match game which is all fights and no plot. However, she does get credit for possessing a super that deals out 100 freaking hits!
A very good friend of Kim, but also a rival to him as well. Of course, he also fights with Tae Kwon Do, and joins the Korea team to mete out more discipline to poor Chang and Choi. He gets bonus points for only using his legs, and never his arms. Even Kim utilizes punches every now and then, but Jhun's too cool for that.
A pawn of Nests, he is the main villain of KoF'99, overseeing the creation of K' and the "anti-K,'" Kula Diamond (who doesn't appear until KoF 2000). Whip hates Krizalid because she's K's brother. Physically it's possible some of Krizalid's DNA is in K' but it's not totally clarified. For failing miserably, Krizalid is murdered by a clone of Zero as his base and operations fall apart.
An extremely sexy secret agent who pulls off the combo of a tie and suspenders with flying colors. Despite her slender arms, Vanessa is a boxer who strictly utilizes punches. WAY cooler than Micky Rogers and Axel Hawk, for sure.
A smooth and suave secret agent who looks like your average working joe... with a crest of white hair and a vague resemblance to Mr. T. Seth's fighting style is a little bit unorthodox, not really conforming to any martial art. Gotta love the original styles! He is also quite fond of wine.
He may be a bit of an overconfident dork, but there's something to be said about a Mexican luchador with an eyepatch. Ramon's moves are also rather cool to watch in action, as true to his style, lucha libre is all about showmanship. He also has a not-so-subtle crush on Vanessa... but who wouldn't?
Surprisingly, the KoF series hasn't had a kickass ninja design for all the years that Eiji left the circuit. Lin rectifies that dilemma with his awesome style and poison attacks. He's on a mission to hunt down Ron, a former rival of his in the order of the Hizoku clan, who has been brought back to life through unholy means...
Hinako is a schoolgirl who has an ambition to be a sumo wrestler. Never mind the fact that she's far, far, far too skinny and also, you know, a girl. Despite her frail and often ridiculous demeanor, Hinako is surprisingly powerful.
A young girl designed to be the "Anti-K'" - that is, she uses ice powers to counter his flames. At first, Kula is a mid-boss in KoF 2000, but eventually becomes a regular character in 2001. Kula is often accompanied by her robot pal Candy, as well as companions Diana and Foxy. She ice skates like a ballerina in combat and has an affinity towards lollipops. Her blue hair correlates with her icy personality.
The number two man at Nests. A clone of him is confronted as the final boss in King of Fighters 2000. You fight the original in KoF 2001. Following the format of the game, he's the only active character during the battle but has three "striker" like special moves where three different cronies get involved (one of which is a Krizalid clone). He goes down with the ship during/after your confrontation with Igniz on the orbital station.
A cute and spunky young Korean girl who idolizes both Kim and Jhun. She has a rather unique adaption of Tae Kwon Do which primarily centers around an opening move and having several ways to end it. May also has a normal fighting stance and a peculiar "Hero" stance, where her moves focus more on power above versatility. Much to Chang and Choi's delight, she's not a strict hardass, but a fun-loving girl who jokes and jests with the ex-convicts.
Pronounced "kay-four-nine," this genetic anomaly was built to be the ultimate Kusanagi clone. Needless to say, the experiment failed and he developed a rather vile persona. He possesses psychic energy, can morph his arms into various shapes, and has move names like "Shut Up!" and "Get Lost!". Flowing cape, large forehead, grotesque pulsating tentacle arm... K9999 isn't just inspired by Tetsuo from Akira... he practically IS Tetsuo! He's even voiced by the same guy, Nozomu Sasaki.
A devil-may-care young girl whose unique style of dress belies her highly unorthodox fighting skill. Many of her moves are interconnected with each other through an odd (and often unpredictable) chain system that has an assload of possibilities to it. She often unzips her jacket and shows her breasts off to the very lucky onlookers (which is somewhat reminiscent of I-No from Guilty Gear). Although she has a joyful personality, she turns out to be somewhat evil.
A high-ranking agent in the NESTS cartel, her tall frame and ridiculous hair make her seem quite intimidating. Underneath her cold exterior she's rather gentle and cares deeply for Kula, whose creation she supervised with Diana (who pops up with Kula every now and then, but never as a playable character). She has mad fencing skills and a suicide attack that knocks her out, but completely destroys the opponent's lifebar. Foxy is unceremoniously killed by a pair of traitors, yet somehow appears in later games.
The number one arch-bastard in the NESTS agency, he is the source of all pain in the NESTS saga. By absorbing all of the battle data he's been collecting ever since the first KoF tournament, his power meter flies off the scale and becomes something of an insane deity. Igniz has ridiculously quick and damaging moves, as well as the infamous Brutal God Project (where he pretty much assaults you with everything in your arsenal and takes away 80% of your lifebar.)
Ash comes into the tournament as the new protagonist starting with 2003, taking the place of Kyo and K' before him. But as a certain end scene shows, not all is quite right with this young fighter... Ash has a very unique fighting style that has some inspiration from Guile, but he has his own moves as well. He's also the first fighting game character to wield green flames, which gives him some originality points.
A mysterious fighter with a unique outfit, hairstyle, and fighting discipline. Very little is known about him so far, but based on some moves of his fighting style and a scene in his team's ending, Duo Lon is somehow involved with the Hizoku clan, the same one of which Lin is a member. He breaks down into a skeleton and channels ethereal spirits for some moves, so he might also possibly be undead.
A fiery fighter with some hard-hitting techniques and a violent persona, he joins Ash and Duo for the fight in 2003. As with his teammates, Shen's story is currently obscured in mystery. All that can be surmised from what is known so far is the fact that he loves to fight and he gets pissed off very easily, which is contrasted in his brutal fighting style.
Not much is really known about this mysterious girl who first appears in KoF 2003, but there's still time to develop in future games. All that we can tell from her fighting technique is that she has lots of dirty tricks up her sleeves, such as switchblades, bladed yo-yos, electric rods, and a gigantic mallet! What, you don't carry a gigantic mallet with you everywhere you go?
Known as Griffon Mask in Japan, Tizoc is a powerful Mexican wrestler who, as the name implies, wears a griffon mask. He was introduced in Garou: Mark of the Wolves, and made his KoF debut in 2003.
A solemn Kempo fighter who is just way too cool to even realize it. He has crippled many an opponent, acts coldly most of the time, has large scars on his back, and only finds solace in the middle of the fight. He wishes to find out about his past, but his memories are blurry and inconsistent. He eventually meets his father and discovers that Hotaru is his sister.
The image of Chizuru's deceased twin sister fights alongside her in 2003. She was supposed to be the heir of the Kagura lineage, but was murdered by Goenitz. Her moves are similar to Chizuru's, but like a thousand times more annoying.
Rugal's painfully bishounen son and pilot of the Skynoah, very little is known about Adel. As expected, many of his moves are inherited from his father, though the Genocide Cutter is now a Desperation Move (thankfully) and cannot be abused cheaply. He also has a sister named Rose who plays piano as you fight on.
The enigmatic end boss of 2003 and master of stone and petrification. Despite having an uber-cheesy move where the entire screen fills up with energy and will render your character helpless if it is executed, Mukai is one of the easier bosses to contend with in the KoF series. His entire presence brings up a load of questions, mostly concerning his connection with the Orochi. He is affiliated with a group known only as "Those from the Past."
Elisabeth is a Frechwoman who seeks to defeat Ash for his transgression. Her name apparently means "white light", a power which she uses in combat alongside her fierce-looking baton.
Momoko is basically the female equivalent of Bao - small and annoying. She's also a master of capoeira, the dancing fighting style. Much like Eddy Gordo of Tekken, this means you can pull of lots of easy combos by mashing buttons. She appears along side the Psycho Solder team in KoF XI, and even though she doesn't actually appear to have any psychic powers, she regards Athena as an older sister.
Oswald is a classy guy in a black suit, with a yellow tie and dark red glasses. He fights using a made-up fighting style called Karnoffel, which is based on using cards to attack. While this may sound a bit like Gambit, Oswald actually uses the cards as slashing weapons, giving him tremendous range. He also has a crazy dance thing he does with his arms.
Duck King is a crazy breakdancing kung fu fighter who initially appeared in the original Fary Fury, and shows up in King of Fighters XI in his first official (non-striker) appearance. He seems to be more interesting in dancing than fighting, and has a little bird that mimics his every moves - the poor little thing even cries when Duck loses.
More commonly known as B. Jenet, she's the sassy leader of a group of pirates called the Lillian Knights. Nearly all of her animations are tinged with a sultry grace, and doesn't appear to take fighting too seriously. Most of her attacks revolve around kicks, and she's more than happy to show off her legs from beneath her dress. B. Jenet was introduced in Garou, but makes appearances in KoF XI and Max Impact 2.
Sho Hayate is a master of "Fuunken" - the art of fighting with a boomerang (!!). He starred in the somewhat average Neo Geo figher Savage Reign, and later in its much superior sequel, Kizuna Encounter. That may seem a little goofy, but that huge boomerang can cause quite a headache. One of the hidden midbosses from KoF XI.
Gai Tendo is a wrestler from the 3D Hyper Neo Geo 64 game Buriki-One. Although he made brief appearances as strikers in early titles, KoF XI is the first game where he's playable. His combo-based attacks are a good substitute for Angel, who's since been since missing from the series.
Silber (the German spelling for Silver) is a hulking beast of a human. He was the last boss of Buriki-One, and KoF XI is his first appearance in the 2D fighting realm. Although he's slow, he can also dish out extreme amounts of damage.
Jazu (also spelled Jyazu) is the true final boss of Kizuna Encounter. He's essentially a more powerful version of two other palette-swapped characters, Mezu and Gozu. Apparently some kind of crow demon, he wears a golden mask and attacks with his claws. His hunched stature and spinning attacks define him as something of a post-apocalyptic version of Blanka.
Shion is one of the bosses working for Magaki in King of Fighter XI. Sho wields a gigantic spear weapon (think three times her size) as well as a rope dart. Even without any weapons, she's skilled in Wu Shu Kung Fu. SNK has never officially stated Shion's gender, although she looks and sounds very much like a female, so that's what the gaming audience has decided on for now. Until SNK pulls a Bridget, that is.
After eleven years of King of Fighters games, you'd think SNK would realize that people are sick of incredibly cheap bosses, and yet they try this crap in KoF XI. Magaki initially takes on the appearance of a cliched white haired bishounen, but then erupts into a hidicious Orochi-like being, who can toss several kinds of projectiles, as well as turn invisible. He can also rip the fabric of space-time to make flashy entrances or exits.
Hotaru Futaba is a young woman in search of her older brother, who as it turns out, is Gato. (No big spoiler there, it's pretty obvious even in Garou: Mark of the Wolves, the game they both hail from.) She attacks with grace and beauty, and manages to dish out quite a bit of punishment in the process. Hotaru also has a pet ferret thing, since girl characters apparently need mascots (at least it's less annoying that the stupidly whining thing of Mina's from Samurai Shodown V.)
Tung Fu Rue
Every fighting game series needs at least one Old Guy, and Fatal Fury has Tung Fu Rue. While this unassuming little bugger may seem pretty harmless, he has an assortment of agile moves, as well as the ability to call out a stronger spirit version of himself to attack. He's first introduced in the PS2 version of KoF XI.
With the release of KoF 2002 Ultimate Match in 2009, SNK decided that K9999 was ripping off Akira just a BIT too much. Therefore, to avoid any potential legal proceedings, they redesigned him and replaced him with Nameless, who is also referred to as J Prime. His moves are mostly the same.
Raiden (pronounced RHY-DEN) is a masked wrestler who goes by the name Big Bear without a mask in later appearances. He resembles real life wrestler Big Van Vader. Despite first appearing in the original Fatal Fury as a boss character, he didn't make his way into the King of Fighters canon until nearly twenty years later, with The King of Fighters XII.
Another Fatal Fury veteran, who had been completely abandoned after the very first game alongside most of his peers. SNKP dug the Muai Thai fighter out almost 20 years later for The King of Fighters XIII.
Takuma Sakazaki took on this persona beneath his awesome Tengu mask under Geese's influence in Art of Fighting. Later the mask has also appeared as a disquise for his son Ryo (first seen in Buriki One), sometimes its identity remains undisclosed. In KOF, he first showed up on the Game Boy version of '96, later in KOF: Maximum Impact 2. He finally got introduced into the main series with the console ports of The King of Fighters XIII.
The leader of Those from the Past and Ash's ancestor, he is the ultimate boss to conclude KOF's third story arch. Normally he looks just like Ash's evil twin, but when he gets really angry, he turns into an unseeable monstrosity (literally - there is a shadowy effect concealing his face and extremities). His human form is playable in the console versions of The King of Fighters XIII.
Hailing from Samurai Shodown, she only appears as a hidden character in Nettou King of Fighters '95 for Game Boy, and as a Special Striker for Yuri in KoF 2000. She wields a pair of short daggers and is accompanied by an eagle that she can use as a weapon or means of transportation.
Created specifically for the King of Fighters EX series for the Gameboy Advance, Moe (pronounced "moe-ay", not like the Simpsons bartender) is a schoolgirl with great talent who fights alongside Kyo. Her look is practically a home/ripoff of Sakura from Street Fighter, and even emanates cherry blossoms with her attacks.
Reiji is a fire-haired karate expert who is sent by Chizuru to take her place in the tournament. He lugs his poor little daughter everywhere, who runs out to congratulate her father after he pounds the tar out of someone. Only appears in KoF EX2, but it'd be awesome to see him in the main series.
A little goth school girl with a bizarre interest in the Orochi power. She seems to channel the power of crows, as most of her attacks sends out little black feathers. Also has a thing for hidden blades. One of the exclusive characters in KoF EX2.
Jun appears to be a cross between a stripper and a flamingo - she wags her hips tauntingly, but looks totally ridiculous doing it. She wants desperately to get close to the Orochi power and teams herself up with Iori. Also only shows up in KoF EX2.
The final boss of KoF EX2, Sinobu is a crazy little boy who's inherited the powers of Goenitz, which includes fierce wind and lightening attacks. Naturally, this makes him kind of a pain in the butt. He's actually being manipulated by an evil guy named Gustav Munchausen.
The bastard child of Geese Howard, Rock was orphaned after Terry killed Geese in Real Bout Fatal Fury. Overwhelmed with guilt, Terry raised the child as his own. Essentially, Rock is a product of both nature and nuture, as his arsenal consists of moves from both Terry and Geese. Although he's the star of Garou, he only appears as a child during Terry's win poses from 2002, and only shows up as a playable character in Maximum Impact.
The hero of the Maximum Impact games, Alba was orphaned at a young age and taken in by Fate, the crimelord boss of Southtown. Eventually he left to help save the city he treasured.
Alba's twin brother. If Alba is synonymous to Terry, then Soiree is Maximum Impact's equivalent of Andy. Instead of being a badass American ninja, he's more of a dancer, and fights using the Capoeira dance style.
A British assassin with a thing for 70s hairstyles, Lien is an assassin initially sent to kill Duke, but eventually ends up working for him. Her low-cut jacket accentuates her natural assets, and puts her in competition with Mai for the bounciest character in Maximum Impact. Despite her taste for frilly opera dresses, she can call on laser strikes from orbit, which shows how serious she can be.
It's understandable why SNK chooses to have so many cutesy girl characters in their games, but do they really need such obnoxious voices? Mignon (as in the filet) practices witchcraft, but ditches the typical black look in favor of bright pink hairdos and cat costumes.
Chae Lim is essentially a female version of Kim Kaphwan, and replaces him in the first Maximum Impact game. The guys over at Insert Credit seem to insist that she's bisexual, but I dunno about that. One of her alternate costumes is May Lee's cute frog shirt.
Duke is the fierce boss of Maximum Impact, an evil crimelord who rules Southtown violently. However, even his rule is just a front for a more powerful organization. He has a scar around his neck, which suggests he's brushed very closely with death.
A silver-haired aristocrat with a penchant for magic, Luise quite literally floats like a butterfly and attacks with the grace of a ballerina. She's the primary mid-boss of Maximum Impact 2, but she's not really evil, just searching for her father.
Billy Kane's little sister is referenced a few times, and shows up as a striker in KoF 2000, but only makes a playable appearance in Maximum Impact 2. Essentially, she's just like Billy, even wielding the same weapon and having many of the same moves. She even dresses like her older brother in one of her outfits.
Mignon's little sister, who practically defines the term "gothic lolita". She's practically the opposite of her bubbly older sister, and is incredibly jealous that she gets to participate in the King of Fighters tournament just because she's older. Ninon believes her own magic to be far more powerful.
A cute little combatant from the Metal Slug series first showed up as a striker in KoF 2000, but makes her first playable appearance in KoF Maximum Impact 2. She has several of the same attacks as she does in Metal Slug, and is actually easier to control than Marco from Neo Geo Battle Coliseum.
Nagase is one of those characters with practically no backgrounds details - she just shows up in the King of Fighters tournament with a strange haircut, crazy yellow hippie glasses, and even more bizarre outfit. Apparently the character designer, Falcoon, based her appearance off his own, except as a young girl. She's apparently a huge computer and video game geek, and is completely fascinated with watching her favorite fighters duking it out.
A Brazilian capoeira master who owns the Pao Pao Cafe, a popular hangout in Southtown and recurring stage in the Fatal Fury games. He only appeared in the original game, and later trained Bob Wilson in Fatal Fury 3 and beyond to take his place. However, SNK brought back Richard from retirement in King of Fighters Maximum Impact 2.
For some reason, SNK put a dorky looking announcer in Maximum Impact to move the plot along - One gets the feeling he may be an ode to some Japanese TV personality, what with that stupid pompadour, gigantic nose and buck teeth. They actually made this loser playable in Maximum Impact 2. It's hilarious that they try to make him look badass with a pair of evil-looking glasses, but there's absolutely nothing fearsome about this clown.
Hanzo's appearance in Maximum Impact 2 marks the only inclusion of a Samurai Shodown fighter besides Nakoruru as a hidden non-canon character in the Game Boy version of KoF '95. No wonder, does that series take place in a seemingly incompatible time period and setting. For the crazyness of the Maximum Impact series, however, the mysterious ninja doesn't pose much of an issue.
Apparently part of the Orochi bloodline, Jivatma is the final boss of King of Fighters Maximum Impact 2. He has elastic arms like Dhalsim from Street Fighter II, and a huge laser attack. But otherwise he doesn't have much going for him, for an SNK boss he's pretty weak. Oddly enough, his "Another" character model portrays him as a woman, with huge, spiky, scary-looking breasts.
At some point, SNK bought out Data East's intellectual property. In order to tie King of Fighters in with their new found catalog, they introduced Makoto Mizoguchi from Fighter's History. Astute gamers will recognize this as the game that was such a huge ripoff of Street Fighter II that Capcom actually sued them. Makoto was that game's Ryu clone. He also starred in his own spinoff game for the Super Famicom. He also only appears in Maxiumum Impact Regulation A.
The sister of Duo Lon, with similar powers, but she spices them up by hiding countless pointy weapons in her ridiculously wide sleeves. She only appears in Maxiumum Impact Regulation A.
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