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SummaryReally cool addition to the KoF universe
The GoodYou've really have to hand it to the guys who came up with this one. Fighting games are rife with characters, backstories and enough mythos to put your average Marvel comic to shame, but that information is usually left out of the games and reserved for the other licensed products (such as comics, novels, series, movies, etc.). But how about making a game that revolves completely around that?? Now that's a cool idea! Not exactly super-original (see Street Fighter: The Movie, or Mortal Kombat: Mythologies) but cool nonetheless.
Hence SNK hired Yumekobo to craft a first person-rpg based on SNK's flagship franchise. I'm not going to blabber about what the hell goes on in the KOF universe but the uninitiated among you should know there's this guy called Kyo Kusanagi (yeah, like THAT sword) who wields a mystical power that comes with his sacred bloodline. Instead of studying hard to become a stressed, alcoholic salary man like your average Japanese student Kyo gets involved again and again in the cooky "King of Fighters" tournaments which consists of 3-on-3 team battles that usually revolve around the fate of the world. Among the gazillion characters he meets in the tournaments he finds Iori Yagami, a psychotic red-haired freak that wields an immense power just as Kyo, but as things would have it both are fated to fight each other and are the key elements to an ancient prophecy that formed the core plotline for KOFs '96 and '97. In the game you are this Kyo dude, and as the game starts you recover from a whupping by Iori and set yourself to find a couple of good partners for the upcoming '97 tournament and in the way hopefully understand once and for all what's the whole deal with you, Iori and this freaky prophecy.
The game plays mostly like a Japanese adventure game, sub-genre you might know from those lovely Hentai games. Fortunately, since KOF: Kyo is not a Hentai game there are plenty of free-form elements and challenges to turn the thing into an actual game. The gameplay area consists of an area map which you use to move around between locations. Once on a location the game switches to that well known first-person Hentai interface which you usually use to talk to whatever character is there or execute a collection of actions from a pop-up menu and that's pretty much it.
The "formal" objective of the game is to go around the world meeting up with all the many characters that make up the KOF universe (provided you can find them) and get them to like you enough so that when the tournament finally comes around you can select them for your team. This is obviously an excuse to just wander around and chat around with each of the characters, learn about their particular stories and help them (or not) in their personal struggles as sub-quests of sorts, and you know what? It works!
Sharing the best qualities of super-hero/comic book characters, the KOF cast is made up of terribly interesting characters that happen to have extremely developed personalities and backstories which the game joyfully opens up for you to explore. You can spend your time trying to discover who killed Leona's parents and learn of her terrible secret that binds her to both you and Iori, or take part in Ryo Sakasaki's quest to clean the streets of Mexico, or if such stuff is not your cup of tea just fiddle around with Mai Shinarui trying to help her get his boyfriend to finally marry her, or help you faggy buddy Benimaru score with half of Japan's female population. Pretty interesting stuff to keep a game going, if you ask me, and while mostly directed towards KOF fans, still pretty interesting stuff for people who know nothing of the series.
Of course, KOF: Kyo is also an hybrid rpg, so aside from all that mumbo jumbo you get to develop Kyo into the mean mutha he is supposed to be. And you do that by fighting around and developing your skills. When a fight occurs, the game switches to a side-view just as in the fighting games (in fact, using the same character sprites as the fighting games) and you duke it out with your opponent by choosing your actions by turns and then watching what happens when you and your opponent execute their moves. Yes, essentially rock/paper/scissors, but with more things to take into consideration, such as power management, character locations (you won't have much luck landing an uppercut if your opponent is 10 feet away) as well as the available strength/move lists which depend on your experience.
When do fights occur? Well, whenever a buddy spars with you, or as part of the sideplots, or if you rub a certain character the wrong way (your relationship with each character is kept in check by a scoreboard, which tells you who loves you and who doesn't. Now isn't that something we would all like to have in real life?), or if you meet Iori, and meet him you will, as he's constantly on the prowl chasing both you and your friends thus eroding your relationship... geez, guess it doesn't pay to be Kyo's friend.
The BadThe game has very little challenge to it, except for the fact that a lot of things depend on random encounters, the successful resolution of specific quests and similar stuff. Mind you, the game it's not that hard, but finding all the characters sure is and it sucks when it's thanks to the game's randomizing elements and not it's inherent difficulty. The fighting system works for the most part, but it doesn't take too long before you find your winning combination and the absence of tactical elements means that's the end of it.
Also it's quite a shame that the developers chose to use animé styled graphics instead of the bitching SNK original art so well known from their game covers and artbooks. Then again, that kind of detailed art would have made the development of the game a much more expensive affair, but damn it, wouldn't that have looked amazing?
Finally, the game was released in Japan only, so don't go anywhere near it if you only speak gaijin-talk.
The Bottom LinePretty good product that successfully capitalizes on the most interesting aspects of the otherwise action-only SNK games. Somewhat difficult to get a hold of, and not much of challenge to anyone, but worth it for those interested in it.
Oh, it goes without saying that the above description applies to average gamers only, for SNK fans this game is mandatory.