Publisher: SNK Playmore
Developer: SNK Playmore/Terminal Reality
Release Date: October 28, 2008
I've been loving these recent SNK compilations, what with the Fatal Fury and Samurai Showdown titles, and now we've got a solid King of the Fighters release with King of the Fighters: The Orochi Saga on the PSP. This a collection of King of the Fighters titles from 1994 to 1998, covering five games and the trilogy of the Orochi story line from 1995 to 1997. For players who have never had a chance to check out a King of the Fighters title, this budget-priced compilation is definitely the way to go, either on the PSP, Wii or PS2, and it's something that shouldn't be passed up.
However, is there any big draw here for old-time KoF fans? There's not a lot of content here that I would consider worthy of a purchase if you already have your series favorites in one form or another, especially if you're still running off of some old Neo Geo hardware at home, but as far as ports go, they've done a decent job here. There are some issues that I think are inherent to the PSP version I'm reviewing, but I imagine that the home console ports probably don't have the same issues.
One problem in particular is the loading, which is often pretty slow in between matches, and it seems to occasionally stutter while playing, even going so far as having sound loading issues that throw off the FX a bit when performing a move or strike. It's a minor annoyance, but it's completely noticeable to anyone playing, and the end results are pretty distracting, something you don't want in a fighting title.
The other big complaint is the multiplayer, which is ad-hoc only and even then it doesn't seem to work very well. Fighters all move around in a sluggish state, and it slows the game down considerably, really taking away from any precise timing you'd like to pull of in relation to the moves or blocking. It's not quite unplayable, but it's hardly ideal for the game. Like I said, I can't imagine these issues existing on the home console ports, and I definitely feel this is more due to the hardware limitations than the actual software, but it's something that players need to know before they pick this one up.
Aside from those issues, there's not a whole lot to complain about elsewhere. King of Fighters '94 through '98 didn't see a whole lot of sprite changes, so visually, the games all seem to hold up well next to each other, and they're pretty well-represented on the PSP screen. They're downsized a bit from the natural resolution, of course, but you won't see anything looking too compressed or out of whack as far as the animation goes. The soundtrack is equally solid throughout, and while the theme of the music seems to alter a bit between the different years, each selection is enjoyable and definitely worth checking out.
While this collection is labeled as The Orochi Saga, which only really includes 1995 through 1997, it also includes the '94 and '98 versions. However, 1994 is the first game in the series, and 1998 is pretty well-loved, so they both make the cut. KoF 1994 is actually one of the toughest versions of the game, and while it's worth checking out since it's the start of the series, it's hardly the version that will get the most play on the disc. It doesn't have the three-man teams of the later versions, and the fighting engine isn't quite as polished yet. KoF '95 introduces the three-man teams that kick off the Orochi Saga, which adds a pretty interesting element to fighting games far before the popularity of Marvel vs. Capcom 2, and switching between three fighters works really well here. The three-man teams are divided by actual groups in the story, like the Hero team, Fatal Fury team, Art of Fighting team, etc.
KoF 1997 carried over the same ideas from 1996, changing up and adding characters, but the three-man groups stayed similar, and the gameplay didn't see any significant changes. KoF 1998 brought the biggest character roster to date, with over 50 playable characters, incredibly large for the time of release, and it was largely regarded as one of the more accessible entries into the series. The story elements were largely abandoned here, and it went on to spawn a remake on the Namco X board called Ultimate Match, which is one of the best titles in the series. Still, this version of KoF '98 is well worth playing, and I'm glad they've included it on the disc.
The controls work as well as you might suspect for the PSP, with the d-pad not being quite ideal for a 2-D fighter. If you've learned any of the small mods that can be done to the d-pad at this point, they're well worth doing to get the maximum enjoyment out of this port, but you can still play the game easily enough with the standard control setup, either using the d-pad or analog nub. There's a training mode that works well in getting you familiar with the move lists for different characters, allowing you to instantly access them with the start button, and even adding an overlay of a particular move to the screen that you can look at while trying to nail its execution. Switching between the games is also really easy, and you don't have to constantly back out to the title screen to do so.
There are some challenges to complete that will unlock art and soundtracks as well, so if you enjoy getting some of the extras on the compilations, then you'll want to go that route too. The art extras in particular are pretty cool to see, and I've always been a big fan of the SNK style, so it's nice to see the art extras.
While I'm glad to get five games for a price that's typically less than the cost of a new title, I also have to admit that some of the titles in King of the Fighters: The Orochi Saga are a bit redundant. While it's great for game history buffs and nostalgia fans, there are only a couple of titles on the collection that end up being worth the replay time, especially if you've enjoyed them all at some point in the past. Keep in mind that there's always a possibility of an Ultimate Match port of '98 down the line, since one has been released in Japan this June, so you might want to hold off for one of the best King of the Fighters titles in the future. However, if the early screens of KoF 12 have reignited your interest in the series, you can't really go wrong with putting down $20 on this handheld collection. Definitely pick this one up if you've never played the series; it's well worth checking out.