3/2 The Good, the Bad, and the Effete

The King of Fighters 2003

     I've been waiting since the Japanese site testing of this game to try it out. Driven by a combination of dread and hope. On the one hand, this was the latest installment of the series that got me interested in fighting games after a long period of estrangement. With promising rumor of a tag team system, something the whole 3 on 3 combat system had been begging to have added from the start. On the other, there were the bizarre roster cuts and additions that the 'new SNK' seems to like making, and the new 'hero.'

Ash effing Crimson.

     When they changed the 'main' character of '99 to a short-fused upstart in a leather jumpsuit, I was skeptical at first. But over the next couple games, K' turned out to be pretty cool in spite of being a pivotal figure in one of the lamest 'evil corporation' plots, and starting the nauseating fashion trend of lots of male midriff baring in 2000. (Or maybe it was Benimaru's fault.) Ash on the other hand, is basically a dolled-up Guile clone. He minces about in a red catsuit, with painted nails, and making all sorts of less-than-subtle gestures and such. Also, he's French. Now, I know what the Sephiroth bishy wai-wai chorus is thinking right now. White hair, lots of hand on hip posing, subtle references to him being kind of EVIL underneath his smiley exterior. But, much like many of the Sephiroth Mwahahaha I Am So Dark And Interesting fanboy contigent, his chances at looking 'cool' are pretty well nullified by the HUGE FRECKLES all over his face. Unless Richie Cunnigham in drag is your thing. That's your own business. (Freak.)

     Joining the swishy antihero are Shen Woo, who enjoys yelling, smashing things, and not buttoning his shirt; and Duo Lon, some kind of Chinese ninja guy who's probably related to Lin and/or Ron from 2001. The three of them standing next to each other looks like an understaffed ad for Queer Eye. Shen and Duo Lon would have a chance at looking cool standing separately or something, but I guess the fruitiness Ash radiates nudges Shen Woo's bare-chested spiky haired look from 'crazy violent guy' to 'kinda gay.' It's a thin line, admittedly. Iori toes it from time to time in lovingly rendered fan art.

     Now that that's behind us, onto the actual story. (If you're one of the 90% or so that don't particularly care why these people are smacking each other around, just kind of scroll down until I start swearing or something.) It's not as bad as NESTS. In a nutshell, they're sort of bringing things back to where they started. The Orochi power is beginning to awaken again, and while Rugal seems to still be dead, his progeny are looking to pick a fight with the KOF gang. Most of the teams have undergone some roster changes, Athena's High School Girls Team probably being the biggest upset since Kensou and Chin are out, replaced by the sumo girl Hinako and the shifty Malin. Andy Bogard's been replaced by Tizoc (a.k.a. Griffon Mask) from Mark of the Wolves, which worked out a lot better than I expected. I'm getting a lot more mileage out of his elbow drop than I ever did out of Andy's 'aggressive nudging' style of combat. Another MotW refugee, Gato, heads up the new Outlaw Team along with Yamazaki and Billy Kane.

     This is probably the fastest-paced KOF game of them all. The overall game system is best described as 'everything SNK/P has tried in the past couple years.' The tag system is a less combo-happy version of the Rage system (there's no lengthy autocombo tag-out, but it's still possible to do it.) The overall feel is a lot like the SNK vs. Capcom: Chaos game, in terms of animation and music. The game as a whole feels incredibly short since the three-round matches are now basically one long round. The most aggravating change to the system is the elimination of the CD knockdown attack in favor of a change command. (BC and CD are the two tag-outs.) I keep working the opponent into a corner, then getting stuck in the delayed 'call' animation. You can eliminate the delay and sort of get that move back by pressing a fireball motion before CD, but it costs a meter.

     The character you put first in order is designated the 'leader.' Basically being the leader means they're the only one who can use their best moves. As you lose members, you gain extra stocks, as per '98's handicap system. It's kind of hard to tell if you do a Leader Desperation Move right since some of the characters don't even flash during it. Again; my choice in control pads is making it hard to do this exactly right. I've only managed to pull off my favorite Galactica Phantom a couple times.

     How are the bosses, you ask? After Johann and Mr. Karate Gets Serious, I figured we'd have someone like Zero on steroids with a shot of speed in his brain sac. Well, they're actually not that bad. Except the Chizuru/Maki tag team mid battle. Fighting one Chizuru was bad enough before, but now she's got a twin sister with the same damn irritating illusion moves. She stills dances like a loon when she wins, too. I'm almost glad for what happens to her in the 'Sacred Treasures' ending. If not for the fact that it involves Ash and his pizza-faced prettiness. The 'true' final boss is a giant stone man/demon named Mukai who proves to be incredibly easy to beat if you can just stick close and beat him stupid. If you fail to beat Kusanagi with a super at the halfway point of the game, you head to 'Sky Noah' (Rugal's aircraft carrier was called Black Noah.) to fight Rugal's long-lost son Adelheid while his schizo sister Rose looks on. He's kind of cool, like a more agile version of Rugal. Unfortunately, he seems to have caught a little of the swishies from Ash with his thick eyelashes and dangling earrings.

      Well, here's to the start of the first original story arc of the 'new SNK.' Though 2k4 is slated to be done by Sammy on the Atomiswave hardware, that's where Guilty Gear XX came from. I think KOF is in safe hands. But for god's sake, take off the nail polish before you pansy up Kyo or something.




Ash, Shen Woo, and Duo Lon have taken a blood pact- TO MAKE K' AND MAXIMA FABULOUS.

Terry's in his MotW bomber jacket and pretty much has all the new moves. So when do we get Rock in KoF?

Tentatively scheduled for the Return of NESTS story arc: The new hero will be Jimmy Fallon as Mango.