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In case the contents of this blog don't make it obvious enough, I have something of an affinity for slightly "offbeat" titles, so if there's something out there that few others cover, there's a fair chance I'm at least somewhat up on it.
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Technically this one came out a short while ago, but despite searching for the bugger since its release date late last month, only yesterday was I finally able to sniff out a store that had a copy - thus, why this post is a ways later than it should have been. Moving on -
In case you weren't already aware, a King of Fighters "Orochi" collection was released in Japan some time back, and it was pretty much exactly as advertised - a compilation of the three arcade KoF games that comprised the "Orochi" storyline, namely '95, '96, and '97. Fast-forward a bit and SNK Playmore finally decides to throw its US fans a bone and bring the collection stateside - moreover, they figure that they might as well spice things up a little, by tossing in the first KoF game ('94) as well as the next in the series and the first "dream match" entry ('98) alongside the titular trio. Several juggled release dates later and the finished product finally makes an appearance on store shelves - so, after the wait, how does it rate, at least after a brief time with it?
The frontend, aside from a rather nice-looking intro sequence, is relatively basic - for all five games you can choose either regular ol' Arcade mode or Training mode if you'd prefer to practice - no color edits, Survival mode, or other fancy stuff (offhand didn't see Single mode either, though I'll have to look again). There is, however, an independent "Challenge" mode, which, as you'd guess, gives you various tasks to do in-match with the odds stacked against you (i.e. opponents only take damage from 3-hit combos or higher, are given temporary invincibility, etc.) - you're given access to the roster from '98, so you should be able to use pretty much anyone you'd like. For each challenge you complete you unlock a slew of stuff in the "Media" menu - in here you can eventually amass the complete OSTs and Arranged tracks for all five games as well as a bunch of artwork (at a nice resolution, so you can zoom in pretty close to clearly view the details on most of them). It's hardly essential stuff, but still a nice extra - correct me if I'm wrong, but I don't believe the Japanese version had any of it. On the technical front loading and saving times are on the lengthy side, but not game-breaking - also, data for all the games is saved in a single, small save file, so you don't need to worry about your memory card filling up with a bunch of separate saves.
In the brief time I've spent with the collection so far, I spent most of the time on KoF '98, as it's the entry I've played to the greatest extent previously, mainly on the Dreamcast (via the confusingly-titled US release "Dream Match '99"). As you'd expect, the graphics, aside from being at least ten years old, are a bit blurry (I really wish they'd include more display options in releases like this...if they need a reference, they can play Gunstar Heroes Treasure Box on the Sega Ages label), though otherwise everything seems to be in order - no off-cue voices a la the DC ports of Garou or Last Blade 2, for starters. I'm not enough of a KoF pro to notice every possible missing frame, timing difference, or other imperfections, though offhand I doubt that such issues would make an appearance here - heck, have they been relevant for any such game since the 32-bit era? I used the regular ol' Dual Shock controller and did okay, though I wish I'd had time to pull out my SF Anniversary pad for a quick test run - purists, of course, likely already have their joysticks ready. As for characters, the roster seems pretty much intact, right down to the Orochi versions of Shermie, Chris and Yashiro - the ability to play as previous versions of some of the recurring characters from the DC version appears to be gone, but seeing as the games those alternate types were taken from are included, it'd have been kind of pointless.
All in all, for a whole twenty bucks KoF fans should be pretty pleased with this - unless I'm forgetting something, this is the first time any of the Orochi games have gotten a console release in the US, even if they're rather bare-bones. That said, having played the Japanese release of the "NESTS" collection ('99 through 2001), which includes both the arcade and Dreamcast ports of those three games (the latter of which has all the puzzle diversions and other trimmings intact), I am slightly disappointed that none of the Japan-only console ports (and whatever extras they might have had) weren't on here, it would have been a lot to ask, especially considering that even the Japanese release didn't have them (and the aforementioned 20-buck price tag). In closing, this compilation is also slated to release on the PSP and Wii, if you'd rather play it there (and pay ten dollars more), but PS2 fans should be pretty well set here, as long as the games themselves, and not the add-ons, are of paramount importance to them. Now, of course, we can start waiting for SNK to get their rears in gear regarding the Samurai Shodown Anthology and the KoF '98 remake...
Any questions/comments/corrections, feel free to submit them.