Welcome back to the KOF Love Letter, where I express my appreciation for SNK as a company and impart upon you the hidden and massive story of the King of Fighters games. I know I've apologized for the length of my articles before, but this time I better get down on my knees and beg for forgiveness. This is going to be the final entry on what could be considered the "old" KOF games. The Orochi Saga as some call it. It's also going to be huge.
As much as I love KOF, I will go ahead and say right now that I don't recommend going back and playing these earlier games for very long. There's an enormous amount of effort put into the story and characters, but the actual games don't reflect that storyline so much as material outside the games does. When we get down to it, the KOF games were pretty well built for their time but don't offer us anything today other than their historical value. It's kind of like going back to play the original Street Fighter game just to see what it was like. Mind you the original Street Fighter is infinitely more impossible to play than King of Fighters '94 and each game in the KOF series does have its unique qualities that can be appreciated, but it's still the same basic idea.
The closest we ever get to really seeing the storyline in its entirety is when SNK authorizes the release of a content outside of the games. I will go ahead and say the Fatal Fury trilogy of movies is pretty damn good compared to other fighting game adaptations. Making an anime movie trilogy isn't exactly cheap I might add. Around the time of KOF 97 SNK was a madly successful company. Let's put it in perspective: SNK had its own amusement park called Neo Geo World. At that amusement park there was an animatronic rock band featuring a mechanical Athena, Iori, and Kyo. I only wish I was making that shit up. SNK could afford to have comic books produced, for music and story CDs featuring the voice actors to be published... Look... they had a radio drama, okay? A RADIO DRAMA. You have no idea how successful SNK used to be. There was a day when their crazy expensive 600 dollar videogame console (consider inflation by the way) made them mad cash.
.... Then they went bankrupt. Possibly because Kami-sama decided to smite them for the animatronic rock band. Were I God, I really would have decided that would be the point where the company was just getting too cocky. This is a story for a future Love Letter, though.
In all regards KOF 97 was an appropriate climax to the classic entries in the series. The scale of the story wasn't the only thing to increase, as the level of polish in the core game had as well. KOF 97 was greatly refined compared to older entries in the series While I said you shouldn't bother playing any of the Orochi Saga games for anything other than historic value, KOF 97 is somewhat the exception. Probably the most significant change it brought to the series was the "Advanced" and "Extra" modes. Choosing Extra Mode would allow your character to perform classic movements like side-steps and hops, while Advanced Mode played in the manner that most KOFs would from then on out. KOF 97 was basically the game to officially start up the more active breed of King of Fighters games; what with running, rolling, low hops and high jumps.
In terms of presentation the game is probably the most unique in the entire series as well. The game does its absolute best to actually feel like a tournament fighter. The stages are extremely vibrant, the scenes that take place between matches look like television broadcasts, and sometimes there isn't even actual music. Visually the game's backgrounds are a little darker and more realistic in color tone, and they're all extremely detailed portrayals of other parts of the world. The backgrounds are filled to the brim with a teeming audience, and sometimes the only sounds are their cheering the the distant and only slightly audible voice of the announcer. The game itself still does have traditional music, but the fact that certain stages lack it helps add to the presentation. In terms of little touches this game pulls a lot of stops. The only thing really holding it back is that it is the characters aren't as well balanced as the game to follow it. Well, that and it had a lot of game breaking glitches. Still, KOF 97 was the precursor to greater things to come. Let us move on to the backstory and roster.
So as far as our storyline goes, once more a year has passed since the last KOF tournament. Moving on from 1996 to 1997, we learn that the events of the last tournament have been obscured. After Chizuru lost in the finals of the 1996 tournament, Goenitz attacked and absolutely devastated the tournament stadium. All witnesses to the ensuring fight evacuated immediately without being aware of Goenitz presence, and the entire event was written off as a natural disaster. As such only the tournament entrants really knew what happened.
This presumed disaster wasn't enough to kill the King of Fighters tournament in its current sponsored form, though. Perhaps in part because of this unintended publicity the tournament remained a huge commercial success for all the corporations involved in the hosting of the tournament, and the entire world had entered a fighting fever. Demand skyrocketed for another KOF and more sponsors scurried to get in on the action. The tournament grew significantly in scale. Stadiums were being built all around the world while a grand number of preliminary matches were taking place. What started as essentially an illegal gambling tournament had become an international sensation. The roster changes just as much as anything else too. In 97 we have a very large shift in the character roster as we have nearly two full teams leaving permanently. KOF 96 had a fairly unique roster in the series thanks to this. Some of these characters do reappear as console-specific bonus characters or in non-story games, but as far as being part of the plot goes there's a lot of people on their way out.
Quite possibly thanks to the conflicts regarding Geese Howard's split-timeline the boss team was a one time thing. Thus Wolfgang Krauser, Mr. Big, and Geese all leave the tournament to never be seen again as playable characters again. In his ending Geese expressed dissatisfaction with the Orochi power that he saw from Goenitz, while Mr. Big and Krauser simply have no reason to participate in another tournament with Geese out of the picture. Kasumi Todoh left the Women's Team as well, which makes a good bit of sense. She's continually in search of her missing father and she was called in at the last minute to help out in KOF 96. It's kind of the nature of her characters to not have a consistent team, but it's not the last we'll see of her. The fact that she leaves to search for her father is a little on the funny side considering that her father appears in the background of almost every single KOF. As for Vice and Mature, their reason for not joining the tournament should be rather obvious. Iori killed them something fierce. Vice and Mature were lower ranking Serpent Heads than Goenitz. They had no ability to incite or even stop Iori's bloodlust, and they were no match for him even when they'd first met. The considerable jump in power Iori receives when he goes berserk gave them little hope of escaping alive.
There's quite a few gaps to be filled, so let's take a look.
Billy Kane returns this year, once again gathering himself a team of fighters under Geese Howard's orders. Upon hearing word of the King of Fighters tournament's world wide popularity, Geese no longer feels inclined to participate himself but still has reason to send his right hand man. Though Eiji Kisaragi is nowhere to be seen, it would seem that Iori Yagami is once again connected to Billy's team. As some may remember Iori thrashed the other members of the KOF 95 Rival Team, leaving some bitter grudges behind him. Despite being disinterested in the power that Goenitz displayed after the KOF 96 tournament concluded, Iori's strength seems to have once again caught Geese's eye. Though Geese is fully aware that Iori and Goenitz share the power of the Orochi, he seems convinced that there may be something more to Iori's potential and mixed blood.
Billy has been sent to the KOF 97 tournament with the purpose of investigating Iori's strength. He also has permission from his employer to eliminate the young Yagami if he feels so inclined. Not much has changed since KOF 95 considering Billy is essentially up to his old tricks again. The main difference this time around is that Billy's sporting a new, more stylish look and his teammates are working for cash instead of personal motivations. He's still essentially the ringleader of the King of Fighters 97 "Special Team," which for all intents and purposes could be referred to as the Outlaw Team.
And here we have the other members of the 97 Special Team. Ryuji Yamazaki and Blue Mary. Both made their first appearance in Fatal Fury 3 and their roles remain primarily the same as they were back then: A freelance investigator and a thug for hire. Blue Mary's real name is Mary Ryan, though there's a story behind the title as well as some backstory tying her to other characters. Mary belongs to a family of prominent Japanese martial artists, from her deceased father's side. To Mary's distaste her grandfather had a hand in training Geese Howard himself. As the story goes both her father and her lover died in an accident, supposedly involving The Secret Service and terrorists. Mary spent a solid portion of her life drinking away her worries, to the point that a drink was named after her: the Blue Mary. Her green jacket is a momento from her dead lover, Butch. Likewise she has a pet dog she calls Anton, and she has a penchant for motorcycles.
Mary's initial appearance in Fatal Fury 3 likewise gave her the impression of being a female counterpart to Terry Bogard. Red, white, and blue with blond hair. They even both wear a star somewhere on their clothing. Despite that, interestingly enough her design was inspired by Android 18 from Dragonball Z. This isn't anything new in itself. SNK's fighting games have a very strong martial arts anime vibe to them and many of the characters draw their inspiration from a very, very large variety of Japanese shows. Benimaru bears a striking resemblance to one of the characters from Jojo's Bizarre Adventure, and Leona's attacks are packed to the brim with tributes to Japanese pop-culture that most of us will never know anything about including Kamen Rider. Blue Mary's inspiration is about one of the only ones that the average Western reader would ever have a chance of guessing.
Mary gets by as a freelance worker, basically acting as a cop for hire. Thanks to her loss Mary is a bit of a somber character, her title likely not just referring to her affiliation with Blues music but also her loss in life. Despite this she's a very strong and capable character who defies female stereotypes as a muscular and powerful grappler. In Fatal Fury 3 she was hired by a Chinese conglomerate to hunt down the legendary scrolls said to grant immortality, and as a result she encountered many Fatal Fury characters. Among them are the Bogard brothers whom she expressed an attraction to early on. Terry Bogard and Blue Mary have long since been established as love interests and very close friends, though Terry insists on staying just pals. Considering Yamazaki was one of the primary figures in the game, this entailed her trailing and investigating him. Though she's merely working another job, her team mates in KOF 97 are very unusual. Once again she's been hired to investigate Yamazaki while on the team, and of course she has a relative distaste for anyone connected to Geese Howard.
Yamazaki himself was the sub-boss of Fatal Fury 3. Likewise he traveled from Hong Kong on a job for his clients: The Jin brothers whose ancestors supposedly created the scrolls in question. Geese assured Billy that there was a reason he chose Yamazaki specifically for the tournament, though not much about Yamazaki could be discerned during Fatal Fury 3. He appeared as little other than a cool headed gangster with an extravagant sense of style and a bit of a wild streak. This only made it more surprising when Billy went to ask for Yamazaki's help. Yamazaki was found tearing up a local dojo of martial artists for fun. Initially Yamazaki simply knocked them around, but eventually he outright stabbed one of the more resilient fighters in the belly and went berserk, leaving a fountain of blood as a momento by the time he was done. For a moment, instead of a cool and collected gangster Billy found an out of control maniac with a knife. The display was definitely something out of the ordinary. The level of rage and power he displayed in that instant was immense.
Though Yamazaki expressed no interest in the tournament prior, the sudden rush from his kill seemed to inspire him to change his mind. After being assured he'd receive double the tournament's prize money as compensation Yamazaki was in the bag. There are stories about Yamazaki's history with the Yakuza, as well as theories of him having a split personality. These I can't confirm, but Yamazaki's murderous rage can be explained by the fact that he is the last remaining Serpent Head. Though he's another member of the Orochi bloodline like Vice, Mature, and Goenitz; Yamazaki has never once expressed interest in the Orochi. Still, his mood swings are obviously connected. The members of the Serpent Heads weren't actually arranged ahead of time as far as I know, but were rather created as they were needed. Promotional videos that advertised the Serpent Heads would use silhouettes, with figures that had no resemblance at all to the final products aside from Vice and Mature. Yamazaki was more than likely chosen later on and given his split personality to be the last member, thanks to his preexisting affiliation with snakes. One of his original attacks is even called the Serpent Slash. Yamazaki was basically transformed into an entirely new character for the King of Fighters series, complete with a large set of new moves.
While Mary and Yamazaki had previously worked for different people, this time they were both working under Geese. Little did Mary know that the company that hired her to join the KOF tournament was a dummy corporation Geese used in order to enlist her services, though she immediately displays suspicion about her employment. Though she's been hired to keep her eye on Yamazaki, she has every intention of watching Billy too.
The host of the King of Fighters 96 tournament returns as a standard participant this time around. Last time she had arranged the tournament with the intent of finding people to help her in the fight against Orochi, and this much has likely not changed. Like Iori and Kyo: Chizuru is a practitioner of her family's ancient style of Kagura martial arts and is an heir to one of the families that helped defeat the Orochi. While the Kusanagi and Yasagani clans that Kyo and Iori belong to were responsible for the actual defeat of the beast, the Yata clan which Chizuru belongs to was responsible for sealing the Orochi power. Her particular fighting style revolves around her latent ability to create mirror-like images of herself, as opposed to Iori and Kyo's ability to create flames.
In general she has an affiliation with purity and holiness, with her namesake even meaning "a thousand cranes." Some may know cranes are associated as mystical creatures in Japan, though many more people are likely familiar with the Japanese legend that folding a thousand origami cranes will grant wishes. She's likewise a very graceful fighter who uses a variety of dances from both the West and East in her fighting style. Despite her appearance as a priestess and general association with purity, she is yet another character with an affiliation with motorcycles. In her particular case she even races. All that aside she has a somewhat closed off and perhaps professional type of personality, in part to the loss of her twin sister.
Some 10 years prior Goenitz had instigated an attack on the Yata clan which guarded the Orochi seal. Taking down her sister Maki in the process, Goenitz was both successful in weakening the seal and starting the landslide of events that eventually led to all of the King of Fighters tournaments. With her sister gone Chizuru was the primary guard of the Orochi seal, leaving her with what you might call some abandonment issues. She seems to have issues with feeling alone in the world, but despite that keeps up with her duties. She has since become a prominent business woman, thus explaining her ability to rally various large corporations to sponsor the King of Fighters tournament after Rugal's departure.
Though she started the tournaments largely in part with the desire to unite Iori and Kyo to fight the Orochi, she decided to join Mai Shiranui and King and create a new Women's Fighters Team instead. Without Chizuru's intervention the team would have disbanded on its own. Mai couldn't find a replacement member with Kasumi leaving in search of her father, and King's bar in England had become very famous ever since her participation in the 1996 tournament. As always King worried herself about her little brother as well. Chizuru essentially tricked the two of them into meeting her in Japan and convinced them to join her. Mai was happy to do so, and King was convinced with the prospect of being able to travel with her little brother around the world for the new international KOF. With that, the King of Fighters 97 Women's Team was born.
Iori historically has a lot of trouble working with others for one reason or another. His personal heritage could easily result in an innumerable number of personal issues and dysfunctions. He's obsessed with attacking Kyo out of anger on a regular basis and has very little focus in life beyond his music. He doesn't even really own anything as far as all depictions of his living quarters are concerned. He's often depicted as living in a small and almost entirely empty room. Iori no doubt has issues with being manipulated, and though he doesn't show it he's been deeply troubled by his unwilling murder of his former teammates at the end of the 1996 tournament. He has lately been having nightmares involving contorted imagery of both Vice, Mature, and a disembodied form that's no doubt symbolic of the Orochi presence in his blood. He has also been coughing up blood. A very bad sign to those familiar with what happens right before a Riot of the Blood.
Despite not having a team, Iori's name was listed in the official roster. Chizuru had no doubt publicly listed him as a "seeded competitor" in hopes of getting him to come.
The New Faces team is just that: a team of entirely unknown characters. Not a single member of this team has ever appeared in a previous SNK game, nor has even been inspired by previous games as is the case with Athena, Ralf, and Clark. Each member of the team ranges from a different part of the world, with the Japanese Yashiro Nanasake acting as leader. He has a huge form and in general has the feel of an athlete in the way he moves around, always staying light on his feet. Each member of the New Faces team is also a member of a band called C.Y.S. While the theory is that the title of the band is an abbreviation of each member's name (Chris, Yashiro, Shermie), it's never been officially confirmed. Yashiro is a perfectionist guitarist who is idolizes real life musician Paul Gilbert.
Lately he's had a tendency to stop playing in mid-show deciding that something is missing from the band's music, much to his other band members' annoyance. Lately his own band has suffered some cancellations because of the music of another band, whom is now being seen as something of a rival group by onlookers. These issues aside, the group gets along very well. After breaking up one of his shows, Yashiro noticed a King of Fighters ad on television which flashed a picture of the leader of C.Y.S's rival band: Iori Yagami. Upon realizing that anyone has the potential to enter the tournament this year, Yashiro declares the group is entering the preliminary matches and paying back Iori for all their grievances. Unfortunately the preliminaries were already over, but that didn't stop them. The team actually traveled out of Japan and to the States, found a group that passed the preliminaries, forced them to give up their invitation in a fight, and Yashiro personally even lied about who he was to the now former entrants.
All the events leading up to the tournament involving this team are somewhat suspicious, especially the fact that Yashiro decided to get an invitation from a United States team and lied about being a member of the "Hall of Nanakase Bushin Karate" solely for the purpose of giving himself a reputation. He declared that he wanted to beat the Japan team and prove his group was the best, but he wanted to be seen as a new contestant from a different block. The Japan team isn't Iori Yagami's though; it's Kyo Kusanagi's.
Next are Yashiro's supporting cast. How they all met each other is a mystery considering that Yashiro is from Japan, Shermie from France, and Chris from Sweden. Even a greater mystery is how a group of such drastically different people from different places decided they should start a band. While Yashiro has a fairly ballsy personality, Shermie and Chris are on different ends of the spectrum.
Interestingly enough, Shermie is a fashion designer. Aside from playing the keyboard in C.Y.S, she also has a hobby breeding hamsters. Her overall personality is very flirtatious and open, and her affinity from pink nails her as being exceedingly feminine. It's a pretty huge shock when you find out that she's basically an obscenely powerful wrestler whose moves make nods to forms of the sport around the world. More ridiculous is that she still manages to pull off being provocative with her choice despite her fighting style. Though being a designer her choice of hair style makes some sense, there've been some hints by the staff that you might find something you didn't expect underneath her hair.
Chris defies fewer stereotypes, being small but extremely quick. He plays the drums for C.Y.S and has a variety of innocent interests like cooking and nature. In general he acts very cheerful and friendly. He's much more clueless than the other members, very often not being aware of what's going on. He knows almost nothing about King of Fighters and was gullible enough to actually wonder if the Hall of Nanakase Bushin Karate really existed, even though he's never heard of it despite knowing Yashiro as long as he has. Shermie is quite the opposite, as she'd been wearing a suspicious smirk ever since Yashiro mentioned joining the tournament.
Shingo in a way represents the world wide fever that the King of Fighters 96 tournament created, as he's just a normal guy who fell in love with martial arts after he watched Kyo Kusanagi fight on television. His creation was almost something of a practical joke considering there was a lot of hype surrounding him prior to KOF 97's release. His silhouette was used as a promotional tool and the fact that he was voiced by famous voice actor Takehito Koyasu was a pretty huge deal. A huge deal in Japan, that is. Many of KOF's voice actors are well known locally. When he was revealed to be a goofy average Joe the surprise must have been something else for dedicated fans.
Shingo's the epitome of the weird kid with a good heart. After watching Kyo and realizing they went to the same school he became a dedicated follower and self-proclaimed student of the Kusanagi style. Despite Kyo's general disinterest in him, Shingo convinced Kyo to teach him exchange for buying lunch on a regular basis. This went on for three months straight, not including the amount of time required for Shingo to wear Kyo down into accepting the deal. The main catch is that he could only convince Kyo to perform an attack a single time for every free meal. Despite being an oddball, Shingo's memory is extremely sharp he's supposedly able to memorize any attack after seeing it once. For reference he also keeps a small notebook that he constantly references. The irony is that Shingo knows most of Kyo's moves better than Kyo knows them himself.
Most of Shingo's attacks are direct imitations of Kyo's own moves, minus the occasional move inspired by Kyo such as his own Shingo Kick. The main kicker is that Shingo himself can't produce flames, but he seems convinced that with practice he'll be able to. Nobody seems to have told Shingo that you can't just learn to shoot flames, but maybe nobody has the heart to break the news to him.
In all regards Shingo is a total geek, complete with his encyclopedic knowledge of the King of Fighters tournament and his personal figurine collection. His level of enthusiasm is hard to ignore, though. His wannabe nature can be amusing in its own way. He'd been practicing diligently every day, but realized training on his own could only go so far. In order to become more like his idol Kyo, he decided to join the tournament and has made it as a standalone entrant into the preliminary finals. Shingo probably wasn't expecting shit to go down like it did after the actual tournament finals.
Once the finals hit, something in the tournament went horribly wrong. An entrants went berserk and entered the Riot of the Blood. Leona's head suddenly began to hurt and she had flashbacks of Goenitz calling for her to awaken and follow her fate. She also began to recall some of the memories that she had blocked out since her childhood after being adopted by Heidern and the Ikari Warriors. Leona's father Gaidel was actually one of the Serpent Heads. Goenitz had visited Gaidel some time prior and asked for his help in reviving the Orochi, but Gaidel refused. Not satisfied with this response, Goenitz awakened the Orochi blood in Leona and used her to slaughter her own family. Even since before the tournament, she had suffered a lapse in memory that had seemingly traumatized her despite not being fully aware of what the flashes meant. Her participation in the tournament was lent by the fact that she and the rest of the team had been temporarily suspended from military activity.
Leona's father has always been an obscure character. His face has never even been revealed. Once again Leona lost control of herself and entered The Riot of the Blood, and the entrants have to fight her. Leona begins to behave like a wild hound and is extremely fast and powerful in this state. Depending on which characters you choose, you can also fight Orochi Iori. Through the course of the game you can only fight one, though. In terms of storyline it seems that Leona is the official sub boss. There's a possibility that Leona has succeeded her father as a new Serpent Head, but there've been no serious hints toward this.
With Leona entering the Riot, it was clear that the presence of someone with Orochi power was near. Little did anyone suspect that they were already contestants in the tournament. Yashiro, Chris, and Shermie reveal themselves as the remaining members of the Four Heavenly Kings; successors to the Orochi power with strength comparable to that of Goenitz. From now on unofficially referred to as the Orochi Team. Their strange behavior suddenly makes some sense, as they were acting upon Goenitz's instructions prior to his death. Supposedly all the hints were there. C.Y.S. played music that focused on the themes of blood and death, Shermie's hair conceals a hateful glare, and Chris' innocent nature takes a new spin when you refer to him as someone who can kill with a smile. In order to fully revive the Orochi, two things were required: Energy and the sacrifice of a maiden.
The Orochi clan used the King of Fighters tournament for its own purposes, seeking to gather all the energy from the world's greatest fighters. The Orochi Team entered with the intent of livening the tournament and overseeing the plan's fruition. Meeting up with Iori appears to be nothing more than an added bonus. Unexpected is also the fact that the team has also kidnapped Kyo's girlfriend Yuki, whose full name is revealed to be Yuki Kushinada. In the legend of the Orochi 7 maidens of the Kushinada family were sacrificed to the Orochi before the Shinto God Susanoo slayed it and claimed the one remaining daughter as his wife. This is a piece of the Orochi legend that not many may know King of Fighters retained. Some sources say that Chris kidnapped Yuki prior to the tournament, but I can't find anything official to back it up.
The King of Fighters version of the myth is revealed by the Orochi Team: The Orochi tried to erase humanity from the Earth, requiring the sacrifice of 8 maidens in order to do so. Miraculously one of the maidens escaped and the Orochi was then defeated, after which the Orochi entered a slumber for 1800 years. After revealing this the The Orochi Team reveals that not quite enough power has been gathered for the revival of the Orochi, and so for the first time in a KOF game two sub-boss battles take place in a row. The Orochi Team assures the entrants that even if they can win, The Orochi will feed on the power and take their place.
The Orochi Team undergoes a drastic transformation after calling upon their power as members of the Four Heavenly King. As previously stated, higher ranking members of the Serpent Heads inherit a direct power from the beast. Much like Yamazaki, the team was created fairly late in the development of the story. They were created to mimic the powers of the Japanese Hero Team. Yashiro became a powerhouse grappler with moves associated with quakes and the Earth, making him a loose tie to Goro Daimon. Chris and Shermie have much more comparable strengths, being able to manipulate fire and lightning similarly to Kyo and Benimaru. Chris even has a direct imitation of Kyo's Orochinagi / Serpent Wave attack.
Upon losing the battle, Yashiro actually slaughters his own team in a suicidal sacrifice to the Orochi. This suicide in itself is portrayed in the New Faces team's ending. Chris' body becomes the new host for the Orochi and his body begins to morph into a more suitable container. Funnily enough, one of the initial concepts for this boss was for a glowing naked Chris. Instead we got this. As usual this final boss is very annoying, but not much else can be said at this point. Like in the last game: Kyo, Iori, and Chizuru officially team up to defeat the freshly revived Orochi. As Kyo had stated before, were the Orochi to appear in front of them they would both fight it. More than likely without the sacrifice of the Kushinada maiden Orochi is not capable of using his full power, thus the Sacred Treasures team as they've come to be known managed to take it down.
Despite this Chizuru assures the others that the Orochi can only be contained, not killed. Likewise the Orochi assured the Sacred Treasures team that so long as those with Orochi blood lived on, so would he. In a final move the Orochi incurred the Riot of the Blood upon his "son" Iori and commanded that he fight in the name of the Orochi. In a surprising force of will however, Iori turns on the Orochi in his enraged state and holds the Orochi down. From this point on it's actually a little hard to discern what exactly is going on. A small purple flame seems to speak to Kyo, asking that he defeat the Orochi and purge Iori of his cursed fate. Seemingly this is the voice of Iori's ancestors. Iori and the Orochi themselves seem to be engulfed in flames, while Kyo strikes from behind through Iori and vanquishes the Orochi. In general this ending is a little confusing, and is probably best saved to be seen personally.
With the Orochi is vanquished, Leona continues to have flashbacks of her past. Stricken with grief, she actually tries to commit suicide with her powers. The only that stops her is Ralf, who says something that gives her a final flashback to what were perhaps her father Gaidel's final words: "Destiny? Pah! Nonsense! Make your own Fate, Leona!" With that said Leona begins to cry and thank her Father as Ralf and Clark continue to console her.
After the tournament Chizuru becomes closer to Mai and King, forming a friendship unlike anything she likely had before. Despite having to keep watch on the Orochi seal on her own, she now seems content. She claims that she's found a new piece of herself and speaks fondly to her sister as she looks up into the sky. Kyo departs from Goro and Benimaru as they make a bigger name for themselves in the world on their own, essentially the three of them parting ways. Iori's own whereabouts after the fight with the Orochi are unknown, as he has no ending of his own.
Yamazaki is left as the last confirmed and living Serpent Head, with some of his activities becoming more clear. As mentioned prior, Billy found Yamazaki tearing up martial artists for fun in a dojo prior to the tournament. Likewise the Sakazaki team returned home to find that their dojo was trashed and some of their students were bloodied up. Their primary motivation to enter that year was actually to reclaim their school's tarnished honor while Takuma investigated the identity of the assailant. Yamazaki's involvement is pretty much set in stone when the Art of Fighter team's ending indirect confirms that the assailant was a member of the Orochi bloodline.
After the tournament Mary hooked up with Terry and chided him for not staying in touch. In regards to the events regarding the Orochi, they mutually agreed it was none of their business as is typical of the Fatal Fury cast to say. Terry goes off to visit his father's grave in Southtown, but makes sure to leave his hat with Mary as a momento. Considering he has his hat again by the next game, this was probably just assurance that they'd meet again soon. Mary herself had confirmed that the company that hired her was indeed just a puppet corporation under Geese's command, and she is sorely displeased. She hasn't made a move yet, but will definitely not be against some payback in the future. Geese and Billy discuss Iori's absence and the overall state of the tournament. Geese laments losing Mary as a mistake and likewise confirms that Yamazaki is of the Orochi bloodline. Just moments after Yamazaki appears and goes wild, demanding his pay.
Following this are fairly minor events. Kyo and Shingo meet in the usual place at school, with Shingo congratulating Kyo on a good fight. Kyo's reaction is unusual, though. Instead of his standard laziness, he proclaims that he's going to get his own meal for once and throws his Kusanagi gloves Shingo's way as a gift. Inspired by recognition from his idol, Shingo immediately dedicates himself to further training. Of course, he won't be satisfied until he can shoot flames just like Kyo. Poor bastard.
While I'm at it, I may as well mention that Athena has her own dedicated fan. A girl named Kaoru whose letter inspired the Psycho Soldiers team to join the 1997 tournament. Despite being constrained to a wheelchair, she manages to meet the group after the finals and demonstrate that she's been inspired to stand on her own two feet, if only for a moment. Finally in what I at least consider one of the funnier endings in the KOF series, Kim is thanked by a TV announcer for all the great coverage they got this year. Kim had been approached by some television personnel prior to the tournament about doing a documentary on Kim's unorthodox style of reform. Showing the world that two people can turn a new leaf in life was Kim's primary motivation for joining in 1997. Check out the ending for yourself, and thanks for reading the Love Letter.
To anyone who managed to make it to the end of this, thanks for the dedication. Please leave a comment if you'd feel so inclined and stay on the watch. The Fatal Destructoid King of Fighters 98 tournament is going active again with the holiday season over, and all the previous King of Fighters Love Letters are going to be edited, added upon, and compiled into a single Orochi Saga article.