Community Discussion: Blog by wryguy87 | The King of Fighters Love Letter: KOF '96Destructoid
The King of Fighters Love Letter: KOF '96 - Destructoid

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Welcome back to the King of Fighters Love Letter which is currently being rewritten and given a new format which includes better images, video and music. Wear some headphones for this. I didn't feel I was doing SNK justice with the plain format from before. Each game in the King of Fighters series has a certain flavor to it that should be showcased in some way. A massive amount of time and effort was put into creating the King of Fighters storyline, but the same can be said about any aspect of these games. For the people who thought fighting games couldn't have real stories and even more so for the people who thought King of Fighters was the Madden of the fighting game world: I'm here to prove you wrong and show you something that deserves appreciation.

If you've read up to this point I'm sure you know I had to do extensive research from a plethora of sources to create this series because just playing the games doesn't give you the fully story. SNK spread itself among a wealth of media to create the mythology behind this series; examples of what I'm talking about will be covered next time. Unfortunately much of this media I refer to is left untranslated in Japanese, and thus I must put pool what resources are available to me in order to make something genuinely presentable and comprehensive. Leave all the grunt work to me on this one. However, understand that just playing the games and reading these articles can't give you a full appreciation of the sort of creative energy that went into the conception of this series. If you really want to be able to appreciate the sort of nuances that every King of Fighters game offers, you simply have to play every King of Fighters game; if not just briefly.

Let it be known that the grand antagonist of this series is now officially dead. Rest in peace, Rugal Bernstein. You were one of SNK's favorites. The game's staff openly speaks of Rugal with affection; referring to him as the perfect boss character. This is totally true if the perfect boss is supposed to be so evil that being able to beat him requires a pact with Satan himself. I don't know what game actually started the trend but there is a term for bosses like Rugal Bernstein: SNK Syndrome. This syndrome is fairly well known; certainly enough to make its way on on the Urban Dictionary. Some of you may be wondering what it is. SNK Syndrome describes an incredible shift in difficulty wherein everything is chugging along at a steady pace until reaching the boss, and being demolished. You can't really say you know what it's like until you've experienced it yourself. All you Capcom guys out there who complained about Gill from Street Fighter III: Third Strike: Trust me when I say you're lucky. You guys have clearly never met Omega Rugal and his Genocide Cutter attack.

Before advancing to King of Fighters 1996, let us speak about a peculiar little project known as King of Fighters: Kyo. There was a comic book and later a game under this name, both featuring illustrations by Masato Natsumoto. Above you can see examples of his art style, which to me is a refreshing change of pace from what King of Fighters normally produced at the time. Admittedly SNK's traditional artist Shinkiro had a much more refined and unique style, but a little variety never hurt anyone. The King of Fighters: Kyo videogame takes place just before King of Fighters 1997, and while the concept of a King of Fighters RPG is pretty interesting we'll mostly be concerning ourselves with the comic book.

The King of Fighters: Kyo manga spans the events between King of Fighters 95 and 96, and is one of the few comics that I'll be considering valid research material for the Love Letter. The information contained within lines up with all the games, and while it's possible Masato Natsumoto took some creative liberty in creating the story it's quite clear that SNK was supervising the man as he created this particular graphic novel. We'll be using this comic to establish some of the King of Fighters mythology as well as clarify the relationship between Kyo Kusanagi and his new rival Iori Yagami. Keep in mind that this is different from any time you'll see the headline "Shinto Edumacation." All of those sections are dedicating to explaining the original Japanese myths that inspired King of Fighters. Inspired is the key word here. King of Fighters by default is fairly far off from the genuine legends.

The basic summary of the plot is that between King of Fighters 95 and 96 Kyo suffers some existential blues. Having some trouble coming to terms with his fate as a Kusanagi, Kyo spends a fair amount of time acting like a jerk to his girlfriend Yuki Kushinada, riding around on his motorcycle, and getting into fights with Iori Yagami. Basically he acts like a regular teenager after winning the King of Fighters 95 tournament. Near the end of the comic Saisyu Kusanagi forces Kyo out of his brooding state and then later explains the story of the Orochi Legend. Coincidentally this also explains the the reason for Kyo and Iori's feud. The story goes as such:

Long ago there were two martial arts clans that were the strongest in the world: the Kusanagi and the Yasagani. Both clans had the power to manipulating flames through will. 1800 years ago the two clans fought together to slay the great demon Orochi and seal its power away. From them on for the next 1130 years the Kusanagi and Yasagani endlessly immersed themselves in their fighting arts as rivals and allies. This was the means which led to the fighting styles Kyo and Iori inherited and use in the present day. Between the two clans, the Kusanagi were always perceived as stronger than the Yasagani. Despite being allies, sitting in the shadow of the Kusanagi clan was something the Yasagani couldn't bare. In an attempt to surpass the Kusanagi, the Yasagani tried to break the seal that held the Orochi and use the demon's power.

Before the Yasagani could succeed they were stopped by the Kusanagi, however a portion of the Orochi's strength was still released from the seal. The Orochi offered the Yasagani a blood pact to become Sons of the Orochi, able to use the demon's power as their own. The Yasagani accepted and were given one command in exchange: kill the Kusanagi who stand in the way of the Orochi's revival. Upon accepting the pact the Orochi gave the Yasagani a new name: Yagami. As a visual mark of their pact the Yasagani clan's flame gained a purple tint. This has lead to a blood fued that's lasted hundreds of years between the Kusanagi and Yagami clans, with Kyo and Iori being the most recent heirs to their fighting styles. The Kusanagi seem to be winning the fued, as Iori appears to be the only current heir to the Yagami line. Regardless of this fact the Kusanagi and Yagami clans had previously fought together to defeat the Orochi. Until the present day the Orochi remained sealed, but a constant threat were it to ever be revived.

In the world there are a group called the Hakkeshu, otherwise known as the Eight Serpent Heads. They are eight people born as servants of the Orochi, each representing one of the Orochi's heads and gaining one of his powers. Despite having the title of Sons of the Orochi, the Yagami are of mixed blood. The Serpent Heads on the other hand are pure disciples of the Orochi. Serpent Heads serve the distinct purpose of hunting down the Orochi seal and freeing their master. The Yagami in comparison are seemingly not as loyal to this cause. Eight years prior to King of Fighters '94 Rugal Bernstein found the Orochi seal. One of the Hakkeshu appeared and gouged out Rugal's right eye, allowing him to use some of the Orochi power when Rugal proved his strength in managing to survive the assault. Recently the Kusanagi had taken notice of a change in the Orochi seal. Recently the Kusanagi had taken notice of a change in the Orochi seal. While Saisyu possibly challenged Rugal thinking that he was the culprit it is revealed that the one truly responsible for the change in the Orochi seal is one of the Serpent Heads.

While Iori Yagami does continue the blood feud with Kyo Kusanagi; he doesn't fight for the sake of the Orochi. Iori claims he wants to kill Kyo simply because he hates the sight of him. It would appear that Iori very clearly resents everything that Kyo represents. Moreso though, it Iori probably resents being a Yagami. The blood pact with the Orochi brought a curse upon the Yasagani lineage. In the presence of the Orochi power, the Yagami are subject to entering a state known as the Riot of the Blood. This state is not limited to just the Yagami, but because of it Iori can enter fits of murderous rage with no control over himself. Being tossed into a feud he had no say in is bad enough on its own. Additionally the Orochi's blood places a curse on the Yagami specifically. The Yagami are all destined to die young and every mother of the lineage is unable to survive childbirth. Needless to say Iori doesn't have a lot of family, nor a lot to be happy about. Iori has been portrayed in a sympathetic light in some ways, so it's quite possible he has no genuine grudge against Kyo Kusanagi. Despite the fact that Iori claims to want to kill Kyo, it's possibly a farce. When Iori says he hates the sight of Kyo it may be because Kyo reminds Iori about his personal issues. In this case I'd say simply being a Yagami is a personal issue. It's hard to tell if Iori would ever seriously kill the protagonist if given the chance thanks to the fact that his behavior is not always consistent.

Congratulations, you've made it all the way to King of Fighters 96! At first glance it wouldn't really seem that this game did a great deal to advance the series, yet this couldn't be farther from the truth. This game introduced so many elements that would later establish the identity of the series; most importantly the sense of speed King of Fighters has compared to other 2D fighting games. KOF 96 introduced various means of maneuvering your character. Before your primary means of moving in a fight would be walking, dash hopping, sidestepping, and jumping. King of Fighters 96 changed all of that. Running, low jumping, power jumping and rolling were all changes that allowed you to advance on your opponent relentlessly. All of them remain in just about every KOF to date. This game also marks the first time both the game's roster and the characters' moves would change so drastically. Kyo Kusanagi became an almost entirely different character in this game thanks to some of his new moves. From this point on most every character would undergo some steady experimentation. It's one of the finest traits of the King of Fighters series. The grand majority of characters will change enough from year to year in such a way that you have to learn something new about them every time. If you advance far enough in the series you will probably have to relearn your character entirely.

From what I know King of Fighters 96 was the first game in the series to be played competitively. To a select few purists out there this is still regarded as a tournament worthy game, but such players from nearly 15 years ago are hard to find. To the grand majority KOF 96 is a game of a bygone era, but it still holds up rather well. KOF 94 and 95 were excellent games for their time, but comparatively they're rough around the edges. Many fans of the series also consider this the point where the King of Fighters soundtrack became something truly special. Several songs established in this game would live on as remixes for quite a few years to come. Either way every soundtrack in this series is excellently composed thanks to the SNK Sound Team. In the age when SNK could afford such things this group of composers was divided into two teams: One responsible for the composition of the in-game soundtrack played on the Neogeo, and another dedicated to recording live versions of the songs. These live versions were available as albums or in-game soundtracks for home consoles like the Neogeo CD and Sega Saturn. It's hard to debate the significance the game had. In almost all regards KOF 96 was a highly influential game for the rest of the series.

Moving on to the plot of the game; everyone was surprised to hear that the invitations for a new King of Fighters tournament were being distributed come 1996. With Rugal dead, some suspected that one of the original hosts like Geese Howard had resurrected the tournament for their own purposes. The reality was that the tournament had gained recognition despite its underground nature. Various businesses expressed interest in sponsoring an official worldwide King of Fighters tournament. Thanks to corporate sponsoring KOF became a public event and world wide frenzy. All the entrants from the previous tournaments were invited, and an infamous team of underground criminals had been added to the roster. Now that the KOF tournaments offered a chance for both fame and money many of the characters from previous games gained fresh motivation to fight. If money wasn't enough, there was the matter of the new criminal team which warranted investigation. KOF 96 seemed to offer something for just about anyone.

Everyone's motivation to re-enter the tournament is fairly simple, but some figures like the Fatal Fury Team have some personal business waiting for them. Geese Howard was among the new entrants, and he had made a point to personally taunt the Fatal Fury Team prior to the tournament. Choi Bounge and Chang Koehan from the Korea Team are told by Kim Kaphwan that if they can win the 1996 tournament he will consider their training complete, but anyone that knows anything about the Korean team knows that won't end in anything other than Choi and Chang's continued suffering. Takuma Sakazaki had himself removed from the tournament's paperwork, officially substituting his name for Yuri Sakzaki's. Thanks to this Yuri would be unable to join the Women Fighters Team, and despite her objections she has been forcefully relocated to the Art of Fighting Team with her brother and boyfriend. Finally the Psycho Soldiers team joins the fight once more with similar intent as prior years: Take note of the evil presence that Chin Gentsai has sensed and become stronger in the name of justice.

Last time we had a direct character swap with the USA Sports Team going out and the Rivals Team going in. This year the roster sees a serious mix as four characters leave their team, four enter to replace them, and three enter to create a brand new team. We're still going to be covering character chronologically but we're also going to include the returning champions from now on.

Prior to the King of Fighters 96 tournament Kyo Kusanagi was attacked by an unknown figure. Despite the fact that Kyo was able to overcome an opponent as powerful as Omega Rugal, Kyo was very obviously losing the fight. This unknown figure hiding in the shadows proved more than a match for all of Kyo's strongest attacks. The huge blasts of fire generated by Kyo's Orochinagi attack had absolutely no effect, and in response this figure could somehow send Kyo flying without moving. Kyo Kusanagi had been absolutely trounced, making no progress against his assailant as he lost consciousness. When Kyo asked this figure who he was the only response he received was, "Someone who grossly overestimated your abilities, I guess..."

Kyo later woke up in a hospital surrounded by his former teammates Goro Daimon and Benimaru Nikaido. Shortly after being woken Kyo realizes that he's covered in bandages and barely able to move. While previously his cocky attitude had been one of his trademarks, Kyo's feelings of confidence had been challenged by his lost. He'd never imagined that he could lose in a fight. Quickly getting up despite his pain, Kyo returned to the spot he had lost and concentrates. Remembering something, he unleashed a new and incredibly powerful attack. With that, Kyo Kusanagi's confidence was renewed confidence. Benimaru and Daimon had followed him and witnesses this attack, upon which Kyo explains to them that it was one of the Heavenly Moves of the Kusanagi. Kyo could never use the attack before and his confidence had stopped him from ever pushing himself in order to pull it off.

Kyo exclaimed that he hates the idea of somebody watching and taunting him, thus claiming that he'll enter the next King of Fighters tournament to prove his new strength. Benimaru had already filed the team's application well before Kyo was even attacked. Team Japan had no plans of sitting out the 1996 tournament in the first place. With that the reigning champions of The King of Fighters tournament returned. Oddly enough the Heavenly Move of the Kusanagi that Kyo Kusanagi uses prior to the tournament was probably Mu Shiki. The odd part is that this move doesn't make an appearance in the game itself. All the characters in the game had two Desperation Moves programmed into the game already, with Mu Shiki being among them. These new Desperation Moves were seemingly cut out at the last minute to be saved for later games. It may be that some of the new Desperation Moves weren't complete. Thanks to ROM hacks we can now see all the moves that were cut out of King of Fighters 96.

Being the primary villain of about four different SNK fighters Geese Howard has a lot of history. What's more we have to keep in mind the fact that The King of Fighters series began as a Dream Match. Remember there's the Art of Fighting / Fatal Fury timeline, and then there's the King of Fighters timeline. They're mostly the same, but characters like Geese Howard make it obvious that there's a difference. Based on the Fatal Fury games Geese is supposed to be dead and buried at some point. King of Fighters never killed him off at all, so clearly we have a contradiction. This doesn't change his backstory at least, so let's get to it:

Some time ago Geese Howard and Jeff Bogard were apprentices to Chinese martial arts master Tung Fu Rue and his Hakkyokuseiken martial arts style. When it came time for Tung Fu Rue to choose an heir to learn the style's most powerful techniques, Jeff Bogard was selected. Angered by this Geese began concocting plans to kill his fellow student, while seemingly leaving the tutelage of Tung Fu Rue. These events lead into Art of Fighting, where Geese proves reveals himself to be a power hungry man seeking to create a criminal empire in South Town. Takuma Sakazaki and his Kyokugen style were deemed a threat to Geese's plans. Thanks to this Geese's criminal syndicate had Takuma's wife killed in an accident to keep him in line. Later on when Takuma rebelled against the syndicate, Mr. Big kidnapped Takuma's daughter to keep him under control once more. Despite being something of a joke character Takuma was famed as a very fearsome martial artist back in his day. Geese Howard was 10 years younger than his Fatal Fury incarnation at the time. Presumably he wasn't as powerful a fighter as either Takuma Sakazaki or Jeff Bogard.

Takuma's daughter was rescued from Geese's syndicate by the end of Art of Fighting and a year passed until Art of Fighting 2. This game marked the very first King of Fighters tournament, hosted by Geese Howard himself. By the end of the game we learn that Geese Howard isn't just some ordinary crime boss; he's the corrupt police commissioner of South Town. The KOF tournament was founded to find strong fighters to act as subordinates for Geese's growing organization. After Geese Howard revealed himself as the tournament host the Sakazaki family forced Geese to flee South Town. Geese retreated to Japan for an unknown period of time. After this several things happened during a 10 year gap between Art of Fighting 2 and Fatal Fury: Geese Howard arranged for the assassination of Jeff Bogard, he trained under various martial arts masters aside from Tung Fu Rue, and he went on to become an incredibly fierce fighter and a National Martial Arts Champion. Geese's trip to Japan would seemingly explain the significant change in his appearance between games. As a commissioner Geese had exceptionally long hair and was always wearing a nice suit.

How soon Geese Howard returned from Japan is hard to say, but eventually he came back to South Town. Geese set himself on running a new empire, no longer needing to work exclusively in the shadows as a member of the police. His skill and power as a fighter were well known and the people of South Town compared Geese's strength to that of a demon. He became infamous as the undisputed king of the city. Nobody would oppose him. The police force wouldn't even move to investigate Jeff Bogard's murder or do anything to interfere. In this new position of power Geese decided to reopen the King of Fighters tournament on a regular basis. His personal body guard Billy Kane fought in each tournament and acted as the reigning champion while Geese used the gambling revenue from the fights for his own menas. Completely unknown to Geese Howard, Tung Fu Rue took Jeff Bogard's sons Andy Bogard and Terry Bogard into his care. They were taught the same Hakkyokuseiken style that Geese used and training in obscurity for nearly a decade as they grew up. Eventually these two brothers and their friend Joe Higashi crashed the party at the King of Fighters tournament being held in Fatal Fury, with Terry Bogard knocking out Billy Kane to become the new champion. Geese had no idea who these three fighters were, but he found out quickly once they showed their faces and started causing a ruckus. After the tournament Geese and Terry had a private fight on top of Geese Tower, Geese Howard's headquarters and the tallest building in South Town. Terry avenged his father's death with a flying kick that sent Geese plummeting off the tower. Geese was not heard from and was presumed dead several hours after his arrival at a hospital.

Time passed and Geese revealed himself to still be alive in Fatal Fury 3, though apparently he was not at full strength. How exactly he survived is something I don't have the ability to properly explain, and I think it's for the best we simply leave it a mystery. These questions might be answered if I can find a translation to Garou: Memories of Stray Wolves, a special promotional video and one example of the sort of media the Japanese public gets that we do not. Geese appeared in Fatal Fury 3 doing the same thing that everyone else was; seeking an item which could supposedly grant their user immortality: The Jin Scrolls. For one reason or another everyone was hustling and fighting to find them. Geese ended up being the one to claim them for himself, yet decided to not use them. Real Bout Fatal Fury was the next game in the series. Geese decided that it would be better served if the scrolls were destroyed than used and then focused on picking up where he left off. He returned to the previously abandoned Geese Tower and opened up for business, informing his former subordinates to begin a new King of Fighters tournament. The purpose of this tournament was exceptionally simple: Geese wanted a final showdown with Terry Bogard. Inevitably Terry won the tournament and came for Geese. The result of the fight was the same with Geese being kicked off of Geese Tower. This time Terry tried to grab Geese's hand to save him, but Geese refused and fell to his official death. This scene is pretty vividly shown as the introduction to Mark of the Wolves, the next game in the Fatal Fury line.

Here's where we come to a conflict. Real Bout Fatal Fury was supposed to mark Geese's official death. King of Fighters 96 was released just after Real Bout Fatal Fury, and quite clearly he is not dead. Supposedly this was because both games were in development at the same time by different teams at SNK. In King of Fighters games as recent as KOF 2003 it's very obvious that Geese Howard is alive, while in newer Fatal Fury games like Mark of the Wolves it's very clear that he's dead. There's even a "Ghost" version of Geese in the other Real Bout Fatal Fury games that don't have storylines. For the sake of making things easier to understand, let's just say that Fatal Fury and King of Fighters follow a split timeline. The split is determined by whether or not Geese survives his fall in Real Bout Fatal Fury and goes as such:

In King of Fighters there are vague hints that Geese is immortal, implying that before the immortality scrolls from Fatal Fury 3 were destroyed he had used them and thus could survive his final fight with Terry Bogard. In the Fatal Fury timeline Geese Howard falls to his death and the events that lead to Garou: Mark of the Wolves are set in motion. For those that are not aware; after Geese dies in the Fatal Fury timeline, Terry Bogard adopts Geese Howard's bastard son Rock Howard. Rock Howard was essentially the new main character of Fatal Fury once Mark of the Wolves was released, but the way the King of Fighters timeline works Rock Howard will probably never make an appearance in the series. In King of Fighters 96 Geese is capable of surviving his fall and lives to fight another day, appearing much to the surprise of the Fatal Fury heroes. KOF 96 most certainly does seems to mark the first time the Fatal Fury team had seen Geese in a while, as all the Fatal Fury heroes were extremely surprised to see that he was alive and well when he confronted the Fatal Fury team prior to the 1996 tournament. Honestly I'm just trying to make this easier to understand. The reality is that none of the Fatal Fury or Art of Fighting characters are really important to the King of Fighters storyline in the first place.

In KOF 96 Geese assures Billy Kane to simply leave everything to him. Billy is clearly disgruntled after what happened to him in the 95 tournament. Geese assembles his own team of criminals to join the tournament, namely his previous subordinate Mr. Big and his half-brother Wolfgang Krauser. Geese's main motivation for entering the tournament is to learn of the mysterious power that Rugal possessed in KOF 95. Though Geese states he isn't against crushing the Bogards at the tournament if given the chance, he now seems to consider them small-fry compared to discovering the secret behind Rugal Bernstein.

While we're at it I should really emphasize the fact that Art of Fighting does not follow the exact same timeline as King of Fighters either. Consider the fact that Art of Fighting takes place 10 years before Fatal Fury. Main characters like Ryo Sakazaki and Robert Garcia are full grown adults at this time while Terry Bogard and Andy Bogard would still be orphaned children. When they remade the original Fatal Fury in 3D (Fatal Fury: Wild Ambition) they even included an older Ryo Sakazaki as a cameo character. In King of Fighters they're all the same age. Just remember that the King of Fighters series takes some creative liberty in order to fit so many characters into the same games. On to the backstory:

Kasumi is another character that has some history going as far back as the original Art of Fighting. Her father--a native Japanese man named Ryuhaku Todoh--was the very first opponent Ryo Sakazaki assaulted when searching for his kidnapped sister Yuri Sakazaki. Todoh had come to America looking to settle an old score with Takuma Sakazaki, which makes a lot of sense. The original Art of Fighting is riddled with opponents who had fought Takuma in the past. Ryuhaku had come to America because after losing to Takuma in a fight his dojo was left in ruins, most likely because the pride of his school had been tarnished. Based on the setting and music in Art of Fighting's first stage the fight between Ryo Sakazaki and Ryuhaku Todoh probably took place at the Sakazaki dojo; just before Ryo and Robert Garcia went to South Town searching for information on Yuri Sakazaki's kidnapping. The most likely series of events would be: Yuri Sakazaki is kidnapped and her brother Ryo is left in a panic, Ryuhaku Todoh appears looking for a fight and appears suspicious, Ryo Sakazaki obliges and tries to beat information out of Todoh even though he doesn't actually have any information to speak of. After losing in the game Ryuhaku gave Ryo some advice on where he could find information, then returned to Japan in defeat.

Since that fight Todoh had gone missing, leaving his wife Mizuho Todoh and daughter Kasumi Todoh waiting at home in Japan for his return. Not knowing what had happened to her father, Kasumi Todoh made her debut in Art of Fighting 3 seeking revenge. For those of you curious Art of Fighting 3 takes place about a year after Art of Fighting 2, so these events still take place long before Fatal Fury. Kasumi challenged Ryo and seemed to be winning the match. Right before the climax of the fight, Kasumi's mother Mizuho appeared and demanded she stop. Kasumi had left without permission and was told to stop dishonoring her family. Mizuho revealed that Todoh was training in another part of the world in preparation for another fight with the Ryo, seemingly with no grudge. Mizuho asked Ryo to both forgive her daughter, and to please come to Japan to fight with Todoh again some day. It seemed that both Ryuhaku and Kasumi began their rivalry with the Sakazaki family with a heavy grudge, but eventually both of them had come to accept the Sakazaki as friendly rivals.

Before leaving with her mother Kasumi established her desire to challenge Ryo again someday in the same fashion as her father. Kasumi handed her headband to Ryo and claimed that some day she would come to get it back. Kasumi's personality is probably best described as naive but high spirited. Like Eiji Kisaragi her rivalry with Ryo is reduced to something of a joke status. When Ryo promised to return the headband to her the conversation went along the lines of "You promise?" "Yes." "Really?" "Yes." "You're sure?" "... Go home." If you actually want to see for yourself The video game museum has an archive of fighting game endings. Because Takuma Sakazaki had forced Yuri Sakazaki to abandon the Women Fighters team in order to replace him on the Art of Fighting team, Mai Shiranui was almost left without a team. King almost backed out of the tournament after hearing about Yuri's absence, as she is constantly worried about taking care of her little brother. This almost left Mai Shiranui alone and without a team, but at the last minute King had a change of heart and brought Kasumi Todoh along with her.

Despite the fact that he was Geese Howard's subordinate, Mr. Big essentially ran the streets of South Town in the Art of Fighting series when Geese was still operating as a Police Commissioner. Most of the thugs in the game work directly under Mr. Big as he organized street fights in South Town to generate cash flow. Mr. Big could be thought of as the guy who organized the precursor to the King of Fighters tournament that Geese Howard founded after he returned in Fatal Fury, what with the tournament being used to generate gambling revenue. Keeping Takuma Sakazaki in line and kidnapping Yuri Sakazaki were Mr. Big's responsibilities in the day when he was doing Geese Howard's dirty work. Some time during Art of Fighters 2 Mr.Big rebelled against Geese and tried to make a name for himself. Since Geese fled to Japan he'd been running his own crime ring and been looking to increase his realm of influence, but it would seem compared to Geese he's still a small-fry. Though the two are on pretty bad terms, Mr. Big accepts an offer from Geese Howard to enter the King of Fighters 1996 tournament. Mr. Big is willing to take whatever opportunities he can to expand his relatively small organization.

Both of these characters have a relatively small impact on the KOF storyline compared to Geese, but Wolfgang Krauser can be argued to have more lasting impact. Krauser is Geese Howard's half brother and member of an infamous German family with connections to the criminal underworld. The exact nature of their relationship is hard to determine. Krauser was born in Germany and Geese was born in the States, the story seems to go that their mutual father abandoned Geese's mother in favor of Krauser's. Some time after Geese's mother died and there has been a poor relationship between the two since. Back in the original Fatal Fury Krauser had written a letter informing Geese that he would come to challenge his half-brother to a fight. Krauser's motivation to fight seems to often be boredom, as he have trouble finding opponents capable of giving him a challenge. Geese was well aware that such threats were not to be taken lightly. Krauser was a fearsome person that you didn't want coming after you. Before Krauser had a chance to come though, Geese was thought to have died.

It might have been lucky for Geese, as it would seem that Krauser is a significantly more dangerous fighter. He's never been depicted as a warm hearted person either, he may have killed Geese Howard for real. Interested in who could have defeated his half-brother, Krauser started his own world-wide tournament called The Sultan of Slugs Battle Royal. Entrants from around the globe fought while Krauser was stalking the entrants from the King of Fighters tournament held in Fatal Fury. As the matches went on Krauser was decimating various entrants behind the scenes looking for the person who defeated Geese. Among Wolfgang Krauser's victims were Tung Fu Rue and Joe Higashi. Eventually Terry Bogard confronted Krauser at the end of the tournament and won. Until KOF 96 not much is heard from Krauser. As a fellow member of the criminal underworld Krauser was aware of Rugal Bernstein's previous activity and use of the King of Fighters title. Upon hearing that the tournament was now corporate sponsored and that he was invited to the tournament along with Geese his interest was piqued. Both Mr. Big and Wolfgang Krauser knew that they would be best served keeping their eye on a man with the sort of ambitions that Geese had. This all seemed to be part of Geese Howard's plan.

Krauser may or may not represent another time paradox, as he's depicted in more than one form of media as committing suicide after losing to Terry in Fatal Fury 2. Something of interest is that his namesake clearly comes from Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, as his theme music happens to be a Mozart composition. Fun note: In addition to Rugal Bernstein having an imitation attack of Geese Howard's Reppuken attack, he also has an imitation of Wolfgang Krauser's Kaiser Wave. Together these three fighters create the infamous new Boss Team.

The Ikari Warriors jump back into action in order to observe the actions of Geese Howard, Wolfgang Krauser, and Mr. Big. While Heidern has resigned himself from combat in order to oversee the operations of the Ikari Team's mission, his adoptive daughter Leona replaces him on their team. Like Heidern, Leona has a tragic past and tends to hide her emotions. She comes off as a somewhat silent and awkward character. Despite that she's a dutiful soldier who had likewise been trained in the Heidern Assassination Arts like Ralf and Clark. Little is known about her initially. While on a mission in Brazil Heidern found a very young Leona wandering the jungle alone, in a daze. She had no memory and seemingly no family. Possibly because of Heidern's own lost family he identified with the young girl and took her in as his own. Leona's fighting style largely imitates that of Heidern's with one key difference. While Heidern uses a variety of concealed knives to perform his attacks; Leona can do so with no tools whatsoever. She is literally able to cut with just her hands for reasons unknown

Leona is quite clearly no older than 18 years old and Heidern readily admits that participation in the King of Fighters 1996 tournament will be her first mission. Ralf and Clark are rather shocked to have Leona join the team at first. Considering Leona is young, a rookie, and for the most part silent it's not surprising. She almost immediately leaves the room as soon as she's assigned to the team, only staying thanks to Ralf's persistent personality. Almost immediately Ralf expresses his interest in her. After shaking Leona's hand at their first meeting he's directly quoted as saying he'll never wash his hand again. Considering Ralf and Clark just got done calling Leona a kid, this is borderline creepy. Ralf looks pretty old compared to her in some of his profile artwork. Nobody would be surprised if Ralf and Clark are in their mid-thirties considering their history as the Ikari Warriors. Strangeness aside, The New Ikari Team learns to get along quickly.

Leona's been a fan favorite character ever since her creation and she was quite clearly made with a good deal of affection. The King of Fighters website notes that Leona's special moves reveal the tastes of her designers. What the site really means to say is that Leona is a walking tribute to Japanese superheroes, live action shows, and anime. Kamen Rider Black is a series in particular that Leona's movelist lifts several attacks from, almost directly. One of Kamen Rider Black RX's finishers in particular is very clearly the inspiration for Leona's Rebel Spark attack. For a Western audience the origin of her V Slasher attack is impossibly obscure, but it involves giant robot anime.

Vice and Mature were Rugal's secretaries who worked largely in the background, however hints of their existence exist. Mature was the woman who guided the Japan Team to Rugal in the 1994 tournament, and both Mature and presumably Vice were actively handing out the invitations in the 1995 tournament. Mature even personally handed Kyo his invitation in the KOF '95 prologue. Vice was the one assigned with brainwashing Saisyu before the 95 tournament, which explains the special introduction they have in King of Fighters 98 (though that game with no storyline.) While they did serve to help Rugal Bernstein as his secretaries they were tasked with watching over him by the Serpent Head who took Rugal's right eye. After Rugal's death their activities were largely unknown until just prior to 1996.

Some time before the tournament Vice and Mature approached Iori Yagami in his current home, an old and barren temple. Asking him if he's like to join another King of Fighters tournament, Iori seemed bitter about losing to Kyo Kusanagi in the last tournament and showed no interest. The two women asked if Iori was afraid of Kyo and were very quickly met with a fight. Iori proved himself more than a match for the two as he toyed with them through the entire fight to the point of humiliation. At his patience's end, Iori demanded the two state their business before he burnt them to a crisp. They introduced themselves claiming they wanted to serve him and help him exterminate Kyo Kusanagi. The concept of destroying Kyo seemed to respark Iori's interest, and in a change of heart he decided to join the tournament. Soon Vice and Mature left Iori's home they and contacted an unknown party. It was clearly their Serpent Head employer. Vice and Mature assured this unknown figure that everything was going according to plan. Iori himself was not fooled. He didn't know exactly what Vice and Mature were up to, but he could already sense that they were similar to him. He could tell they were Serpent Heads themselves; underlings tied to the same Orochi blood. Iori didn't care, though. He now saw the tournament as a new opportunity to crush Kyo Kusanagi.

Despite being a pair of lower ranked Serpent Heads, Mature and Vice have been granted some power by the Orochi. Their personalities somewhat suit their powers. SNK created the two with the intent of designing a "cruel woman" and a "ruthless woman." Vice is the ruthless one who inherited superhuman physical strength. She behaves violently and impulsively, sometimes even acting slightly like an animal. Mature is the cruel one, shown in her calm and collected nature. Her power is simply described as heightened raw instinct. It kind of makes sense if you consider her movements are very smooth and elegant, but it's still very vague. The two act as Iori Yagami's subordinates to create the new Yagami Team. Every new fighter in the King of Fighters 1996 tournament has been accounted for.

Upon winning the tournament the Japan Team is confronted by a mysterious woman. She introduces herself as Chizuru Kagura; the host of the tournament. According to Chizuru the reason the 1996 tournament was founded was in order to test the strength of the fighters who defeated Rugal Bernstein. Considering Rugal was no ordinary opponent, it would be only natural for the previous winners to come to the next KOF and win again. Chizuru expresses a certain disappointment in the entrants, though. She decides that Rugal being consumed by his own power may have been a contributor to the results of the 1995 tournament. Chizuru referred to herself as The Guardian and asked that the Japan Team show her their true strength, thus leading into the sub-boss battle in KOF 96.

Chizuru Kagura proves to be a tough opponent with a totally unique power compared to anyone else in the series. Somehow Chizuru is capable of projecting physical images of herself to create mirror-like doppelgangers. Her movements are both elegant and confusing as she moves around using various forms of dance from around the world. At the same time Chizuru forces the player to guess if she's really advancing or not. Sometimes Chizuru's doppelganger will charge forward while the real one stays behind; other times the doppelganger stays still as a decoy while the real Chizuru comes after you. The real problem with fighting Chizuru is that her illusions are solid; either way there's something hitting you.

After the fight Chizuru reveals herself as not just any guardian, but the guardian of the Orochi Seal. Though she's aware Rugal was given the Orochi power by one of the Serpent Heads, she felt that those who could defeat Rugal may also be capable of helping her in a greater battle. She pleads for Kyo to help her in resealing the Orochi, which ultimately means defeating the man who took Rugal's eye and originally granted him a portion of the Orochi power. This unknown man's ultimate goal is to completely undo the seal on the Orochi and lay waste to the world. It's clear this man may be capable of his goal, as he has already released a small bit of the Orochi's power. Additionally Chizuru describes him as if he is incredibly strong. Soon after being mentioned a fierce wind begins to blow and this man in question makes himself known.

From the wind appears a man in blue who somewhat resembled a priest. Before our heroes stood the man himself. The man who took Rugal Bernstein's right eye. The man who employed Vice and Mature from the very beginning, assigning them to watch over Rugal and later Iori Yagami. This is even the man who attacked and taunted Kyo Kusanagi prior to the tournament. We have one of the Four Heavenly Kings: Leopold Goenitz, otherwise known as Violent Wind Goenitz. This man is responsible for more than anyone can even know in his first appearance. His influence and word of his actions extend well into the next game. He could quite easily be considered the mastermind behind the entire movement to revive the Eight Headed Serpent.

Despite the fact that Goenitz assessed Kyo Kusanagi as too weak to pose a threat to the Orochi, the fact that he had been gathered together with Iori Yagami and Chizuru Kagara seemed to make him reconsider his stance. Before him were The Three Treasures, whom he now decided must die. These three families were at least at some point in time allies in the fight against the Orochi. Even though Iori Yagami's family had made a pact with the Orochi Goenitz did not believe that eliminated the threat he posed. Goenitz used the power the Orochi had granted him and brought down a maelstrom that destroyed the entire stadium, driving all the potential witnesses away.

Later on we'll discuss who the Three Treasures and the Four Heavenly Kings are, but right now you just need to know that Goenitz is tough. The man can literally snap his fingers and make a tornado shoot from the ground, and he's exceptionally fast. Simply because of the fact that he can stop your movements anywhere by making tornadoes appear on the screen he's considered one of the greatest SNK Syndrome offenders.

What's probably the definitive ending to the game requires that you have a team comprised of Kyo Kusanagi, Iori Yagami, and Chizuru Kagura. Chizuru is not a normally selectable character unless you happen to own a home console port of the game, but only a small amount of bonus information is contained within this ending compared to the Japan Team's normal one. Supposedly there's a way to unlock both Chizuru and this ending in the original arcade version, but the method for doing so isn't something anyone has ever been able to explain to me properly. We should note that every ending for every team does take place, as all the game's characters seem to recall the events of the last game as if they were witnesses. The only real difference between endings is that one team officially beats the boss. I suppose the other characters are just close by.

In the Three Sacred Treasures ending Kyo Kusanagi, Iori Yagami, and Chizuru Kagura fight together to deal the final blow to Goenitz. During the fight Iori Yagami's flames burn a shade of crimson and Goenitz's power becomes sealed off. Iori was somehow able to stop Goenitz from using his Orochi power to summon the wind. Chizuru explains that this is how the Kusanagi and Yasagani clan had originally defeated the Orochi. As a team the Yasagani used their flame in order to seal away the power of the Orochi, while the Kusanagi used their flame to destroy the beast. The crimson flames Iori used were a remanent of Iori's heritage from before his clan began relying on the power of the Orochi. Chizuru claims that the blueish flames Iori normally uses are a sign of the Orochi's power, and that if he continues to use them he will die young as his predecessors have. Chizuru's pleads to both Iori Yagami and Kyo Kusanagi to cease their feud, but neither listens. Kyo claims that the battle is between the two of them personally, not their clans. Kyo claims that both of them would fight the Orochi were it to appear in front of them and leaves. Chizuru elaborates to herself that her clan has always watched over the Kusanagi and Yagami families choosing neither side, waiting for the day they will fight together.

In each ending aside from the Three Treasures Ending, Goenitz says his piece before claiming that he's being called back to heaven. In a gust of wind Goenitz then vanishes and quite clearly dies. Before this, two major events happen. In the New Ikari Warriors ending Goenitz vaguely reveals to the Ikari team that Leona is a member of the Orochi bloodline similar to himself. Specifically he tells her that she can't escape her ancestry, which having no memory Leona may not know quite what that ancestry is. Ralf and Clark of course seek to cheer her up, but Leona had a fragile enough personality as it is. A seed of doubt has been planted in her. Less significant events are chronicled in the Boss Team ending, with Geese exclaiming that the Orochi power was not very impressive. All the boss team members go their separate ways, officially disbanding the team and leaving it an exclusive feature of King of Fighters 96. Mr. BIG shows his respect by trying to have Geese shot, but Billy intervenes and stops it; Krauser simply thanks his half-brother for the fun time and leaves.

The next major ending is from theYagami Team ending Through the course of the tournament Mature and Vice were impressed with Iori Yagami's strength. Though they were initially Goenitz's subordinates, they decided to turn on him and follow Iori Yagami instead. It really brings into question how loyal Vice and Mature are to the cause of reviving the Orochi, but either way Goenitz warns them that their betrayal will cost them. Before vanishing it seems that Goentiz used his influence as a holder of the Orochi power to incite The Riot of the Blood in Iori Yagami. Though Vice and Mature lament how strong Iori is, he begins to cough up blood and his eyes dilate. As mentioned before, those who enter The Riot of the Blood have no control of themselves and become extremely violent. In his current state Iori Yagami quite literally murders Vice and Mature in one of the most iconic scenes of the King of Fighters series. With that concludes our entry on the King of Fighters 1996.

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