With the much deserved sleeper success of King of Fighters XIII, it seems like any day now the irrepressible horse-throttlers at SNK Playmore will be unsheathing their Emphasis Cudgels and announcing the fourteenth installment of this storied series to the terrified whinnies of mares the globe over. Even with that many sequels and eighteen years of consistent popularity under its belt, KOF still feels like a cult phenomenon in some respects, an asterisked success story, a peerless third stringer, the 2-D fighting game equivalent of Jack-in-the-Box. It has its fans, but gamerdom-at-large has never seemed to know what to make of the franchise and its Shinjuku fashionista throwdowns.
Part of the issue may have been the installments themselves, the sheer bulk and breadth of them, and the speed at which they were released (one every year for the first nine years of its existence). In toto, it probably proved too technically and financially demanding to keep up with for most people. Keep in mind, KOF never approached sequelitis the same way Capcom did: tweaking a few things, adding a few things, and sending a 90% recycled game back out the door. No, SNK kept the basic skeleton each year, but always provided new backgrounds, new music, new story and bosses, at least one new mechanic if not an entire engine overhaul, and a ton more characters to choose from, more and more every year. These were full-fledged sequels, new games built off of a familiar formula, each with it's own quirks, issues, and highlights.
What it amounts to almost twenty years down the line is a massive backlog of characters, locations, and plot elements that have fallen by the wayside due to the immense volume of content. The only times the series ever had a chance to stop, catch a breath, and survey what it had accumulated was on the vaunted "Dream Match" titles (KOF '98, KOF 2002), where all the favorite characters from incongruous installments were mashed together in one giant, non-canonical free-for-all. These were an ideal way of surveying highlights that until then felt like speed bumps, and were spaced at the end of major story arcs to help give some stylistic cohesion to the jumble.
Having been a full decade since the last of these installments, and with an influx of new fans who probably aren't familiar with the game's immediate past, much less it's 90's heyday, the time has never been riper for another compilation brawl. And didn't the latest story arc just end in XIII? Hmm.
Here's but a few of the characters I hope make an appearance.
I feel sorry for Krizalid. Until KOF ’99, the series was mired in the Orochi mythos (wherein a long forgotten demon-god-snake-thing threatens to put a fiery end to humanity unless a dozen fashion conscious young men manage to beat each other up in the right order), with every installment adding more and more plot twists and double-crosses than was ever really necessary for a game ostensibly about three on three face-punching. By ‘98 they had killed off this world-ending super deity that had unified the franchise, and the impressive heap of canonical nonsense accumulated while doing it caused SNK to do what any master of the whack-ass serial narrative would’ve done: they made the next game a plotless clip show highlighting the best aspects of the series thus far, and left the unenviable task of rebooting the franchise for the following year.
Twelve months of ulcer-inducing panic later, the new arch-fiend Krizalid was ushered onto the grenade of lowered expectations. An all new story arc meant contriving another globe-imperiling antagonist, one that could somehow keep the stakes as high as they were at the end of the last plot, as well as live up to the storied pantheon of boss fights the series had delivered thus far. Krauser, Geese, Saisyu, original staple honcho Rugal, and of course the much heralded Orochi all brought a little prestige and tension to the closing battles of the series. And here comes Krizalid, dressed in a purple trench coat with feathered shoulder pads, looking for all the world like Darth Stardust, heading up a scheme so cockamamie it would’ve been laughed out of a Legion of Doom brainstorming powwow (something about cloning series poster boy Kyo a few thousand times, seeding the clones all over the globe, and then…I don’t know, seizing control of…something? Was he not aware that governments have tanks and jets and other weapons impervious to sweet karate moves?).
Okay, so maybe this is the warm up round, and the new guy is just getting settled in, right? Still needs to unpack his desk, train the new secretary, find his “My Other Mug is a Verb” coffee cup before tucking into the really nefarious villainy, right? Well, no, actually. Krizalid survives his first appearance, but with severe brain trauma, having been severely out-face-punched by your chosen squad of face-punchers, the genre’s standby plot twist then reared its ugly head -- the one where the all-powerful badass boss turns out to be the toadie of another, even aller-powerful badass who’s been pulling things from the shadows. Strings, presumably. The second worst thing one can pull from the shadows. After his near fatal dose of the critical beatdown, Krizalid’s mysterious benefactor decides he’s not worth the bus fare back to HQ and hands him a one-ton cement severance package, which he walks away from with nary a scratch but some middling amnesia. And I’d imagine a doozy of learning disability. It was a lot of cement.
I’d love to see this character in part because I don’t think he ever got a fair shake. Mechanically, he’s a unique character, combining a better than average reach on a lot of his normals, a short range projectile and standard anti-air uppercut ala much of the cast, with a few command grabs that round out his move set in some potentially devastating ways, giving you a lot of control over where your opponent is on the screen, like a half-grappler, half-shoto zoning nightmare with huge pokes. That the latest KOF’s engine lets you combo into grabs would make another appearance all the more exciting.
Secondly, I don’t just like that jacket, I believe in that jacket. Krizalid believes in it enough to incinerate it before every match, meaning somewhere in his lair [studio apartment] there’s a coat rack with a couple hundred of these plumed badboys ready to go. That takes a level of dedication that I think few ne’er-do-wells can lay claim to, and adds another dimension to the character: fiendish archvillain, incompetent lackey, resolute fashionista. Mostly, though, I think it would look exceedingly rad in HD.
You know an SNK character means business when they don’t have a ducking animation. Oh sure, they have a ducking state, along with a sweep and a crouching punch, but if you think for a second their sprite is going to prostrate itself to the raggedy likes of you, well, you have tragically overlooked the gross tonnage of ass-whomp therein beatified. Magaki Did Not Duck. Mr. Big Did Not Duck (Initially: He learned humility over the years). And yes, Mukai here Did Not Duck.
Of course, when you also consider that Mukai Did Not Jab, and Muka Did Not Have a Blocking Animation, one starts to suspect Mukai Did Not Receive an Adequate Development Schedule. Which is not nearly as badass sounding when over-emphatically capitalized. Nonetheless, for a seven-foot-five, glowing budget shortfall, he turned out pretty good.
Think of Mukai as the lovechild of Akuma, Achilles, and Tron. I don’t know what circumstances would lead to such a gruff, futurist orgy. Perhaps some lingering gazes, a few too many wine coolers, a breathy sandal compliment, and into the darker corners of Livejournal we go, but however that sundering dogpile started, this guy is most definitely how it ended.
The shadowy cult of antagonists in the most recent KOF story arc were Those from the Past (which we can only assume sounded cooler in Japanese), and Mukai here was the first member to be revealed in 2003 to wreck our collective shit in the climactic boss fight. He showed up only if certain conditions were met, pontificated on human life in the usual half-cocked pseudo-philosophical vill-liloquy, the type of speech that only makes me wonder if such villains are making it up as they go along or if they actually think about human existence in their spare time, pacing their trans-dimensional billiard room in a satin smoking jacket, twirling a snifter of brandy and muttering to themselves.
In the event you won, you were treated to one of the more dickish narrative fake-outs a fighting game can throw at you, watching as the boss you just spent three rounds beating the piss out of stands up, completely unscathed, and ends the fight because something more important has come up. WELL. Don’t let me hold you up there, chief. Hope I didn’t repeatedly upper-cut your Blackberry during our ambivalent tussle. If he’s in perfect health, what exactly did the life bar represent in this instance? Sardonic amusement? Space left on his TiVo? The shameful specter of urinary incontinence? What are we punching here?
After trotting off completely unharmed, several other members of Those Not From ‘Round Here made appearances in the games that followed, all of whom proved to be no slouches in the horrendously cheap boss department, either. In KOFXIII the whole shadowy cabal shows up to execute their oft mentioned, long delayed master plan.
Eliciting Every Reaction But Terror Since 2003
That, or just stand around for one still image during a cutscene, it’s not entirely clear. Unless that [i]is[/i[ the diabolical master plan, in which case three games over the course of eight years seems a tad excessive to organize a flash mob. Regardless, the ringleader to this pantheon of...robed persons is finally unveiled, and what visage of destruction incarnate would an imposing demon monster like Mukai call master? A city-leveling ogre? A towering beast of legend? Perhaps some trans-dimensional monstrosity beyond our comprehension? Well, since this is a Japanese game, that invincible god of death would be Saiki, who is an unusually curvaceous man. *sigh*
And since SNKP is doing everything in their power to avoid drawing more expensive looking character sprites, this elusive and apparently curvy mastermind you’ve waited nearly a decade to see is also going to be a palette swap of Ash Crimson, the most widely reviled character in KOF history. *SIGH*
Behold the fruits of inexhaustible creativity!
And best of all, in a flagrantly over-compensatory gesture, this sallow new fiend decides to prove his hips don’t lie by murdering a flunkie, and –being his right hand man – Mukai is unfortunately closest to his right hand at the time. See, we the audience already knew Saiki was an all-powerful badass, because the basic algorithm for an anime villain is Fighting Ability equals Bored to the fourth power, times the sum of Effeminate plus Taciturn, divided by Melanin Count, minus Showing Interest In Anything. Therefore Saiki, being churlish, girlish, haughty, pale, and pissy, is indeed a deadly beast. He-ish proceeds to suck the life out of poor Mukai before he would necessitate one of those aforementioned expensive sprites and tosses the raisiny corpse off-screen before they had to draw it any longer than was absolutely necessary. And this is how Mukai’s financially turbulent existence comes to a close. When it came to budget short falls, He Did Not Duck…but he really, really should have.
On the mechanical side Mukai had some shtick about controlling stones and rocks, depicted mostly through sound effects and masonry-themed special moves. While there is something eminently boss-like about getting attacked by Roman columns shooting up from the ground -- like The Patriarchy itself has returned, backed by his homeboy the Golden Ratio, ready to Dominus all over your middle class, post-industrial cream puff of a face -- there was something a tad undercooked about his move set. Ideally, a character’s mechanics should be flexible enough to accommodate different play styles, acting as a kind of template with wiggle room to allow for enough ingenuity to turn a staid metagame on its ear.
With his fast, far-reaching, high-priority normals, projectile-killing projectiles, and a full screen, near-instant DM that deals whacky monster damage, Mukai can only be played two ways – cheaply or poorly – either of which usually ends in a win. He was the boss of the only game where he was playable, so it makes sense, but if he ever rejoins the fray it’s my hope he’ll be brought more in line with the rest of the cast.
“Whhaaaattt.” I hear many of you groaning as you look over that sprite. “He’s an Akuma clone. That’s lame. You’re lame. Why did you do this? What are you on? Why do you exist? All that you love should be burned.” And okay, yes, he is, but regarding him as just an Akuma clone would be depriving yourself of a unique thought experiment. Rather, think of him as an important rebuttal to all the murderous glowering that’s garnered Akuma such a sizable fanbase over the years.
I think we can all understand the appeal: everyone loves a good villain, and where the rest of Street Fighter’s rogue’s gallery represent more terrestrial kinds of evil -- Seth the run-amok science project, Birdie the heartless gutter thug, Urien the envious brother, Adon the envious student, M. Bison: Fire-Hitler, Vega the narcissist, Balrog the bully, Rampaging Sports Weeaboo Sodom, Rolento the dog-and-pony Napoleon, and Sagat, who is basically a large jerk – Akuma by comparison is evil of a far more primordial stripe, divested of all earthly concerns, augured with the conviction of a holy man, his sole purpose in life to master the art of punching someone so hard their soul dies. That’s villainy a cut above, say, a lasciviously smirking character portrait, which Capcom seems convinced to be the definitive measure of weak moral fiber.
He also serves as the twisted, perhaps more plausible double for series’ sunshine boy Ryu, who, despite leading a Spartan existence of wandering fist fights, manages to be elementally boring -- unflappably noble, clad in virginal white, entirely too upstanding a dude for someone who seeks self-improvement through beating the shit out of strangers. Call me domesticated, I have no doubt that martial arts can help better one’s self, but when your only pair of clothes is a tattered gi and your forwarding address is “The Path to Victory”, you’ve perhaps gravely overestimated the intrinsic value of punching people in the face. Akuma winds up being the more believable of the two simply because really, ask yourself, who is the person so single-mindedly devoted to face-punching going to be: a quaking, demonic lunatic who lives in a cave, or some benign fight-Jesus, always ready with a few chipper words of encouragement?
So now that we’ve explored his stature in the series a bit, let’s really look at how problematic Akuma is, shall we? Chiefly, that Akuma poses a far greater danger to himself than anyone else. Figure the guy’s entire life philosophy boils down to maintaining a nice, frothy hatred for all living things, all the time, with frequent interludes of screaming, flexing, and violence. Now, medical professionals insist that regular levels of stress are bad for you. Like, the stress you accumulate from going to work and buying groceries and maintaining relationships. This guy’s whole day is just one prolonged stubbed toe of indignation and incoherent fury. Why, there’s not a single win quote in memory where he does not sound terminally pissed, and it should go without saying that Akuma doesn’t have any way of blowing off his considerable amounts of steam, as one can’t imagine him building a ship in a bottle or learning to salsa dance or writing poetry without that intense, murderous aura of his bungling everything up.
“Pathetic sail rigging! Your existence is but a nuisance to the might of my firm gluing-hand!”
“Foolish wriggler! You are not a dance partner but an ant to be ground in twain by my ever-gyrating nethers!”
“Another quatrain falls before the candid earthiness of my clear-eyed verse! Behold my pregnant caesura, like a thousand cross-folded hells!”
His life innately contrary to the act of relaxing, is what I’m driving at. And where tacit, pensive negativity might strain your health, relentless, explosive rage-farming is like a bullet train to an early grave. To say that Akuma is at high risk for a vascular event would be a grievous understatement. He’s forcing so much blood into his head during those twitching win stances it’s a wonder it doesn’t come spraying out of his ears. One to one odds say motherfucker would not make it to thirty without having a stroke so powerful it damn near rips him in half.
“Shun Goku SatsuuUUUUGGGHHKKkkkk”
And so that’s where Silber enters the picture. He’s an immense sprite, a head taller and several times thicker than just about any other character in KOF XI. He’s lumbering, moving so slowly and stiffly it’s faster to perform a command normal to get him across the screen than it is to jump; so slow most of his special moves are reactive counters because you can’t reliably connect any of his attacks without getting smacked out of the animation. His left arm just hangs there dangling during his stance and walking frames.
He’s not an Akuma clone so much as Akuma’s mid-life Fat Elvis phase, having porked up and gone to seed in the years following an explosive embolism. “I still got what it takes! I’m still full of murderous intent!” He bellows at his forlorn Street Fighter rivals. They can only respond with doleful looks and tightlipped nods. “You sure are, buddy. You sure are.” They say, turning aside and biting their fists. Never one to be made the object of pity, he drags his ragged bulk away, blubbering quietly once around the corner, swearing he’d show ‘em *sniffle* he’d show ‘em all! And he would, for while the Street Fighters may have qualms about wailing on the physically disabled, the folks entering the King of Fighters tournaments have nosuchcompunction.
Knicked this from the fledgling game site me and my buddy Graey recently started, Citizen Game. It's pretty scant at the moment but if you like either/both of our stuff, pop by every now and then, let us know what you think, shamelessly promote your own boonie web projects. You know, the usual.