Let’s start this off with a history lesson. Flash back to the early 1990s, when Capcom released Street Fighter 2. Not too long after, they released Super Street Fighter 2?then Street Fighter 2 Turbo?then Street Fighter Alpha?then Street Fighter Alpha 2?and then came the movie!
This was a sad time for gaming fans, and the first real example of how a company could release a videogame title two, three or four times over, with little improvement, and still profit (you know who you are, Koei). This had a detrimental effect on many gamers who had great faith in side-scrolling fighters, and is probably what killed Street Fighter’s potential to be a blockbuster series. Regrettably, the King of Fighters franchise also got caught up in this series of events, which left many regarding it simply as “?some Street Fighter knockoff.” Well, this series has progressed every year since its initial 1995 release, and these two installments of the saga are a prime example of this evolution. In this set, there are not one, but two superb fighting games, which will please any fighting aficionado.
Each year, SNK figures out some way to advance the 2D fighter genre, and King of Fighters 2002/2003 offers some of the biggest strides in the series yet. KoF 2002 uses 3-on-3 style combat, an option available in Capcom vs. SNK 2, and also expands upon the Super Special Move system, with an updated ?Max-On’ system, which allows even more powerful, but more difficult to execute, super moves. KoF 2003 also uses the 3-on-3 fighting system, but adds some more features to it. Instead of simply having another character hop in on the action after one bites the dust, KoF 2003 allows other team members to be tagged mid-match. On top of that, it features the ?Tactical Leader’ feature. The character initially chosen becomes the leader of a three-person team. The leader is made slightly more powerful than the other team members and has new moves available. Of course, this means a leader must be chosen wisely, and things like ease of techniques, character type, and one’s own skill with a character must be considered. This lets both games have their own unique style of gameplay, and allows each game to have a nice flow depending on one’s preference.
A fighting game really needs to have a good cast of characters in order to be palatable, and both KoF games thrive with this. Each game has a wide range of available characters (2002 offers 44, while 2003 sports 35), and every one of them has a totally unique set of moves, unlike Soul Calibur’s Lizard Man-Sophitia-Cassandra, or Street Fighter’s Ryu-Ken-Sakura-Akuma-Allen-Kairi-Dan deals. The two games also have very different casts of characters, which are, aside from a few favorites (Kyo, Iori, Ryo for example), totally different. Finally, to seal the deal, the character balance is perfect, which doesn’t prop up one single character as some God-like combatant. The wide variety of characters greatly contributes to the game, and allows those indecisive players to gleefully master dozens of characters.
Now, let’s move things on to the graphics and sound. To be perfectly and unapologetically blunt – they are both terrible. Tactical RPGs can get away with using chibi-style sprites because they fit snugly with the genre’s style. However, this is the fighting genre, and when comparing KoF 2002/2003 to the likes of Soul Calibur or Virtua Fighter, the graphics are simply sub-par. And, the sound is even worse, featuring mediocre Japanese voice acting only heard through comments at the opening and closing of battles – which even lack subtitles. This leaves all gamers who don’t speak Japanese wondering just what the hell the characters are yelling. However, this isn’t a particularly new thing when it comes to the KoF series, but while hardcore fans of the series may be accustomed to it, the inferior graphics and sound will probably deter series newcomers.
Considering how many different iterations the King of Fighters series already has beneath its belt, and the number of games its characters have appeared in, it is surprising that the series is still an obscurity. However, even though this gaming package is great for a fighter-fan, it isn’t necessarily a must buy for anyone else. If you’re simply a casual fan of the genre, or just not a fan of 2D games, then this may not be the one for you. But, that said, King of Fighters 2002/2003 is a must-have for any follower of the series or anyone passionate about fighting games. If you really want to get into the KoF series, but can’t deal with the low grade graphics, then pick up KoF: Maximum Impact, but if you want a solid, fun, high-quality fighting game that delivers masses of playtime, then King of Fighters 2002/2003 is well worth the investment.