Review: The King of Fighters Collection: The Orochi Saga (PS2)

The King of Fighters: The Orochi Saga (PS2)
Publisher: SNK Playmore
Developer: SNK
Genre: Fighting
Release Date: 10/29/2008


You know what’s sad and make me feel old? I remember KoF ’94 hitting the arcade for the first time when I was in high school. Even worse? I had been years for SNK to make a game like this after playing titles like Fatal Fury and Art of Fighting.

The Orochi Saga is the latest compilation package of classic games put out by SNK as of late. So far this year we’ve had SNK Arcade Classics, Fatal Fury Battle Archives Vol. 2 and World Heroes Anthology. This package however, is what all SNK’s fans have been waiting for as the first five KOF’s are not only considered the best in the series, but are also considered the best games SNK ever developed and/or published.

Two of the games in this collection have been covered already this year by us here at DHGF, albeit it in different forms. Mark covered the remake of 98 known as KoF ’98: Ultimate Match back in July, and yours truly reviewed the virtual console version of King of Fighters ’94 back in January. As such, I’ll be looking at the compilation as a whole rather than each individual game save for a few remarks here and there.

So how do the first five KoF’s hold up on the PS2? Is this one of the best compilations ever released, or does the collection suffer from the same control/port issues that made Sony’s system anthema to Street Fighter fans?

Let’s Review

1. Story/Modes

The Orochi Saga contains five different KoF’s. The first is KoF ’94, which is where it all begins. You had set teams, each representing a different country. Each team basically had one excellent character, one weak character, and one halfway decent one, so things were, for the most part balanced. You had to take a set team of three and you’d work your way through the game until you encountered the new master of the KoF Tournament: Rugal, who was a cast iron bitch to beat.

KoF 95 put you in the hands of Rugal once more, albeit it this time Rugal was now a cyborg known as “Omega Rugal.” In this game you could mix and match team members for the first time to create your own team. Omega Rugal was an even HARDER last boss, but thanks to the mixing of teams, you actually had an easier time with him because you could load your team up. My usual team here is Terry Bogard, Yuri Sakazaki and then an alternating third person of Billy Kane, Ryo, Mai or Athena. KoF ’95 is also considered the start of the “Orochi Saga” although Orochi power is only mentioned in passing by the introduction of Iori and Rugal harnessing the Orochi power.

KoF ’96 gave us the two boss team of Chizuru and that (#&@*&^$ Goenitz. Again, the Orochi power and story line is only hinted at and only with the boss battles. We get some interesting new characters and more of a cohesion within the SNK world here. This was a popular choice for me in the arcades as my lord and savior Geese Howard finally showed up in the KoF series, making a ton of people I know crap themselves in terror “I have to fight Geese AND TWO OTHERS. Damn you SNK!”

KoF ’97 is arguably the best of the first four games as it splits between Advance Mode (KoF ’96 style) and Extra Mode (KoF ’94 and ’95 style). This really proved how much the original SNK loved their fans and how they listened to suggestions and complaints. With KoF ’97, everyone got what they wanted gameplay-wise. How often can you say that? This game also is the culmination of the Orochi Saga putting you against an entire team of Orochi powered bad guys and even Orochi himself. This is also the first time we get alternates for Kyo and Iori and the storyline ends with the supposed death of both of these main characters. We also get a weird decision to have Leona be an Orochi. I remember everyone adoring this game when it came out, regardless of their KoF, Fatal Fury, Mortal Kombat, or Street Fighter preference. In 1997, this game was king of the fighting games. Who knew that the best was yet to come.

KoF ’98 is an out of continuity dream match, which allowed SNK to bring back a lot of characters that were (or merely believed) dead such as the Orochi three from ’97, Omega Rugal, a ton of alternate modes for characters such as a Fatal FuryTerry Bogard and more. For many (and I mean MANY) people KoF ’98 is considered the best fighting game ever made. I don’t necessarily share that opinion (I prefer 2002 and am crazy excited for the Ultimate Match remake they are doing ala ’98 and I also Garou: Mark of the Wolves is a superior game to ’98), but I can’t disagree too much when someone names ’98 as the best. Hell, ’98 ALONE is worth the retail cost of this collection and should be enough to get people to buy this.

BUT WE’RE NOT DONE YET. The Orochi Saga also contains twenty special challenges for you to try your hand at. In beat these challenges you unlock soundtrack pieces, arranged tracks, pieces of artwork, hidden characters and more. These challenges run the gambit from “Ever successful hit causes a dizzy” to, “You can not block and enemies do double damage. Good luck there!” These challenges are a lot of fun and the rewards are well worth it. I was a bit miffed when it appeared I was going to have to play through an entire game under these settings to unlock things, but it’s generally only a match or a certain amount of battles. Whew!

In all, I couldn’t have asked for more. During the PS2 and XboX era, SNK routinely bundled two or three of their old fighters together and we all loved them for it. Now with the PS sucking in its last fumes we’ve been given five of the best fighting games ever made complete with extra challenges and an amazing amount of unlockables. This is everything I ever wanted and more.

Story/Modes Rating: Unparalleled

2. Graphics

Okay, the newest of these games is a decade old. This should be your first warning that the graphics haven’t stood the test of time, especially for a PS2 game. Things get especially ugly during the loading scenes where you are given a very large version of an in-game character’s sprite and boy is it pixilated and ugly by today’s standards. Even the character portraits are a bit of an eye sore depending on the game in question. I feel really bad having to be mean to the graphics here as 14 years ago, the visuals on KoF ’94 were amazing. The Neo*Geo was superior to any console out there graphically but in 2008, it’s going to be a turn off save for retrogamers or those who appreciate how these games have aged, much like a fine wine.

The opening cinematic for the collection and the menu screen graphics are very well done though and are definitely at PS2 levels. Sadly, they are comprised of still artwork only and so still hold up as well as say, Street Fighter Alpha Anthology. Besides that, backgrounds are about the best aspect of the games’ visuals here in 2008 with lush designs and subtle homages and shout outs to other SNK titles.

Again, I have to grade these games based on 2008 PS2 offerings, not as they would have been upon their release. People like myself who have grown up with and adore the KoF series will appreciate the visuals, but from a technical point and how it compares to other KoF games, I have to give the graphics a bad score here and it cuts me like a knife.

Graphics Rating: Poor

3. Audio

Now we’re back to fan wankery. The KoF series has not only the best soundtracks for fighting games, but some of the best music in the history of gaming. The fact you can listen to and unlock every song from the games, both in original form and arranged is a dream come true. I can sit there and just listen to the game’s music while working out or writing and be as happy as I would be listening to my Ipod or a CD.

The awesome voice acting is preserved as well. I can hear Terry Bogard say “Buster Wolf” a million times and I will never get sick of it. There might not be a lot of voice acting here, but each piece is an amazing bit of nostalgia that can’t help but bring a smile to even the most jaded gamer’s face.

The soundtracks are amazing and again, worth the price of admission alone. The little noises from special attacks to voice acting are an incredible enhancement to the games. I defy anyone, even people who HATE fighting games, to say anything bad about the sheer amount of musical tracks on this game and the fact that the quality rivals the quantity. Even if the visuals haven’t aged well, the music certainly remains amongst the best in gaming, regardless of genre. Give a listen and fall in love.

Sound Rating: Unparalleled

4. Control and Gameplay

Here’s the thing. The Playstation brand of systems are generally the worst for fighting games. Could you play X-Men vs. Street Fighter on a PSX? No. Could you on a Saturn? Yes. The Dreamcast version of Marvel vs. Capcom is vastly superior to the PS2 version. The list goes on for sometime. In a nutshell, the hardware and the joysticks don’t mesh up very well for the level of control and precision you need for these type of games. That’s why they came out with Arcade sticks and Street Fighter/Mortal Kombat Sega Saturn style pads for the PS2 – to reduce the control issues fight game aficionados have with the system. The Orochi Saga is no exception, although it fares better then Capcom’s fighting games mainly due to SNK’s four button control scheme over SF’s six button.

Would I prefer to play these games on the Saturn, Dreamcast, Xbox, or Neo*Geo. I certainly would. Controls are tighter, frame rates are smoother, loading times are dramatically less and the versions for those consoles have always been superior to the Sony system ports. But we don’t have those. We have this, and I’m accepting of the controls, if not entirely happy with them. Yes there are some joystick/D-Pad detection issues and the occasional bit of lag between entering controls and seeing them hit on the screen, but it’d dramatically less then we’ve seen in other SNK ports to the PS2, such as 00/01. The controls are NOWEHERE as fluid or solid as in Neo Geo Battle Coliseum, but unless you’re the type of person that plays these games in an actively competitive Player vs. Player environment, you’ll be quite happy with how solid the game plays. IF you are one of those SNK zealots, you’ll probably have some things to bitch about on a message board. But then, you should probably own these games for an AES or MVS in the first place so what’s the point in saying “These games played better on the system they were designed for instead of in port form?”

I will warn you that using a dual shock will be a lesson in frustration to fighting game fans and that thankfully, it appears that the control issues found in this game are localized primarily to the choice of controller. Using the Street Fighter Anniversary Arcade stick or the Akuma Sega Saturn PS pad, I noticed responsiveness took a big jump up and everything felt much better in my hands and on the screen. Again, this is why those of us who specialize in fighting games make such a stink about these games coming out for the PS2. DUAL SHOCK BAD. SATURN PAD GOOD.

Each game does play slightly different from the one before it, but sadly the manual only gives you a list of basic controls. Again, the hardcore SNK fan will know the differences between the games and their respective control schemes, but the majority of gamers won’t even think that the stock gauge might increase in a different fashion or that you can tag people in or that special (and super special) moves might change from year to year. I’m assuming the idea here is to bring new people into the KoF fold instead of appealing to those of us who say, have the near arcade perfect Orochi Saga collection (95-97 only) for the Sega Saturn, so I’m a bit boggled by the lack of control and game variation explanations to newbies.

There are also some severe loading times with this game. Thankfully SNK tries to give you something to look at with a character sprite and an explanation of the move, but there really is no excuse for the loading times here. These are 14 year old games taking longer to load then titles that tax the PS2. What’s up with that?

In a nutshell, hardened KoF fans are going to have a decent amount to complain about control wise if they stick to the dual shock, but said complaints will be halved or more if they use a proper controller. Casual gamers or people new to KoF will be happy for the most part with the controls although they will eventually notice frame rate issues of move detection problems as they get better at the games. In all, I’d suggest tracking down the Saturn collection of 95-97 and Millennium Fight ’99 for the Dreamcast, which is a remake of ’98. With an imported Neo*Geo pad, Kof ’94 for the Wii is almost as tight as the original, so that’s a better way to get this game as well. Basically you have a great collection of games here held down by the choice to bring it to the PS2 rather than the 360. It’ll be interesting to see how this plays on the Wii and PSP. Here though, controls are passable – but by no means to the level they should be at.

Control and Gameplay Rating: Decent

5. Replayability

Five full King of Fighters games, along with multiple challenges and a ton of unlockables? If you’re a fan of the characters and don’t have a Neo*Geo, you’re going to spend a lot of time with this title. Even if you’re not, the replay value on this 19.99 title is amazing.

Fighting games in general have a ton of replay value thanks to PvP and the ability to learn multiple characters and the best way to fight with them. With KoF games, that gets ratcheted even higher as you try to develop your perfect team. As long as you can live with the controls and the loading time, this title just might be in your PS2 for a lengthy amount of time.

Replayability Rating: Unparalleled

6. Balance

There’s a reason why impossibly difficulty last battles are known in the industry as “SNK Boss Syndrome.” All of these games are pretty relentless to your average gamer, even on the lowest difficulty system. You will get your ass kicked repeatedly and without mercy. Your only chance to survive is to get good at the games. Even then, the boss fights are usually a huge step up in the challenge department. I’ve played KoF’s where I can get several perfect rounds against other teams, and then find my ass flattened by an end boss. All of these games will be no exception. Omega Rugal, Goenitz and the like will make you frustrated and lower your gamer self-esteem level. Oddly enough Orochi is the easiest of the end bosses, so make what you will out of that.

SNK games are well known for how bloody hard they are. Do not take this with a grain of salt, especially if you are new to their titles. They are purposely unbalanced so that only the best can beat them. Even though I love these games and play them often, even I have to admit SNK would have done a lot better if they had toned down the difficulty and made their games more accessible to the average gamer ala Street Fighter.

If you’re looking for a challenge, then you won’t be disappointed. If you’re looking for a gamer with a slight learning curve or a gradual increase in difficulty, then you’ll find yourself over your head here, regardless of the title.

Balance Rating: Poor

7. Originality

Not only are these ports of games that have been on multiple systems before, but this is not the first time the Orochi Saga has been collected. Even worse, the original collection for the Saturn was vastly superior, once again driving in the fact that SNK should be porting these to other systems. If a System from THREE GENERATIONS AGO is playing a compilation better then a currently live system, there is something wrong here. Still, in this collection’s favour you get ’94 and ’98 thrown in so it’s up to you if you would rather have all these games on one system for cheap but with inferior controls or these five titles spread out on multiple systems and paying a little more for excellent gameplay.

I love the challenges and unlockables and I found myself playing those for the newness factor more than the actual games. After all, I’ve done there been that with all of these for over a decade.

I’ll be nice here and give this a slight thumb’s down on originality for bringing all of these games together and giving us some nifty new extras. Remember though, it’s still a compilation and opne that SNK has done before.

Originality Rating: Bad

8. Addictiveness

Fighting games are short, if you’re good at them. Otherwise, one opponent might have you stymied for quite some time. This means you might just keep using the same character out of spite until you finally beat them, or it might give you the chance/excuse to try somebody new. Either way it’s very easy to get sucked into these games as long arcade lines in the 1990’s have shown.

Challenges are the most addictive as you get some very nice unlockables and they give you entirely new ways to play and strategize. You’ll spend a decent amount of time on these, although you’ll eventually go back to the actual KoF’s in order to better yourself and master various characters.

Will you be glued to your PS2 foaming at the mouth and screaming, “ARE YOU OKAY?” No, probably not. But if you’re a fan of fighting games in the slightest, you’ll find yourself spending a lot of time with this compilation.

Addictiveness Rating: Good

9. Appeal Factor

SNK Playmore has kind of turned themselves into a niche publisher, only selling and marketing their products to long time hardcore fans who have been playing their titles even before SNK. This is a dangerous precedent as companies SHOULD be gearing their titles for a wide range of gamers as the older we get, the less we game. Eventually SNK’s core audience won’t be gaming anymore, or at least being at the skill level needed to play these games properly. Due to SNK’s reputation for making tough games with outdated graphics, they do a far better job of pushing away new gamers then they do of attracting them. So when the most important aspect of these games, the gameplay, is heavily flawed, the core SNK zealot freaks out and does a massive slagfest via the magic of internet message boards. Much like SNK Arcade Classics Vol. 1, the average SNK fan seems to be quite displeased with this compilation’s gameplay and glitches and so that pretty much kills this much anticipated title dead with the majority of those that would pay money for it.

Me? I’m enjoying it. For four bucks a title, I can live with a bit of sloppy porting/emulation. I mean, I paid forty times that for KoF ’94 came out for my Neo*Geo. FORTY. Will my other SNK loving friends enjoy it? Of course they will, albeit to varying degrees. For most of them, they don’t have a Neo*Geo and thus this is their only real option to play this games, and the option to have all of these fighters for under twenty dollars is a dream come true. Who am I to crap on their parade with my list of complaints that seem anal retentive and only apply to those of us who count frames?

The Orochi Saga will in fact be a great introduction for those of you new to KoF. Ignore the more ardent KoF fan who has been playing this series for so long they’ve forgotten what it’s like to be new to the series and have lost touch with reality as to how minor our litany of complaints in the grand scheme of getting five KoF for 19.99. Everytime I get pissed at the control issues, I remind myself you get what you pay for, and considering I paid next to nothing for this, I’m far happier then with most of the other dreck on the market.

If you’ve ever been curious about fighting games or SNK in general, this is a great way to plunge in without the insanity of World Heroes or the weird controls of my beloved Fatal Fury. The elitist fighting gamer should probably stay far away though.

Appeal Factor: Mediocre

10. Miscellaneous

Again, how many times can I say this? Twenty dollars. Five Games. Twenty Challenges. Over a hundred unlockable items, songs, and characters. You have five of the greatest fighting games of all time, albeit with a huge drop in gameplay. These games contain some of the most recognizable and famous characters in all of gaming. These games set the standard for the fighting game genre, even while Street Fighter II became the most recognizable.

Personally I’m quite happy with this collection. It’s not as solid as the Fatal Fury Battle Archives or World Heroes Anthology , but the music and extras make up for some of the gameplay issues. I would have liked better ports, but considering this is to a Sony system and the retail cost is $19.99, this was a much better result than I would have expected for asked for. Good job SNK.

Miscellaneous Rating: Unparalleled

The Scores:
Story: Unparalleled
Graphics: Poor
Sound: Unparalleled
Control and Gameplay: Decent
Replayability: Unparalleled
Balance: Poor
Originality: Bad
Addictiveness: Good
Appeal Factor: Mediocre
Miscellaneous: Unparalleled
FINAL SCORE: GOOD GAME

Short Attention Span Summary
Five Games. Twenty Dollars. That’s four bucks a game, and these are some of the greatest fighting games ever made. How could you say no? If you already have these games in superior port or even for the venerable Neo*Geo itself, then there is no reason to pick this up. But as that doesn’t apply to 90% of today’s gamers, then snag this whenever you can and experience the golden era of fighting games…even if the ports are a little tarnished. The King of Fighters Collection: The Orochi Saga might have its issues, but you can’t beat the price of this SNK compilation.

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