Review: The King of Fighters Collection: The Orochi Saga (Sony PSP)

The King of Fighters Collection: The Orochi Saga
Genre: 2D Fighting
Developer: SNK Playmore
Publisher: SNK Playmore
Release Date: 10/28/08


A few years back, SNK Playmore released a compilation for PS2 called The King of Fighters Orochi Collection, or something similar to this thing. It contained three King of Fighters releases (95 – 97), offered online play, and was generally a fantastic game, and many a fan lamented its Japanese exclusivity. SNK Playmore seemed to have heard our lamentation, as they announced The King of Fighters Collection: The Orochi Saga as a stateside release, and while it lacked the online play of its Japanese counterpart (Which seems to be a running trend with US SNK Playmore games for some bizarre reason), it was announced that this version of the collection would ALSO include arcade ports of two additional games (94 and 98). In short, it looked as though the US release would actually be an UPGRADED release, and it was a product more than a few fans were eagerly awaiting the release of. The further announced Wii and PSP ports were merely icing on the fighting game cake; aside from a couple Capcom fighting games and Tekken 5, the PSP has been somewhat lacking in quality fighting games, and it was wonderful to know that we would be seeing another quality product on the console.

So, let us begin by noting that this PSP release brings back memories of importing King of Fighters “Ëœ97 for the Saturn years ago. For those who know that what this means, you’ll most likely know where this is going; for those that don’t, it should be known up front that this observation is not entirely a good thing.

So, the storyline of the games on this disc essentially runs through what is known as the “Orochi Saga”; that being the story of Rugal Bernstein and his mad quest for power that ultimately causes his death, rebirth as an Orochi-tainted bastard, his subsequent SECOND death, the rise and fall of Goenitz, and the return and defeat of the god Orochi himself (For the record, Kyo Kusanagi pretty much wrecks all of them). For those who actually follow fighting game stories, the storyline of the Orochi Saga isn’t bad at all (Honestly it’s superior to the more recent NESTS Saga and Tales of Ash storylines), despite the horrid Engrish translations of the games. The game puts a decent amount of effort into explaining the backstory of each tournament, and aside from the fact that each team has their own unique ending cinematic explaining what their ultimate fate was, the later games also feature specific quotes and endings for specially assembled custom teams, which is also a nice touch (In fact, seeing the true ending of King of Fighters “Ëœ97 specifically REQUIRES playing as a custom team, in an interesting touch).

Of course, no one cares about that; what everyone cares about is what the differences between the five games are. Hey, I understand. Well, ’94 is the first game in the series, obviously, and it features locked teams of three fighters duking it out for a chance to face Rugal in battle; it was surprisingly novel in 1994, though at this point, it’s more of a historical curiosity (sSnce it’s the first game in the series and features the first appearance of franchise mainstay Kyo Kusanagi) than, say, a game anyone would want to play. ’95 mixes things up a bit by allowing you to customize your own team, and it adds in a few new interesting characters (most notably secondary franchise mainstay Iori Yagami), but it’s functionally identical, gameplay-wise, to ’94. ’96, aside from adding in a DIFFERENT final boss, is where about half of the familiar changes to the gameplay formula come in; though the game still features only the Extra gameplay style, a few of the characters go through the gameplay changes that will essentially define them for the rest of their existence (Kyo, for example, goes from being another Ryu/Ken clone to being a weird chain combo character). ’97 is where the other half of the gameplay changes come in, as this is the first appearance of the Advanced gameplay style (replacing manual Super Meter charging with Capcom-style charging), as well as the first appearance of multiple Super Moves per character, among other things. ’98 is essentially ’97 with more characters and less story, as it’s a “Dream Match” game that focuses on fighting game action over all else and features the robust roster to match. In addition, The Orochi Saga also features the now-mandatory Challenge Mode, which allows you to complete challenges that allow you to unlock concept art, music, and hidden characters. The PSP version of The Orochi Saga is hurt a bit by the fact that it requires two copies of the game to play multiplayer, unlike the console versions, but otherwise, five games on one disc is hard to ignore; frankly, the game is pretty much worth it for ’97 and ’98 ALONE, and the other three games and the Challenge mode are mostly icing on the cake.

Visually, The Orochi Saga looks pretty good on the PSP, largely thanks to the smaller, high-resolution screen of the console that helps to hide the pixilated visuals better than a huge TV would on a console. Now, okay, it’s not super-awesome looking; the games are over a decade old at this point, so yeah, they’re going to look like decade-old games at this point, so that’s to be expected. That said, the sprite pixelization isn’t as noticeable on the small screen, and more importantly, the game is still animated quite nicely, making for a game that’s attractive more due to the attention paid to it than anything else, even though the actual technology is poor. You’re also offered a a choice between four different display modes for the game, between 4:3 (Which looks normal), regular pixel (Which looks smaller and arcade-exact, IE jagged), full screen (Which stretches the image to fit the screen, and looks bizarre) and “Smart Stretch” (Which looks functionally identical to full-screen); of the lot, 4:3 looks the best, but it’s nice to have the options, in any case. Aurally, well, while I’m not about to proclaim that the franchise features the best fighting game tunes ever, the tunes are exceptionally nice from game to game, especially in ’97 with the character-specific tunes that play ONLY when certain characters are up against you, which was always a nice touch, I found. The voice acting is also as fabulous as it’s ever been, from Terry Bogard’s ridiculous Engrish shouts to Mai Shiranui’s assertion that, yes, Japan IS Number One, and the sound effects are also quite fantastic across the board. There is one notable audio flaw, but as it relates to another significant flaw in the overall game experience, we’ll save that for later and simply note that the audio as it’s presented is fantastic in any and all respects.

So, okay, let’s assume you’ve never played a King of Fighters game in your life, yes? Okay, well, the following paragraph should neatly sum up the gameplay mechanics of the franchise, in a nutshell, for you:

Now, if you’ve never played a King of Fighters title before, the simplest way one can describe it is as such: imagine Street Fighter, with four buttons, different strategies, and teams of three fighters, and that’s the most basic gist one can give. The Orochi Saga more or less follows that tradition; if you’ve played a 2D fighting game in your life, you can figure out reasonably quickly how it works. You’re given two strong and weak punches and kicks to work with, and aside from the standard combos that can be strung together with those, all of the characters have their own special and Desperation (super) moves to work with. If you’re a Ken and Ryu fan, Ryo, Robert, Terry, Andy and Iori should fit you okay. Like Guile? Kim, Leona, or Ralf might do you fine. More of a Zangief fan? Try Goro or Clark. Love Chun-Li? Mai, King and Yuri have you covered. This is not to say that these characters are identical maps of the mentioned Street Fighter counterparts so much as it is to say that they fit into similar play styles; the characters in The Orochi Saga all have their own unique and interesting ways that they can be played, and part of the fun is finding the characters you work best with, and with a ton of characters spread across five games, well, you’ve got a lot of options.

Now, where the King of Fighters franchise differs from other games is in the team mechanic. Instead of picking one character and going to work, the various games in The Orochi Saga instead put you in control of THREE characters, one at a time, as you face other teams of three characters (And singular, over-powered final bosses). As has been noted previously, at first, this is a simple matter of picking three people you like and can work with, but as you become more skilled at the mechanics of the game, this can turn into something of a mental chess match, where you’ll choose characters to compliment strengths of your team and exploit weaknesses of the opposing team, sort of like a fighting-based Magic: The Gathering or something similar. You’ll also have to consider your fighting mode in some of the games; while ’94 – ’96 only offer the “Extra” fighting style as a default, ’97 and ’98 offer the choice of “Extra” or “Advanced”, which will change how you play the game in a few notable ways. Extra Mode revolves around hopping, dodging, and charging up your power bar to perform DM’s, while Advanced Mode revolves around dashing, rolling, and building up power meters for DM’s, in a manner similar to a Street Fighter or something similar. Extra Mode also allows you to spam your DM’s when your health is in the red, and both modes (In some games) allow for Super Desperation Moves (SDM’s) that deal added damage; Advanced Mode accomplishes this by asking you to burn two stocks of energy, while Extra Mode asks you to charge your DM while you have a red life bar. For those wondering about how the different games work, ’94 and ’95 use Extra Mode exclusively, ’96 uses a combination of the control concepts of Advanced and the DM usage of Extra, and ’97 and ’98 offer a choice between Extra and Advanced.

For those who are wondering, the PSP controls are generally quite solid for the game; while they’re not perfect (You can’t set a single button for Extra charging, for example, as the console only has six buttons, so this wasn’t offered as a button option), and they’ll probably never emulate the arcade feel, the PSP D-Pad generally feels fine for playing, and the controls are responsive and easy to work with all in all. The Orochi Saga, as noted, contains Arcade emulations of the first five King of Fighters games in the series, meaning that you can either play through the games against friends or alone through the Story tournament in team play. You can also jump into Practice mode in each game if you want to learn the moves/combos of certain characters in each game (As the movesets for many characters change dramatically from game to game), making learning the fundamentals easy enough. There’s also a Challenge mode that allows you to take on a bunch of easy, normal and hard challenges, each of which unlocks concept art, music in the Sound test, and hidden characters to play with. The games are moderately balanced, though the balance of the games fluctuates from game to game; Goenitz isn’t a pleasant final boss in ’96, and some of the characters in ’95 are far better than others because of their special moves and play mechanics, for instance. That said, ’96 – ’98 aren’t too badly balanced for versus play, and Orochi actually plays by the rules of your chosen difficulty setting in ’97, so oddly enough, new players should probably start with that game (Even if he DOES have a full-screen DM move). Overall, between the fact that there are five different games on one disc to play with and a bunch of challenges to plow through, and the fact that the games are generally decently balanced for playing with friends, if not by yourself, you’ll find plenty to do with the game, and if you’re a fan, that’ll be more than a good enough reason to check this out.

Those who aren’t fans of the series, however, might have a few significant obstacles standing in the way of their enjoyment. Now, okay, let’s ignore the fact that you’ll need two copies of the game to play multiplayer when the console versions only need one, and let’s also ignore that the Darkstalkers series offered up a more interesting take on this idea on the PSP by allowing the player one default game where you could simply select from each different version of the character instead of having to play the different games. It still bears noting, however, that not all of the games have held up well; ’94 is still incredibly archaic at this point, and ’95, though better, still asks for all sorts of ridiculous inputs to perform DM’s (And is fairly unbalanced to boot in favor of certain characters). Couple that with the fact that ’96 still plays exclusively by Extra DM rules, and fans of the franchise who came into the games from ’97 onward will most likely stick to ’97 and ’98, as these are the most “friendly” of the games. That isn’t to say that the other games are UNWELCOME so much as it is to say that they probably won’t see much play by anyone but long-standing SNK fans, since the last two games in the series are generally the most accessible of the bunch. It also bears noting that, as these are Arcade emulations of the games, they lack many of the features the console-designed versions of these games featured, like one-on-one fights, a Practice mode that’s accessible from the main game menu, Survival modes, and the ability to turn off round timers, just to name a few. Again, serious fans won’t mind these so much, but fans who’ve become accustomed to these features will find them conspicuous by their absence.

That aside, however, the PSP version of The Orochi Saga features one heavily crippling flaw, and for those who followed the “bringing back memories of the Saturn import” comment above, you’ll probably recognize this flaw immediately: it’s a loader. Now, ’94 and ’95 feature fairly reasonable loading times (Presumably because they’re the smallest games of the bunch) and if you stick to those games exclusively, you should be fine with the game. The three other games, however, don’t fare so well. Loading the games themselves can take upwards of a minute to do, and loading between fights can take fifteen to thirty seconds, which hits the “action-packed” nature of the game below the belt from the word go. Further, the three games can also occasionally feature loading times BETWEEN ROUNDS, which is just hurtful at this point, frankly; it makes the games feel, well, broken. The loading issues also affect the audio playback, meaning that you’ll end up hearing audio samples, in some cases, several seconds after they were initially expected to play, and aside from making the game feel even more broken and rushed, this is also really disorienting when this happens while you’re playing. Now, I hate to make direct comparisons between competing games, but it needs to be said here: Street Fighter Alpha 3 Max, a game which was designed specifically for the PSP, features visuals on par with the games in The Orochi Saga, but does not showcase any of the playback problems, the loading issues, or the lack of options, and that game is two years old at this point. I understand that The Orochi Saga is a compilation of five games, but considering how awesome the PS2 release of King of Fighters ’98 Ultimate Match was, frankly, something like that on the PSP would have been infinitely preferable to something like this, ESPECIALLY considering how many technological problems this version of the games comes equipped with.

The Orochi Saga on the PSP is essentially a solid emulation of five decent to great arcade games that should entertain SNK diehards and 2D fighting game fans, assuming they can ignore the lack of options and the technological flaws. The games generally still look, sound, and play well, even after a decade or more, and there are enough gameplay modes and options to keep you busy for a while. Further, this is one of the few 2D fighting games on the console, and one of the VERY few SNK 2D fighters to boot, making this a good option for fans of the genre and the company. That said, some of the games are far better than others, and even if you’re hankering for some portable 2D action and are okay with playing some games more than others, the loading and sound glitching issues may well annoy even the most interested or dedicated of players, either by distracting them or boring them to tears. Frankly, it comes down to this: The Orochi Saga on the PS2 is a better investment that’s easier to play with friends and doesn’t have the technical problems of the PSP version, and both Darkstalkers Chronicle: The Chaos Tower and Street Fighter Alpha 3 Max are better 2D fighting game choices for the PSP if you’re looking for that sort of experience in a portable format. If you’re a die hard SNK fan, or you have destroyed those games already, and you have to have more 2D fighting action, The Orochi Saga for PSP is an acceptable, if flawed choice, but only if you can ignore the noticeable flaws of the experience.

The Scores:
Story/Game Modes: UNPARALLELED
Graphics: ABOVE AVERAGE
Sound: ABOVE AVERAGE
Control/Gameplay: GOOD
Replayability: ABOVE AVERAGE
Balance: MEDIOCRE
Originality: DREADFUL
Addictiveness: MEDIOCRE
Appeal: POOR
Miscellaneous: WORTHLESS
Final Score: MEDIOCRE GAME.

Short Attention Span Summary:
In the simplest way possible, here’s the bottom line: The King of Fighters Collection: The Orochi Saga for PSP is a collection of five good to great fighting games on one disc that would easily come highly recommended if not for the specific emulations included and the technical issues that hurt the final product. The games still look, sound, and play well, even a decade later, and even as historical curiosities, casual and serious 2D fighting game fans could easily have a ton of fun with the games on this disc, as some of them are, easily, among the best 2D fighting games EVER. However, the fact that the console versions offer cheaper ways to play with friends, combined with the fact that these are arcade emulations and not console emulations (and are thus lacking many options that console emulations would have offered), and further combined with severely crippling loading times and noticeable and frequent audio lag, make the PSP version of The Orochi Saga the weakest of the lot. If you’re a fan of 2D fighting games, and want one on the go, The Orochi Saga isn’t a bad choice, but there are better versions of the compilation and better 2D fighting games for the PSP available, making this version somewhat harder to recommend than it really should be.

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