Review: The King of Fighters 2002 & 2003 (PS2)

The King of Fighters 2002 & 2003
System: PlayStation 2
Publisher: SNK
Developer: SNK
Genre: 2D Fighting
Release Date: 02/08/05

Ah yes, it’s time for another wonderful release from SNK. After the amazing success Metal Slug 3 had on the Xbox after Sony felt it wasn’t “good enough” (Including winning the Inside Pulse fan award for best shooter), Sony acquiesced to allowing SNK to release 2-D games on their system. Ugh. But only in double packs. So SNK gets a huge cut in profits because Sony is a company of jerks. Or does it? After all, they’re actually getting the game out on the PS2 now, along with the Xbox version (which I suggest you wait for as it will have LIVE capabilities) and increase their profits that way. Plus with 2 fighting games for 40$, how many people can really say no to a deal like that? After all, it worked with KOF 2000/2001. Still, I’m very bitter about SNK’s treatment by SCEA due to their disdain for 2D games (Two Word’s Sony: GRADIUS V.) but hopefully I’ve got all that out of my system now.

Ah, my beloved King of Fighters. With a new chapter. KoF 2002 began a new chapter for the KoF series. Unlike Street Fighter (whose gameplay I do prefer), KoF slaughtered Capcom’s more famous fighting game with amazingly designed characters and even better plots. KoF 98 ended the Orochi/Kyo plot and in 1999, the “Tale of NESTS” began. This plot went through 99, ’00, and ’01. Instead of starting a new plotline, KoF2k2 is a special plotless game, simply focusing on dream matches from the 7 other KoF chapters as well as other SNK games. It is very reminiscent to KoF ’98, which many consider to be the best in the series. Those of you smart enough to own a Sega Dreamcast hopefully imported it back when it originally came out. But if not, this is your first non- Neo*Geo appearance of the game.

2003 however goes back to basics with a great story and new main characters: Ash Crimson, Duolon, and Shen Woo. 12 teams in all, including Kyo and Iori on the same team. Long time SNK fans raised an eyebrow to this and let out a collectively loud “WTF?” mixed with the strange panting sounds made by creepy slash fan fic writers across the globe. But regardless, it raised a lot of attention, and 2003 also made a huge impact on the arcade scene internationally. I saw an Arcade while visiting Australia that had 3 copies of 2003, each in a different format. Truly SNK-Playmore was bringing KoF back with a vengeance. Except in the US. I’ve yet to see a version of 2002 and 2003 in an arcade anywhere in the states. But will this 2 pack be enough to continue in the line of success that Metal Gear 3 started? Let’s find out as I do a very different review from the norm.

Let’s Review

1. Story

2002: It’s dream match time baby! 46 of the greatest KoF characters of all time are back and looking for action. And this time, SNK gave us even the cult favorites. Blue Mary is back! Geese and Rugal are back! SHINGO is back! But in truth, there’s not plot. Much like KOF ’98, this is just a generic 3 on 3 tournament where people are running around. You can do one on one battles, but that’s not the point of the game. It’s just an option for those of you that prefer it.

The only real story here are the teams involved and the return of favorites. Iori’s 1996 KOF team is here (Iori, Mature and Vice), along with each of the ‘major’ teams from each year of 1996-2000. My favorite teams are of course the women fighters (Mai, YURI!, and May Lee) and the Fatal Fury team of Terry, Andy and Joe, but I do have my personal Edit team of Terry, Shingo, and Yuri. Other than that, it’s a simple KoF plot of “Let’s see which team is the strongest.”

2003: Now we go back to a massive plot change. KoF 2003 is really Playmore’s first ‘let’s monkey with things’ approach to the SNK franchises. Before Maximum Impact, there was KoF 2003. KoF 2003 really changes how the game is played, to the point where even long time players of the KoF series like myself had to pause for a second and go “Wait a sec. It looks the same, but it ain’t.”

But story wise? Oh man is it classic KoF. We’ve got 11 teams, each with about 5-10 pages of back story EACH. There’s also 4 unlockable characters, two of which are the bosses (Adelheid and Mukai), a brand new reason behind the KoF tournament, and some new characters like the Hero team of Ash Duolon and Shen Woo. And like I mentioned in my intro, there are some interesting teams and alliances made, most of all the Iori/Kyo/Chizuru team. Or Blue Mary teamed with Mai and King? Benimaru the head of his own team? Outtasight! There’s so much story here, but the problem is that 1) most of its not in game and you have to actually find on KoF sights and 2) that which is in the game will probably be lost to people who aren’t hardcore KoF fans. It’s like SNK-Playmore tried to ease people from freaking out over gameplay changes, by really focusing on characters and little “Look! Neat story twists” for long time fans.

If you really want to understand what is going on in either game plotwise, you will have to track down a fansite or go to SNK for all the details. It won’t be in the game. And to be nice here’s SNK’s official link to the main plot along with the story for each main team.

Cut and paste that into your browser okay? I’d do the same with 2002, except well, it’s dream matches. The point of the game is anything BUT plot.

Lastly, the only real problem with 2003 is that the is not going to be a 2004, so the plot will have to be continued in a different format. VERY disappointing to KoF fans.

Story Rating: (KoF2002: 3/10), (KoF 2003: 7/10)

2. Graphics

Okay, these are Neo Geo Games. Not only that, but they are 2-3 year OLD Neo Geo games ported to the PS2. So we’re not talking the prettiest games on the planet.

But to be honest, both games look a lot better than quite a view games released directly to the PS2. PlayBoy The Mansion, Backyard Wrestling 2, and Nightmare of Druaga are just a few games that have recently been released that come off the top of my head that KoF 2k2 or 2k3 look better than.

Character Portrait art is amazing, amongst some of the best ever released on any video game system. I prefer the KoF 2003 art slightly, every so slightly, though.

In game graphics? Well, Both are about equal, and both are enjoyable and with send you back to old school nostalgia of hammering away in a darkened arcade somewhere with sounds of “Hadoken, TOASTY!”, and “SHINGO KIIIICK” blaring through the fighting game madness all around you. Again, nothing visual is going to blow your mind at all. But it’s still damn good and I prefer the graphics in this to the blocky OTT crap you see in Soul Calibur 2.

Overall I’d say the games look a little jaggy, a little blurry, and even a bit ugly to some, but they are KoF graphics and more importantly Neo*Geo graphics, and the character portraits and win scenes are still quite beautiful.

Graphics Rating: (KoF 2002: 5/10), (KoF 2003: 6/10)

3. Sound

Oh my, my, my, was I in heaven here. The voice work and music are where SNK truly excels. Gone are the crappy techno tunes from 2001 and back to the classic style of grooving out tunes that SNK is synonymous for.

2002 features music from all the previous SNK games, remixed here and there, but still the classic songs hardcore fans of this series loves. SNK is great with the music for their games, and KoF 2002 is quite possibly the best overall score for any SNK game.

Voice acting wise, some characters have been redone, while some characters have their old work rehashed. I have to say, I enjoy it all though. The characters in this game were voted on by the fans, and a good part of why certain characters are enjoyed are because of the voice work. Shingo is a big example of this. Everything just sounds great. Although the announcer for 2k2 reminds me a lot of Bela Lugosi. No idea why.

Kof2k3 however isn’t as good. Remind how I said earlier this is where Playmore is really trying to make changes to KoF? The music is arranged, but it misses some of the classic feel from the other games. Maybe it’s just because of all the remixed awesome songs from 2k2, but 2k3 falls short in the music department. But it’s still great music to have in the background while you are jamming on your controllers.

Voice acting? Well, there are a lot of new characters in 2k3; possibly the most debuting in a KoF game in a long, long time. It’s hit or miss depending on the characters. Still good, but not great. But this IS Playmore’s first KoF game, and it’s nice to see what they’ve done with it.

Overall, you may not be impressed with the visual quality of the KoF games, but you certainly will be with the scores.

Sound Rating: (KoF2002: 8/10), (KoF2003: 7/10)

4. Control and Gameplay

The Strikers are gone! The Strikers are gone! Thank god in heaven, the Strikers are gone! I have to admit KoF 1999-2001 annoyed the crap out of me. Not only with the new characters, but the gameplay as well. I hate the strikes and all the “innovations” they tried with the game. Thankfully, most people agreed with me as this was the number 1 request by KoF fans for KoF2002: GO BACK TO THE ORIGINAL AWESOME GAMEPLAY.

And guess what? SNK did with their last KoF game before dying and being purchased by Playmore.

Let’s talk about what’s back? MAX mode! This allows players to cancels attacks into different attacks that usually can’t be cancelled. This extends the combos you can make quite a bit. You can also perform unlimited Desperation Moves/Super Special Moves (See below) without using any of your power Gauge bar. The second you try a SDM/MSSM, Max mode will be cancelled and gameplay goes back to normal.

They’ve also re-established SDM’s (Super Desperation Moves), which are more powerful versions of character’s Desperation Moves. You’ll find these also called Super Special Moves and Maximum Super Special Moves. SDM/MSSM can only be used when you are in MAX mode and also when the character is down to 20% or less of their health bar.

There are a ton of different modes to play in KoF 2002 as well. You have Team Play, which is 3 on 3 story mode. My choice for you? KoF ’97 or the Art of Fighting Teams as they’re the best overall. You have Single Play which is just one on one story mode (I always use Terry, Yuri, or Shingo for this). Of course Omega Rugal is the eventual boss, and he will make you cry tears of frustration. You have Team Play VS and Single VS to do battle against your friends. There’s practice mode, which doesn’t need a description. There’s Team Attack and Single attack, both of which are survival battles in which your team or character keeps fighting and between each round gets a minimal amount of health back until you finally lose.

Time Attack though deserves its own paragraph as it’s a little more complicated. There are 40 levels to it. You are racing against the clock to knock out all the opponents. If you can beat 20 opponents, you get Mad Iori unlocked. If you can beat 30, then the evil Goenitz is your reward. And if you get all 40 beat before the clock runs out, Geese Howard is playable and my god, do I need to emphasize to LEARN HOW TO PLAY GEESE as soon as he is unlockable. He is defensive death incarnate. And god, do I love him.

Actual control wise, KoF 2002 is fluid and near perfection. The controls are some of the most solid I have ever seen in any fighting game. Yes, this was the original SNK’s swan song, and my god did they put their collective hearts and souls into it. If you’re talking gameplay, I have to say 2k2 is by far the best fighting game (although KoF 98 may have something to say about that…) I have ever played. This is by far the best fighting game on the PS2, and there’s nothing that even comes close competition wise. If you love a good game that responds well to a controller, get this, and get it now.

Now let’s talk KoF 2003.

KoF 2003 is so radically different from 2002 it’s hard to decide where to start gameplay wise. Wow? Where to start?

Okay? Everything you knew about KoF is GONE. CD attacks? Gone. MAX Mode? Gone. Strikers? Still gone, thankfully. SDM’s? GONE. What is left? Evasions, Guard Cancels, recovery rolls, and well, that’s really it. It’s as if they stripped KoF clean of all but the basics. But what is added, is interesting.

KoF was the first fighting game where you could taunt your opponents. Dan from Street Fighter Alpha is a tribute/diss on the KoF games. In 2003, taunting your opponents finally means something at is raises your special bar. As well, instead of DM and SDM’s, KoF 2003 introduces Super Special Leader Moves. These moves can only be done by your team Leader, which you assign at the beginning of the game. Super Special Leader Moves take 2 bars of your power gauge and are insanely powerful. This makes a lot of people hold their “leader” until the last character on your team so that by the time they appear, your special bar will be maxed out at 5, allowing you TWO of these crazy damage moves. Each move does of 50% damage to your opponent’s life bar so you can see why this is an advantage.

Here’s another wacky change that really makes this change to a leader move all the more impressive. It’s no longer a survivor series type battle that can go five rounds. KoF 2003 is now one big round, winner takes all. How is this accomplished, you ask? By a very awesome tag mode. Remember Marvel Vs Capcom 2, where you could tag out to your teammates? Well think of that here. Heh, Capcom steals 3 on 3 battles from SNK and Playmore steals tagging out from Capcom. I love the wacky relationship between these two companies.

Anyway, back to tagging out. When the word “CHANGE” appears above your power gauge, you can tag out and switch to another character by pressing Light Kick + Heavy Punch or Heavy Kick and Heavy Punch at the same time. Once you switch characters, the character you were playing as begins to regain health slowly. Much like the psychology behind a pro wrestling tag match. There is also a tag attack mode where you can do a D, DR, R + Light Kick + Heavy Punch or Quarter Circle Forward + both heavys and the tagged in character will come in and if he connects, do a free combo attack for you. Nice! Do this with the team leader and then shoot off your Super Special leader attack, and it’s like one dead opponent for free!

The modes of play in 2003 are different as well. You’ve got Arcade Play/Vs, Team Play/Vs, Single Play/Vs, Team/Single Survival, and Practice. All the modes have been covered above (Although 2k3 has different bosses, three in fact.) Survival mode is quite different in 2k3 from 2k2 as after each battle you don’t regain health. You only regain health by tagging out.

Overall 2k3 as I’ve said is quite different from any other KoF game before it. It’s fun, but feels different. It’s faster and designed more for people new to the games, meaning controls of each character are simpler to learn and although it feels a bit sloppier and more disjointed that 2k2, it’s because it’s an all new system and will only get tighter and more fun with time.

Both games are a blast to play. I prefer 2k2, but that may be because it’s the control scheme I have been used to for so long. Either way, both games are some of the best fighting games ever made, and for those of you playing those crappy 2D MK and DoA fighters? Get this. It may be uglier, but both are far superior games.

Control and Gameplay Rating: (KoF 2002 10/10), (KoF 2003 8/10)

5. Replayability

Okay, you have two fighting games, both with multiple unlockable characters, 3 on 3 and 1 on 1 modes, as well as the ability to edit 3 on 3 mode to make your own personal dream teams, variable modes other than normal fighting game style, and each game has over 30+ characters?

I don’t see how any one would need any other fighting games for the PS2. This one 40$ purchase is all you will ever need.

Replayability Rating: (KoF 2002: 10/10), (KoF 2003 10/10)

6. Balance

Now for some big differences between the games.

2k2: Well, with 13 teams, it can be a bit hard to balance the game out. I do find that KoF 97, 01, and Art of Fighting are the three best overall teams, yet thankfully the super insane powerful characters (Geese and Omega Rugal) aren’t on any teams at all.

Still, even with those three being the best overall teams, it’s only by a little, and this could be because of my own personal styles and tastes. I find only one team to be actually pretty bad and that’s the Psycho Soldier team of Athena, Kensou and Chin. Otherwise the teams are balanced very well and only the unlockable characters are far and away stronger than a lot of the other characters, but hey, they are boss characters. It is to be expected. KoF 2002 is amazingly balanced and if probably the best game on any system right now to have a fighting game tournament with. Some characters are great in 1-1 battles that aren’t as good in 3 on 3. Ikari team member Ralf is one of those. K is another, if only because I feel his teammates are pretty crappy.

Overall in 2k2, no character really truly trounces another. Yes, in a tourney, you would see Geese, Rugal and Orochi Iori as the main characters being played, but in 2k2, Terry Bogard or even Joe stands a very good chance of beating these guys. In terms of balance, I have to say 2k2 is SNK’s best fighter.

In 2k3 however, this all goes out the window. This game is wildly unbalanced compared to 2k2. It’s Playmore’s Mary Sure convention as most of the new characters can run wild on the old ones. The Hero team of Ash, Shen, and Duolon is crazy powerful and can go nuts on any of the other teams, especially when you learn all their moves. The Chizuru/Iori/Kyo team is another example of this, although Kyo really sucks in this game so it’s not AS bad.

Don’t get me wrong, the game is fun as hell, but often times in pvp battles or even against the computer, some characters are just going to destroy others. ESPECIALLY if you make the stronger character a leader. Duo Lon’s infinite unblockable combo out right makes him the character you will see most played in a tournament, although Jhun Hoon is pretty nasty too. There is a way to turn off the glitches in the home mode to balance things out a bit more, but the fact remains after playing the game a few times, you will know very easily which characters never to waste your time playing as.

If you’re looking for a more balanced game to play with your friends, put in 2k2. If you’re looking for a faster and wackier game, go for 2k3.

Balance Rating: (KoF 2002: 9/10), (KoF 2003: 6/10)

7. Originality

The 8th and 9th KoF games. You’d think from just that knowledge there wouldn’t be much of chance for a high score here, eh? But in truth, each KoF game has been different from the one before it. Not just in terms of new characters, but tinkered with gameplay, different plots, new teams, and so on. It’s always interesting to see who makes it to the next game. When a character dies in the KoF world, they never return except in 98 and 02 which are dream match games out of continuity.

KoF 2002 is the second every dream match, but the important thing is that is fan designed by fan input. What other game was made solely for the fans and followed fan voting and suggestions. It’s how we got Shingo and Blue Mary back. It’s why the crappy controls from 99-01 are gone. SNK chose to heed to consumers wishes while combining that with their actual design skills. And the end result is one of the best fighting games ever made. And every single long time KoF fan is to thank for it. So I do have to say there is SOME originality here.

KoF 2003 introduces a ton of new characters and a new play style. Again, it’s not dramatically original, but is very distinct from any KoF game that came before it.

In the end though, they’re still just fighting games amongst an ocean of fighting games, but both have their own specific signature twists which keep them from being lost amongst all the copycat crap out there.

Originality Rating: (KoF 2002: 5/10), (KoF 2003: 5/10)

8. Addictiveness

KoF 2k2 is probably my second most favorite fighting game ever, after SSF2. And who knows, in time, this might surpass it as it has the potential to do that easily. It’s so well designed and so much fun to play, it’s very hard to put down. I could easily spend (and have done so) hours designing teams specifically to counter would be unstoppable edit teams. This game manages to draw me in and make me say “Why bother with any other fighter at all?”

KoF 2k3 is a good game, but it doesn’t draw me in the same way KoF 2k2 does. Maybe that’s because 2k2 is designed for its most fanatical fans, of which I am on, but it’s still a lot of fun. It does take some getting used to, and knowing that half the roster isn’t worth learning how to play takes some of the fun out of it, but it’s still a pretty good game and worth spending some time learning how to master a few characters.

I definitely think 2k2 is the more addicting of the two, but 2k3 has it’s moments.

Addictiveness Rating: (KoF 2002: 8/10), (KoF 2003: 6/10)

9. Appeal Factor

KoF has never received the respect it deserves by American fans. For some reason crappy but pretty 3D fighting games that lack any real challenge or gameplay like Soul Calibur 2, DOA 3, Tekken Jag Tournament and others have gotten acclaim, while the most consistently series in terms of quality tend to get a foot note. Hopefully with two wildly different KoF games at an amazing low price combined with US games starting to pay attention to and appreciate SNK games, things will turn around. I can’t imagine any fighting game fan not being blown away by both games, unless of course, they can’t get past the graphics. The two pack and low cost should bring in a larger audience than just the hardcore fighting game/KoF audience and that can only serve to help SNK more.

Appeal Factor: (Both games) 6/10

10. Miscellaneous

Both games pack an amazing amount of stuff onto each disc. Hidden and unlockable characters, tons of customization of teams, extra modes, and both games are very distinct from each other, something the 2000/2001 pack missed. The only thing I can think that is missing is the reason why even after I am praised both games, I’m going to tell you to wait for the Xbox versions of these discs coming out in a few months, is that the Xbox versions will be online compatible. And trust me, from a long time fighting fan, it is infinitely more fun to play against other humans that it is to play against the computer. It’ll be the same two games, same low cost, but a bonus of online play as well.

Wait for the Xbox version. Unless you don’t have a box that is. And in the meantime, rent the PS2 version to get good for when you can finally play this via LIVE.

Miscellaneous rating: (both games: 9/10)

Short Attention Span Summary
There is no reason NOT to get this. 2 of the best fighting games ever made on one compilation. Brought down only by graphics and originality, both games would easily get a point-1.5 higher if we were talking about their original Neo*Geo release. I can’t urge you enough to get this pack, as $40 alone just for 2k2 is a bargain in and of itself. Besides, I paid a lot more than 40$ for these games when they first game out for the ol’ Neo*Geo and can’t fathom why anyone wouldn’t gleefully grab these now.



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