By ShellShock
Revised on 06/28/09
   

 

 

   
             
 
Regarding SNK titles, I'm a fan of their early achievements. You could blame it on nostalgia (that powerful word that drives the old-school gamer), and in part it's true, but in my case the other side to the coin was my sick obsession for the fighting genre ever since I discovered Street Fighter II in 1991. I mean, I HAD to finish EVERY fighting title they threw at me, and could easily spend hours without any quarters left just watching and learning how to do Blanka's roll or Ryu's shoryuken.
Arcade flyer

KOF'94 started as a one-time-deal curiosity produced by Takashi Nishiyama. A.k.a. "Piston" Takashi, he was also in charge of production of Capcom's original "Street Fighter" and KOF sequels until 1999.
Also responsible for the project is some of the former Irem Corporation team. Being that the company had just filed for bankruptcy some of its developers went on to form Nazca Corporation (of Metal Slug fame) and also worked together before in titles like "Last Resort" (which by the way shares the same graphic design as KOF'94 if you haven't noticed).

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Two new concepts were introduced for the game, the team system obviously being one of them. But can you guess the second one?
Back then it was still too early for any Capcom / SNK / Marvel / X-Men mixes, and "Street Fighter Alpha" (Capcom's quickest answer to KOF featuring a round-up of new and older Street Fighter plus Final Fight characters) hit the streets a full year later. So KOF'94 adopted the cross-over theme first. Nowadays there are so many cross-over fighting titles that we take them for granted, but KOF'94 was what started the hype.

Arcade Flyer

SNK's slug-fest was all about getting the fans worked up about their favorite characters. Pairing them up in threesomes? Even better! The relationship and bond between team-mates looked amazing on the screen: Andy jumping in to defend his dizzy brother Terry, Ryo and his father shaking their heads in the background while Robert is getting pummeled, or Mai and King cheering when rookie Yuri landed her "HienHououKyaku" special. Interacting. Alive. With characters showing off a more distinguished bad-ass attitude during matches, trash-talking after it, and finally clashing against one of the coolest bosses since Geese Howard that could hand you your ass on a plate with style: Rugal Bernstein.

Team spirit galore:
 

All these little details and innovations fueled the team spirit and gave SNK's most popular characters a dept not seen in a fighting game before. It got you interested, made you care, because now your favorite character belonged to a team. A team that would face the most experienced and recognized rivals in the SNK world.

Neo-Geo CD cover

It is widely believed that KOF '94 was conceived as a Fatal Fury / Art of Fighting blend that borrows elements of both. While this might have been true before and during the game's development, the finished product completely contradicts that statement.
KOF'94 is a Fatal Fury spin-off for various reasons. First of all, the "King of Fighters" tournament started in FF as we all know. The buttons' layout, gameplay feel, and combo system is FF's too. Yes, it has Art of Fighting characters, but this title borrows more details and gameplay features from the FF series than it does from AOF.

Fatal Fury arcade
The "King of Fighters" tournament's first
installment.

More examples of FF's influence are the inclusion of the "attack-avoider", the animation of characters in the background jumping to the foreground, the stages' intros from FF Special, and how FF characters can still move while crouching.
On AOF's side, the only feature that made it here is the ladies' clothes shredding to pieces when KO'd by a special or desperation move. You won't find Ryo jumping off walls, recovering from throws, or dashing. The reason behind these omissions is that AOF characters had more special moves and commands than FF's, so they had to be toned down in order to make KOF'94 more balanced.

Fatal Fury features in KOF'94:
Attack-avoider
Moving while crouching
Stage intros
Foreground jump
Art of Fighting features in KOF'94:
Clothes shred when the character is KO'd with a special move.
King and Yuri are the only AOF characters that retained this feature.
 

 

 

 
The King Of Fighters '94

Players: 2
About: 3 Vs 3 Fighting
Courtesy of: SNK
Back in: 1994
Originally on: Arcade
Also on: Neo-Geo, Neo-Geo CD, PS2

 
 
The King of Fighters '94 - Arcade
 
The King of Fighters '94 - Arcade
 
The King of Fighters '94 - Arcade
Rugal is a stylish badass.
 
The King of Fighters '94 - Arcade
 
The King of Fighters '94 - Arcade
 
The King of Fighters '94 - Arcade
Mature's first appearance.
 
The King of Fighters '94 - Arcade
 
The King of Fighters '94 - Arcade
 
The King of Fighters '94 - Arcade
 
The King of Fighters '94 - Arcade
 
The King of Fighters '94 - Arcade
 
The King of Fighters '94 - Arcade
Goro can sweep an enemy off the ground, plus his team-
mates.
 
The King of Fighters '94 - Arcade
 
The King of Fighters '94 - Arcade
Stage intros are awesome details the series lost very
quickly.
 
 
Character design and trivia according to SNK:
     

The Hero Team

Kyo Kusanagi:
In the first stages of development, Kyo was meant to be called Sho Kirishima. He was created as a cool character capable of holding his own against the main characters of "Fatal Fury" and "Art of Fighting", so coming up with the right design was quite a lengthy undertaking.
Benimaru Nikaido:
Benimaru was based on the character Polnareff from Jojo's Bizarre Adventure, right down to his outfit in KOF '94 and '95. He's constantly being accused of being gay by the series' fans despite SNK's assurance that Benimaru is in fact not.
Goro Daimon:
This character comes from the designers' desire to create a judo athlete who uses dynamic body tosses. His initial designs incurred the criticism of some fellow designers who thought that it was just plain crazy for Daimon to fight wearing Japanese wooden clogs, but Goro's creators were adamant and he kept his footwear.

     

The Fatal Fury Team
Terry Bogard:
When the concept for KOF was first formulated, Terry was tacked on to the roster as an afterthought. He turned out to be a powerhouse, getting a combo ended in his burning-knuckle special move.
Andy Bogard:
Compared to Andy's original form in Fatal Fury, Andy changed little in his move to KOF. What he did get though was an upgraded ChoReppadan to his arsenal of moves: it boasted overwhelming power and now connected consecutive hits.
Joe Higashi:
Joe is a character who underwent a major image makeover from his transition from Fatal Fury. His victory pose lacked the toothy smile we're familiar with now, so his pearly whites were added in later installments.
       

The Ikari Team
Heidern:
Heidern was devised as a cold-blooded killing machine when he first saw digital life,
When his special moves were completed, they were so wild that game designers worried that he would have to be depicted as a sorcerer or an alien in order to explain his dazzling moves.
Ralf Jones:
In the first stages of Ralf's development he appeared shirtless like in the original Ikari Warriors, but during the designing phase someone felt that look was a bit dated. He originally had special moves that allowed him to use grenades, but explosives in a fighting competition was deemed a bit unfair.
Clark Steel:
In the beginning the only differences in designs for Ralf and Clark was their bandana and hat, but Clark later got a pair of sunglasses. Clark basically looks a lot like Ralf, but the designer worked on his hit accuracy, action speed and attack strength, so they feel different when in action.
       

The Women's Team
King:
King's "Surprise Rose" was initially scheduled to be scrapped. Just when the development staff was worrying about coming up with a move that was something different, King's designer supped this move up. It was well received and it became her desperation move for KOF'94..
Yuri Sakazaki:
Originally, production began on King, Billy Kane andBig Bear as the English team. But Art of Fighting 2 was completed at that time and the designers pressed to put Yuri into KOF. Replacing Big Bear (who was taking a lot of memory) with her. Billy was also scratched and the all-women team was born.
Mai Shiranui:
Regarding Mai's famous bounce action, Mai's designer asked if it was possible to add more frames to her victory pose. Someone thought there was enough remaining memory for the game and gave him the OK. However, Mai's eye-popping bounciness had to be stilled in the KOF '94 international home version.
       

The Psycho Soldier Team
Athena Asamiya:
Athena became the most highly anticipated character of the series, so the pressure to keep her on the roster at any cost every following year is pretty overwhelming. She's also the character with the highest number of outfits thru the series.
Sie Kensou:
In his previous game Athena stole the show, and since developers felt Kensou was a bit too overshadowed by her they gave him a radical new look.
Chin Gentsai:
When the project started, developers wanted to have an older fighter who used the Drunken Fist form of martial arts. Getting the OK, Chin was introduced as Athena's teacher. They thought it would be hard to get the right look for him, but since one of the designers was good at drawing old guys the finished product far exceeded the original expectations.
       

The Sports Team
Heavy D!:
Since there has been a number of boxers in fighting games, Heavy D! was designed with the intent of breaking the mold. When he first appeared on the drawing board, D! was not intended to be that big a character, but as he evolved it became apparent that he was one huge dude.
Brian Battler:
Brian came into being well before the KOF project was conceived, and he's one of the oldest characters. He originally wore a helmet and chest pad, but he shed that equipment to arrive at his current design.
Lucky Glauber:
Known as the basketball fighter, Lucky's original image was based on the character appearing in the Bruce Lee movie"Game of Death." Though originally created with that image in mind, his first design was deemed too plain and he then received his current look. His ability to use karate, though, is a remnant of his original conception.
       

Kim's Team
Kim Kaphwan:
At first, the duo of Chang and Choi were set to team with another vicious criminal to form the Fugitive Team, but due to certain circumstances the third criminal was replaced with Kim. The addition of Kim was considered forced however, so Kim received the mission of rehabilitating the two.
Choi Bounge:
His original design looked way too much like Freddy Krueger, so he was hastily given a new look a month before the character designs' deadline.
Chang Koehan:
Chang's desperation move, the Iron Rush, was originally designed as a test move. It got such a good response that it was put into the game without alteration. This move is a parody of Kim's Phoenix Kick.
About Chang and Choi: the duo is very popular in Japan, but hated by American fans. Because of their size differences they made the korean team the comedy relief of KOF.
       

The Kyokugenryu Team
Ryo Sakazaki:
Ryo (like all characters from Art of Fighting) has so many special moves that the Art of Fighting team tended to be the strongest. The designers focused on adjusting this imbalance without taking out any moves, but in the end Ryo and his team remained one of the toughest competitors.
Takuma Sakazaki:
Since the Takuma of Art of Fighting 2 closely resembled Daimon, he received a karate tunic in his ensemble to set him apart.
Robert Garcia:
Overall, KOF's characters are fit and trim, but compared to their original concepts, Robert is the slimmest of them all. He taunts his adversaries in Japanese with an Osaka accent, just like Kensou.
       
 

 

 

About the plot, well...there barely is one. Another year comes and the "King of Fighters" tournament opens again, this time hosted by Rugal Bernstein. The new rule is that only teams of 3 fighters from around the world (with each country represented by only one team) can sign up. This explains the odd location choices for teams like Fatal Fury and Art Of Fighting among others, but is also the last time we would see different countries involved.

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When I first came across this title I realized there were some mayor changes to the gameplay that didn't come from either the FF or AOF series. I'm not talking about new additions like the dodge move or the POW bar, but specifically how little damage special moves would do and how slow projectiles were. The "Haohshokoken" move in AOF 2 was deadly-fast and painful, whereas here it just cruises the screen and inflicts the same damage a strong kick does. Same goes for Kim's "Phoenix Kick" desperation move. Although lightning fast, you'll need at least 3 of them to deplete an entire energy bar!
It seems like the less energy you have, the less damage you'll receive. Also, blocked special moves will only shave off a line off the health gauge, but special moves that make successive hits only take a line every other hit. This discourages the use of such moves to cheaply grind your opponent.

Think you know everything about KOF'94?
Press down +ABC while you are being held in a grapple or dizzy for an undefeated team-mate to jump into the action. He must be visible on the screen and your enemy has to have more energy than you.
Fatal Fury's "attack-avoider" is back. Press forward + B while blocking to dodge and hit your opponent, even through projectiles. This move has the highest priority in the game, being able to go through even Terry's "Power Geyser" and Kim's "Phoenix Kick". It's purely technical, and doesn't cause any damage.
The game's best bug is best done with Heidern. Get his "Moon Slasher" to connect at the same time your enemy hits your character, or just try to counter one of his blows hitting him on his/her limbs. 80% damage guaranteed.
Benimaru's "Shinku-katotegoma" and Chang's "Iron Spin" can both be stopped at will, just press ABCD.
Some special moves' or desperation attacks' animation sequences can be altered and their damage lessened. For special moves just enter the original command finished by one of the weak buttons while the move is still in progress, and for desperation attacks like Ryo's input the commands for the last hit of its sequence (i.e. a "Kohoh"). You'll notice weird things happening, like only 2 kicks instead of 3 in Kyo's "Oboroguruma", or a very short "Kohoh" at the end of Ryo's desperation attack.
Special moves that hit many times consecutively can be countered with another special move after the 5th hit. Another hint that developers didn't want any cheap strategies in the game, this counter would later evolve and mark the difference between average and excellent players in KOF'95.
 

These radical modifications seem to have been implemented in order to make players rely less on projectile attacks and cheap shots and to balance each team member against one another, making a unified entity of every team. The result is odd and awkward if you are used to playing the fighting titles KOF'94 draws from, but getting two of SNK's main franchises to co-exist while adding new characters and a team system surely must have been a lot of work.

Serious attitude:
Hero team vs Kyokugenryu team
Sports team vs Fatal Fury team
Psycho Soldier team vs Hero team
Kyokugenryu team vs Fatal Fury team
Kyokugenryu vs Psycho Soldier
Fatal Fury vs Sports team
Psycho Soldier vs Ikari team
Sports team vs Women's team
 

But the graphic overhaul is the most noticeable. My first impression was how slim and small the characters' sprites were, completely against the standards of the time. Robert and Andy do look specially odd and skinny.
But it sure didn't take long for anybody to get used to the new graphic style, which together with KOF'95's are possibly the best looking games in the series.

King of Fighters '94 arcade
Beautiful scenery like this would never again be seen
after KOF'95.

All stages are colorful, beautiful masterpieces. China, Japan, Korea and Brazil look breath-taking and simply amazing. Even Rugal's aircarrier bridge looks classy and dark with its red and black tones.
Each of these locations opens with a special intro just like in Fatal Fury Special and comes with a great soundtrack. Rugal's techno-rock, the Psycho Soldier's now classic tune and the Ikari Warriors' theme stolen right out of a Faith No More album are excellent, with the rest of the soundtrack staying on the average-to-good side.
The series' initial technical quality started going down after the '95 edition to accomodate the inclusion of more fighters and combo systems. Sometimes animation became choppier, sometimes music would be left out, and details like stage intros and cheering team mates wiped off completely. The Neo-Geo cartridge's ROM was reaching its limit.

Japanese Neo-Geo cover

In 2004, for the 10th anniversary of the series, SNK / Playmore released a remake of KOF'94 for the PS2 in Japan. It was intended to have a U.S. launch too, but interest in it was deemed scarce by Sony executives.
Reasons like "too many bugs" or "we won't reach the holiday deadline" were heard as excuses for the Xbox version cancellation right before launch in the U.S., which by the way didn't even see a release in Japan.
Subtitled "Re-Bout", the updated game went through a major graphic overhaul. The higher resolution sprites look like they have been put thru a video filter, the 3D re-done stages don't even come close to the originals' beauty, and the new presentation continuously reminds this is a budget title.
Other upgrades include unlockable characters Rugal and Saisyu Kusanagi, online play, a nice anime intro and another two videos about the rest of the series' plot, the option to edit your team, and the original Neo-Geo game in its home version. A nice package considering this was the first time this title was ported to another console.

Japanese PS2 cover

Most SNK fans nowadays play KOF 2003, Neowave or Maximum Impact, sometimes going back for a KOF'99 or '98 match because of its exclusive characters and systems. But very few venture back to anything prior to '96, considering those games outdated both gameplay and combo-wise.
For the rest of us that still enjoy a match of Samurai Shodown, Fatal Fury Special or Art Of Fighting 2 every now and then and ignore their simpleness in favor of a shot of good-old nostalgia and three-hit combos, there will always be time for KOF'94.

 

Soundtrack:
Ne! (England)
Ne! (England) (Arrange)
Psycho Soldier (K.O.F. version)
Psycho Soldier (K.O.F. version) (Arrange)
Esaka (Japan)
Ketsutou R&D (Boss Stage)
Jungle Bouncer (Brazil)

Faith No More's "Surprise! You're dead!"

 

 

Sources:

www.kof10th.com has a nice compendium of the entire series' and characters' history, including art and interesting trivia.
www.gamefaqs.com is a good source for characters' moves list and their japanese and english names.

 

 

 

     
The King of Fighters '94 - Arcade
 
The King of Fighters '94 - Arcade
 
The King of Fighters '94 - Arcade
 
The King of Fighters '94 - Arcade
 
The King of Fighters '94 - Arcade
 
The King of Fighters '94 - Arcade
 
The King of Fighters '94 - Arcade
 
The King of Fighters '94 - Arcade
 
The King of Fighters '94 - Arcade
 
The King of Fighters '94 - Arcade
Doesn't he kinda look like Chuck Norris??
 
The King of Fighters '94 - Arcade
 
The King of Fighters '94 - Arcade
Laugh at Rugal and you'll get Kaiser-Waved in the face.
 
The King of Fighters '94 - Arcade
 
The King of Fighters '94 - Arcade
Rugal's Genocide Cutter is almost as strong as his
desperation attack.
 
The King of Fighters '94 - Arcade
 
The King of Fighters '94 Re-Bout - PS2
 
The King of Fighters '94 Re-Bout - PS2
 
The King of Fighters '94 Re-Bout - PS2
 
The King of Fighters '94 Re-Bout - PS2
 
 

 

Version comparison:

Arcade
       

PS2