• King of Fighters Dream Match 1999 review - Sega Dreamcast

    I am sure many of you remember the first time you tried out one of your now favorite games for the first time, whether it was Gunstar Heroes from Treasure, Final Fantasy from Square, or Mega Man 2 from Capcom, all that matters is that you remember what it was like when you played it for the first time.
    Well, one of my favorite gaming memories is from the first time I played The King of Fighters 1994. Although, I only played it once back in 1999, but it was incredible. I picked the All-Female team (I didn't care for the Art of Fighting or Korea teams, and I wanted to try something different from Terry and company), and proceeded to my first fight. I defeated my first team and I was having a great time, the art style, the characters, just the attitude of it all was radically different from the Street Fighter II updates that were appearing around that time. As fate would have it, my next team was the cheapest one in the game, Korea. Even though Choi quickly destroyed my entire team, I still thought very highly of the game and have wanted to own a copy of a current King of Fighters game since that day.
    Of course, after anyone waits so long for a port of one of their most wanted games, it is guaranteed that something will look or sound at least a little bit dated in comparison to the current crop of games. For this game, that 'something' is the graphics. While most other fighting game series have evolved graphically by using newer hardware or using polygonal-based graphics, SNK has opted to continue to support is fanatical fan base by insisting on using the same hardware board they introduced along with Magician Lord back in 1989. So how does decade old technology stack up in this day and age? Very well in my opinion! While the majority of normal moves are lacking in fluid animation, most notably jumping attacks and other simple moves, most special attacks have a good deal of animation frames and personality. Also noteworthy is the detail in the artwork. Every piece of clothing has multiple creases that change as the characters pull off different moves, Hair gets blown away from characters' faces as they charge their Power Bars, and individual fingers are animated during opening taunts. Speaking of details, King of Fighters Dream Match 1999 also features very well done polygonal backgrounds. Fortunately, SNK didn't over do the backgrounds by using extremely high resolution textures. instead, they designed them in such a way so that they blend seamlessly in with the sprites in the background and the two fighters in the foreground.
    While, in some respects, animation quality has not improved as much as one would expect in a more current fighter, the music has kept pace with current 2D fighters. Most of the music tracks are of good quality, while a few really stand out. Some notable standouts include the Hero Team music, Shingo's great piece that just fits his character perfectly, and the final boss' background music that pretty much says "you are going to die", and guess what? I usually do. Surprisingly, SNK chose to store the game's music in redbook format instead of using compression. Although the recording quality is excellent, it appears that SNK was unable to keep the full versions of the background music and still store it in redbook format. Thus, the background music lasts for about two minutes at max, and then repeats. Furthermore, when playing in team mode, the music stops playing to load the animation for the next character, and then starts over, from the beginning, at the beginning of the next round. However, keep in mind that in single character mode, the music doesn't restart between rounds because there is no new character, or background, to load between rounds. The sound effects are also very clear, and a lot of moves sound downright awesome. However, this is partly due to the excellent voice acting, and personality, that is exhibited from each character.
    And in my opinion, that is what makes the King of Fighters series standout. It doesn't matter whether or not the characters are simply doing their pre-fight taunts, a special move, or one of their Desperation Moves. The personality always shines through. For instance, Kyo has three opponent specific pre-fight taunts, and one of those is when he fights against his bothersome little protege, Shingo. Just for those that don't know, Shingo idolizes Kyo and pretty much begged Kyo to teach him how to do his techniques. Even though I cannot translate what is being said during the pre-fight taunt, the voice acting sounds excellent. It is very easy to tell just how excited Shingo is at the prospect of showing his sensei how much stronger he has become! Speaking of Shingo, his voice actor is one of the finest I have ever heard in a fighting game, his "Shingo Kickkkkk!" is classic! Beyond that, there are the Desperation Moves. While some character's Desperation Moves are nothing more a few successive dragon punch style moves, others are extremely impressive and really look painful! Just try out either of Ralf's Desperation Moves for some great examples, not that I should be surprised, he is an Ikari Warrior after all! Before seeing them (and watching my character get slaughtered in the process), I didn't really care about trying to learn to use him. However, seeing it for the first time actually made me want to try to learn how to use him better!
    And knowing how this game is designed, it should take quite a while to become anywhere near proficent using him again the computer, much less against an experienced player! That is because the King of Fighters series plays very different from other 2D fighting games. While many of the older fighting games' strategy was largely dependent on combos, the King of Fighters series' gameplay has more to do with tactics and how the character is used than memorizing combos. Of course, I am not saying that the King of Fighters series lacks an ample amount of combos per character, far from it, just that while I can pull off some pretty decent five to six hit combos in the Street Fighter games, achieving anything more than a three hit combo in The King of Fighters Dream Match 1999 can be pretty difficult at times, at least it can be when not wanting to finish the combo with a Desperation Move. That is one of the hardest things to come to grips with concerning this series. In my opinion, the way that the combos flow in the Street Fighter series seems to be less disjointed, and easier for a beginner to get something out of, in comparison to the King of Fighters series. Of course, that could be either a good or bad point depending on what style of fighting game you prefer. Nevertheless, while the combo system is less forgiving for the beginning player, it makes up for it through giving the player many options on how a character can be played.
    Ever since the last major change in the gameplay in The King of Fighters 1996, there has been two styles of play, Advanced, which is tailored more toward the aggressive fighter, and Extra, for the more defence oriented player. For example, when using Advanced Mode, pressing the light punch and kick buttons simultaneously allows your character to either roll towards, or away from, the opponent, and get a quick hit in from behind. In Extra Mode, however, instead of rolling, you dodge by moving into the background momentarily, and have the opportunity to attack from there. Furthermore, the way the Power Bar's energy is increased is dependent upon what mode is selected. When using Advanced Mode, the Power Bar's energy is increased when hitting the opponent or blocking an attack, and when the bar is filled, the energy is stored and a Desperation Move can be used when necessary. However, when using Extra Mode, the Power Bar behaves very differently. Instead of the Power Bar's energy being raised when hitting an opponent or blocking, it is raised when the opponent makes a successful attack upon you, or you can choose to charge the bar without fighting, and leave yourself open to attack, by holding down the light punch, light kick, and heavy punch buttons. However, whereas the energy can be stored for later use in Advanced Mode, the same cannot be said when using Extra Mode. The moment the bar is filled in Extra Mode, there is a limited amount of time to do a Desperation Move. Whether or not a Desperation Move was done, when the time to do a Desperation Move has expired, the Power Bar must be recharged in order to earn another chance at doing a Desperation Move.

    Thankfully, with good control, all of those options are not going to waste. Controlling the fighters is very smooth, with little to no delay between the button press and the action on screen. Plus, with only four buttons used for attacks, an arcade stick is not required to get full enjoyment out of the game. Although, I do think I will purchase an arcade stick for this title eventually, sometimes it feels like I could pull off some of the more advanced motions for the Desperation Moves with a little more Consistency if I had one.

    Outside of the fact that The King of Fighters Dream Match 1999 doesn't add to the story that has been developed over the past few years (although that shouldn't be to surprising, it is a dream match after all), there is very little to complain about. Even with a huge number of characters (thirty-eight not counting secret versions), everyone has a distinct personality. And, although I wouldn't buy the soundtrack, the music is good for a fighting game. Besides, with some major gameplay changes, and the start of a new storyline, this is the game that ends the old series of King of Fighters games, and welcomes the next series of King of Fighters games with The King of Fighters Millenium Battle 1999. Finally, for those that are wondering, yes, this was worth waiting years for.
    Score: 7/10
    A review by James Hutton
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