It’s not how many times you get knocked down, it’s how many times you get back up.
It’s an old saying, practically a cliche at this point, but there’s no better way to introduce SNK. This developer has been through many highs lows throughout its existence, from an arcade empire in the 1990s to bankruptcy in the early 2000s, but recently they’ve had a big resurgence. Rereleases of their classic Neogeo titles are doing really well on consoles like the Switch, the 2019 reboot of Samurai Showdown became the highest selling game in the company’s history, and crossovers with games like Super Smash Bros. Ultimate have gone a long way towards introducing their most iconic characters to a new generation of gamers. With The King of Fighter XV right around the corner the SNK hype is at an all time high, so why not ride that wave by looking back on a title many fans consider to be one of the company’s best.
The King of Fighters ‘98 was originally released for the Neogeo in 1998. The game would later receive an enhanced version subtitled Ultimate Match in 2008 which added characters and stages, reworked certain mechanics, and rebalanced the existing roster. For this review I will be looking at the PC port of the game released on Steam in 2014 called Final Edition which featured a few extra tweaks to the game’s characters and mechanics as well as an improved online experience thanks to the implementation of rollback netcode. It also includes the original Neogeo release without any of the additional characters or balance changes which is fantastic for a retro gaming buff like myself. Now that all the technical stuff has been clarified, it’s time to find out if this game is worthy of being considered a classic of the fighting genre.
The King of Fighters ‘98 is the fifth game in The King of Fighters series and features every playable character from the previous iterations for a whopping 45 characters in total! Part of what makes this roster special is that it includes characters from SNK’s other franchises like Fatal Fury, Art of Fighting, Ikari Warriors, and Psycho Soldier alongside brand new characters created specifically for The King of Fighters series. However, KoF 98 is not connected to the series’s ongoing storyline so the player’s understanding of who these characters are will be limited to how familiar they are with them from other games. Fortunately for newcomers, the characters all have appealing visual designs, expressive animations and voice acting, and varied fighting styles so finding a few favorites in the cast probably won’t be as hard as it looks.
Speaking of looks, aside from the large cast of colorful characters to play as, there’s also a sizable selection of stages to fight on. They are all well drawn backgrounds and will even have gathering crowds and day/night cycles between rounds, but they probably could have used a little more variety in the locations depicted. In a series about a worldwide martial arts tournament, having 4 stages set in China feels a little excessive. What doesn’t disappoint in the presentation department is the soundtrack which is almost a guarantee for any SNK game.
Much like other Neogeo games, Kof 98 primarily uses 4 buttons labeled as A, B, C, and D. A is for light punches, B for light kicks, C for strong punches, and D for Strong Kicks. Every character also has a set of special moves and super moves used by combining particular buttons with special directional inputs. There’s also the series staple “Max Mode” which temporarily makes your character stronger at the cost of a stock from the super gauge. Combined with other universal mechanics like jumps, throws, and backsteps it’s all pretty standard stuff for a fighting game. Where things start to get spicy is the 3 different modes chosen on the character select screen.
Advanced Mode is the standard KoF playstyle and includes a forward sprint, dodge rolling, and a super gauge with multiple stocks. Extra Mode replaces forward sprinting with a forward step similar to the backstep, dodge rolling is replaced with a stationary dodge, and the super gauge has only one stock, but can be manually filled at any time using the Max Mode input. The final mode is Ultimate Mode which allows the player to mix and match parts of the other two modes to form their own unique style such as combining the forward sprint, stationary dodge, and multistock super gauge.
Speaking of customizing your playstyle, a standard KoF match is a best of 5 with each player selecting a team of three characters. This adds a really interesting layer of strategy on top of the mechanically rich gameplay. Should you put your best character as the first member of the team? Maybe a character who can build up the super gauge quickly? So many possibilities! The game also provides the option of playing best of 3 with a single character similar to other fighting games which is obviously less dynamic, but no less fun.
There’s also a mission mode to teach players how to use helpful techniques like the Guard Cancel Roll and there’s a standard training mode for players who really want to optimize their combos and fine tune their strategies. Overall, the gameplay in The King of Fighters ‘98 is incredibly robust with enough depth to keep hardcore players hooked for dozens hours. However, If I had to criticize anything it’s that the game probably won’t keep casual players occupied for quite as long since there isn’t much incentive to continue playing outside of the intrinsic entertainment of the core mechanics.
The last thing I wanted to mention is the recent implementation of rollback netcode since it’s one of the main reasons why I chose to review The King of Fighter ‘98 in the first place. For those not in the know, rollback netcode significantly reduces the amount of latency when playing the game with other people over the internet, better emulating the experience of playing in person where such problems are non-existent. This new netcode not only got me excited for a renewed KoF 98 player base online, but it also got me thinking about the importance of communication. Just like how rollback netcode improves online communication between fighting game players, Catholics need to seek out ways to improve our communication of our beliefs and values to others as well. We can achieve this by looking for opportunities to help our communities by volunteering, familiarizing ourselves with Catholic philosophy and theology from the likes of St. Thomas Aquinas to become better evangelists, or by simply offering our love and support to the people in our lives who need it most.
In conclusion, The King of Fighters ‘98 Ultimate Match is quite deserving of its status as a fighting game classic. Its in-depth fighting mechanics and large roster of characters make it an absolute must play for fans of the genre. I hope this review offers some perspective on why SNK’s return to console gaming is such a big deal. If they continue to produce games even half as good as KoF 98 we’ll be enjoying some high quality titles for years to come.
Morality and Parental Warnings:The King of Fighters ‘98 Ultimate Match is centered around one on one combat between martial artists. Most characters have special moves akin to superpowers whose context varies from character to character, sometimes as magic or other spiritual energies. Certain characters have powerful special moves that cause the opponent to bleed. Some characters, both male and female, wear sexualized outfits both in gameplay and in artwork shown during the end credits. At the end of a match, characters have short quotes boasting about their victory. Joe Higashi boasts by calling himself “the satan of martial arts” and Rugal Bernstein fancies himself a god. One of the game’s villains, Orochi, takes his namesake from a mythological Japanese serpent and commands deity-like powers.