SNK have a long history of making compelling, simple and curiously addictive arcade games. Their Neo-Geo systems, the (internally identical) MVS and AES being home to a host of games such as the acclaimed Fatal Fury, Art of Fighting, and Samurai Shodown series, but SNK wanted to go one step further. Up until now, fighting games, theirs included, had been one-on-one affairs; a player would walk up, desposit his coin, and start mashing buttons. Sometimes another player would join him, and they would enjoy a few minutes beating on one another.

In 1994, SNK released a game that would change this forever. was something new entirely, taking characters from SNK's most popular series, and pitting them against one another in a team-based fight. For the first time, players would pit three fighters against each other to see who prevailed; add to this a proper storyline, a handful of new characters to explore, and the promise of yearly updates, and gamers were hooked.

From 1994 to 2003, there have been yearly releases of The King of Fighters, all but two advancing the storyline further. After 2003, however, SNK-Playmore (the current owners of SNK's intellectual properties) announced that the company was abandoning the Neo-Geo as a platform, moving to Sammy's Atomiswave, a Dreamcast-based arcade system. The next in the KoF series, The King of Fighters XI, will be released in 2005 on Atomiswave.

  • The King of Fighters '94
    • Platform: Neo-Geo AES, Neo-Geo MVS, Neo-Geo CD, Playstation 2 (as The King of Fighters '94 Remix)
    • Developer: SNK
    • Host: Rugal Bernstein
    • Story: The first game was not the first King of Fighters tournament. In 1994, teams of three fighters representing countries around the world were invited to participate in a grand tournament, organised by the enigmatic Rugal. (Note that the fighters almost universally hail from other countries than the one they represent!) Rugal had taken the idea of the tournament from its two previous hosts, the infamous Geese Howard and Wolfgang Krauser, changing the rules to a three-on-three tourney. Rugal had the morbid habit of taking his fallen opponents, and dipping them in molten metal, turning them into trophies for his personal collection.

      Rugal was a strong fighter himself, but nearly met his match in one fighter: Saisyu Kusanagi, father of the young Kyo, who had entered the tournament as part of the Japan Team. Rugal defeated Saisyu aboard his private floating fortress, the ship Blacknoah, but his victory was interrupted by the arrival of the champion Japan Team. In the battle that followed, he was eventually beaten by Kyo. Always one for the last laugh, Rugal activated the self-destruct sequence of Blacknoah, seemingly going down with the ship.

    • New to this version: The three-on-three fighting concept. The game could also be played as a traditional fighting game, with only one fighter each. In KoF '94, the teams were fixed and members could not be altered.

  • The King of Fighters '95
    • Platform: Neo-Geo AES, Neo-Geo MVS, Neo-Geo CD, Saturn, Playstation, Game Boy
    • Developer: SNK
    • Host: Rugal Bernstein
    • Story: A year after the sinking of the Blacknoah, and the death of Rugal, invitations were again issued around the world to teams of fighters, signed by only the letter 'R'. Many teams were wary of accepting, given what had happened in last year's tournament, but tragedy and the King of Fighters always had gone hand in hand. This year the roster was expanded, with one team in particular standing out. Kyo's nemesis, Iori Yagami, had entered!

      The Yagami and Kusanagi clans were centuries-old enemies, and Iori was determined to kill his rival by any means possible. Joining him were Geese's lacky and right-hand man, Billy Kane, and the mysterious ninja Eigi Kisaragi. Where Kyo threw crimson flames, Iori's were purple, and both shared many of the same techniques. Eventually, however, Kyo's Japan team won through to the final battle, against... Saisyu Kusanagi!

      Saisyu was merely being controlled, and soon the real enemy was revealed to be none other than Rugal, armed with new bionic limbs to replace those he lost, and a vastly upped strength. "Omega Rugal" fought with almost demonic power, but somehow Kyo won the upper hand, felling Bernstein for a second time. This time there was no clever escape plan; screaming "I'll be back!", Rugal disappears.

    • New to this version: Ported outside of SNK's own systems for the first time, but oddly enough the Saturn version required both the game CD and a cartridge. KoF '95, at last, allowed the player to either choose a complete team, or select three characters to form their own team - SNK proudly crowed about the number of possible teams one could select.

  • The King of Fighters '96
    • Platform: Neo-Geo AES, Neo-Geo MVS, Neo-Geo CD, Saturn, Playstation, Game Boy
    • Developer: SNK
    • Hostess: Chizuru Kagura
    • Story: With Rugal now assuredly deceased, many assumed that the King of Fighters tournaments would end, as they had done whenever the previous host had been defeated. In 1996, however, the yearly invitations were distributed, and a third team tourney was arranged. This year, a Japanese buisnesswoman named Chizuru was to host the competition.

      Time was taking its toll of the familiar teams, and so this year many had been changed. Iori, having attacked his teammates following 1995's KoF, had been joined by two of Rugal's former secretaries - Mature and Vice. The Kyokugenryu team, formerly headed by Takuma Sakazaki, were now joined by his daughter Yuri - much to brother Ryo's discontent. Heidern, mercenary leader of the Ikari Warriors, too bowed out, replaced by his student Leona.

      Most frighteningly of all, however, was the entry of a new team comprised of some of the most feared men in the world. Mr. Big, a would-be crime lord, had entered the scene, joined by two previous hosts of the King of Fighters tournament: Wolfgang Krauser, and the originator of the tournament (and Southtown overlord), Geese!

      As in previous years, the Japan Team managed to battle through to the finals, despite Iori and Kyo's rivalry bubbling back to the surface. Held in a massive stadium and broadcast worldwide on television, the Japan Team had to fight the hostess herself: Chizuru. Benimaru and Goro were easily beaten by the hostess' admirable abilities, but eventually Kyo was successful. At the moment of his victory, the stadium was rocked by an intensely strong gust of wind; from this came one of the Four Heavenly Kings of the Orochi, Leopold Goenitz!

      The Orochi Clan had been sealed away, many hundreds of years before, by the Yagami and Kusanagi clans, but the Yagami had turned traitorous, embracing the Orochi. This time around, Kyo found himself fighting alongside Iori, and together managed to overwhelm the Heavenly King Goenitz. For now, the Orochi had been maintained, and Chizuru began work on sealing them away once more.

    • New to this version: Players could, this time, roll forwards or backwards to dodge attacks, instead of merely dodging them. Every character's sprites were fully re-drawn, and many of the game's most famous musical scores come from this version - in particular, the Hero Team's theme "Esaka?". Many projectile attacks such as Kyo's fireballs are modified or removed in KoF '96.

  • The King of Fighters '97
    • Platform: Neo-Geo AES, Neo-Geo MVS, Neo-Geo CD, Playstation, Saturn, Neogeo Pocket (as The King of Fighters R-1)
    • Developer: SNK
    • Hosts: The Three Heavenly Kings of the Orochi
    • Story: Satisfied with the coverage of KoF '96, the fourth annual King of Fighters tournament is a full-blown televised event, on a scale similar to any major sports competition. Cameras are everywhere, with every fight witnessed by a world-wide audience. Surely with this much attention, the tournament will go ahead without any problems?

      For some reason, despite all this, things begin to go very wrong with the competition. Iori, this year entered as a solo entry, begins to suffer from wild urges, attacking all in sight - first on his hit-list being his former team-mates, mere minutes after defeating Goenitz. Leona, too, seems to be becoming increasingly wild and erratic. A new team has emerged from the shadows, the "New Faces", a band who seem to have taken a dislike to Iori in a big way.

      Come the final stages, and both Iori and Leona have succumbed almost completely to the Orochi-caused "Riot of the Blood", tearing through their opposition in a bloodthirsty rage. By the time the Hero Team reach the final stages, they are set upon by the mad pair. Kyo manages to dispatch them, and finally the Heroes are met by the New Face Team. But their opponents seem different, and soon reveal themselves as the remaining three Heavenly Kings of the Orochi. The whole tournament was merely a means to their ultimate goal, the resurrection of the Orochi itself.

      Kyo, Benimaru and Goro are forced to fight three over-powerful Orochi Kings, all of whom representing one of the elements. Where Goenitz before weilded the wind as a weapon, Yashiro Nanakaze can move the very earth, Shermie the lightning - and young Chris weilds purple flames! The three heroes defeat their counterparts after a long struggle, but all's not done quite yet. Yashiro and Shermie suddenly commit suicide, giving the last blood Orochi requires to incarnate in this world. Chris begins to levitate - he is Orochi!

      Like a moth to a flame, Iori had arrived, with Chizuru lurking in the background. Angry that Orochi would get between him and Kyo, Iori joins forces again to set about battling the god-like creature. Orochi takes hold of Iori, forcing him into the Riot of the Blood, and insanely Iori leaps forwards - pinning Orochi, and allowing Kyo to land the mortal blow.

      After the smoke had cleared, Iori and Kyo had vanished...

    • New to this version: In this iteration of the series, music is only played for certain characters; the rest of the fights are backed by ambient sounds. There are two characters, Iori and Shingo Yabuki, who are solo entries who are part of no team. Finally, through button codes, both versions of the 'New Faces' team are playable - the first time alternate characters are available for those already selectable.

  • The King of Fighters '98: Dream Match Never Ends / The Slugfest
    • Platform: Neo-Geo AES, Neo-Geo MVS, Neo-Geo CD, Neogeo Pocket Color (as The King of Fighters R-2), Playstation, Dreamcast (as The King of Fighters: Dream Match 1999)
    • Developer: SNK
    • Host: Rugal Bernstein
    • Story: In this "dream match" King of Fighters, there is no story - simply characters from every previous game, brought together to see who's tops. Almost every previous team is presented, with the notable exception of the Bosses Team from '96. Even Omega Rugal is playable (in the home version only).

  • The King of Fighters '99: Millenium Battle
    • Platform: Neo-Geo AES, Neo-Geo MVS, Neo-Geo CD, Dreamcast
    • Developer: SNK
    • Host: Krizalid
    • Story: After the year's break of 1998, the King of Fighters tournament is revived for its fifth chapter - but where are the tournament's most famous combatants? Iori and Kyo had completely disappeared following the battle against Orochi. Even stranger still, in this tournament, two Kyos appear! Combined with a change to the competition's rules, allowing four fighters per team (the fourth member allowed to attack during other rounds, and termed the 'striker')

      Meanwhile, Iori had managed to stumble across some form of factory - but the facility's product was nothing less than an army of Kyo clones. Destroying the building, Iori vows to track down whoever was responsible, with only the name 'NESTS' to go on. Hearing that the KoF tournament was to go ahead, he knew that KoF and NESTS had to be linked, and so set off on a quest to find Kyo.

      Kyo woke up alone inside a NESTS facility, drugged and being used as a template for an army of clones. Angrily he made his escape, perfecting his techniques and preparing to face the person whom he'd heard mentioned inside the facility: 'Krizalid'. Both he and Iori would lurk in the shadows for this tournament, not striking until the opportunity presented itself.

      The Hero Team was instead led by two very different individuals. Only Benimaru remained as the original member; he was joined by Shingo, and newcomers K' and Maxima. Looking on from the shadows, Kyo felt drawn towards K'; this white-haired teenager was able to throw flames, too! Could this be like his own Kusanagi abilities? Kyo watches in amazement as, during the final battle, K' coolly dispatches Krizalid - revealed to be none other than a member of the NESTS cartel, who had attempted world domination using an army of Kyo clones!

      Discovering the truth behind NESTS, Kyo and company make good their escape. K' was revealed to be an advanced Kyo clone, who now had outlived his usefulness to the cartel and was a marked man. Iori stumbled across NESTS' base only to find it in ruins, raging at his lost chance, while Kyo mused on what had happened. Next year, NESTS had to be stopped!

    • New to this version: A new story was begun in the series, the Orochi saga having ended with KOF '97. This was the last outing for the Neo-Geo CD; the format died a swift death, games being physically too large for the medium. Kyo and Iori had to be unlocked in this edition, while the two Kyo clones were his KoF '95 and '98 editions, respectively. Kyo also sported a completely new look, losing the school uniform.

  • The King of Fighters 2000
    • Platform: Neo-Geo AES, Neo-Geo MVS, Dreamcast, Playstation 2
    • Developer: SNK
    • Host: Zero
    • Story: Both Kyo and Iori vowed to enter the sixth tournament, Iori choosing to enter on his own whilst Kyo met what remained of the Hero Team. Benimaru and Shingo had already been joined by two new teammates: the mysterious ninja, Lin, and the strong bouncer, Seth. Kyo choose to mimic Iori, entering alone. K' and Maxima, too, wanted to eradicate the NESTS cartel, and so hooked up with their own teammates. Tensions were high, trust was lacking; what a way to end a century.

      This time around, the tournament was to be a sting operating against NESTS itself, run by Heidern and an old friend of his, Ling. As the winning team, led by K', approaches the final stage, however, Ling reveals his true colours. Ling was merely a disguise for a NESTS agent, whose true name was 'Zero'. Heidern was helpless to act as the entire power structure surrounding him was revealed to be no more than a front for NESTS to capture K', and all that went with him.

      K' found himself having to fight a completely new enemy as he approached the NESTS temple: a creature known as 'Kula'. The "Anti-K'", Kula was able to weild ice just as easily as K' could flames. The two battle fiercely, each attack countering the next, until finally K' gains the upper hand. Kula reveals that she was sent by NESTS to kill Zero - a NESTS operative with ambitions far, far above his station. Soon it is revealed just what these ambitions are: using the energy gained from attacks during the tournament, Zero is powering a massive space-based energy weapon: the Zero Cannon!

      Zero was absurdly powerful, using the razor-sharp edge of his cloak as a weapon alongside his powerful dark arts. However, what he hadn't counted upon was having his strength sapped away by poison. Lin, leaping from the shadows, stabbed at Zero, infecting him with his venomous blood. Zero set about ruthlessly beating Lin, but the poison did its work. Soon Zero was on the defensive, at the mercy of the Hero Team. With a snarl, K' set about him, finishing off Zero with a burning fist.

      As K' and the Hero Team fled the Southtown docks, Kyo came up to find Zero. Crippled and dying, little was said between the two. As the pair talk, a familiar voice rings out. Iori had found Kyo, at last, and the pair finally had their battle, no hatred in their heards; just a pure, honest fight to determine who was the stronger. As the pair went their separate ways, the Zero Cannon was fired by a spent Zero. Southtown was levelled by the sheer power of the weapon, taking out Zero with it.

    • New to this version: Strikers, lots of strikers! Cameos by many SNK favourites were present in this edition, being SNK's last.

  • The King of Fighters 2001
    • Platform: Neo-Geo AES, Neo-Geo MVS, Dreamcast, Playstation 2
    • Developer: Eolith
    • Host: Igniz
    • Story: The destruction of Southtown alerted the world to the NESTS cartel, who quickly came into the open with the announcement of the King of Fighters 2001 tournament. The teams knew it was all or nothing this year: they had to smash NESTS, or no-one else could. Kyo and Goro both returned to their Hero team, re-united properly with friends Benimaru and Shingo, whilst Iori formed a team of ex-NESTS agents to help the effort. K' tagged along, too, Kyo even helping him occaisonally as the teams battled their way towards their ultimate goal: the NESTS orbital space station, with the head of the entire cartel waiting for them.

      Boarding the NESTS blimp, which would take him to the final challenge, K' knew something didn't feel right; soon his fears were proven, when none other than Zero walked out to meet him. The Zero who had perished in Southtown was no more than a clone; the real Zero had had time to build his strength, and was far more of a threat (and Lin wasn't there to deliver a dose of his poison!). While the rest of his team dealt with Zero's comrades, K' squared off with him, realising his attacks were identical to the clone's. K' finally overcomes Zero, before the group notices that the blimp was now rocketing upwards - towards the NESTS space station.

      Inside, K' found himself confronted by the head of the entire NESTS cartel, and his second, Igniz. Igniz mocks K', telling him about all the experiments they had been conducting, before granting all K's lost memories back to him at a stroke. K' challenges Igniz, who suddenly reveals his masterstroke: All the collected combat data from the NESTS-sponsored tournaments, channeled into himself. K' was hideously outclassed, and was soon suffering at Igniz's hand.

      Just when K' looked to be truly beaten, the cavalry arrived. Kyo, Iori and friends all burst in, giving K' enough strength to throw a truly magnificent flame towards Igniz, beating him comprehensively. In the chaos that followed, Iori immediately demanded Kyo fight him; but Kyo knew the situation all too well, and the cadre swiftly fled, as Igniz piloted the space station on a crash course for terra firma.

    • New to this version: KoF 2001 was the first non-SNK edition in the series, and offered a new twist on the striker system. The player could choose from having only 1 playable character, and three strikers, to up to four characters without any!

  • The King of Fighters 2002: Challenge to the Ultimate Battle
    • Platform: Neo-Geo AES, Neo-Geo MVS, Dreamcast
    • Developer: Eolith
    • Host: Rugal Bernstein
    • Story: Back to three-on-three fighting for the second KOF "dream match". Again, no storyline for this iteration, just classic King Of Fighters, with many old or dead characters making a return - though sadly no Geese, unless you count a cameo. Rugal's back, by the way...

  • The King of Fighters 2003
    • Platform: Neo-Geo AES, Neo-Geo MVS, Playstaion 2
    • Developer: SNK-Playmore
    • Story: It was in the King of Fighters tournament that Geese Howard, Rugal Bernstein, Leopold Goenitz, the Orochi, and NESTS were defeated. This year, a new mysterious sponsor has taken up the helm, again distributing the invitations to teams. This year, the contest reverts to a three-on-three system, only this year it shall be a tag-team battle. Many new faces have appeared to fill the ranks, many old veterans have dropped out. But who is Ash Crimson, and how can he throw green flames...?

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