The King of Fighters Love Letter: KOF 94
It goes without saying that Capcom is the king of oldschool fighting games. I hardly think anyone really has the right to say the company doesn’t deserve to be where it is either. Resident Evil, Mega Man, and Phoenix Wright are all things I love that Capcom has bestowed upon me, but strangely enough I don’t really consider Street Fighter as much of a blessing. From a technical standpoint I regard many of the Street Fighter games as masterpieces, and I do ensure that I can play them competently.
That said, the games just don’t quite jive with me. It’s the characters, I think. It seems impossible for me to find Street Fighter characters that I have a serious interest in using for one reason or another. Because of this there’s another company out there who holds the centerpiece to my fighting game love. As if you didn’t know it was SNK. Shin Nihon Kikaku, otherwise translated as New Japan Project. I love SNK’s games in their entirety. It’s funny to think of how simple the company’s name really is, yet there was a time when the name was fitting. There was a time when SNK was seen as a strong and innovative force in the games industry. Sad to say I wasn’t among the people who was aware of this at the time.
The fact that myself and so many other people weren’t there when SNK was at its peak is why I decided to write The King of Fighters Love Letter; a series that will chronicle the entire storyline of the KOF series of games and some of the general history of SNK. What’s so great about learning about this series is the deeper you delve into it the more you realize that a huge part of SNK’s history as a company is characterized by King of Fighters. Hopefully you’ll find this extremely long ride a fun one.
SNK’s career as Capcom’s small, but only significant rival began with Fatal Fury for the Neogeo. While everyone attributes Fatal Fury as a Street Fighter II knockoff the games were both released the same year. Clearly videogames have never been something you can make overnight, thus they were in development at the same time. The story is that some of the original Street Fighter staff’s staff had moved on to SNK, who then immediately began development on Fatal Fury. I’ll bet a lot of people don’t remember there was a game before Street Fighter II. Fatal Fury was just the beginning for SNK’s career. It’s too bad that so few people were watching them at the time. Because of this the King of Fighters XII is going to be many peoples’ first real exposure to the SNK fighters. In some ways it was a good place for new fans of the series to start and in some ways it wasn’t. As a fighting game it was very solidly built and SNK’s extreme dedication really showed. Pixel art in this day and age is actually more expensive than 3D or hand drawn graphics, yet SNK decided to stay true to its roots and do it anyway. In a way it’s really brilliant.
Hopefully King of Fighters XII’s general lack of features won’t stop potential new fans from taking notice of the sort of passion SNK puts into its work, even if at first glance that fact isn’t apparent. Another reason I decided to make The King of Fighters Love Letter is because KOF XII is entirely lacking in a story mode. There’s probably a lot of fresh faces out there who like the characters in King of Fighters XII, yet know nothing about them. It’s not easy to find out either. If you lived in Japan that’s one thing, but Western fans are hard pressed to find background information. By the end of this you’ll know the history behind every single character in the King of Fighters series. Trust me, I’m serious about this project.
King of Fighters itself has an interesting history. It was one of the very first team based fighting games conceived. Likewise it’s probably the only fighting game series out there which would release annually. Realistically most fighting game were just as prone to sequels as KOF, it’s just that KOF had the brass balls to straight up admit how many there were. Another one of its strange quirks is that for eleven years the series stayed on the same gaming platform: The NeoGeo. It’s actually kind of incredible how long the series lasted that way. Up until that point the series got by on recycled graphics and a very dedicated fanbase who appreciated the craftsmanship behind SNK games. King of Fighters XII was a huge deal for long time fans. They’d been staring at very similar graphics on the same arcade hardware from 1994 to 2003. Think about how many things have happened in that sort of timespan and how many videogame consoles have been released since then. From the later years of the original Nintendo Entertainment System up until the earlier days of Sony Playstation 2: the King of Fighters had been released every year on the same arcade unit.
Going back to the beginning, King of Fighters basically started as a crossover project between the Fatal Fury and Art of Fighting game series. Various stories have flown around regarding the game’s conception; though at this point it’s hard to know if any of it is true. Because the fans responded so well to the main character of the Art of Fighting making a cameo in Fatal Fury Special, SNK supposedly wanted to develop a crossover beat ’em up. When Capcom made Final Fight though, SNK felt their thunder had been stolen. Deciding to do something new; SNK took various characters from Art of Fighting and Fatal Fury, created some new characters and cameo characters as well, and then tossed them all into a team based fighting game: The King of Fighters 1994. The concept was simple. You pick a team of 3 fighters and keep on fighting until someone had completely run out of team members. It was a one of a kind idea; at least back then it was. Many fighting games have been inspired to play around with team fights since then.
While the team angle was a trademark of King of Fighters, the series combined gameplay elements from its source material. The fighting game market was flooded at this point, but thanks to its mishmash of ideas KOF was fairly distinct. Among the game’s features was the ability to charge your power meter for a Desperation Move and a fairly unique ability to step into the background to avoid attacks. Charging your super meter is an idea as old as the original Art of Fighting, and likewise shifting into the background is a concept that started with Fatal Fury from the very beginning of SNK’s career in fighting games. With these old ideas and the team gameplay tossed in KOF 94 was regarded as a good game in its time, and garnered enough popularity to keep moving. While I’m not personally that attached to the original, I see it as the humble beginnings and owe it thanks for leading to other games.
I wouldn’t say KOF actually began with a gripping storyline, nor even an entirely original one. The series started off as a Dream Match. Nearly every team in King of Fighters ’94 is an homage to older SNK games. The original idea behind the series was to literally jam as many characters from old games as possible. The idea to give KOF a real storyline came a little later than 94. KOF is currently divided into three story arcs. King of Fighters 94 doesn’t really have a place among any of those. There is at least a little story in KOF 94, though. The premise that brings all these characters together would become tradition: an invitation letter. The King of Fighters was a preexisting tournament dating back as far as Fatal Fury–however the invitations were being handed out by an unknown party who had nothing to do with the original King of Fighters tournaments. Letters were sent to the best fighters in the world with each one simply signed with the name “R.”
Let’s establish the history of every team. While KOF 94 itself doesn’t have too much plot, the games that came before it set up a considerable back story. Before we begin covering the plot of the King of Fighters series in full, we need to cover what had happened to all the game’s contestants prior to 1994 or at least what the inspiration behind these characters were. To avoid any confusion, we’re going to introduce characters chronologically. The characters with the earliest history come first. Since King of Fighters is a Dream Match there are some storyline complications, but we are absolutely not going to concern ourselves with that right away. Let’s get started.
Here we have the team with the oldest ties in all of the extended SNK universes’ history, the Art of Fighting team. A native born Japanese martial artist now living in the United States, Takuma Sakazaki is the founder of Kyokugen Karate. Takuma was a prominent martial artist of his era, seeking to take his personal Kyokugen style and spread it around the world. Prior to KOF 94 a criminal syndicate in Southtown had taken notice of Takuma; possibly as a threat, and possibly as a tool. In events predating the original Art of Fighting game Takuma Sakazaki went missing while his wife died in a mysterious accident. More than likely these two events are connected. Perhaps in order to protect his family from further incident like those that befell his wife, Takuma left his home and began working under the syndicate’s boss: Mr. Big. This effectively left his children Ryo Sakazaki and Yuri Sakazaki as orphans. From a young age Takuma’s son Ryo Sakazaki continued to support and look after the Kyokugen Dojo in his father’s stead while also taking care of his little sister Yuri Sakazaki along the way. Life continued for the Sakazaki family like this, with Ryo Sakazaki working to support the family and Takuma Sakzaki under Mr. Big’s thumb. Eventually Takuma fled the syndicate, breaking whatever deals he had with Mr. Big before then. What exactly caused Takuma to break away from the syndicate is unknown, but there are several theories that he was asked to do something he could not possibly abide by.
In order to lure Takuma back to the syndicate, Mr. Big arranged for Takuma’s daughter Yuri Sakazaki to be kidnapped and held as a hostage. No longer left with any choice, Takuma did as he was instructed. He was made to wear a Tengu mask and don the new persona of Mr. Karate. Oblivious to the circumstances revolving around Yuri’s disappearance: both Ryo and his close friend Robert Garcia headed to to the infamous Southtown and rampaged across the seedy city. Beating information out of anyone they could in a search for new leads, eventually Ryo Sakazaki and Robert Garcia found their way to Mr. Big and defeated him. Mr. Big then claimed that they would find Yuri being guarded by the mysterious Mr. Karate in a vacant dojo. In retaliation to Takuma’s betrayal the Sakazaki family had been led into a trap where the heir and founder of the school would fight to the death. Possibly because Mr. Karate was going easy in the fight against his son and student he was nearly killed by Ryo and Robert; however Yuri was freed in time to reveal Mr. Karate’s true identity as long missing head of the Sakazaki family. The Sakazaki family had just barely escaped the trap that had been placed beneath their feet and, and thus concluded the original Art of Fighting.
Ryo Sakazaki and Robert Garcia are the heroes and main characters of the Art of Fighting series. Ryo Sakazaki is the natural born heir to the family school with a stern personality, likely bred from the responsibilities bestowed upon him early in life. Like his father he is native Japanese, however he left Japan at a very young age. In a very long running tradition, Ryo was perhaps the first SNK character to have an affinity with motorcycles. Robert Garcia on the other hand is an Italian student of the Kyokugen school and the son of Takuma Sakzaki’s good friend, Albert Garcia. Robert’s own heritage is a wealthy one as his father is a successful businessman. Robert Garcia happens to have a personal collection of expensive sports cars. In general Robert has a cocky and flashy sense of style , while Ryo is distinctively modest. After the tragedies related to Ryo’s dead mother and missing father, Robert helped in looking after the Kyokugen school and often stayed as a member of the Sakazaki family.
Ryo and Robert are traditionally depicted as The Invincible Dragon and The Raging Tiger. In Chinese myth and artwork the dragon and tiger are portrayed as eternal enemies and equals, thus signifying Ryo and Robert’s own relationship. Ryo in particular was depicted as a tenderhearted individual prior to his sister’s kidnapping, with the awakening of the Dragon within him symbolizing his transformation into a fierce and wild fighter. Personally I always thought it made more sense for Ryo to be the Tiger, considering he always wears orange. Though close friends; there is always something for Ryo Sakazaki and Robert Garcia to fight about. Most obvious among them: Money and Ryo’s little sister. Yuri and Robert happen to have clear romantic intentions.
After discovering Takuma’s real identity in Art of Fighting, a year would pass before the events of Art of Fighting 2. Many of the fighters from the first game began receiving invitation letters to the original King of Fighters tournament, held long before any other in the SNK timeline. While each fighter was offered great wealth and fame, upon completion of the tournament it was revealed that the original host of the tournament is Geese Howard: a former martial arts champion turned corrupt police commissioner. The King of Fighters tournament was an attempt by Geese to find strong fighters to work under him and his expanding criminal empire. Upon discovering that Mr. Big was nothing more than a pawn of Geese Howard’s; the Sakazaki family took him head on and forced Geese Howard to flee Southtown.
Since claiming revenge on Geese Howard, Takuma Sakazaki often steps down from representing the Sakazaki Dojo because of his old age. Eventually he stepped down from fighting almost entirely and left running the Kyokugen Dojo to Ryo and Robert. At least, that’s what he claims he’s doing. Takuma always maintains authority over the school. Prior to the tournament Ryo, Robert, and Takuma were staying in Mexico as Takuma sought to build a Mexican branch of Kyokugen schools. They were indeed already in Mexico before the tournament even began. While Takuma proposed joining the three man tournament to put the team’s training in Mexico to the test, Ryo and Robert went along with it thanks to the fact that Yuri Sakazaki had joined the tournament on another team. The Art of Fighting Team thus departed from Mexico to join The King of Fighters 94 tournament.
Technically Terry Bogard is the original hero of the SNK universe. Fatal Fury was made before Art of Fighting, however Art of Fighting was a prequel. Southtown was a city already infamous for its overflowing crime and corruption, and 10 years after Art of Fighting that much remained true. After being chased away to Japan by the Sakazaki family, Geese Howard arranged for the murder of his old colleague Jeff Bogard. Jeff Bogard was the successor to the Hakkyokuseiken fighting arts, one of the greatest fighters of the era, and very much so a threat to Geese’s plans criminal exploits. Upon killing Jeff Bogard, Geese Howard then proceeded to skyrocket beyond his old position as a corrupt police commissioner to a full on crime lord. Geese returned and became the undisputed king of Southtown. With the kind of power he had, there was nobody to investigate or avenge Jeff Bogard’s death. In the wake of Jeff Bogard’s murder two children were left behind: Terry Bogard and Andy Bogard. Those two children could never forget what happened to their father and had spent those 10 years preparing to confront Geese Howard. Funnily enough, Geese didn’t even know they existed. It was likely Geese Howard did not know much of Jeff Bogard’s personal life.
Andy Bogard and Terry Bogard were taken in by Jeff Bogard’s old master, Tung Fu Rue. The boys learned the same Hakkyokuseiken style that their father had mastered then parted ways from their hometown. From that point on Terry Bogard and Andy Bogard trained and grew separate from each other in order to exact revenge on Geese. While Andy Bogard left to learn the fighting arts in Japan, Terry became a wandering street fighter who traveled everywhere he could to find strong opponents. While Terry employs Hakkyokuseiken techniques to enhance his moves, by all means he’s a mixed martial arts user.
In order to enact their revenge and get close to Geese Howard; Terry Bogard, Andy Bogard, and their friend Joe Higashi entered the King of Fighters tournament. After Art of Fighting Geese Howard had returned and reopened the KOF tournament on an annual basis. Terry fought his way through various opponents in the tournament including his own caretaker Tung Fu Rue. Eventually Terry persevered and became the first person to defeat the previous King of Fighters champion. Prior to Terry Bogard’s arrival Geese’s bodyguard Billy Kane would always remain the champion and essentially fix the ranks. Looking into Terry’s background during the tournament, Geese learned Terry Bogard’s identity as Jeff Bogard’s son. Geese ordered that Terry be guided to him for a final confrontation on Geese Tower, the tallest building in Southtown. Geese appeared much different than when the Sakazaki family had fought him in Art of Fighting. Now donning distinctly Japanese attire; he had since trained under many martial artists and became far stronger. In the fight that ensued Terry delivering a finishing kick that sent Geese Howard hurtling off Geese Tower. Don’t feel bad for Geese. If you lose the fight against him in Fatal Fury he kicks you off the building instead. With that, Jeff Bogard’s murder had been avenged.
Andy Bogard and Joe Higashi are supporting cast to Terry, but together the trio are known as the Lone Wolves. No doubt this title is in part because of Geese Howard’s old underground fighting title as “The Lone Wolf Killer.” Andy Bogard is Terry’s little brother and fellow Hakkyokuseiken user. Being the smaller one, Andy was often insecure about his stature compared to Terry. One day however he met Japanese martial arts master Hanzo Shiranui. Tiny man that he was, he proved to Andy that size wasn’t everything in a fight. Hanzo took Andy to Japan to stay with the Shiranui family and learn Koppo, the eastern bone breaking martial art. Considering Andy Bogard spent his days on the other side of the world and Terry never stayed in one place, it’s doubtful the two siblings had met each other since departing Southtown and returning during the King of Fighters tournament. Andy remains a strict and focused individual with interests revolving around training himself on a regular basis.
Joe Higashi was a native Japanese martial artist who became a Muay Thai Kickboxing champion in Thailand. He could be considered the comic relief of the team, as he’s very enthusiastic and has a brash and childish attitude in the ring. Provoking people is his forte. He’s always seeking to be the best and joined the Bogards because of the allure of fighting strong opponents in the King of Fighters tournament. The exact details regarding how he met the Bogards is one I don’t know, but since then he remains a loyal friend to the them. He often trains in the jungle, remaining obscure and in solitude until he reappears and makes his mark in the Muay Thai world. Funnily enough his jungle training has led to his favorite food being Fried Alligator Bits. Though he spends much of his time in Thailand, his Japan headband shows off he’s never forgotten his homeland. Joe’s enthusiasm for fighting often plays a hand in the Lone Wolves’ participation in any given tournament.
Opponents other than Geese Howard appear in the Fatal Fury series, but none of those stories are important right now. Fast forwarding to 1994: Terry continues to challenge himself and remains a man of the road; his lifestyle showcased in his love for basketball, videogames, and fast food. His wandering / training had led him to a resort in Italy where Andy and Joe had somehow tracked him down. Asking Terry if he wanted to participate in the latest King of Fighters they’d all received invitations for, the team joins largely in part because of their curiosity for who “R” could possibly be. It’s not the first time curiosity has been a strong motivator for the Fatal Fury Team, but Joe’s enthusiasm for a good fight also plays a heavy role.
Here we have the long running Women Fighters Team. Mai Shiranui is the granddaughter of Hanzo Shiranui, the man who took Andy Bogard to Japan. Mai Shiranui had been trained as a ninja of the Shiranui family since childhood, and she has a serious case of childhood puppy love for Andy Bogard. Mai Shiranui and Andy Bogard are clearly on dating terms, though it is implied that Andy’s strict focus on training often leads to him not making any strong advances. For all intents and purposes Mai is the actual suitor in the relationship; she follows him wherever he goes. In Mai’s mind she may as well already be married to Andy but his tendency to leave Japan often gets in the way. Mai Shiranui has a tendency to cling to Andy Bogard and it’s often Mai’s mission in any tournament she enters to bring Andy back to Japan with her. In just about any tournament you find Andy Bogard: Mai Shiranui is probably following close behind him somewhere.
Mai is most famous for her sex appeal. When she first appeared few fighting game characters wore such revealing clothing, but despite that she had a very distinct fighting style. She has a very open and cheerful personality, as well as no stealthy maneuvers to speak of. Mai Shiranui fits in the more mystical category of Japanese ninja. She takes pride in her homeland, often proclaiming “Japan’s #1” before a match. In 1994 Mai was actually hoping that Andy would invite her to come along on his trip for once, considering King of Fighters had become a team tournament. Naturally that didn’t happen, as Andy Bogard chose to go fight with his big brother and Joe Higashi instead. Feeling rejected, Mai by sheer dumb luck bumped into another girl in a very similar situation: Yuri Sakazaki. The two became immediate friends and decided to toss aside their previous expectations and work together instead.
Yuri Sakazaki is Ryo Sakazaki’s kid sister. In other words she was the girl who was kidnapped in the original Art of Fighting. In the year that followed Art of Fighting Yuri had actually begun learning the Kyokugen Karate style from her father Takuma Sakazaki. Thanks to the fact that Ryo Sakzaki basically raised Yuri, Ryo hates the idea of her fighting and is extremely protective of her in general. Yuri would actually train in secret while pretending to be going to a fitness club. She entered the original King of Fighters tournament to show Ryo that she didn’t need protecting anymore. Despite this Ryo continued to try and prevent her from fighting. Much of Yuri’s motivation for entering any given tournament is to gain her “dumb” brother’s approval, but she had almost given up hope on finding a team to join before meeting Mai Shiranui.
Like Mai, Yuri Sakazaki’s a very cheerful and energetic individual. She’s gained a reputation as a bit of a comedic character thanks to the fact that she’s often imitating other fighting game characters. In general she seems to take a lot of pride in being a cute younger female fighter. She tends to be fairly confident if not casual as well. Long after putting up a ruse for her brother she still dresses more like she’s going to the gym than a fight. Mai Shiranui and Yuri Sakzaki still needed a third team member, and thus Yuri suggested looking up an old friend named King.
King was actually one of the various antagonists in the first Art of Fighting game. When she first appeared she was the bouncer of Mr. Big’s personal restaurant La Maison and a very enigmatic character to boot. She has no given full name and a misleading one put forth instead. Likewise in game manuals the game would explicitly refer to King as a male character. Though later on she would become a bit more feminine, you could have and were supposed to mistake King for a man earlier on. Defeating King with a special move was the only way to discover her real gender in her original appearance. Initially King was just another thug standing between Ryo Sakazaki and his sister, but eventually she would become Ryo’s primary love interest. As King is not a woman who actively presents her femininity and Ryo Sakazaki isn’t a very straightforward guy: in general they’re shy around each other and other people take it upon themselves to further the relationship.
King is a woman of French descent who grew up learning Muay Thai in Thailand. This has actually led to something of a mock rivalry with Joe Higashi. It’s rumored that she initially concealed her gender in order to enter all-male Kickboxing competitions and was expelled from the tournament scene upon her shirt being ripped off. While I can’t confirm it this does make a good deal of sense, especially considering the only way you could initially discover King’s gender was to burn off her clothing. After giving up working as a bouncer and supposedly trying to make a living as a consultant King returned to fighting and and joined the original King of Fighters tournament. Ever since the original Art of Fighting King had been fighting to raise funds. The reason was revealed to be her little brother Jan; whom could not walk.
At the end of the tournament Ryo Sakazaki and Robert Garcia paid for little Jan’s needed surgery, probably solidifying her friendship with the Kyokugen fighters. In 1994 Yuri Sakzaki and Mai Shiranui traveled to England looking for King at the bar she later established: Illusion. After cycling through so many jobs in her life, King seemed to have found something that suited her. Consider that one of her hobbies is collecting wine glasses and she’s good at billiards. With that Team England and the Women Fighters Team was born.
It’s at this point that we start hitting characters with significantly less back story. The 1994 Korea team as it is now was never initially intended. Initially it was supposed to be a group of three fugitives, but was later toned down to two fugitives and one man seeking to reform them. Kim Kaphwan would be that man. Kim is a Taekwondo master and a sort of National Sports Hero in Korea. There isn’t too much to him in general. He’s one of the more wholesome characters in the SNK universe, very much so living up to his status of a national role model. His is one of the more extreme cases of ethical characters however. He is what some would call a “justice” character, or rather someone who bestows upon himself the duty of fighting anyone he considers evil.
Despite being a popular character Kim traditionally has little impact on any given game’s storyline. When he initially appeared in Fatal Fury 2 and even the Fatal Fury animated films he was simply a friendly aspiring martial artist seeking strong fighters. Kim is portrayed heavily as a loving father figure and family man, as he is one of the only SNK characters to have a wife and children. One night his sons Jae Hoon and Dong Hwan showed him a television broadcast of a gigantic escaped convict: Chang Koehan. Taking it upon himself to find and apprehend Chang, he ran from his house in the middle of the night and somehow stumbled upon a late night slasher as well. Noticing the power that both of them possessed, Kim apprehended both criminals and decided he would reform them and use their abilities for justice.
Chang Koehan and Choi Bounce are likewise relatively simple characters. While Chang is the escaped convict complete with ball and chain, Choi is basically a goofy version of a horror film villain. Choi initially looked so much like Freddy Kruegar that his design was changed just a month before the game’s release. This much could been a coincidence, as it’s possible they’re slight tributes to Samurai Showdown characters Earthquake and Gen-an. Thanks to Kim’s social status he’s allowed to take the two of them into his custody, and they’re basically at his mercy. Neither can really hope to overpower Kim, nor escape him and the beatings he gives them when they’re out of line. The entire team has a slapstick comedy shtick. Chang and Choi are often displayed sympathetically in their game endings, wanting nothing more than escape Kim. Kim uses the King of Fighters tournament as a device in both teaching the two criminals Taekwondo and furthering their rehabilitation. While every team covered previously did some traveling to end up where they were, Team Korea is all native Korean fighters.
Originating from a military base in Brazil, the International Police have assigned a man named Heidern to investigate and shut down the organization behind the 1994 King of Fighters tournament. This military unit’s exact purpose remains unclear. The only solid fact is that Heidern is the commander. The reason Heidern’s unit in particular was chosen by Interpol seemed apparent. When handed the invitation letter which sparked his summoning: Heidern seemed to immediately know who the man named “R” sending out the letters was. Rugal Bernstein. Eight years prior Heidern suffered a heavy loss at Rugal’s hands. In an impossible one man massacre Rugal killed Heidern’s men in service, slaughtered his family, and finally robbed him of his right eye.
The reason Rugal and Heidern had clashed is never stated, however the most likely reason is related to a future King of Fighters villain. Rugal being a rich weapons smuggler though, Heidern’s unit would have had plenty of reasons to come across Rugal eventually. Despite being deeply traumatized by the slaughter Rugal brought down on him Heidern accepted the mission readily and enlisted two of his top subordinates to join his team: Ralf Jones and Clark Still. Ralf and Clark like Heidern are experienced soldiers, though while nobody really knows where Heidern came from we at least know that Ralf and Clark are Americans. Heidern is a fairly distinct character with his tragic past, cold demeanor, and fighting style which uses concealed knives. Comparatively Ralf and Clark started out in the King of Fighters series being almost identical. This much is actually to be expected when you consider the fact they were inspired by an old SNK arcade classic called Ikari Warriors.
Ikari Warriors was a very central piece of SNK’s history as their first truly successful game. Ralf and Clark were the player 1 and 2 characters from said historic Rambo-fueled game. Elaborate cameos you could call them. Ralf and Clark were initially supposed to be shirtless, this being yet another nod to the Ralf and Clark’s old Ikari Warriors visage. This was later scrapped for what was considered a more modern look. As time would go on both Ralf and Clark would develop their own personalities and fighting styles. Ralf would become a hotheaded fighter with seemingly explosive attacks and Clark would be a cool headed grappler. They’d eventually come to play off each others’ personalities, with Ralf often taking charge and Clark being around to put him in his place when need be. Both are trained in Heidern’s style of assassination arts, and if nothing else we know the two of them have seen a lot of action.
Heidern himself is an original character without any established existence in prior games, but SNK seems to regard all of Ralf and Clark’s skirmishes in the Ikari Warrior games as semi-canon. The characters are portrayed as having a lot of battlefield experience and one of Ralf’s personal treasures is a medal given to him by the President of the United States as well. This is likely a nod to the original arcade version of Ikari Warriors III, otherwise just known as Ikari III. Your mission in said game is to rescue the President’s daughter. Later on Ralf and Clark would become Metal Slug characters. Leaving straight from their military base, Team Brazil and the Ikari Warriors Team was born heavily from the burden of revenge.
Team Japan is the only teams in King of Fighters 94 to be completely original. No previous ties whatsoever. Leading the team is the new protagonist of the early King of Fighters series: Kyo Kusanagi. Kyo’s the heir to one of the world’s oldest martial arts styles that only those of his bloodline of capable of using. While the physical attacks can be accomplished by normal people, the ancient Kusanagi style includes various special attacks which utilize the family’s unique ability to manipulate and shoot flames. He’s one of the few SNK characters to have an inherent power; perhaps because he created with the intent of producing a character who could stand up to previous SNK heroes in a fight. Kyo’s name was initially Syo and he was going to be a very different character during early development in KOF 94. The only game that I know of which lets you see Kyo’s old prototype design is King of Fighters 2000, where Syo makes a cameo appearance.
Initially there isn’t too much to Kyo’s character. His most distinct traits are all his flame related attacks and his cocky attitude. One of his longer running traits was also that he would enter fights in his high school uniform. Despite still being in high school Kyo had already conquered many of Japan’s national tournaments prior to 1994. Likewise he had met and bested some of Japan’s biggest fighting stars such as Benimaru Nikaido and Goro Daimon. Goro was introduced to the series with the desire to create a Judo champion, and as such he’s a previous Olympic Gold Medalist. Aside from his odd choice in foot ware and ridiculous physical strength, he is a rather plain character. Benimaru on the other hand is a mixed martial artist who practices a derivative of kickboxing known as shootboxing. Despite having a very flamboyant personality and sense of style, he considers himself quite the ladies man. His manner of speaking in particular has led some to question his sexual orientation, though. SNK’s staff assures that Beniarmu’s perfectly straight.
Strangely enough Benimaru is capable of manipulating lightning, yet he has no known inherent ability like Kyo does. His power is very much so a mystery. Later on Kyo’s command of fire is explained, but Benimaru’s is not. Considering King of Fighters takes a heavy influence from action anime, some things are likely to never be answered. Despite having only met just a year prior to 1994 in a national competition the three of them decided to band together upon receiving invitations to the King of Fighters tournament and formed Team Japan. Beyond KOF 94 they would become known as the Hero Team, often proving themselves to be the strongest contestants.
Here we have another team inspired by old SNK arcade classics. Athena Asamiya is the star player of this team and one of King of Fighters’ most popular characters in general. Athena is a reference to the game Psycho Soldiers, though KOF seems to make no serious effort as regarding those games as canon to the KOF storyline. In Psycho Soldiers you played as a young school girl with psychic abilities who fought aliens or mutants… and I have no idea why. Like a lot of arcade games it didn’t make a ton of sense.
Various small references to the game exist through Athena Asamiya’s character. Psycho Soldiers was the first game to ever have a vocal soundtrack and as such its music carried over to be the theme song for the Psycho Soldiers team in most early King of Fighters games. Do keep in mind that there are English and Japanese versions of the original Psycho Soldiers song, but the Japanese version is typically regarded as the real one. Some of Athena’s attacks such as the Shining Crystal Bit and Phoenix Arrow are references to Psycho Soldiers. The old Athena was protected by a shield of crystals in the game and could also transform into a Phoenix, for example. Like in Psycho Soldiers Athena has psychic or “psycho” powers that she uses in order to fight. The reason she is gifted with such powers is probably another reference. Before Psycho Soldiers came a game called Athena where you played as the Greek Goddess Athena going on adventures. In Psycho Soldiers the Goddess Athena supposedly was reborn in the future as a young girl with psychic powers. To fight aliens… or mutants… or something. It’s an old arcade game, since when do those make sense? The basic idea of Athena Asamiya”s character is that she’s a psychic who may be the reincarnation of Greek Goddess Athena. Don’t put too much thought into it, Athena is basically just a character with a lot of history at SNK. She and Sei Kensou even make a cameo appearance in Crystalis.
Whether or not Athena in King of Fighters is actually the Greek Goddess reborn doesn’t really have any bearing on the King of Fighters storyline. It’s quite possible her powers simply exists as a homage to SNK’s history. Sei Kensou was inspired by the player two character in Psycho Soldiers of the same name. He had almost identical powers and even less backstory. New to KOF was Chin Gentsai, the master of a Chinese temple and practitioner of Drunken Fist Kung Fu. Chin trains both Athena and Kensou in the Chinese mountains to use their psychic powers for the sake of the world. In order to put his disciples’ fighting ability to the test he decides to accept the invitation to the King of Fighters tournament. He enters his team into the 1994 tournament in order to test his students’ training.
Chin is another one of the less complex SNK characters. His creation was inspired by the desire to have a drunken kung-fu master, and beyond that he’s basically just a goofy old man with a bit of a justice streak. While both Athena and Kensou are ill-defined characters initially, they would eventually go on to become fairly distinct similar to Ralf and Clark’s situation. Athena would become a cheerful Japanese pop idol with a dedicated following. Kensou would grow to become her biggest follower and self-proclaimed love interest. In other words he’s a really cocky fanboy. The entire team trains for a day that their powers may be needed to fight evil. Both Kensou and Chin are Chinese while Athena is Japanese. The exact circumstances of their meeting is unknown but leaving from the temple they establish Team China, or The Psycho Soldiers Team.
The United States King of Fighters team is very much so a joke team, but oh if they aren’t rife with history. As fellow fighting game enthusiast Big Mex was so kind to point out: one of the team’s most interesting traits is its outdated sense of eighties’ fashion. I honestly can’t tell if this team is a tribute or a parody to American culture from the eighties, but references are abound. While SNK had not developed all of them, the Neogeo in its earlier years housed a variety of sports games. Kyo Kusanagi and the Japan Team is the only entirely original team in King of Fighters 1994. Every other team was a nod toward previous SNK games and this team is no exception. Sports titles such as Street Hoop and Football Frenzy were clearly the basic inspiration for the creation of this exceptionally ridiculous group of fighters.
Heavy D is inspired by a real life rapper who went by the same name, however the King of Fighters Heavy D is a boxer. To avoid confusion: we’re going to refer to them as IRL and KOF Heavy D. While KOF Heavy D’s name seems to come from the fact that he’s literally one of the largest characters in the series, the real life Heavy D’s name is derived from the fact that he’s chubby. There’s no mistaking the relation. KOF Heavy D’s hobby is listed as “listening to the New Jack Swing,” the same sort of music that IRL Heavy D was known for.
The exact reason SNK chose a portly fusion rapper as the inspiration for a heavy weight boxer? Fuck if I know; they don’t even look similar. My guess is that he was a popular singer among the SNK staff back when he made his splash in the eighties. Lucky Glauber on the other hand takes a little bit more from his source material. SNK has stated that the inspiration for Lucky was the black guy from Bruce Lee’s film Game of Death. Do you know who that man was? Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. Kareem was a professional basketball player going on through the late eighties into the late nineties, and apparently he was pretty huge in his time. Apparently the fact that Kareem had studied under Bruce Lee at some point led to his involvement in the film, and thus you get Lucky Glauber: A martial artist basketball player. More people are probably familiar with Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s appearance in the old eighties comedy Airplane.
In the King of Fighters series Heavy D is a heavyweight boxing champion whose career was cut short after he killed an opponent in the ring. Lucky Glauber is a former basketball star who quit the sport in order to become a martial artist. Since then he had gained the title of All-American Karate Champion. Both Heavy D and Lucky wished to find new challenges, and thus accepted their King of Fighters invitations. Needing a third member, Lucky suggested Brian Battler: A football MVP with no previous martial arts experience. Brian’s own character design is supposedly one of the oldest in SNK’s closet that never got any use before KOF. Since SNK has already left this on the record my guess is that he was initially a rejected World Heroes design. Johnny Maximum was the football character from that particular series.
Team USA or The Sports Team was a one time deal, only ever making an appearance again in non-story related games. There’s a running in-joke among SNK’s staff that Team USA never made subsequent appearances in other KOF games because stronger teams would beat them up and steal their invitations.
In all of the early King of Fighters games, Kyo Kusanagi’s team would come out on top in the tournament. Upon winning one of Rugal Bernstein’s secretaries would escort the team via helicopter to Rugal’s base of operations: A battleship called the Black Noah. If the giant ship and pet panther don’t tip of off: Rugal got some bank, yo. The King of Fighters tournament was an odd name for the world to see again. Very few people had any idea who Rugal was as a result. It’s very possible that Rugal used the KOF name because of previous ties to Geese Howard. Rugal uses an imitation of Geese’s Reppuken attack and mentions him by name in the Fatal Fury Team’s ending. As both Geese and Rugal are crime lords, it’s not too far fetched an idea.
Upon arriving on the Black Noah, Kyo’s team find three things: Rugal sitting upon his throne, the collection of statues adorned around him, and Kyo Kusanagi’s father Saisyu Kusanagi lying on the ground in a bloody mess. Saisyu had challenged Rugal prior to Kyo’s arrival for reasons that aren’t entirely solid, but they are likely tied to the source of Rugal’s strength. Like Kyo, Saisyu is a member of the legendary Kusanagi clan with a command of flames. Being able to beat a Kusanagi isn’t a small feat. Rugal reveals that the statues around him are actually the remains of all the fighters that had previously challenged him. He then states that Saisyu, Kyo, Benimaru, and Goro would soon become a part of his collection and a fight ensues.
The fight itself is notoriously difficult, but upon losing Rugal is left in disbelief. Kyo Kusanagi’s team had proven victorious and stubbornly Rugal tries to take the team down with him. He pulls out a self-destruct switch which causes various sections of the Black Noah to explode, however the team escapes. Saisyu’s escape is not confirmed. With that the first King of Fighters game reaches its conclusion with very little information contained with the endings. The series probably wasn’t initially created with the intent of carrying on a storyline, but what tidbits do exist are that there: Rugal is confirmed to have some sort of affiliation with previous Fatal Fury villains like Geese Howard, and Heidern leaves the Black Noah satisfied with the vengeance his dead wife and daughter have received.
Next up comes The King of Fighters 95 where the story really begins with The Orochi Saga.