King of Characters

No fighting game is complete without great characters. If all we cared about was gameplay we’d probably be happy just playing endless rounds of just Ken vs Ken in Street Fighter. Think back to the first time you played a fighting game. Who did you pick? Or more to the point, why did you pick that character? There was something about them that spoke to you. Whether you related to their story or you just thought they looked cool, that character reflected upon your personality. A great fighting game, just like a great group of friends will have lots of different personalities to balance out the whole.

This is an area where King of Fighters absolutely shines.

Are you a straightforward, good natured kind of dude? Try straightarrow Kim…
King of Fighters XIII, Kim Kaphwan

…or roughneck Terry.
King of Fighters XIII Terry Bogard official art nona KOF 13 SNK

Are you a bad ass loner? Pick K (if you secretly have a heart of gold)…
King of Fighters XIII, KOF 13, K official art by Nona, SNK
…or Iori (if you really are a cruel bastard).
KOF 13, King of Fighters XIII, Iori Yagami official art by Nona for SNK

Are you plucky and spirited? Try Kensou.

KOF 13, King of Fighters XIII, Sie Kensou art by Nona for SNK

Are you everyone’s little sister? Try Yuri.
KOF XIII, King of Fighters 13, Yuri Sakazaki, Art of Fighting, official art by nona for SNK

Do you enjoy the finer things in life? Try Elizabeth.
KOF 13, King of Fighters XIII, Elisabeth Branctorche, official art by Nona for SNK

Are you a troll at heart? Then you must give Ash a shot. Yes, Ash Crimson, the foppish Frenchman who’s often mistaken for a woman.
KOF 13, King of Fighters XIII, Ash Crimson, official art by Nona for SNK With his sly confident demeanor and prediliction for gender bending he is the Bugs Bunny of the Fighting Game world.
Ash Crimson x Bugs Bunny

Just take a look at his in-game sprite! Almost every action he takes is meant to get a rise out of the other player.

When he stands, he’s not in an aggressive or defensive position, he’s just twiddling his hair!
KOF 13, King of Fighters XIII, Ash Crimson sprite
He attacks with lazy waves of his arms and throws fireballs by blowing a kiss.
KOF 13, KOF XIII, King of Fighters XIII Ash Crimson Sprite attack

He crouches like a delinquent taking a smoke break.
KOF XIII, KOF 13, ash crimson, sprite, crouching
Crouch long enough and he’ll gaze over, like he’s just waiting for you to wipe that sweet, condescending expression from his face.

And that’s the point!

ash crimson raiden big bear kof 13 XIII king of fighters sprites
Ash is a charge character! His entire move set is about biding your time, baiting the opponent and capitalizing on their mistakes (just like trolling people on the internet!).

This deep level of thought and synergy between design and gameplay is reflected in every character in the game’s roster.

The personality and play style of each character is also reflected in their body type. Every character has a build that suites their personality and play style. This may sound like a very obvious element of design, but it’s actually something that’s lacking in a great deal of top notch video games. Most games are very one note when it comes to phenotypes.

Everyone in Gears of War is built like a linebacker (friend and foe alike).

Gears of War character lineup

The game only has one look for @hri$tsake! Marcus? Augustus? Locust? They're all the same body! Doesn't anyone notice this? I feel like I'm taking crazy pills! (JK/LOL--I still love you Gears of War)

The Elder Scrolls series might let you pick from dozens of races, but whether you make a human, orc, elf, khajiit (cat person), Argonian (dragon person) or Red Guard (brown person), they’re all head swaps on the same basic body.

elderscrolls skyrim character creation lineup
And it’s become a cliche to point out that almost every first person shooter stars a generic bald marine.

all bald video game marines look the same

I did not create this image (but it sure is useful right now)

There’s a practical reason for this ubiquity of body types. Developers can save time and money by reusing the same rig and animations for different characters. If no one notices, it’s all good.

But King of Fighters goes the extra mile.

Behold! The human body in all it’s varied splendour!

This variety of body types is actually pretty new to the King of Fighters franchise itself. Back in the day when most fighting games starred burly, muscular martial artists, the original King of Fighters’ roster looked like a stable of fashion models (with a few weirdos here and there). Just as it’s a stereotype that Americans make games about bald marines, the last decade in gaming has produced the stereotype that Japanese games are exclusively full of beautiful well groomed men. King of Fighters spearheaded this trend as one of the first titles to bring high fashion sensibilities to video game character design.

King of Fighters 97, Mortal Kombat 3, Super Street Fighter II

Because of this, the majority of the men in previous King of Fighters titles had the same idealized physique. Even the big wrestlers like Goro, Ralph and Clark pretty much had the same build as everyone else.

King of Fighters 94, Ralf, Clark, Goro, Kim sprite lineup

Goro is a bit taller at least.

But that’s no longer the case.

Let’s compare the old Fatal Fury Team sprites with the new.

Joe no longer has a generic athletic build, he is now built very specifically like a Muay Thai fighter. He’s lean and wiry; super cut with almost no body fat.

KOF 94 KOF XIII, King of Fighters joe higashi sprite Kaoklai Kaennorsing

left: Joe in KOF 94, middle: Joe in KOF XIII, right: K-1 fighter Kaoklai Kaennorsing (far right), a legendary 170 lb kickboxer who took down legit heavyweights! See him in action here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TelQntPJUA0

Joe practices a real world martial art rather than a fictional one, so it makes sense to give him the physique of real world kick boxers who have bodies that look like they’re made out of coiled steel.

Terry has put on some muscle. He’s now stockier, with broad shoulders and a short neck, not unlike his Mark of the Wolves incarnation. Terry is a blue collar kind of dude (he’s a part-time truck driver/full-time freeter after all), so he should have more “go” muscles than “show” muscles.

terry bogard King of Fighters KOF 94, KOF 13, XIII, matt hughes

left: Terry in KOF 94, middle: Terry in KOF XIII, right: Terry has farm muscles like UFC legend Matt Hughes

Many of the great, aggressive fighters in combat sports share this square, compact brawler’s build. This works well with Terry’s special moves where he literally throws himself into each attack with wild abandon.

Andy on the other hand is the younger, prettier brother. Where Terry developed his own rough and tumble fighting style on the streets of South Town, Andy travelled abroad and learned ancient martial arts in Japan.

left: Andy in KOF 94, middle: Andy in KOF XIII, right: Genki Sudo, one of the coolest dudes ever to compete in the highest levels of MMA. Read about him here! http://www.cracked.com/funny-4284-genki-sudo/

Andy has a more refined fighting style than Terry, so he has a more refined, svelte build. Where Terry fights on brute strength and spirit, Andy attacks with precise controlled motions. His elegant fighting style is excentuated by his long slender fingers.

I could go on and on about each cast member (and I probably will in future posts)

I’m very impressed with SNK’s approach to rebooting a flagship series. It was a big risk finally putting the time and resources to bring this game into the HD era and lots of things could have gone awry. Most reboots involve taking iconic characters and making them grittier and more bad ass, losing their distinct personality in the process.

This often means giving the character a tattoo.

Guy Final Fight Streetwise Street Fighter Alpha Joker Batman Jim Lee redesign Dragon Tattoo

Left to Right: Guy from Street Fighter Alpha, Guy in Final Fight Streetwise, Joker from Batman the Animated Series, Jim Lee's Joker redesign

Or a leather makeover.
x-men, jim lee, movie, leather costumes

Harley quinn batman animated series vs arkham city

Thankfully SNK bucked this trend with King of Fighters XIII.

Rather than thinking “how can I make everyone edgier?” (and more generic), they took every character back to the drawing board and thought “Who is this person? What makes them distinct? How can we express their individuality even better?”

Many games today have long complex stories conveyed through slick cinematics and dialog. But very few games have so much personality built into the character designs and gameplay experience itself.

A game like this only comes around every decade or so (trust me I’ve been waiting!)

So if you feel any close personal connection to anything I’ve just described, don’t hesitate to reward SNK for their efforts by picking up a copy of King of Fighters XIII!

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About Richmond

I am a professional game artist who wants everyone to love art as much as I do!
This entry was posted in fighting games, SNK, sprite art, video games. Bookmark the permalink.

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  8. Kajyu says:

    Awesome analysis on the colourful and diverse characters of KoF. I’m amazed that despite not playing this series for years, I still recognize them at a glance (goes to show how memorable they are). I like how you compared the old and new sprites with actual martial artists for point of reference.

    I’m glad to have picked up KoF again and see that it withstood the test of time. So far I’m really enjoying playing as Duo Lon (aka the snake style assassin with a funky foot). I wonder what that means?

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  13. Gargamuza says:

    No hope for more KOF XIII articles?

    • Richmond says:

      The followup articles have been started, I just need to find the time to finish them. I can’t give you a definite date, but I’ll certainly let you know when they go up. Thanks for asking though! That lets me know whether or not people are interested.

      • Stephen says:

        I sure hope you do. I really enjoy your articles but I’m particularly fond of this one. I’m a big fan of KoF and find that its very often overlooked here in the U.S. I agree with just about everything you said in the article. One of the things that attracts me so much about KoF is it’s character diversity.

  14. TripleMMM says:

    I must say, this is an awsome blog about the art of the franchise in itself! I will however critic on the comparing on only ’94, their were alot of more defined/details added on their physiqe added after ’95, few got alterations sooner than others. Ralf and Clark clearly got bigger biceps (and possibly triceps) than Terry’s since ’96. The later characters came with a different body type all-together. But I see why you only chose to compare ’94 and XIII even though it looked shallow on the surface, their’s just too much to cover for a introduction such as this…

    Love the comments on Athena and Billy Kane’s animations, I also would like to point out Kula’s idle animation when it first appeared hacked off from SNK’s official site. Everybody that saw it by then complained that it didn’t stand out while not doing much, but when they saw it in it’s final form (with the ice particles flowing down from beneath her hair), their mind changed! “That looked bloody wicked!” XD

    Also, like others said, having to say one of Terry’s job as a full-time truck driver was like a suprise left jab to me (especially about my all time Fatal Fury characters), considering we have never seen him owning a vehicle, always on foot/hitching a ride (with a bag in hand), until Mark of the Wolves came along and only seeing him on a Harley-esque bike. I hope I’m not to be rude, but it made you come off a bit foolish and a bit ignorant. But I can see why you made that mistake of a claim, appearance can rather be desceptive.

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  17. solidshark says:

    Hey Richmond,

    Should’ve brought this to your attention a while ago, but the KOF iPhone version release came with trading cards apparently, featuring spritework of characters that many fans were hoping would appear in KOF13.

    http://dreamcancel.com/2012/05/03/kof-i-2012-snkps-biggest-troll-attempt-yet/

    Hopefully next time you talk about the game, these can suppliment what you have to say.

  18. Smoke says:

    liked the subject, said some things that I think a lot of time on kof and mainly because I started playing, I mean that first game since kof 95 and saw all the changes and additions to the game, then when he chose a character was simply the factor “hey this guy has something I like” different from others, over time it really was lost characters I liked to play eg Kim, Ryo. while new characters were nerfados vanessa, seth masi was thrown by his destructive combos, it made the game become boring.
    but back to the subject, did not like the fact the game by feminize pants that flare at the knees and shake their feet male characters (back to the 70s?) (wtf) that combines over Iori’s clothes with fashion emo, because they did not use his famous overcoat? after Iori should be very angry by stealing the flames Ash, Ash was talking about the character they’ve created more gay, I see nothing funny about it looks really soft would have to end it (thankfully died at the end), I hope do not create more things like that, this boss you Saiki said to be hyper masculine, for me it’s a big gay muscular gay fetish as many exhibiting beard and body of a man remembering Julio cesar gay the first time in rome.

    compared to the old boss, Rugal, and Orochi Goenitz, I think the Snk lost their creativity in this regard from Kof XI is creating strange that bosses often do not appear to men, see the magaki hyper running your ass in the mid of colorful lights, the new boss catches you while rears up ass ..
    if this is not something “gay-ism” that is trying to push us SNKP I do not know what it is, do not know why push this model socieadade acceptance “looks to be gay is normal,” it does not matter what the players want is to fuck and distinct characters as you said in your post.

    About Clark and Ralph think ah an body error proportion, snk should reduce some of this, recycle some moves would be interesting

    I hope to return the blows of other characters, true tiger kick Joe not this knee forward, the stance of Karate Takuma is horrible and there is not any way to Karate, the chin looks like a beggar when once was a master of kung fu real.

    Well that’s all.

  19. Aenthin says:

    I’m still eagerly waiting for the two forthcoming articles, especially color theory.

    • Richmond says:

      They’re in the works! I took a break to finish up some posts on Asura’s Wrath. It usually takes me a few months of research and writing to make these articles. But I’m getting faster! All the feedback I get on here is very encouraging, so thanks for your kind words!

  20. Rhodo says:

    I disagree.
    While you praise KOFXIII’s re-design of its cast, I loathe it.
    Why do you fail to mention the worst offenders: the military trio of Leona, Ralf and Clark?

    Poor Leona now looks anorexic, with a non-existant waist. That’s certainly not the body of a soldier.

    The redesigned Ralf and Clark look like steroid users, and now have a build that can’t possibly work with the kind of moveset they have. And the fact that they’re teamed up with the neo-anorexic skinny Leona makes them all the more laughable.

    • SK says:

      You say this, but lets be serious – look at Ikari warriors LINE OF WORK. It’s only obvious in reality, that they’d be some of the buffest motherfuckers in the game. (Very rambo-esque if you ask me.) On the other hand, Leona is very slender and sleak. Mind you that their praise comes in getting their missions done and in an excelling manner at that. So it’s only obvious Leona will be sleak and slender to compliment her shape and to show the fact that she’s very agile and versatile to get her mission done.

      It compliments her look and not to mention, due to what she recently went through (Orochi blood and whatnot.) makes her look damn near anemic. If you even go through the gameplay, many of the other characters are asking Leona, “Hey, are you alright?” or “You don’t look so good.”, while Ralph and Clark are looking just fine with Brazilian tans and whatnot.

      • Rho says:

        It looks to me like you are simply reading waaay too much into the redesigns.
        I may be wrong, but I doubt the developer team sat down and said “hey, we need to make Leona more slender beacause it’ll compliment her shape and look practical…. hey do you think mercenaries should look more buff?”. Nah, the new artists just thought it looked cool. Well, it looks terrible.

        And how come that all of the female characters suddenly have a huge, perfectly round balloon-head? It looks really bad, and in Yuri’s case it makes her even appear macrocephalic.

        And why is it that suddenly King has her big bouncing boobs in such evident sight? Her whole shtick was that she’d disguise herself as a man. But now, she’s just another girl in pants, like….. Elizabeth, Vice, Mature, Yuri, every other female character in KOFXIII because they couldn’t bother animating flowing clothes.

        And how about Athena, whose new design is completely different and whose body proportions are so freakishly wrong it’s like she’s a sprite from a different videogame? Look at her legs and then her feet!

        And what need was there to give Kensou yet another generical martial arts suit, and turn him into yet another generical martial artist? He used to be a goofy, funny character, now they removed what personality he used to have.

        In short, they should’ve done with every character what they did with Kyo, Iori, Maxima or K’. They didn’t change their design and physique. It’s still them, very recognizable.

        • Arttronik says:

          “I may be wrong, but I doubt the developer team sat down and said “hey, we need to make Leona more slender beacause it’ll compliment her shape and look practical…. hey do you think mercenaries should look more buff?”. Nah, the new artists just thought it looked cool.”

          I think you are wrong, man. The team certainly looks at what body types complements character designs and made decisions. Also the “new” artists working on the game are Nona and Eisuke Ogura; both of which have been working at SNK for over 10 years.

          The characters certainly have research behind them. Leona is CUT, the other two are BUFF. It makes sense. Look at alot of military females-many of them look like Leona, man.

        • SK says:

          I’m mainly going to agree with Arttronik here, but I’d like to chime in on a few things – I actually DO think they would, because think about it.

          When you sit down and make a game, do you just draw the concepts off the bat and say, “HEY, THIS CHARACTER STYLE LOOKS COOL! WE’RE GONNA GO WITH IT!” and go on with the game? Most would think so and I wouldn’t doubt some have done it. However, much research goes into most big team based video games or just about any game being made period. (At least on the normal standard.)

          This means there’s research put into every little object that character will have on their concept design, various drawings OF their concept design and how it correlates to their “back story”. So yes, yes do think they really put time and effort into sitting down and looking into her design, much like most of the other characters in the game.

          Not to mention, while King could’ve easily passed off as a highly metro sexual male in the old one, they gave her more of a boyish and elegant tomboy charm in this one while retaining the fact that, yes, it’s a woman. And as far as Kensou and Athena goes, if I recall, weren’t their redesigns based off the more original Psycho Soldier designs? (Which went back wayyyyyy before KOF stuff?)

          I get the feeling that you’re more taken to the old version and design of how things were and there’s nothing wrong with that, but I feel that in an all over realization of these new redesigns that they really put a LOT of work and thought into it and did research instead of going with same body stocks.

          Like seriously, the only places you see reskins are in characters you’d mainly expect to look similar. (Mature, Vice; Saiki, Ash; Ralph, Clark.)

        • Hiryu02 says:

          Can’t be bothered to animate flowing clothes? Hello Duo Lon? Hello Mai? Hello to a lesser extent Athena? You are kind of stretching with that comment. Vice and Mature wear “corporate pantsuits” because for one it matches Iori’s new look, and secondly because they were originally introduced as secretaries.

          Re: Leona: She’s ALWAYS been somewhat lean, it’s accentuated when she’s in Riot Of the Blood.

          • Oğuz says:

            I think he misses that almost every character back to original. Except for Leona and Liz.also you can find the original look for both Liz and Yuri. Vice and Mature originally was in that costume . Especially Vice was seen on 95 cutscene. The awesome point that They had to redesign Iori (cause without flames he’s completely different and original version is also in the game) they matched him with the girls.
            Chin and Kensou got their old version’s back. Kensou from Psycho Soldiers, Chin from 94. Ralf and Clark borrow their looks from the Ikari Warriors where they originated from. Even Terry who was just recently change to his MOTW version got back his original form.
            Mai and King is also adopted their first image. Sure Boobs were implanted King more visually, but understandable after boobs boycott of fans for KOFXII. But in return they added “Bra finish” to Yuri and King. Kyo and Raiden/Big Bear (dont know which one appeared first) They both have their original appearance. Kyo had both school and nests outfit.
            And Athena succeeded at thesame time for continuation of the tradition that is new sprite for each game and also th concept of returning the original. Awesome.
            Long story short everyone got back to original and even redesigned. And almost everyone redesign also got back original version of themselves.I’m pretty sure they were working on Leona and Mature Vice’s oldselves as alt.costumes. Look closely to Vice and Mature’s sprites, real close. You’ll understand they can have their old costumes easily as alt. costume. I remember designer once said they really tried hard to get the feeling of the legs Vice/Mature. I believe they intended to make them able to wear dress.

            • Aenthin says:

              In a semi-related note, it was because they were back in their original outfits that I thought, maybe the next boss is a time user (and he was).

              Going back to the original topic, I don’t really see how Leona looks anorexic. She looks like she’s in pretty good shape to me. I guess they could have just given most girls a bit more meat. I’m looking at King’s arms for example. Otherwise, they’re pretty decent designs.

              Athena looks so…well… She had a rejected design where she looks at least a bit older and more of her age, but I guess they went too anime for her this time around.

        • Running Wild says:

          Kensou’s appearance in XII/XIII is his original Psycho Soldier outfit, and I think it does him more justice than the really gaudy old 80′s casual clothing, jean jacket hoodie with jean shorts. Athena does look strange, but that’s yet another throwback to Psycho Soldier.

          Most of KOFXIII’s designs are straight up throwbacks to the characters roots, like Ryo’s original, more fierce stance and the shade his hair takes in his default palette, while Takuma’s new stance and body shape are taken from Orochi Doppo from Baki The Grapper, whom Takuma was based on, now even more closely so.

          And another thing, King is actually quite busty, she’s nearly as big as Mai, check her measurements.

          • Richmond says:

            Thanks for your comments! You took the words right outta my mouth (er brain?). I really like the idea of taking all these characters back to their roots. I almost wish that they just treated the whole thing as a reboot and just plainly called it King of Fighters (like the new Mortal Kombat). But I guess that wouldn’t really make sense since it’s also the resolution of the Ash Saga.

  21. Klandestinie says:

    Great article, sir. I’ve always been a big KOF fan and it really bummed me out when KOF 12 was launched. Sure, it looked beautiful. But the game was so undeveloped that I was determined I was going to give up on the franchise forever if 13 seemed like it was made in the toilet like its predecessor. SNKP did not let me down though. I noticed earlier comments referring to some of the recycled body and animation types between certain players, ie: Vice/Mature and Ralf/Clark. You all have to understand that SNKP was almost financially bankrupt and KOF 13 was their last attempt at getting back into the fighting game community. They literally did not have the funds needed to put as much into the game as we’ve grown to recognize in KOF titles. So yeah, we’re missing character specific pre-fight intros and multiple win animations and the like. Still, the newest addition is fantastic; it’s so well balanced and the gameplay is awesome.

    • Hiryu02 says:

      I really don’t get the complaints about recycled sprites for Ralf/Clark and Vice/Mature. These characters were always intended to be twins, somewhat. If anything as the years went by, Clark and Ralf are two completely different characters, they only happen to wear the same military garb, as they should because it’s a uniform! Even Leona wears the same thing except for a more female-friendly top, for obvious reasons.

      In fighting stance, idle animations, many normal attacks, almost all special attacks and supers, there is very little that is the same about Ralf and Clark.

      Likewise for Vice and Mature, in their first playable appearance they are already vastly different in stance and playstyle. Even more so now in 13. Yes from looking at them you can tell they are a part of the same organization, but they are not the simple palette swaps everyone claims that they are.

      • Hiryu02 says:

        No Edit button. The 3rd sentence should read: “If anything as the years went by, Clark and Ralf BECAME two completely different characters…”

  22. kedo says:

    cool post! tho i always thought fighting games always brought different body types to the table in terms of dudes. more variety in terms of female body types would be nice to see.

  23. Kang Frast says:

    Really good read, but I can’t help but think they were a bit lazy with some characters.

    Not a huge offender, but Ralf and Clark having the same lower body, in addition to them having the same outfit makes them waaay to similar looking, I sometimes confuse one for the other. Also, this is unrelated, but doesn’t Clark look like he could be Terry’s older brother or something? Must be the hat.

    Joe and Hwa, as mentioned by another poster earlier, are straight up head swaps, but I really feels that how similar his specials are to Joe’s makes him feel like a clone character(even thought he isn’t), it makes his addition to this game feel shallow, but I do like his voice a lot.

    Ash and Saiki are by far the biggest and worst offenders, and I personally don’t even know what they were thinking bothering to make him a playable(as human), considering his boss form looks completely different and unique. First off, why is his standing animation the hair twirl like Ash? It doesn’t make sense considering Saiki isn’t playful like Ash at all, he’s very serious and and straight to the point, and the animation just doesn’t suit him. The changes to his specials are pretty weak, except for all of the cool teleporting integrated with his supers, I especially like the one where he steps on their heads and grinds his foot.

    What do you think about Saiki? I’m curious because you didn’t mention him at all.

    • Richmond says:

      Thanks for the compliment! I hope you’ll continue following my blog.

      I don’t really mind the small bits of recycling in the game cos it’s more the exception than the norm. Ironically, I think it stands out cos there’s so much original content that it makes the head swaps that much more conspicuous.
      In comparison, the Street Fighter games tend to have at least 4 Shotos per game and Mortal Kombat has like a dozen variations on the male, female and robot ninja. Most games do a ton of head swapping and animation sharing (especially non fighting games).

      Saiki is a bit disappointing though. I like his last boss version more. His playable version is basically Ashe Crimson with longer hair and missing a sense of humor. His last boss version is a cruel ancient god rocking an awesome mullet. He’s hyper masculine, a nice contrast to his super metro descendant Ashe. But even he’s a bit of a lazy design cos he’s basically just Shadow Dio from Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure.

      Saiki is basically Shadow Dio

      But that’s OK with me cos I love Jojo haha.

      • Kang Frast says:

        I’m a big fan of JoJo too, and now that you mention it, he does remind me a lot of Shadow Dio, it’s just a shame we didn’t get the boss form(toned down obviously) playable instead of pallet swap Ash.

        Well actually I guess Saiki plays like a toned down version of the boss, I mean look wise, but oh well, at least he turns into the boss form for his Neo Max.

        • Richmond says:

          Nice to meet another Jojo fan!

          It occurs to me that the last boss form of Saiki is a weirdly inverted form of Ash Crimson.
          Ash has long styled locks. Saiki has a wild mullet. Ash is rather femine. Saiki is hyper masculine.
          Ash wears stylish androgynous clothing. Saiki is completely naked and literally asexual having no visible nards.

          • Aenthin says:

            I agree with the comment regarding Saiki. When it comes to Joe and Hwa Jai, palette swaps they may be but Hwa Jai is obviously oozing with his own crazy personality compared to Joe’s more cocky, headstrong feel. While they do have some similarities, particularly their normal attacks, SNK managed to pull off a totally different moveset and certain animations for Hwa Jai, differentiating him greatly from Joe.

            From that note, I was really expecting more about Saiki’s animations when they announced him as a playable character. I was expecting them to omit the animation where Ash plays with his hair but sadly, they didn’t. If you think about it, it could also mean Saiki doesn’t take his opponents seriously although it doesn’t portray it as powerfully as Ash plays with his opponents. As well as that, with the exception of his supers where he treats everyone like worms, his overall personality doesn’t seem to flesh out when he attacks.

            • Arttronik says:

              Hey everyone! I think Saiki deserves a bit more credit!

              While we see its virtually Ash, Saiki certainly has his own personality. He has Ash’s finesse-but with the intent of a stone cold killer. Rather than playing with his hair and frolicking around-he holds his hands upon his hips and exhales an exasperated sigh. He’s so arrogant-tired of someone unworthy fighting him, and he has no problem putting you in your place. He moves with little effort, yet malicious force. One of his moves is a forceful kick that shows this.

              Also, check out his supers. A combo based off his anti-air kick, then the most arrogant and disheartening stomp and smashing of your face. Its one step short of a curbstomp, heh Not to mention he then kicks your body away!

              Take a look at the video below to see what I mean:

              He may not be as entertaining as Ash, but he’s certainly not a bad idea or merely a clone!

      • Oğuz says:

        Speaking of Jojo and Saiki (the human! version) reminds me another jojo character (especially hair and face). To give a clue lets picture Ash holding a frog or ice cream cone instead of Carrot;

        ash crimson is doppio

        “Hello, yes I found the three sacred treasures. No sir, there wont be any problem, sir.”
        Did it ring any bell? I always wondered if he was a playable fighting game character how would they handle his powers. Saiki is the answer especially his teleport moves, except for the black flames.

        • Richmond says:

          Holy Moly! You’re absolutely right!
          Ash Crimson is Doppio!!!

          ash crimson is Doppio from Jojo's Bizarre Adventure!

          In Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure there is a super secretive villain named Diavolo who has a sweet, seemingly innocent freckled young henchmen named Doppio (which means “double” in Italian). It turns out that Doppio is actually a split personality of Diavolo, just as Ash is a fragment of Saiki broken off into his own person. Together, Diavolo and Doppio have a stand (a super powered astral projection of themselves) named … King CRIMSON!

          Thank you so much for figuring that out Oğuz!

  24. Alfredo says:

    Man I really liked this article, somehow I ended up here, randomly because of my love to KOF series. Thanks for sharing the love LOL.

    P.S. KOF XIII is ALMOST perfect, only missing the opening secuences when a character is gonna fight another, and a good online mode, it really sucks.

  25. thatguy says:

    -Mai-
    “Who is this person? What makes them distinct? How can we express their individuality even better?”

    BOOBS

    sorry for immaturity

    • Richmond says:

      No need to be sorry. Your one word summary cuts straight to the heart with surgical, yet poetic precision.

    • AndyLC says:

      No, that’s a very important element. Every KoF girl has quite the distinct chest.

      Mai’s large, freely bouncing pornographic breasts vs Yuri’s teenage bosoms vs King’s explosive surprise, they factor a lot into the characters

  26. Hiryu02 says:

    Sorry for the late comment, but I was only linked to this article recently. As it stands, it’s a great article. However I just wanted to mention that KOF13 is missing a few things that really made the earlier games great from a “personality/artwork/animation” standpoint. Namely, pre-fight intros and special intros between certain characters, or as I like to call them, “relationship intros”

    First, pre-fight intros. These did a lot to flesh out each character’s personality. Joe Higashi for example appeared in his champion’s robe and threw it off, or did a short shadowboxing sequence before telling his oppenent “let’s go!”. He also had a special intro vs King in which he wore his championship belt, showing off to King who is also a muay thai fighter.

    Ralf and Clark had a special intro vs each other in which they did a short synchronized pose, a’la power rangers. but if you put either of them vs their other teammates, Clark for example would give a salute.

    Iori and Kyo always had a special intro vs each other, basically talking trash before the match, demonstrating the enmity of their clans. Benimaru always flirted with the female opponents, as befitting his characterization as a pretty boy.

    This carried over to nearly every member of the cast in some form. Andy vs Mai, Kim vs any “evil” character, Shermie vs any handsome male character, etc.

    These were little things from which you could extrapolate how the characters “felt” about each other within their own world. And evern in their standard pre-fight intros, you could get a sense of each character’s personality. Terry is brash and confident, Robert is stylish, Vice is crazy and so is Ryuji, Heidern is stoic, Geese obviously feels superior to you and so on.

    I really wish they had added all these back in the new KOF, I know it would have cost time and money to animate these poses and intros, but I felt they added a layer of personality and characterization to the KOF series that the SF series has never matched.

    I’d love to hear your thoughts on this.

    • Richmond says:

      I agree that KOF XIII would be even better with all those extra touches. Hopefully this game will do well enough that they put all those things in part XIV.

      All those character specific details you mentioned are great. SNK has really done a lot over the years to push immersion and characterization in their games in very subtle ways.
      I recall that they used to record multiple voice samples per move so you didn’t hear the exact same exclamation over and over. That little bit of variance makes the game feel that much more alive.

      I believe there was also a KOF where characters would say different things mid match depending on the matcups. Like if Iori and K fought, they would forgo calling out their move names and say stuff like “this ends now!”

      I love it! I really really hope those things surface in the next KOF (if they make one–crossing my fingers)

      In the meantime, KOF XIII is still full of amazing subtle detail (like how the lighting actually changes from stage to stage! You don’t see that often in 2d!)

      • Gimnbo says:

        When I was playing training mode in KOF 13 I noticed that, when getting up, Kyo and Iori were saying things like “[Japanese stuff] Yagami!” and “[Japanese stuff] Kyo!” to each other.

  27. Jeff Nevins says:

    Nice post! Great design analysis. I’m an indie animator/designer, own this game, and found this from the GameFAQs KOF13 board. Great humor in here as well.

    • Richmond says:

      Thanks! Nice to know that my little post is floating around the world of KOF fandom! Also, it’s really nice to talk to a game developer that likes KOF XIII! I know very few designers who are into fighting games, much less 2d fighters!

      Do you currently have a game in the works? If so, feel free to share it here.

  28. Mycroft says:

    This is one of the most interesting, well-thought-out articles I’ve ever seen on(or linked to) a fighting game site. Single-handedly makes me want to forget Shoryuken and Eventhubs so I don’t miss any of your work!

    At first, I wondered if I really wanted Ralf/Clark to have this redesign that was almost Zangief-esque, but it’s since really grown on me. You raise good points about the others, as well.

    One little mistake, though: Raiden’s most definitely an Aussie, though maybe you just meant his design is clearly influenced by what’s common in American pro wrestling.

    Anyway, main purpose of my comment is to say I hope you don’t stop writing for this site. Refreshing.

    • Richmond says:

      Thanks for your kind words! They’re really energizing!

      Also, doh! I totally forgot that Raiden was Australian! No wonder it says he hates Koalas in his bio! (I thought he was just being a jerk!)
      Thanks for the heads up!

  29. ZenTzen says:

    Terry isnt really a truck driver, hes more of a freeter taking odd jobs from time to time to make aliving, also I think his body resembles more of a mixed martial artist, seeing as hes got training in karate, boxing, kickboxing and kung fu, he also learned fictional martial arts from his father and Tung Fu Rue, which cements him more as a MMA fighter, he just develops his skills with street fighting, also i prefered a little bit his beta design which made him look more has his original design, like, less bulky has he is now.

    • Richmond says:

      Yeah the beta design was cool too. I’d have been happy with a taller classic Terry as well. But i really like the new one! I’ll update that bit about him not really being a truck driver. I had to google what “freeter” meant haha. You’re the second person to use that term to describe Terry in this comment section. I thought you guys were saying “Freighter” at first :P

      It’s interesting to note all the cross training that Terry did across different martial arts. He was actually ahead of most real life MMA fighters of the early 90s!

  30. Simon Adams says:

    Good article Richmond. However I think you may have oversimplified the evolution of the KOF character designs. You failed to go into the character artists individual styles and influences. This probably has a lot to do with the changing look of the characters. The original designs took influence from Shinkiro who’s characters back then were lean and blocky (as was the trend in Japanese comics at that time). The HD designs were influenced by Falcoon (I think he was even the character redesigner). The colours and body shapes were matching Falcoon’s own visions of the characters. And Falcoon was in turn influenced by Capcom’s character designs (I would imagine) as when he did his “one character a day” on his website games like Street Fighter III Third Strike were in their prime.

    Would love to hear your comments about this.

    Thanks.

    Simon.

    • Richmond says:

      I definitely oversimplified the evolution of the KOF designs! That’s a very complex subject! There’s such a vast history behind the characters and how they’ve been shaped by so many different hands over the years. In this way long running Fighting Game characters are a lot like Super Heroes.

      I remember when KOF 94 first came out, it had a very distinct look, probably very much influenced by Shinkiro. The characters were taller like you said, more realistically proportioned and not over muscular.

      I believe the current look of KOF was established by Nona who did the character art for SVC Chaos and was Art Director on KOF XII. Most of the changes and sprites I’m talking about were actually from KOF XII, but it’s easier to talk about XIII as XII (as beautiful as it was) felt very much like an unfinished beta of XIII. Nona was not the art director on XIII (I think his understudy took over) but the game still bears his mark.

      • Richmond says:

        Also I remember Falcoon’s old website! He used to post new drawings almost daily! Good times! I think both Falcoon and Nona were definitely Capcom fans.

  31. Gimnbo says:

    Are you waiting for someone to point out the lack of Hwa Jai in the sprite collection? I’m imagining you didn’t put him on since he’s just a headswap of Joe. Though he does look a lot more emaciated.

    • Richmond says:

      Nope! I just forgot! Thanks for the tip! Will update the image soon.
      Also, it is interesting that even though he’s a headswap of joe, he seems much skinnier. I think it’s mostly cos of his face, but it’s also pushed by how his limbs are bare (no wrapping to visually break them up so you pay more attention to his boney musculature).

  32. AndyLC says:

    This kind of thing is really lacking in a lot of modern games

    Look at any first person shooter, it’s amazing how space marines and space apes and armored Predators can all run, hop, and shoot in the exact same way

    Look at most MMOs, it’s amazing how orcs, elves, dwarves, paladins and assassins can all swing an axe, sword, or dagger in the exact same way.

    But the thing is, when you play an FPS, you are not a space marine or a space ape, you are a disembodied gun that floats around.
    When you play an MMO, you aren’t judging timing or distance, attacking is a matter of hitting buttons with cooldown timers.

    Today’s most popular games completely detach character models from actual gameplay.

    You could replace every space marine, commando, paladin and wizard with a block of tofu and gameplay would not be adversely affected one bit.

    • Arttronik says:

      I totally agree! I read this post and was thinking: “Man, I’ve been saying that for a while! I’m glad someone else sees it!”

      …then I looked at who WROTE it. LOL!

      As always, you make a great point- Andy!

  33. thec0re3 says:

    Great post!! As a long time KOF fan and an aspiring video game animator, I definitely found this to be very informative. One of the things that drew me to KOF the most was the extra detail of animation they added to certain characters like Leona’s head reaction when she would crouch or XIII’s Robert who relaxes his shoulders after throwing a punch. Its those kind of attention to details that I can really appreciate. I definitely hope you do a lot more of these in future.

  34. Gargamuza says:

    Excellent article, I love when you talk about sprite animation like this and Darkstalkers. I’m getting into animation and you bring up a lot of good helpful stuff for someone like me who’s starting at animating / designing sprites.

  35. solidshark says:

    Excellent article. Big SNK and fighting fan in-general, and it’s great to see an article take note of all the small and excellent details that went into XIII. SNK fighters are what set the bar of expectations for me when it came to aestetics; it wasn’t until games like KOF’95, SS II & IV, FF, AOF, LB, and others where the design and atmosphere mattered as much as the fighting itself.

    Walking into XII and XIII (especially XIII), while I was sort of bummed out about everyone reverting back to older outfits, the detail that went into them and everything about them floored me. And listening to what people notice about them only makes me like the aestetics more. Your analysis of Ash as the Bugs Bunny of fighting – I never would’ve made that connection, but you’re right. All he needs is a carrot and to say “What’s up Doc?” in French.

    I’m wondering if you’ve tried out the color-edit mode yet Richmond, which is almost a miracle design itself. So many ways to create so many characters. Some of my favorites have been Billy as Donatello from TMNT, King as Dudley from SFIII, Athena as Kagome from Inuyasha, and recently Clark as the Hulk, or Cluck (trust me, it works).

  36. ipodderx says:

    Personally i think Street Fighter series have much better character designs due to a larger variations of (colorful) personality, fighting styles, and different nationalities.

    You have 2 very different boxers (Balrog, a low class black boxer who plays dirty, Dudley, a rich upper class boxer with elegant background), very different wrestlers with very different fighting styles (a female,lean ring wrestler Rainbow Mika, a Mexican luchador El Fuerte, a Turkish oil wrestler Hakan, Sumo wrestler E-Honda etc), outlandish characters like Blanka, a hermit Oro, the mystery agent Q, kunoichi Ibuki, Elena with her Capoeira style, Yoga fighter Dhalsim etc.

    While KOF fighters have flashy costumes, it seems many of them wears pants/jeans with boots.

    • Richmond says:

      I think previous King of Fighters have had a more specific focus with the character designs (make them all look cool and stylish), but I think KOF XIII has one of the most varied and interesting casts of any fighting game. Just as the Street Fighter franchise has 2 very different boxers, look at the variety of large grappler types in KOF:

      You got Ralf and Clark, who go beyond the classic big dude arche-type and actually look like they’re on steroids compared to the rest of the cast (which is tough to do in a game where everyone’s so exagerrated):
      arnold
      sylvester stallone's head on arnold's body

      Then there’s Raiden, a good old fashioned naturally huge, big boned American Style Pro Wrestler (he’s actually Australian–thanks for the tip Mycroft!):
      Vader

      Then there’s Goro, the monstrous Judoka who very likely has a pituitary gland disorder:
      gigantism

      All of them could have easily shared a generic big man build, but they really went the extra mile to redefine them for this game!

      • AndyLC says:

        Clark and Ralph survived Metal Slug.

        They probably had a similar response to dramatic mutant trauma as Chris Redfield, that is, to get as huge as possible.

        • Richmond says:

          Hahahahahaha. “Dramatic Mutant Trauma.” Actually makes perfect sense!

        • Niki says:

          Glad you like it, i was a bit worried due the last game, but i did had big faith on this one, and thank to god it didnt dspiaiosnt, you know iam kind of new to this series, i did played it once in my life and find it a really good fighter, but my hands down time with it, was very brief, in venezuela the neo geo was not that popular i think my friend was the only person in the country that did own it, but sadly he did move from city, therefore i stoped playing this amazing series.Thanks for the prompt review guys, i know you are pretty busy

      • Oğuz says:

        Well, dont forget to add Shermie -a French woman in to fashion-, Hinako a Russian-Japanese Sumo wrestler and fan- Angel a luca style pro wrestler, likewise Ramon. I understand you gave examples from KOFXIII but overall KOF has a lot of grapplers, too.

    • solidshark says:

      I agree that SF has got some great designs spanning many years and probably more countries than any other fighter to date (hence the World Warriors), but I’d say you’d be able to find a lot of those varied qualities in games like KOF too.

      KOF characters are more prone to fashionable or practical outfitting, yes, but one thing I’ll give them that I wish Capcom would do more for SF and other enduring fighters is changes. Several tl;dr blogs could be made in character changes, movelists, outfitting, even in personality. For example, Kyo held the same outfit and attitude from ’94 to ’98

      http://www.fightersgeneration.com/characters2/ky98stance.gif

      When he appeared in ’99 taking off his trademark white headband and burning it, you got a sense that he’d changed, even matured from his usual high-school cockiness.

      http://www.fightersgeneration.com/characters2/snk-kyo2.gif

  37. Oğuz says:

    Cant wait for your other posts.
    The article about animation of Darkstalkers has helped me realize some aspects. I sometimes watch slow-motion of some animation of sprites.
    One of my favourite animation is also from one of my favourite character; Athena. Her Psycho .sword animation is core for explaining her design. The way she lands is magnificient.
    That makes you understand that her fighting is really supported by her psychic powers,
    sure she has fireball but this animation distinctive from other fireball-ers.
    Especially her close counter part Kensou. Both use Kung- Fu and have psychic powers,
    but we can easily understand that Kensou rely on his kung-fu technics and Athena rely on her psychic powers, her kicks, punches the way her throwing her body, even her stance is supported by her powers. Still couldnt get used to her sprite but overall design choice is redeemed her sprite choice.

    Characters like Billy who looks stiff like stick at first but later you realize his hand animation, this slight animation makes you understand he looks patient but infact he’s impatient to beat you with his stick. So this slight animation is a key point to his bluff. And its beautiful, unfortunately it requires eyes to see!

    I hope your next posts would be richly full of delicious details like this. No pressure :)

    And while still be enjoying KOF XIII hopefully this approach continues possible future titles like NGBC, Metal Slug, Samurai Shadown FF, AOF and next crossover and such!

    • Richmond says:

      This is exactly the kind of discussion I was hoping for! Great observations! What a wonderful distinction, to be able to subtly convey that Athena is moving herself with her mind rather than pure athleticism. Also, great description of Billy. His seemingly calm stance reflects greater maturity, but like you said, the way he rolls his fingers belies his wild nature. It’s a nice contrast between his stance and his explosive moves.

      • Oğuz says:

        I intended to be animator, Bu I couldnt past the exams also whole country (turkiye) had only one class for twenty students. Bummer. Financially I wasnt strong enough to go to an abroad school.. But this misfortunes are not obstacle for me to enjoy a good animation.

        But What I love is also figuring/solving the designs, sometimes you cant notice on your own or in the heat of battle (for fighters). So these posts and talk is what I enjoy. So much to learn and amaze :)
        For example I played and watched great deal of street fighter 3 series but never know the origins/intent/inspiration for Gill. But arttronik blog enlightened me about the design. Cool.

        I would like to talk about other examples but nothing comes to my mind right now. Other than wishlist of characters and games for future.

        • Arttronik says:

          I’m glad you havent given up at all! Do you ever just animate on your own? Do you have a link to your work?

          • Oğuz says:

            Unfortunately, no. I wanted to be but I lack tools and technic. And I am trapped in everyday bullshit :( Studying wine right now. I only got my sketches. and some artwork. Nothing spectecular :(

    • Richmond says:

      A Samurai Shodown vs Last Blade in the KOF XIII style would be THE COOLEST GAME EVER.

  38. BioBooster says:

    Wonderful write up – you hit it right on the head. I’ll also be looking forward to upcoming posts :)

    • Richmond says:

      Thanks for the encouragement! I’m going to be updating a little more regularly this coming year. If you want to stay on top of my blog, try following me on Twitter of Facebook (I promise I won’t gum up your feed with useless updates :P)

    • Richmond says:

      Thanks! Please follow me on Twitter or Facebook if you’d like to know when this blog’s updated (or if you’d like to give me a confidence boost!)

  39. Pingback: The King of Characters, a brilliant post by good friend: Art Eater | Arttronik's Blog

  40. Genzoman says:

    Great article! really good analysis :)

  41. AndyLC says:

    Playing gears of war, half the time I spent shooting at my own guys ’cause I couldn’t see the pointy teeth that distinguishes the grey bald linebacker locust from grey bald linebacker cogs.

    The odd thing with the ‘bald marine’ design is… none of them actually look distinct enough to be a Bald Hollywood Action Star. Bruce Willis, The Rock, Vin Diesel, they have distinct, memorable faces.
    *I was about to say “But Chronicles of Riddick had great faces…” then I remembered “oh right, that’s Vin Diesel in 3D”

    • Richmond says:

      Haha, I had the same problem with the game. Everyone looks the same. Even when you’re close up, things can get confusing. The game has a strong aesthetic though, even if it’s fairly one note. You can tell what game it is at a glance, unlike many other shooters (I know people who bought and beat Call of Duty thinking it was Battlefield).

  42. Karasu99 says:

    Fantastic article! I really appreciated the comparison images between 94, XIII, and real life martial artists. As far as KOF goes, I love the ‘back to the roots’ approach SNKP took with fighters like Terry and Kensou. By the way, if I recall correctly, wasn’t KOF’s original style intended to be more realistic and gritty than the cartoonist style of Garou? I remember a lot being made of its style back in94.

    • Richmond says:

      Thanks! Yeah I’m really digging how they’re taking the characters back to their roots, but then re-imagining them from there. I do recall KOF being more gritty and realistic and rendered looking than other games when it came out. Garou has a nice bubbly feeling to it with lots of pastels while KOF is very sharp and angular with lots of banded shading and heavy use of black for shading.

  43. Arttronik says:

    Rich! Another fun post! I like this quite a bit-nice observations! I play Maxima-what does that make me? Haha!

    Seriously though, Nona, Ogura and the rest of their design team really did out do themselves with these redesigns. They could have played into popular trends as you said and they didnt. In fact, these characters have never looked better. Best fighting game I’ve played since the era of Third Strike and CVS2.

    Not to mention the music, menus, and voices….(but most notably the artwork!) this is really a godsend of a game!

  44. Oğuz says:

    I’m the rapid fanboy of your fighting game animation & design reviews. It was delightful to read it.

    “I could go on and on about each cast member (and I probably will in future posts)”
    Oh, please do that.

    • Richmond says:

      Definitely gonna be doing this, especially after your comments. May I have your permission to copy and paste your comments on Athena into a new post? Also, Tai-Pan on MMCafe (who is a longtime practioner of Karate) had some AMAZING insights into Takuma that I’d like to repost.

      • Oğuz says:

        I’d be honored. Of course. I didnt see your reply thats why I answered late. + I’m touched, sincerely. ( ; _ ;).

        • Oğuz says:

          Sorry double post, but please ask Tai-pan difference between Takuma’s and Mr. Karate’s stance differences. Other than it is awesome to give them different stance. What’s the intent? Is it changed because the styles are significantly different? Or simply this oldman’s foolishness that he thinks he fools everyone about the alter ego by using another stance? Thanks.

  45. Toxico says:

    Personally, I liked Terry a tad bit more when in the Fatal Fury Special days, where he wasn’t a buff-a-dude type of guy but he was rather a slim guy with a tall body who stretched himself to the limit when doing his attacks (like, in his legendary far standing D at the time); to me it was a very strong distinctive feature from other main characters that traveled the world trying to be the strongest and train themselves to the limit to achieve perfection; Terry was not perfect but rather had that unbalanced body of his; that -to a point- it kinda linked him with Andy who’s pre-koppo training background includes a complex about having a small body unsuited for fighting.

    He is not a truck driver BTW (I think), it’s hinted that he had to freeter jobs from time to time to make a living, but they never told us what he had to do.

    • Richmond says:

      Classic Terry is great too. That’s a cool description of him. I really like how he and Andy contrast and compliment one another. For some reason I always had this image of Terry behind the wheel of an 18 Wheeler. Maybe it’s just his trucker cap and overall blue collar feeling?

  46. Pingback: King of Fighters – Lucky Number XIII | Art-Eater

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