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 plucky and spirited? Try Kensou.
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.
With his sly confident demeanor and prediliction for gender bending he is the Bugs Bunny of the Fighting Game world.
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.
He crouches like a delinquent taking a smoke break.
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 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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Or a leather makeover.
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!