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 official art by nona for SNK

…or roughneck Terry.

King of Fighters XIII Terry Bogard official art by nona for SNK

Are you a bad ass loner? Pick K (if you secretly have a heart of gold)…

King of Fighters XIII, K' art by Nona for SNK

…or Iori (if you really are a cruel bastard).

King of Fighters XIII, Iori Yagami art by Nona for SNK

Are you plucky and spirited? Try Kensou.

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

Are you everyone’s little sister? Try Yuri.

King of Fighters XIII, Yuri art by Nona for SNK

Do you enjoy the finer things in life? Try Elizabeth.

King of Fighters XIII, Elizabeth 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.

King of Fighters XIII, Ash Crimson art by Nona for SNK

With his sly confident demeanor and predilection 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!

Ash twiddling his hair

He attacks with lazy waves of his arms and throws fireballs by blowing a kiss.

Various attacks for Ash

He crouches like a delinquent taking a smoke break.

Look at him waiting

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!

What often happens when jumping on Ash

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 characters of Gears of War

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.

The various races in Skyrim

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

Various generic bald marines

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 it’s varied splendour!

King of Fighters various body types ! <3

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.

left: Joe in KOF 94, middle: Joe in KOF XIII, right: K-1 fighter Kaoklai Kaennorsing and far right, a legendary 170 lb kickboxer who took down legit heavyweights!

You can see Kaoklai Kaennorsing in action here

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.

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 more about Genki Sudo here!

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 accentuated 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.

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.

left: X-men by Jim Lee, right: X-men in the movie
Harley Quinn in Batman the Animated series vs in 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!

Thanks for reading!