After the success SNK had with both the Fatal Fury and Art of Fighting series, they wanted to move on to something else. SNK had no plans to stop making new entries in either of those series, so they decided to do a crossover title that would attract fans of both series. The original idea wasn’t to make a fighting game at all, but rather a side scrolling beat ’em up. The prototype of the game was called Survivor, but that’s about all we know for certain. Apparently there was a location test version created that featured Robert Garcia and Terry Bogard as playable characters. Not much else is known about the prototype as development quickly switched gears. SNK really loved the idea of a cross-over game, but they weren’t entirely sure players would be interested in Survivor given how popular Capcom’s Final Fight was. In other words, they were a little worried this game would appear as another ‘me too’ type of game, much like what had happened with Fatal Fury. After what must have been some length internal discussions, it was decided that instead of a beat ’em up, the game would become a fighter, something they knew a lot about by this point in time.
Now that the development team had a clear direction, they wanted to expand the roster of playable characters beyond just Fatal Fury and Art of Fighting. As a result the team dug a little deeper into the SNK vault and selected two extremely popular arcade hits from the pre-Neo Geo days, Ikari Warriors and Psycho Soldier and added some of those characters into the mix. Now they had a very diverse cast of characters, but it still didn’t feel original enough. Remember that in 1992/93 Street Fighter II was still the king of arcades, so they wanted to do something else to really separate it from the rest of the pack. For whatever reason it was decided the team mechanic from the beat ’em up prototype would be carried over to the fighting game. Thus the creation of a team-based fighter was born.
While in the process of creating the characters for each team, the development staff quickly realized they didn’t have enough diversity even with the additional characters from Ikari Warriors and Psycho Soldier. They knew they also had to add some fresh blood to the mix, and started creating all new original characters. What was supposed to be a quick dream match fighting game, turned into something much more. In the end there were a total of eight selectable teams, with three characters per team.
Kyo Kusanagi was created to be the main protagonist of the series, however given the game’s inability to mix and match fighters from different teams, it was eventually decided that players would decide who the real ‘hero’ was. Kyo’s role would be greatly expanded in the next entry in the series, and from there on out.
In total, here’s a list of all the characters that made their way into the game from previous SNK games.
Terry Bogard – From Fatal Fury series
Andy Bogard – From Fatal Fury series
Joe Higashi – From Fatal Fury series
Mai Shiranui – From Fatal Fury series
Kim Kaphwan – From Fatal Fury series
Ryo Sakazaki – From Art of Fighting series
Robert Garcia – From Art of Fighting series
Takuma Sakazaki – From Art of Fighting series
King – From Art of Fighting series
Yuri Sakazaki – From Art of Fighting series
Ralf Jones – From Ikari Warriors series
Clark Still – From Ikari Warriors series
Athena Asamiya – From Athena and Psycho Soldier
Sie Kensou – From Psycho Soldier
Here’s a list of the brand new characters.
With the character roster complete, they had to decide on a name for the game, which likely came about very early on in development. After all they knew they were going to need some sort of tournament to bring all these characters together, and what better tournament than the one they’d already established in both Fatal Fury and Art of Fighting. So it was decided, this was be called The King of Fighters ’94. SNK was also very smart to point out this new series would take place outside Fatal Fury and Art of Fighting canon. This way they wouldn’t have to explain why Art of Fighting characters were young, and how other characters managed to find their way to this game. It was supposed to be a dream match anyways, so they figured not too many people would care.
The development team did add a story though, a rather simple one at first. Rugal Bernstein is a powerful arms dealer and drug trafficker, who also happens to be one kick ass fighter. He’s gotten to the point where he’s untouchable and so decides to test his strength against the best in the world, so he holds a team-based tournament with the best of the best. He sends out his secretary to travel all over the world and invite groups of three fighters from each region to represent a certain nationality. This helps explain why each team is based on a country.
When it came time to the core gameplay, the developers originally wanted to balance out each individual fighter, but with a roster of 24 characters, they didn’t have the time nor money to do everything they wanted. In the end the Art of Fighting characters are slightly more powerful than the rest of the pack. This issue would be fixed in the following release, and one must commend the developers for managing to expand the move sets of many popular characters like Terry and Andy Bogard.
Each character plays as you might expect, with standard, special, and super moves. The button layout mimicked Fatal Fury Special, meaning weak kick, and punch, and fierce kick and punch. Players could use combinations in order to dodge incoming attacks, block, etc. This was all standard fair by the time the game released in August 1994. KOF ’94 also borrowed gameplay improvements made by both series it was originally based on. As such there’s a power meter in the bottom of the screen which fills as players block, or take damage. There’s also a way to fill it yourself, although it leaves you open to attack and requires three buttons be pressed at the same time. When full, this meter strengthens the attacks of all your moves and also grants you the ability to pull off your character’s super move. It’s possible to taunt other players to decrease their meter. When health drops below 75% it’s also possible for players to execute their super move.
Instead of selecting individual characters to fight with, players selected one of the eight available teams. From there they would select which character on the team they wanted to start with. Matches were set up one-on-one, but the only way to win was to down all three members of the opponent’s team. In the event one player was defeated, the next team-member in line would jump in to fight, and the standing character would regain a bit of health. It was also possible to execute support attacks from those teammates who were waiting for their turn to fight.
Overall KOF ’94 was extremely innovative for its time. Players loved that one credit could potentially last five ’rounds’. It was also the first of its kind, and ushered in an entirely new way for gamers to play a fighting game. The King of Fighters is directly responsible for helping usher in the tag team sub-genre, which would officially kick off with Kizuna Encounter and X-Men vs. Street Fighter in 1995/6. While not a tag fighter itself, it was clear where things were heading with this team-based fighter. KOF ’94 was also the originator of the crossover sub-genre, which would gain mainstream popularity with X-Men vs. Street Fighter a few years later.
History remembers KOF ’94 as one of the most innovative and best fighting games from the early to mid-nineties. It was one of the most fluid and graphically impressive games of its time. In 1994 EGM awarded the game Best Fighting Game of the Year, and Best Neo Geo Game of the Year. It was extremely well received by fans, and would lead to the creation of yearly King of Fighters games until SNK ceased production of the MVS hardware in 2004. The last official release being The King of Fighters 2003 which was released in December 2003.