Quick light query: Are you a fan of fighting games? If you are, which is your favorite fighting game? I bet there is a sizeable bunch whose candlelight for King of Fighters still burns bright. Others may be holding fast to their love for Street Fighter, while others may, no less, gravitate towards the more brutal Mortal Kombat foray. Regardless of which fighting game you prefer, it’s no secret that the King of Fighters franchise is a respectable trade marker in its own right.
Developed by SNK, King of Fighters is one of its many pet projects that has for a long time held its ground. Not even SNK’s bankruptcy could slow the series down. Since it's first ever release in 1994, King of Fighters has continued to revamp its mechanics, character rosters, visuals, and more to fully satisfy the needs of its loyal following. Now, there are at least 14 sequels and plenty more spinoffs. Today, we want to take a quick walk down memory lane and rank the five best King of Fighters games of all time. Which one is your favorite?
5. King of Fighters ‘97
One of the most popularly played arcade games was King of Fighters ‘97. Particularly because it improved on its predecessors’ roster list and gameplay. Orochi Iori and Orochi Leona were among the newly introduced characters you could play, with the updated visuals and moves revamping the game further.
A new “Advanced” and “Extra” mode were introduced, with each one elevating their similar counterparts from ‘96 and ‘94’s gameplay, respectively. To top it off, King of Fighters ‘97 wrapped up the Orochi saga nicely. Characters Kyo, Iori, and Chizuru took center stage to bring down the enemy, all while taking part in the usual King of Fighters head-to-head battles.
The only thing that places it in the fifth spot among the five best King of Fighters games of all time is the sometimes void-of-music rounds that came out bland and the gameplay that fell slightly short.
4. King of Fighters XI
King of Fighters XI is the second chapter of “Tales of Ash.” Among its most memorable highlights are the new mechanics that introduced a new numbering system, the option to switch out characters mid-fight, and the overall updates to the characters, stages, and soundtrack of its predecessor.
This 2003 2D fighting game packed lots of fun times, with its fast and complex battles. Over the years, the franchise would refine and tweak the gameplay and characters. By King of Fighters XI, the gameplay was faster and smoother than ever before. The graphics could have used a little more love, though. No doubt the gaming era plays a part in its lacklusterness.
3. King of Fighters XIII
King of Fighters XIII serves as the finale to the Ash Crimson saga. It’s also what wrapped up the sprite-based era with finesse deserving of the franchise. The whole beautiful animated style is definitely missed, especially with the splash of detail and fluidity King of Fighters XIII adds to the series. In addition, the return of fan-favorite Mai Shiranui after being solely missed for several previous entries completely kicked the ball out of the park for this one.
King of Fighters XIII takes away everything that failed before. In its place, it brings new gameplay additions to the series. For instance, the EX mode allowed players to amplify their abilities further. Also, both the casual and competitive gameplay is said to be one of the most awesome-playable ones to date.
2. King of Fighters XIV
Perhaps it’s the greatness of King of Fighters XIII that made certain King of Fighters XIV is to be remembered. Building off of an already well-performing game has its perks. But it’s also the supporting modern-age technology that fully amplified the true power of three-dimensional models and backgrounds.
King of Fighters XIV maintains its fast-paced combat and adds new features, characters, and mechanics, marrying the best aspects of the series with up-to-date technology. Together, King of Fighters XIV paved the way for a new era of the franchise, which is still going on today.
Compared to other 3D fighting franchises, King of Fighters XV may fall slightly short. However, the game still performs relatively well, enough to warrant the continuation of the franchise with the latest 2022 game. Even without the move to 3D, King of Fighters XV still boasts one of the most memorable character additions of all time.
1. King of Fighters ‘98
If you ask any King of Fighters fan to name their best King of Fighters game of all time, they’ll most likely say it’s King of Fighters ‘98. That’s because every franchise owes its flourishing success to its roots. And for King of Fighters, King of Fighters ‘98 is where things really started to get moving.
King of Fighters ‘98 is highly rated, even across all fighting games. It features the Advanced and Extra gameplay modes, with virtually every character available to play (including the ones who actually died). The character sprites were at their best, exuding the flair that the animations from back in the day possessed. Add to that the perfectly designed Orochi saga that added meat to the bone of fighting games, and you had yourself a last title.
While most of the titles on this list excelled based on the tried and tested theories of their predecessors, King of Fighters ‘98 still stands on its own two feet. Consequently, many King of Fighters games would always be critiqued based on how they compared to it. King of Fighters ‘98 created a “dream match” system where players had overwhelming freedom to mix and match teams. It chose a minimalistic approach and perfected each detail to the core, utilizing the essence of “less is more” or something close to it.
So, what’s your take? Do you agree with our five best King of Fighters games of all time, ranked? Are there more games we should know about? Do let us know down in the comments or over on our socials here.