|[ Writer ] = BAD
|[ 01/24/03 ] = The King Of Fighters EX2
After playing The King Of Fighters EX, I was both impressed and taken by the game and hoped that a second installment on the GBA hardware would be considered. My wishes were granted and KOFEX2 exists among fans of the fighting genre. Hot on the heels of KOF2002 comes KOFEX2. As soon as KOFEX2 starts to run, you know you're in for a treat; this game is an absolute masterpiece on the GBA hardware. Every aspect of The King Of Fighters EX2 shines, and comes very close to the goodness of Super Street Fighter II Turbo Revival. KOFEX2 not only succeeds in delivering what KOFEX did, but exceeds it greatly in all aspects. With the 3 on 3 team battle system, a new technique, 4 new characters, new illustrations, great sound, and a fresh story, KOFEX2 is a real work of art.
The biggest change from KOFEX to KOFEX2 is the battle system; KOFEX2 keeps the Striker system found in KOFEX but adopts the 3 on 3 team battle system of past KOF titles (and KOF2002). Rather than picking four characters and choosing your Striker as in KOFEX, in KOFEX2 you pick three fighters that work as Strikers depending on your chosen character order. For example, if I pick Andy, Kim, and Mai, Kim will be Andy's Striker, and Mai will be Kim's Striker, while Mai has no Striker. The first two characters to fight will always have a Striker, but the third never has one. This adds an especially intense aspect to the game, because the first match can be fought completely different than later matches, depending on if both players are on their last fighter or not. Overall, I like the 3 on 3 style of KOFEX2 because players have to carefully consider their options in choosing which characters will be Strikers. Also in KOFEX2 are the Time Attack and Endless modes of play to keep players glued to their seats. Just as in KOFEX and KOF2001, the Striker system allowed the player to perform some nasty combos; my highest combo in KOFEX2 is a 23-Hit with Andy and Kim (Striker). In every KOF game that has the Striker system, the screen can in a matter of seconds be filled with chaos, as four characters can battle on the screen at once; KOFEX2 is no exception, and it is awesome to see that all of this on-screen chaos is handled smoothly without a single glitch. Street Fighter fans may not like the chaos of the Striker system in KOFEX2, but KOF fans will enjoy filling the screen with hell.
KOFEX2 also contains a "Judging System" that evaluates your performance during matches and then ranks you (similar to Street Fighter III 3rd Strike). How do the rankings work? KOFEX2 ranks the player according to names, like "Newcomer, Wild Dog, Crow Beak, Black Jaguar, Tiger Fang, Silver Wolf, Thunder Hawk," and "Orochi Master." I might be missing a few, but the game has several rankings for each rank the player gets to throughout the game; whereas SFIII3S uses the alphabet for ranking, KOFEX2 uses the mentioned names. KOFEX2's ranking system is hard to win over; you'll be trying for hours on end to get to the fourth or fifth ranking, and tack on more time to get the game's higher rankings. The game's judging system is strict, and so far it doesn't seem like there is any easy way to get any of the higher rankings; at the time of this writing, my rank is "Orochi Master," but I still haven't made first place on the scoreboard. Only at the times when I played at the very top of my game was when I was able to satisfy the judging requirements for a high ranking. Rankings exist in KOFEX2 not only to show the player the status of their skills, but also to unlock secrets in the game; Time Attack and Endless (Survival) modes of play are unlockable through the judging system, as well as the "Master Mode" (more on this later) technique.
Although the gameplay of KOFEX was very good, KOFEX2's gameplay seems to be a lot less "stiff," and overall feels more polished. For instance, countering and performing some of the combos from KOFEX seemed to be easier to pull off on KOFEX2. KOFEX2's gameplay works great with the tried and true KOF LP/LK/HP/HK button configuration, rolls work just as they did in KOFEX, and Super Jumps and Short Jumps make their return. However, the Armor and Power Up techniques from KOFEX didn't make it to KOFEX2, and were replaced by a technique completely new to the KOF series. Called the "Master Mode," this new technique allows players to perform various extra abilities (like Super Cancelling, added priority, etc.), but is only available for characters at the master status in the game's ranking system. Also, the characters that you earned the Master Mode technique with have blue (instead of yellow) lifebars and different looking Super bars as well; the lifebars are actually a bit more detailed, as well.
KOFEX2 also has tough AI; this is especially apparent when you are trying to climb up the ranking ladder but get knocked off by some pretty rotten CPU counters. In KOFEX, Robert and Iori were the worst, but in KOFEX2 Iori is even smarter, and some of the other characters are really difficult to catch in MAX Super Moves. Takuma's AI is really bad in KOFEX2 though; no matter what time in the game you fight him, he'll always manage to take at least one of your fighters without a problem. As far as balance, from what I've noticed, Chang seems to be one of the most powerful (if not the most powerful), in the game. Just about every other character in the game can be countered, but Chang can sit across the screen and swing that wretched iron ball without even being touched by a lot of the Super Moves.
What happened? Was Chang made so powerful out of tester or developer pity? Not only that, but if you hit him at any time in his Counter Special Move animation, and no matter which frame you hit, you're dead. Kyo's moves seem like they have been given a little bit more priority than in KOFEX, and Clark's throws seem to catch easier. Also taken out of KOFEX2 are the long combos that were present in KOFEX; no more near-instant death at the hands of Kim or Ryo's raging chain combos. KOFEX2's combos have potential to be long just as in other KOF entries, but generally combos have been toned down; you'll see nothing like the terrible combos in KOF2000 or KOF2001. Overall though, the balance is reasonable, and not nearly as troublesome as that of KOF2002 or KOF2001. Fans should be pleased with KOFEX2's gameplay overall, and they should; the director of KOF'94 was the man behind the development of KOFEX2.
Now, on to KOFEX2's new cast of characters. Eleven of KOFEX's characters were cut from KOFEX2, and four completely new characters were put in their place. Benimaru, Jhun, Vanessa, Joe, Robert, K', Maxima, Whip, King, Chin (the drunk), and Shingo didn't make it into KOFEX2, but the addition of four completely new characters not seen in any past KOF game make it a fair trade. I would have liked to see Jhun, K', and Vanessa make it to KOFEX2's lineup, but the new fighters have great design and new fighting styles that make KOFEX2's battling interesting. In fact, I was so pleased with KOFEX2's roster that I find myself thinking less about what characters from KOFEX could have been in the game. One thing I am happy about, however, is the deletion of Chin from KOFEX2's selection; this drunk bastard has been in every KOF (I think), and I'm glad he was replaced by more decent fighters. With the deletion of Robert in KOFEX2, fans of the Art Of Fighting Team will be happy to see KOF veteran Takuma made it to KOFEX2's lineup. The returning fighters of KOFEX2 are:
KOFEX2's new characters are Reiji (a little girl tags along with him like Anita from Darkstalkers), Jun (a middle-aged fashion model), Miu (an evil schoolgirl), and Sinobu (the endboss, referred to as a mere child, but a pain in the ass). As said before, KOFEX2's new characters are completely new, and it shows; the only character that looks like he might be from the NESTS character type is the endboss. At the time of this writing, I have not unlocked Sinobu, and also have no knowledge of any other new characters in the game. The new additions to KOFEX2 are some of the most creative fighters put into a KOF game, and as always scream the style that KOF has been known for.
Of the new characters, my favorite is Reiji, and I think most KOF fans would agree; Reiji's character design is the essence of an SNK character. His design is fresh (look at his clothes!), and he doesn't look like a J-POP star (like some other KOF fighters). I'd have to say that in the SNK universe, Reiji is one of my all-time favorite characters to come from SNK's great design staff. Reiji's fighting style and stance is completely different than any other fighter in the game, his moves are fresh, and he takes a while to learn. Reiji's fighting style can be loosely related to the type of image attacking style Vanessa or Chris from KOF2001 use. Reiji's strong point is in his array of Special Moves and akward-hitting normal attacks, topped off with three unique Super Moves that are difficult to avoid. Reiji's animation is great, with good attack animation and the various animations of the little girl that he is always seen with. For example, at the beginning of each round, Reiji is holding the girl, sets her down, and starts the fight as the girl runs off the screen; at the end of the round, if Reiji has won, he holds out his arms, the little girl comes running from the side of the screen, climbs up his leg and into his arms, looks at Reiji, then looks at the screen. Awesome. So much personality was put into Reiji's animation, it's hard not to like his character design.
What other game has a middle-aged, tall, fashion model, with killer moves, stylish animation as part of its cast? None. This is yet another example of the distinct style that KOF possesses, and Jun would fit into no other fighter as well as she does in KOFEX2 (not even Guilty Gear). Jun uses a wrestling-based fighting style, with lots of nasty throws and some powerful kicks; her coolest move is a body slam followed by a quick, well-placed elbow drop. Jun's Super Moves are few, but satisfy nonetheless; with her Chop Buster Excellent Super Move, Jun stuns her opponent, elbows them, kicks them straight up off the screen, they come back down, bounce straight up, and then laid to rest after coming down a second time. Jun's main power lies within landing her throws and countering with her Special Moves while mixing it up with her various kicks. Jun's Special Moves are a bit slow, but her priority and reach is pretty good. Jun's animation is pretty good, with some cool win pose and walking animations. Jun is a great character, and along with Reiji I think that she is the product of great designers, but also the product of that style that KOF characters are made of. Jun is a middle-aged fashion model, in a fighting game. Awesome. What a beautiful character. It doesn't get much better than this...
Miu is perhaps the strangest of the new characters; her Special Moves are a mixed bag, and Super Moves are a bit slow but powerful. As said before, Miu looks somewhat evil, and her moves are all related to her fondness for crows. Miu's projectiles are crow feathers, single or double (like King), she has a lunging drill Special Move that does good block damage, followed by a nice array of other strange moves to throw off her opponents. My impression of Miu is that she is mostly a distance fighter due to the slowness of some of her key moves, as well as the importance of her to counter a move in order to hit with some of her moves. Miu's Special Moves do some good chipping damage, her projectiles are a bit tricky to jump over, and her normal attacks are a bit hard to predict, but when I play her I can't seem to keep an edge in a match. Miu might be a good character for those who are willing to spend time learning her techniques, but probably not recommended for glitch weilders and casual KOF players. In the animation department, Miu looks good; the animation on her dress is very fluid, as is the animation on her hair or the crows that scatter during her entry.
The King Of Fighters EX2 also brings a completely new boss into the KOF series. Thankfully Rugal in one shape, way, form, or another wasn't put into KOFEX2 as the endboss, and instead Sinobu was chosen. Looking a bit like a character from the NESTS design of recent KOF games, Sinobu looks a bit younger than the other fighters (except Bao), levitates off the ground, and packs one hell of a punch. Sinobu uses the elements in his moves; he uses cyclone wind and lightning attacks to dispose of you in a timely manner. The wind attacks Sinobu uses are usually to ward off distant opponents, while the lightning attacks are used for close fighting. However, Sinobu gets pissed after his first defeat and turns older, and becomes orange with a circular glow around his body; in this transformation, he acquires a vertical thunderbolt move that is capable of breaking a block, and his lightning attacks have more reach.
Sinobu at first is cheap as hell and generally difficult, but the more you play against him you find his weaknesses and then he isn't nearly as bad as any of Rugal's incarnations. Sinobu's standing animation is cool, and his Special Moves consist of splashy screen-filling explosions. Seeing the transformation of Sinobu after his defeat is one of the coolest parts in KOFEX2; it has to be seen. The detail in Sinobu's character is outstanding, and I'd have to say that he is one of the coolest KOF bosses overall. Sinobu may be a hard to contain psycho in the game, but his nice character design is on par with that of KOF2001's kick ass boss. Does KOFEX2 have a better boss than KOFEX? Well, seeing Geese at the end of KOFEX was cool, and has a certain nostalgic value, but upon seeing Sinobu as KOFEX2's boss, I was both surprised and content.
The animation in KOFEX2 is outstanding. KOFEX2 uses the GBA hardware to its full potential, as the game displays smooth, fluid animation for each of its nicely hand-drawn characters. The new fighters have some great animation, and some of the returning fighters animate a bit smoother than in KOFEX. Some of the returning fighters have added animation in stances, normal attacks, or win poses, whereas others have new Special Move, Super Move, or Striker animations. KOFEX2's effect animation got somewhat of a facelift; several of the fireballs, hit sparks, flames, and other special effects from KOFEX have been re-drawn and are particularly smoother. Those who played KOFEX extensively will also notice that KOFEX2's effects are a bit splashier. KOFEX2 improves more upon the already great animation of KOFEX, and with very nice results. With loads and loads of beautiful animation put into each character and move, KOFEX2's animation is a pleasure to view. While the animation of Super Street Fighter II Turbo Revival stands unrivaled in the arena of GBA powered fighters, KOFEX2 comes in a very, very close second. In my book, the only reason KOFEX2 stands second is because the outstanding SSFIITR exists on the same hardware.
KOFEX2's design is fantastic. I don't know if my description adequately describes just how nice the game's design really is, so I will first say that you must play KOFEX2 to see for yourself. First off, KOFEX2's vibrantly-colored hand-drawn backgrounds look very smooth, and take full advantage of the GBA hardware. KOFEX2's backgrounds are smoother than those of KOFEX, and have a slightly different theme; KOFEX's stages were populated and lively, whereas KOFEX2's stages aren't so populated and seem to have more of a scenic focus. KOFEX2's stages are somewhat based off those of KOF2000, along with a few added backgrounds never before seen in past KOF titles. The KOF2000 factory, Egypt, shipyard, Korea, bulldozer, and aquarium backgrounds are intact (some even with a few tweaks) and look nice.
There are two new backgrounds in KOFEX2; one is a red tour bus with the letters "KOFEX2" on the side of it, in front of a park among a distant skyline; the second is an indescribable nicely textured endboss stage similar to that of Zero's KOF2001 background. By far, the most impressive battleground in KOFEX2 is the Egypt stage; in this stage the GBA's power is used to smoothly render and animate a transparent, cloudy sand storm in the first round, while in the second round nicely detailed pyramids and statues are visible under a calm blue sky. Another nice stage is the factory (also originally from KOF2000), in which smooth rays of light shine into the factory through the blades of a giant fan. Those who loved seeing their teammates in the backgrounds of the other KOF entries will be happy to hear that teammates stand, lie, sit, and crouch in KOFEX2's backgrounds after being defeated. In yet another aspect, KOFEX2 exceeds what it established with KOFEX and amazed me with such beautiful backgrounds to battle in.
The title screen, character select screen, and versus screen all look visually polished and surpass that of their KOFEX counterparts. The lifebars and timer have been re-drawn, while the "winner" and other in-game texts are bigger and also re-drawn. The game's character select and versus screens are displayed very nicely, thanks to KOFEX2's nice character illustrations. In addition to KOFEX2's high-quality artwork, the game's ending portraits are full-screen, water-colored works of art. If you appreciated the ending portraits in SSFIITR, you'll love the ones in KOFEX2 as well. The only thing in KOFEX2 that I was a little disappointed with was the fact that there is no intro cinema; this is a very, very small quirk though, and nothing that would in any way grant a reason not to own this great game. After seeing the intro cinema for KOF2002, I wondered why there wasn't one in KOFEX2, but again, just a small quirk.
Also in KOFEX2 are individual stories for each team of fighters that tie in with the game's main story. KOFEX2's story is a bit deep; every few rounds the plot is gradually revealed, and the endings are quite long. In the audio department, the game shines yet again. KOFEX2's sound effects are an improvement upon those in KOFEX, added sounds for the old fighters and the sounds of the newcomers. With KOFEX2's clean and clear sound effects come really good background music; the background music in KOFEX2 is awesome. So good, in fact, that it will be stuck in your head even when you haven't been playing the game. A few of them sound new, while others are remixes from other entries (like KOF2002). It is a bit hard to explain fully, but KOFEX2's design just looks nicely done. Nice display, cool artwork, great sounds, and great music are what make KOFEX2's design a sight to behold.
In every aspect, KOFEX2 not only carries on the goodness that made KOFEX so good, but surpasses it. KOFEX2's animation, gameplay, design, and audio are all of a distinct high quality. The game's characters are unique and interesting, and have some of the most beautiful animation on the GBA hardware to date. KOFEX2 also excels in the department lots of magazine reviewers have forgotten about: gameplay. Therefore, the game is fun. While you are playing KOFEX2 and having fun, the audio is also of the same good quality SNK tunes we've been hearing for years. If you are a KOF fan, chances are you will like this game...a lot. If you are a picky KOF fan and only like KOF94 or KOF96 and a few other in between, you should still be marginally happy with KOFEX2. If you are an EGaMer, or a GamePro, then you probably won't like it because it's not popular enough. But those down for a seriously good fight will embrace KOFEX2 (just as they did with KOFEX), and appreciate it for all of its intricacies. Thank the developers for designing such a great fighter, and then beg for KOFEX3.