The King of Fighters ’94 (officially abbreviated KOF ’94) is a 1994 fighting game released by SNK for the Neo Geo arcade and home console. It is the inaugural game in The King of Fighters series by the same company. The game was originally ported to the Neo Geo AES and Neo-Geo CD following its original arcade release. In 2004, to commemorate the tenth anniversary of the series, SNK released a remake titled The King of Fighters ’94 Rebout, which featured the original game and a new version with high definition graphics. In 2008 it was one of 16 games included in SNK Arcade Classics Vol. 1 for PlayStation 2, PlayStation Portable, and Wii.
The game is a fictional crossover featuring characters from SNK’s previous fighting game properties Fatal Fury and Art of Fighting, as well as revised versions of characters from their pre-Neo Geo games Ikari Warriors and Psycho Soldier, and original characters created specifically for the game. The plot features the creation of a new King of Fighters tournament created by the criminal Rugal Bernstein, but this time with teams composed of three members unlike the ones from Fatal Fury, which had no teams.
SNK developed KOF ’94 with the initial idea of using several games from the company in order to attract gamers who played these games. However, they later added original characters not seen in other games to develop a story arc. Video game publications have commented on KOF ’94, praising its characters designs as well as the gameplay of using teams of three members. The success of this game allowed SNK to produce a large number of sequels.
In an interview with veteran developers of the series, they claim that their prototype version for KOF was going to be a side-scrolling beat ’em up titled, Survivor. In this version, it would only use core characters from the Art of Fighting and Fatal Fury series, specifically allowing players to play Robert Garcia and Terry Bogard for location testing. However, the idea was quickly abandoned after the debut of Capcom’s game with similar gameplay, Final Fight. Since they were attached to the idea of the two series crossover, they eventually agreed to make their idea into a fighting game. Characters from Ikari Warriors and Psycho Soldier games were also added in spirit of other gaming genres considered for their final product. The concept of a three-man team was one of the ideas kept from the side-scrolling version. The title “The King of Fighters” was originally the subtitle from the first Fatal Fury game, Fatal Fury: King of Fighters; according to GameSpot, the members from SNK liked the title “The King of Fighters” and wanted to give it its own game.
Flagship director, Toyohisa Tanabe, asserts that the Art of Fighting and Fatal Fury fighters were added specifically for adults. The newer KOF characters were aimed to appeal to younger and newer audiences. He adds that every original character for the series is added based on the developers’ strong desire to make one. For example, he agreed to include characters such as Benimaru and Chang to add an off-beat variety to the cast, which he previously deemed to be too serious before. SNK developer C.A.C Yamasaki commented that it seemed the lead programmer thought the game would not sell well, but he thought it would catch on. For the first location test only ten people showed up, but they later received a large number of players attracted with the game. The SNK staff also had troubles with making advertisements for the game due to its low rent. As such, some of them were noted to have poor quality.
Developers wanted a new, “snazzy” lead character who would easily fight against Fatal Fury and Art of Fighting characters. He was named Kyo Kusanagi in order to relate him with the Yamata no Orochi legend, which was used as the idea to the following games. The boss character, Rugal Bernstein, was developed to be ” the mightiest (most violent) and most evil boss character ever”. The game was meant to have a “Fugitive Team” composed of Chang and Choi along with an unknown criminal. However, due to certain circumstances, Kim Kaphwan was the one who had Choi and Chang as his teammates. Another team meant to appear was the English Team composed of King from Art of Fighting and Billy Kane along with Big Bear from the first and second Fatal Fury, respectively. Developers had several problems with Big Bear concerning capacity and the Art of Fighting staff pressed with adding Yuri to KOF. As such, Yuri replaced Billy Kane, and later Mai Shiranui took Big Bear’s place to form the England Team (also known as Women Fighters in following games).
Most of the characters from other games were meant to have some of their moves changed or removed in order to balance them with the new characters of KOF. Designers from certain characters found disagreement with this, and so they focused in adjusting their imbalance without removing any move. In the end, creators from the series noted that the Art of Fighting characters were the strongest ones from the game. However, other characters such as Terry and Andy Bogard became the ones who got the designers’ utmost attention and were given new moves which caused them to be stronger fighters.
The King of Fighters ’94 was released in Japanese arcades on August 25, 1994. It was ported to the Neo Geo cartridge system (released on October 1994) and the Neo-Geo CD(released on November 1994) following the original arcade release. On November 6, 2007, the Neo Geo version was made available for download on the Wii’s Virtual Consoledownload service, for a price of 900 Wii Points. The North American version was released on January 7, 2008, while the European version on November 23, 2007.
An emulation of the Neo Geo version is also included in SNK Arcade Classics Vol. 1 and in the internationally released compilation The King of Fighters Collection: The Orochi Saga in 2008 for the PlayStation 2, PlayStation Portable and Wii (the game was not included in the equivalent Japanese compilation The King of Fighters – Orochi Hen). It was also released for the PlayStation 3 on December 21, 2010, making one of the first games in the Neo-Geo Station line-up.
A remake was released on December 28, 2004 for the PlayStation 2 in Japan under the title The King of Fighters ’94 Re-Bout, commemorating the tenth anniversary of the franchise. This version features the original 1994 game and an enhanced version featuring remade high resolution graphics, a Team Edit option feature similar to the later KOFgames, the ability to play as Saisyu Kusanagi and Rugal Bernstein, arranged music, and an online versus mode. Developers from the game commented that they received negative fan feedback from these high-definition sprites. As such, they decided to create new ones for The King of Fighters XII. A North American version was meant to published by SNK Playmore for the Xbox, but it was cancelled on March 23, 2006 for unknown reasons. Ben Herman, president from SNK Playmore USA, mentioned “they cancelled the game as it took a lot of time to remove all the bugs from the game. During the first quarter of 2006, they came to the conclusion that there was no place to sell the game” and they had issues for how much money would the game cost.
In the January 30, 1995 issue of Gamest magazine in Japan, The King of Fighters ’94 was awarded Best Game of 1994 in the Eighth Annual Grand Prize. The game also placed #1 in the categories of “Best Competitive Fighting Game” and “Best Direction”, #5 in “Best Graphics” and #3 in “Best VGM (Video Game Music)”. Several characters in the game were also featured in list of Top 50 Characters of 1994, with Athena Asamiya at #3, Kyo Kusanagi at #4, Yuri Sakazaki at #7, King at #8, Mai Shiranui at #10, Sie Kensou at #16, Heidern at #17, Ralf at #19, Ryo Sakazaki at #24, Goro Daimon at #26, Robert Garcia at #36 (tied with Iceman from X-Men: Children of the Atom), Clark at #38, Kim Kaphwan at #44 (sharing the spot with three other characters), and both Chang Koehan and Rugal Bernstein sharing the #48 spot. The King of Fighters ’94 was awarded Best Fighting game and Best Neo-Geo Game of 1994 by Electronic Gaming Monthly. Additionally, Mai Shiranui was awarded Hottest Game Babe of 1994.
Video game publications have commented on the game, adding praise and criticism. 1UP.com praised KOF ’94 for the large number of characters it had considering it “a hell of cast for 1994”. They also commented on the cast to be well balanced and that the new characters “revived some fun past concepts”. Zentendo.com reviewer Chuck Allen noted the music to have been well done and that the characters were “extremely pixilated”. However, he criticized that the special moves required “dead-on precision” in order to perform them and commented it was one of the hardest fighting games to win. Lucas M. Thomas from IGN gave it a 8.0 praising the graphics from the game, commenting it has fluid animation and vibrant colors. He also complained about the fact that players cannot create their own teams and are forced to use the pre-established teams. IGN writer Jeremy Dunham commented that KOF ’94 “was essentially a cross between Fatal Fury and Art of Fighting“, but with faster response than both games. He praised the creation of three-on-three battles and the idea of “borrowing” characters from other games from the company, making it an advanced game during 1994. G4 commented that while The King of Fighters ’94 was considered by several fans as the “Street Fighter beater”, it was unique due to its option to selecting teams.