If anyone reading knew that this game was out, give yourself a pat on the back. Once again, SNK Playmore USA serves up some fan favorite 2d fighters. Being that this is SNK Playmore USA, we need to replace “fan favorite” with “a standalone game or compilation that was out in Japan one, maybe even two years ago”. Then replace “serves” with “released so quietly that all but a few major news aggregates had any information on it.” The US branch is so fucked up that they aren’t even handling all of SNK’s games. Thankfully, you have masochist SNK fans like me to keep track of things as best I can, even if that means finding out about their games the week of release.
Orochi Collection is a simple compilation featuring every King Of Fighters game from 1994-98. This timespan is quite deliberate, as it represents the first “half” of the KOF franchise. 94 got things rolling, and its story events would set up the situation for 95. 95 through 97 then became KOF’s first three-game story arc. Finally 98 capped off the era with its “dream match” scenario, where story was thrown away so the game could include as many characters as possible, without having to explain why someone who was killed is still on the roster.
After 98, the series continued the pattern or releasing a three game trilogy and a Dream Match entry to wrap it all up. But with so many new characters, a new story, and combat tweaks like the Striker system put the post 98 games into their own little group.
94-98 were also made before SNK began its downward financial slide, thus they arguably have better artwork and soundtracks than their successors, which were made by either a financially crippled SNK or shady Korean outfit Eolith (depending on the year). XI aside, the first five years of KOF were its golden age, and having them all on one disc is a great way to mark its evolution.
The Orochi Collection allows us to see just how limited 94 was, and how much of the franchise’s trademark features had their start in 95. 96 and 97’s rosters and background art are based heavily on the story, which has the tournament getting increasingly popular as the years go on. Whereas the early games have battles occurring in remote locations, 97 has camera crews covering the action.
Playing all the games will give you a clear sense of just how careful and deliberate SNK was in the early days, and why KOF was able to stand on its own two feet against Capcom (at least in some territories). When you are done being a game historian, I recommend sticking with 96 and 98 for actually learning to play. The former has a fantastic roster, and 98 is the best game in the series.
After all this praise for the games, it is time to come back to reality and assess the compilation itself. Thanks to SNK Playmore USA’s screwiness, the quality of their releases is as predictable as a dice roll. At times they have opted for the smart, simple approach of taking the original Japanese releases and adding what little localization is necessary. Sometimes they actually fix things like load times (see Battle Coliseum for example). Most of the time however, they just find a way to fuck it all up. When Orochi Colletion came out in Japan, it contained only 95-97, AKA Orochi Saga proper.
Why the two extra games in the American release? The answer is that it is its own product, made by western developer Terminal Reality. Whether they used the original compilation as a base, or if this is new from the ground up is unknown. All you need to know is that Terminal Reality was also behind the Metal Slug Anthology from ’07, which had load times between some screen transitions on the Wii version. Orochi Collection is even worse in this regard. There is an initial loading screen when any game is chosen, followed another healthy load before the first bout. Each subsequent battle requires a 1-2 second load, and quitting back to the main menu brings us full circle by displaying that initial loading screen.
For some sick reason, this amount of waiting doesn’t bother me as much as it should, but the principle of it bugs me to the core. The Neo Geo is an ancient piece of tech. We know it can be emulated perfectly. The hobbyist emulators tell us so. The Virtual Console tells us so. Gametap tells us, too. The sad reality is that retro re-releases refuse to adhere to anything resembling standards. For example, Sega’s VC games are emulated, Sega’s 360 games are a mixed bag, and the Sega Ages releases in Japan are the gold standard.
Different markets and different platforms make for very different quality in emulation, and knowing that it doesn’t have to be this way is frustrating. I don’t like shitting on developers, and I will not, but if Terminal Reality is able to deliver a good Ghostbusters game, I would sincerely hope they could get Neo Geo games to run as fast as they did on the Dreamcast. At the very least, make sure there aren’t sound glitches that make the announcer begin a match by saying “ready…winner!”
Wrapping everything up are all the trimmings that come with most arcade ports. Orochi Collection has training modes, challenge mode, and an art/soundtrack gallery. The extras are thorough, but not very useful. You can unlock all of the arrange soundtracks, but not to play with in game. I have yet to understand the obsession with arrange soundtracks, but I still note it as a mistake. The artwork is, amazingly, plagued with its own form of load times. Images do not load immediately, but instead fade in slowly, piece by piece, every single time you view them. Furthermore, all of this content is unlocked by completing missions in the challenge mode. Too bad that each challenge requires the game to do a full reload of KOF 98 every time you attempt it. If you find yourself needing to retry them 20 or 30 times it could very well take you the entire evening. If there was ever a time for free saves, this is it.
How much Orochi Collection is worth it depends greatly on how much you demand from these games. If you know these games like the back of your hand, I would suggest opting for more accurate versions via the Virtual Console (which may get them all) or a subscription to Gametap (which already has them all). If you are accustomed to modern console load times and have little or no KOF experience, the nitpicks will seem minor. Just make sure you get it for cheap, as the game has been listed for as low as $15 and as high as $30. Fluctuating retail prices for budget games? Ladies and gents, the Future is Now.