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The King of Fighters 2002/2003
game: The King of Fighters 2002/2003
four star
posted by: Eric Qualls
publisher: SNK
developer: SNK
ESRB rating: T (Teen)
date posted: 12:00 AM Wed Mar 9th, 2005
last revision: 12:00 AM Wed Mar 9th, 2005

Click to read.The King of Fighters 2002/2003 is a two disc set that gives you full versions of the 2002 and 2003 SNK's King of Fighters series.  For a mere $40 you can pick up a pair of decent 2D fighting games, so depending on how big of a fan of KOF or 2D fighters you are, this is a pretty good value.  The King of Fighters games aren't the easiest to get into due to their lengthy movelists and extreme difficulty, but the 2002 and 2003 versions are some of the more interesting games in the series, so this is as good of a place as any for KOF newbies to start.  

If you have played any 2D fighters over the past fifteen years, then the core gameplay of KOF 2002/2003 should be familiar.  When you press quarter-circle down, then forward, and then a punch button, something good usually happens.  What sets the KOF series apart is that the list of special moves for each character is huge, and there are also a ton of counters, cancels, and super moves available at any given time.  In order to be successful you really have to learn how to use them all, as well as how to link them into combos in order to do as much damage as possible to your opponent.  As such, it takes a bit of effort to get good at the KOF series, and it can be a tough pill to swallow if you've grown up on Capcom's fighters.  The gameplay is undeniably satisfying once you get going, though, so it is usually worth the effort.

The King of Fighters 2002 is what is known as a "dream match" game, where all of the characters from the series are brought back together for one big brawl that doesn't really have anything to do with the overall KOF storyline.  This is just 40 or so of the best the series has to offer throwing down for fun.  It uses the series' traditional 3 on 3 fights, where you use one character until they are knocked out and then the next member of your team jumps in.  When you eliminate all three members of the other team you win.  This is pure KOF through and through as it keeps the series mainstays intact while getting rid of things that fans didn't like (such as the striker system from 2000/2001).  With the huge cast of characters covering the entire span of the series, this is a great place to start if you are just now discovering the King of Fighters series.  You are literally getting the best of everything that old school KOF has to offer.

The King of Fighters 2003, on the other hand, is very different from 2002.  Again, the core gameplay is pure KOF gold, but there is one important difference that makes KOF 2003 a completely new experience.  Similar to Capcom's "Vs" series, you can now switch between the members of your three-character team on the fly.  The result is lightning fast matches that flow from one character to the next and back and forth just beautifully.  Tagging makes the gameplay more interesting and accessible for people that aren't already huge KOF fans, so it can only be a good thing for the series.  The character roster isn't as big as KOF 2002, but there are a number of new characters that give the game a different sort of feel.  I'm a huge fan of tag team games such as Marvel vs. Capcom 2, so the tag feature in KOF 2003 is a welcome addition.  

Something that has to be said about the King of Fighters series is that its hardcore fans are very protective of it.  They don't like change and they want their games to be just like they were ten years ago.  New features such as the striker system in 2000/2001, the tag system in 2003, or the 3D glory that is Maximum Impact is shunned by the KOF community.  I'm not a hardcore KOF fan so I can enjoy these features.  The problem is that most of the other reviews you'll find on GameRankings are written by longtime KOF fans that, like I said, don't like change.  This means that the average review score for a new KOF game is typically low, scaring off people who are becoming interested in the series.  This means that there isn't anyone around to oppose the stubborn KOF hardcore.  The point I'm trying to get at is that if you haven't played a KOF game, go ahead and give it a try even if the scores are low.  If you are any kind of fighting game fan you'll definitely enjoy yourself.
Graphically, KOF 2002 and 2003 are, well, ugly.  The characters lack detail and the backgrounds are blurry and wholly unimpressive.  There is a reasonable explanation for the horrid graphics, but it isn't a very satisfying one.  You see, these games were originally created for the ancient NeoGeo arcade hardware and have been ported to the PS2 warts and all.  OK, that's fine, but why not make a new game just for PS2 that actually looks decent?  Another major issue I have with these games is their hideous menus.  They are simply bland text lists of modes and nothing else.  SNK also did this with KOF 2000/2001 and SVC Chaos and I hated it in those games too.  It just shows that these games are ported with the least amount of effort possible and it is hard to get excited about playing the games when the presentation is so lackluster. 

The sound is just as old and outdated as the graphics.  Luckily, the synthesizer music and sounds of fighting actually work pretty well.  There is a ton of voicework for all of the characters and all of it is well done. 

Overall, The King of Fighters 2002/2003 is a great value and a solid purchase for fighting game fans.  The graphics and sound can't hold up against titles such as Marvel vs. Capcom 2 or Guilty Gear Isuka, but the gameplay underneath the ugly, ugly graphics has always been the draw of the King of Fighters.  KOF 2002 and 2003 are two very solid entries in the series.  The two games have different features and gameplay hooks, so you really are getting two solid games and not just the same game twice with slightly different rosters.  Two decent games for $40 is always a good buy, and if you're a fighting game fan there is a lot to like with The King of Fighters 2002/2003 set.  At the very least give it a rent.

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