When it comes to fighting games, not many fans put a lot of stock in the stories they have. Oh, there’s a lot of lore embedded into them, like the Satsui no Hado of Street Fighter, how Shao Khan took over Outworld in Mortal Kombat, Kazuya and Heihachi’s rivalty in Tekken and so much more. However, you can kind of tell the story wasn’t the focus of the games. However, there is one specific fighting game series that always seems to go above and beyond when it comes to trying to craft not only a good story but an epic one. And that series is the King of Fighters.
SNK already made the King of Fighters an extremely good fighting game as it put together a very unique idea for fighting games at the time. Instead of the traditional one on one battle, the King of Fighters had you pick three characters at a time. Not only that, SNK pooled together their other franchises into this game, which is why you get to see Fatal Fury characters facing off against the cast from Art of Fighting in it. It also added characters from their older games like the Ikari Warriors (Ralf and Clark) and Psycho Soldier (Athena Asamiya and Sie Kensou) just for the heck of it.
The weirdest thing about the King of Fighters was, while I liked the game fine, it was the story that really drew me in. In every game of the series, there’s always some hidden conspiracy behind the tournament. There’s always a grand scheme as to why the King of Fighters was being held in the first place and it all involved some big baddie wanting to use the tournament to further their nefarious deeds.
While this does seem overly trite, the King of Fighters somehow sidesteps this by making each game not tell the whole story. Rather, everything is broken into story trilogies. The games from ’94 to ’97 was the Orochi Saga, ’99 to 2001 was the NESTS Saga and 2003 to King of Fighters XIII was the Ash Saga. The King of Fighters ’98 and 2002 were more “Dream Matches” without a story. And among all the “sagas” the series has had, the Orochi Saga is the best one. In fact, I would even say it’s the best story in all of fighting games!
Now, what makes the Orochi Saga my favorite story in all of fighting games has a lot to deal with how it’s told. You don’t really get the entire picture with each entry. In fact, I don’t really include ’94 as part of the Orochi Saga as it really never fits into the big picture. However, it is important as it introduces Kyo Kusanagi, one of the main characters of the saga as well as Rugal Bernstein, who becomes tangentally linked to its events. Heck, the King of Fighters ’94 is basically all about Rugal wanting to make statues out of the best fighters in the world to add to his collection. Really strange fetish you have there, Rugal!
It’s in King of Fighters ’95 when the Orochi Saga kicks off properly. Kyo Kusanagi’s rival, Iori Yagami, is properly introduced. Rugal also returns, having survived being blown up in his flying fortress (classic big baddie syndrome). But this time, Rugal taps into a mysterious force that makes him stronger and faster than he was a year ago. He’s still eventually defeated by Kyo’s team but, not wanting to admit defeat, Rugal attempts to use up more of this mysterious power but is seemingly disintegrated by a pillar of light. While Kyo’s team was taking on Rugal, Iori snaps and badly injures his teammates and vows to take out Kyo.
This leads to King of Fighters ’96. Once again, a mysterious person sends invites to the best fighters in the world. But it isn’t Rugal who’s the mastermind behind the tournament. This time, it’s Chizuru Kaguya and she reveals to both Kyo and Iori that her clan along with theirs defeated a supernatural being known as Orochi centuries ago. They couldn’t destroy it but they managed to seal the power away and, knowing that Orochi’s seal is fading, wants Kyo and Iori to team up along with her as they alone can seal Orochi up again.
Just as she finishes her explanation, a mysterious foe named Goenitz appears. He reveals himself to be the one trying to revive Orochi and tries to kill Kyo, Iori and Chizuru. The three rally and defeat Goenitz. After the battle, Chizuru informs Iori that his clan sided with Orochi long ago, leading to him being able to unleash purple flames. Despite the upcoming threat, both Iori choose not to team up at this time as their rivalry has become so bitter.
It all comes to a head in the King of Fighters ’97. Once again, a global tournament is held but, this time around, there isn’t really a main sponsor. Rather, the tournament was held because, well, the other King of Fighters tournaments have become commercially successful all over the world. So much so that big companies got together to make it happen! Don’t worry; there’s still a big twist and final boss here… and it’s a doozy!
During the finals, Iori suddenly goes ballistic and it’s all because of the Orochi blood in him, causing him to enter a crazed state called Riot of the Blood. Chizuru and Kyo manage to quell Iori’s Riot of the Blood and they all realize Orochi is about to be revived. It’s also at this time when another team, The New Faces team consisting of Yashiro Nanakase, Shermie and Chris reveal they’re actually there to release Orochi. Despite the trio of Kyo, Iori and Chizuru defeating the trio, it’s too late as Orochi’s spirit possesses Chris.
Kyo, Iori and Chizuru somehow manages to defeat Orochi in the fight. In a last ditch effort to kill Kyo and Chizuru and stop himself from being sealed away again, Orochi once again releases Iori’s Riot of the Blood. But instead of attacking Kyo and Chizuru, Iori goes after Orochi instead. Kyo then managed to get in the finishing blow and allowing Chizuru to seal Orochi away again.
Whew! That was a long story but that’s one of the reasons why I love it so much. It took SNK several games to tell an entire story. And, while it’s not exactly Shakespeare, there’s a grandness and epicness to it as it just can’t be told in one game! There’s this grand tale of a family feuds, heavenly spirits out to destroy humanity and even rivals who have to team up to defeat a greater foe! It just had to be spread out over multiple entries!
I also like the surprise with how you can’t get the canon ending unless you play through using the correct team. This was no problem with King of Fighters ’94 and ’95 as it was obvious you had to pick Kyo’s team. That changed in ’96 and ’97 as you had to pick Kyo, Iori and Chizuru to get the canon ending. What’s even crazier is that Chizuru isn’t normally selectable in ’96’s arcade mode. You had to enter a button combination to make her selectable, meaning the real ending is supposed to be a secret!
However, the biggest reason why the Orochi Saga has to be the best story in all of fighting games is because SNK actually put much more effort to it than they needed. This was a time when developers and publishers were just pumping out fighting games and, most of the time, the endings were basically just still images with a little text on them. The King of Fighters actually put some time and effort into their stories, including a reason why the big bad guy would host a worldwide tournament in the first place. They didn’t need to do that and most people would’ve been happy because the game had so many characters from multiple franchises. Yet they went above and beyond and crafted a tale spanning subsequent entries. And the story I detailed above was just a very brief summary of the Orochi Saga. There’s a whole lot I didn’t mention!
SNK didn’t need to go this deep for the Orochi Saga. But I’m super glad they did because it’s one of the most engrossing stories, filled with a lot of lore and tries to put together a story that makes it feel much bigger than it has to be.
What’s your favorite story in fighting games? Let me know in the comments section below!