King Of Fighters: Fighting Evolution 10th commemorates the 10th anniversary of a game series perfectly. If any part of the KOF series has a special place in your heart, get this book!
Everyone went through an awkward phase during highschool and I was no exception. It was that time in life where you don't know what defines you. You want to fit in but you also want to be unique and have your own thing. Whether or not I wanted it to be, SNK was my thing.
SNK defined those highschool years for me. It defined the 2D arcade experience. It defined the '90s more than Madonna's Vogue and neon spandex ever will for me. I religiously watched SNK's anime movies and inducted my friends into the cult. We then played on the NEO*GEO cart system during birthday parties, went to arcades in search of new competition, and listened to the soundtracks on our portable CD players. In all that awkwardness I was the happiest "100 MEGA SHOT" teen in the world. But out of all the SNK games, one will always stand out as the biggest thing ever to happen to 2D arcade fighting: King of Fighters 94.
KOF epitomized SNK. Characters from previous SNK games were revived, re-animated and mixed with new characters to form teams. It was a fresh concept at the time and each successive KOF game would give players more of what they wanted.
At the time of KOF95, SNK listed how many Valentine's Day chocolates were mailed to their characters as a measure of popularity. Apparently, many women were among the ones mailing them in. No fighting game previous to KOF had ever given birth to such a rabid fandom. If a fan had a wish for their favorite character from another SNK fighting game to appear in KOF, it was granted and then some.
There was only one English forum for discussing KOF back then, as usenet was slow and website bulletins were unreliable. It was the King of Fighters Mailing list (at the time run manually by Mike Ho). We had a thread around 1996 discussing what we wanted in the next KOF installment, since SNK was holding a poll about who to include in the next game. On a whim, I decided to post what I wanted.
"I want another female character who can use grappling techniques."
If anyone knows me, they know how much I love grappling characters but can't stand the design stereotypes. Grapplers were always big, ugly and stupid. One could only imagine my shock when my wish was granted in KOF97. Shermie was a grappling female character who not only wore my favorite color but broke through all of the grappling character stereotypes - and even some fighting game character stereotypes to boot. She had no specific martial arts fighting style to be pigeon-holed into and she was an intelligent femme fatale.
Times changed when the 90s ended. KOF slowly went off its own beaten path and I became a stranger to the series. The lively backgrounds filled with spectators who made you feel like you were in Jean Claude Van Damme's Bloodsport were dumped in favor of less busy backgrounds which were lush, yet devoid of anything that would make a fighter feel pumped. As though the games were a capsule of the 90s, change came in slower increments after KOF96. Fashion statements like ripped jeans and converse, big hair, storylines and character ages all lay frozen in time.
Although new stories were written, old characters stayed mostly in stasis in favor of new, trendier characters and increasingly simplified gameplay. The feeling of choosing teams with characters who matched and cared about each other in the same way a boyband would match outfits at a concert was gone. I don't even know why the team concept is still there, other than for the required gameplay variety. The teams now look nothing more than a yearly game of character roulette.
So here I am, ten years later and only slightly more aware of how I define myself and what I like in games. Opening this book was a much needed nostalgia trip. Previously, my only access to the art had been through various game merchandise, the games themselves or numerous mooks and Gamest magazines covered in dust and packed away with my highschool uniform. Although most of the KOF artists are easily discernable through their art, some of the lines between the artists became blurred to me with time.
The art was inspiring during its time. Fighting game art has always been huge but not much of that art is as strikingly iconic as KOF's characters. A lot of fighting game art focuses on outfits or poses to define a character but because of the differing personalities and features each KOF character had, the artists always went over the top. They have characters sporting real street and runway fashions, or portraits with expressions other than a plain old smile. Furthermore, much of the art has actual movement going on, near the quality of editorial photographs that draw you into their world. Characters were also constantly drawn in situations that made you question their relationship to other characters, or wonder about how far the detail to their design really went.
The special artwork spans from 1994 to 2003, including Neowave, Maximum Impact, R series and artwork not in the games. Strangely, there are no rough sketches or other unfinished works in this book, although there is an explanation for the evolving character designs. I suppose this is so because there are far too many artworks and characters to feature in just one book. At least all the characters in their successive game artworks are in its own chapter. The special and mook illustrations also include various Garou Densetsu or Art of Fighting works, and joint artworks for promotions.
I have to point out that the character profiles have the ages removed. This is something that SNK's developers figured shouldn't matter anymore, since the characters aging with each successive game would make them far too old for their appearances! The profiles also include the games when a character was introduced and/or appearing in the series. For completion, the book also has profiles of lesser characters, such as why-are-you-here Yuki. Only one character gets a whole page of special treatment due to a multitude of design changes: Athena. She's the only character who had a drastic enough design change with each successive game, except for KOF:MI.
The artists most featured in this book are Shinkiro, Hiroaki, Eiji Shiroi, Falcoon and Tonko. Full interviews with the profiles of Hiroaki, Eiji Shiroi and Falcoon can also be found at the end of the book but Shinkiro's interview is notably absent. For an artbook that is mostly made up of his work, anyone would find this to be highly unusual. I could only guess at the reasons for this. SNK had gone bankrupt around KOF2000 and most of the talent working on the games moved to other companies. Shinkiro went to Capcom, which was previously in direct competition with SNK. Trying to cash in on the thriving KOF fandom, companies Eolith and later Playmore revived the KOF series with new talent. Suffice to say, the magic is gone but the series lived on.
As much as Shinkiro's art defines SNK, his characters often look too similar to one another and this book seems to have subconciously punctuated on that fact. Nevertheless, he is amazing with details and I still love some of his more realistic artworks. One of my favourites was the KOF95 cover art of Kyo, where a heavily detailed, gloved hand covers his face and shining hair in perfection. Another was a Garou Densetsu: Real Bout boss artwork, where Geese is seated in a chair like the don of a mafia.
I hate to pick favorites but I have to say I like Hiroaki's work best. He came into the spotlight with KOF99 and gave the series a much needed reboot. Hiroaki knows how to make male characters look raw and rough, like actual fighters and not like the long legged pretty boys by Nona. The clean lines give a lot of definition while the hair on his characters have believable texture.
As with the Street Fighter Eternal Challenge artbook, this was also published by Futobasha and much in the same manner. The 10th Anniversary of KOF meant an announcement for a remake game, KOF94: Re-Bout for Xbox. Although high expectations were made for the retouched graphics, the game and graphics themselves don't seem up to par with its original. The game will be released fall 2005 and the only reason it would be recommended is for the online play.
Title: The King Of Fighters Fighting Evolution 10th
Publisher: SNK Playmore/Futobasha
K.O.F. Fighting Evolution 10th