Game: The King of Fighters NESTS Saga
System: PlayStation 2
The latest instalment of SNK’s NeoGeo Online Collection, The King of Fighters NESTS Saga, continues the tradition of classic fighting games bundled together with online play for the PlayStation 2. This seventh release, which features King of Fighters games ’99, 2000 and 2001, makes the additional boast to include home conversions as well as the NeoGeo ports for the first time. The sad truth is it fails to deliver on its promises – a few bugs and omissions that are in themselves small oversights almost completely ruin the collection. It provides all the arcade-perfect goodness that the series is known for, but falls short of its predecessor, Garou Densetsu Battle Archives Vol.2, which was arcade-perfect and then some.
The King of Fighters series has undeniably had its ups and downs over the years and the games that span the period from 1999 to 2001 are subpar, to say the least, no matter who you ask. Nevertheless, their collection here means that now all titles in the core series are available on the PlayStation 2 (with the exception of ’98, the release of which is to be announced). They follow the rise of the maniacal NESTS syndicate which has risen to power since Orochi’s decline. The saga marked the introduction of KoF mainstays like K’, Kula Diamond, Whip, Maxima and others. It also saw the introduction (and retirement) of the much maligned ‘striker’ system, which was used to summon uncontrollable teammates for one-off attacks similar to the mechanism already used in the CPS2 fighter Marvel Vs. Capcom. Unlike that game, the strikers were otherwise normally selectable characters with a few exceptions. The infamous Ron is one of the only characters in KoF cannon to only ever appear as a striker for instance. Although not altogether well adopted, the system was open to some abuse by players, and certainly was used as such by the legendarily cheap boss, Zero. Further consolidating their distaste amongst the community, 2001 and 2002 featured bosses that were so overpowered that Igniz and Zero are often used to illustrate the ridiculousness of the so-called ‘SNK boss syndrome’. Despite all this, the games have their place in modern collections if only because most of the game mechanics they used, such as strikers, have been dropped from current series entries and cannot be seen anywhere else.
Marked ‘Vol.5’ on the cover, NESTS is actually the seventh release (Garou Densetsu Battle Archives Vol.1 bore ‘Vol.5’ on its jacket as well) in the NeoGeo Online Collection and consists of a similar feature set to its forerunners. Online play is offered through a Japan-only network – so importers will be out of luck - but otherwise there is plenty of stuff to fiddle with. The now-compulsory arranged soundtracks are available for all games although particular note goes to the music of The King of Fighters 2001 which is all-new, as compared to those from the previous games which have either been featured in Dreamcast or PlayStation 2 ports previously. Colour-edit palettes can be assigned to characters and each game is complimented by a full in-game movelist – a very welcome addition since its debut in volume 6. Finally, all bosses (ostensibly not the first form of Krizalid in ’99) are unlocked in standard play from the get-go. Still, what makes the NESTS Saga different is its inclusion of ‘arranged versions’ of games. Essentially the versions of games that were shipped to home systems, these replace the NeoGeo ports by default, although the older games can still be chosen from a submenu. From the way in which they were integrated into the main select screen, it can be assumed that these versions are intended to supplant the originals in casual play.
Like previous collections in the series, The King of Fighters NESTS Saga’s NeoGeo ports are arcade perfect. That is to say they contain the exact presentation and timing as the arcade originals. The origin of the ‘arranged’ home versions is far more difficult to determine. According to the printed material, the game The King of Fighters ’99: Evolution is based on its Dreamcast counterpart, where 2001 and 2002 seemingly derive from PlayStation 2 versions. On further inspection though, they all seem closer to their respective Dreamcast incarnations. Bonus and unlockable striker characters that were added to the PS2 version of 2001 are notably absent here, as are certain additional stages found only in that release. The particularly prominent redrawn lifebars, versus screens, and other interface elements that characterised it are also not included. Modes specific to the DC games, like ‘party mode’ and the infamous bonus puzzle game, both unfound in the PS2 ports, are also here. In the end the fact that all characters are unlocked from the outset and that various tweaks not to be found anywhere else (portraits for former-secret characters Kula and Zero) are part of this package means that these games are not so much console ports as much as new compositions altogether. Certainly they show that at least some effort was vested in this project by SNK.
Numerous bugs unfortunately detract from the overall appeal of this collection, which is curious considering that more time was spent on The King of Fighters NESTS Saga than any other entry in the series (it has been delayed almost a year from its original projection). One thing that is impossible to miss is the inability to make custom button-maps for the original NeoGeo games – the main menu’s configuration screen services the new ports found on the title screen only – not those in the NeoGeo menu. People with arcade stick-style controllers are squarely out of luck if they had intended to use the Advanced Entertainment System’s original four-in-a-row button layout. Also there are problems with sounds all over the place. Both effects and background music in the arranged games are muffled at best and nothing can be done to alleviate the situation in the menu. Conversely, the native NeoGeo audio playback is nearly flawless, but the arranged music cannot be played in the old games - particularly curiously as it was possible to do so in each collection prior to this. That is not the only expected feature missing. Despite the fact that every console port SNK has developed in recent memory has contained a video filter or ‘softening’ effect of some kind, NESTS has none. The severity of this omission is largely dependent on the display being used to play the game, but consider that any variety of HDTV will unavoidably look pixelated to a greater degree than it should. One last thing is that customised colour-edit loadouts will also not work with the NeoGeo games and this is again something that has been enjoyed by everything from The Last Blade to Art of Fighting.
At its most basic level, The King of Fighters NESTS Saga features the arcade-perfect ports players have come to expect, but this time with more extra stuff to go along with them. The tipping point comes when the arranged games, that are the main angle for this release, end up costing it some of the features that have made the NeoGeo Online Collection such a great series so far. While lack of arranged soundtrack integration and edit colours are negligible, being unable to customise your NeoGeo controls is inexcusable. It doesn’t help that this group of games was not at all the highlight of the franchise to begin with. This compilation is serviceable, but does not stand up to Garou Densetsu Battle Archives Vol.2 which came before it in terms of quality and should stand as a reminder to SNK to not allow such absent-minded bugs and technical issues mar their upcoming Samurai Spirits and World Heroes collections. By all means, get this game if you’re a KoF fan, but just know what to expect beforehand.
Port Quality: 9/10
The King of Fighters NESTS Saga just makes you think SNK got lazy with this one. Without the bugs it has, this collection could have been a real contender and maybe even the best in the series. Let’s just hope they get the next few compilations right.