The King of Fighters '96 is a 2D tag-team fighting game developed and released by SNK for arcades (running Neo Geo MVS hardware) on July 30, 1996. It was subsequently released for the Neo Geo AES and Neo Geo CD later that year.
The third installment of the King of Fighters series (and the sequel to The King of Fighters '95), The King of Fighters '96 further improves the gameplay mechanics (introducing a revamped dodge roll mechanic) while redrawing all character graphics (bringing a revamped art style used for every mainline entry prior to The King of Fighters XII). Some characters also received revamped movelists, drastically changing their playstyles.
The second of the three-part "Orochi Saga" arc, the game's story takes place with a new King of Fighters tournament. As it no longer being held by Rugal Bernstein (due to his demise after the last tournament), this tournament becomes an major international event hosted by a mysterious benefactor. This host is later revealed to be Chizuru Kagura, a priestess who hopes to recruit both Kyo Kusanagi and Iori Yagami (as the last of their respective clans) to seal an ancient power (the same power Rugal could not withstand).
The character roster underwent some changes, with 7 new playable fighters and 4 removed fighters. Newcomers include Leona, a frontline soldier of the Ikari Warriors with a mysterious past, and Iori's new teammates Mature and Vice (both of which served as Rugal's secretaries and serve a mysterious purpose).
Ports & Re-Releases
The game was later ported to the Sega Saturn on December 31, 1996 and to the Sony PlayStation on July 4, 1997, both versions exclusive to Japan. It also received a handheld adaptation for the Game Boy in both Japan (in late 1997 as Nettou The King of Fighters '96) and Europe (in 1998 as The King of Fighters: Heat of Battle). The PS1 version was later digitally re-released (as a PSone Classics title) for the PlayStation 3, PlayStation Vita, and PlayStation Portable exclusively in Japan on May 31, 2007.
The original Neo Geo version was later digitally re-released for the Wii (as a Virtual Console title) in Japan on February 15, 2011, in North America on July 12, 2012, and in Europe on November 22, 2012. It was then digitally re-released (as a NEOGEO Station title) for the PlayStation 3, PlayStation Vita, and PlayStation Portable in Japan on October 11, 2011, in North America on October 11, 2011, and in Europe on March 28, 2012. It was later digitally re-released as part of the ACA NeoGeo series for the Xbox One (on August 10, 2017) PlayStation 4 (also on August 10, 2017), Nintendo Switch (on December 28, 2017), and PC (via Microsoft Store on April 27, 2018).
The game was also included in the 2006 King of Fighters Collection: The Orochi Saga compilation for the PlayStation 2, Wii, and PlayStation Portable. As the Japanese version of the compilation is the third volume of the NeoGeo Online Collection series, that version features online multiplayer.
The King of Fighters '96 plays like a traditional 2D fighting game, using four buttons (Light Punch, Light Kick, Strong Punch, and Strong Kick). Most of the gameplay remains the same as its predecessor, with some new additions and changes (including updated movelists for all characters).
In addition to the traditional match condition of best-of-three rounds between two fighters (which can be enabled by the arcade operator or in the home version), the game's main match condition is having teams of three competing against each-other in single-elimination rounds. The winner of each fight receives some of their vitality back and goes on to fight the next person on the opposing team, continuing until all fighters from one team are eliminated.
Main Changes from King of Fighters '95
- The side-step dodge manuever is replaced with a rolling dodge. However, some characters (such as Goro Daimon) can perform the side-step version using a new command (Light Kick and both Strong buttons). Rolling dodges can also be used to instantly recover from being knocked down and, in the right circumstances, can be used to interrupt a block.
- Forward dashing is replaced by running for greater control and jumping opportunities.
- Players can perform a shorter jump by tapping on the joystick, rather than holding down on the joystick.
- Throwing can now be broken out of with a well-timed command.
- Taunts can now be cancelled.
- Players can now block in the air.
- Holding forward or backwards on the joystick wile pressing a Strong button at a close distance can make the fighter perform an unblockable throw. The direction of the joystick determines where the enemy will be thrown. Standard throws can be broken out of by pressing both Light buttons.
- Double-tapping the joystick backwards can make the fighter perform a hopping backwards dash, allowing players to widen the gap between both fighters. Double-tapping (and then holding) the joystick forwards can make the fighter perform a forwards run, allowing players to close the gap between both fighters at a more controllable pace.
- Pressing Down on the joystick quickly before jumping (or jumping during a forwards run) performs a more effective jump (as shown with the fighter leaving an "afterimage" trail). Tapping Up on the joystick (rather than holding Up) performs a shorter hop for quicker recovery. While jumping, players can block enemy attacks.
- Pressing both Light buttons simultaneously can make the fighter perform a backwards rolling dodge (called a "Flyback Jump Escape") used for avoiding attacks (including projectiles). It can also be performed at the right time while being knocked down for an instant recovery. Pressing both Light buttons while holding Forward on the joystick performs a forwards rolling dodge (called a "Forward Dash Fake-Out"), which has the added benefit of the player rolling past enemies (for cross-up opportunities).
- Pressing both Strong buttons simultaneously can make the fighter perform a knockdown attack (called a "Body Toss Attack") that pushes away opponents (knocking them down in the process). While stronger than normal Strong attacks, it has a lengthy animation that leaves the fighter vulnerable to attacks.
- When in a dizzied state (after being damaged by numerous consecutive attacks), pressing Light Kick and both Punch buttons simultaneously while close to the fighter's allies (and at least one of those allies have not fought in the match) can make that fighter perform an assist attack, where one of those allies jumps in for a knockdown strike (buying the fighter time to recover).
Each fighter has their own Power Gauge on the bottom of the screen, which is automatically charged by blocking attacks and receiving damage. Players can manually affect both Power Gauges using two special techniques:
- Holding down Light Kick and both Punch buttons simultaneously can make the fighter perform a "Power Builder Surge", allowing them to charge the fighter's Power Gauge manually over time at a fast rate. However, it leaves them vulnerable to attacks.
- Pressing both Light Kick and Strong Punch buttons simultaneously can make the fighter perform a taunt (called a "Dis"), depleting part of the enemy's Power Gauge. Can be cancelled by pressing any button or moving the joystick, as its lengthy animation leaves them vulnerable to attacks.
Once the Power Gauge is filled, the player enters a "MAX" state (as indicated by the fighter flashing bright) where their basic attacks become stronger for a short time. Fighters in the "MAX" state also have the added ability to perform a dodging roll while blocking. After a short amount of time, the MAX state ends and their Power Gauge is fully depleted.
Players can also perform a hidden character-specific technique (the "Super Special Move") that can only be performed either in the "MAX" state (ending the "MAX" state early) or when the fighter's vitality is low (as shown by a blinking life bar). Performing the technique while both conditions are valid changes it to a flashier, more powerful version of it.
The game's roster is mostly unchanged from The King of Fighters '95, including 27 playable fighters split into nine teams. The game includes 7 new playable characters and 4 removed characters (Takuma Sakazaki, Heidern, Eiji Kisaragi, and Billy Kane).
Changes made to the roster include newcomer Leona making her debut in the Ikari Warriors Team (taking over for Heidern) and a new team of crime bosses as the game's penultimate sub-boss (making up of antagonists from both Fatal Fury and Art of Fighting games). The "Rivals Team" was disbanded and Iori Yagami forms a new team of his own (including newcomers Mature and Vice, former secretaries of Rugal Bernstein). Yuri Sakazaki also moves from the Women Fighters Team to the Art of Fighting Team (taking over for her father Takuma), with Kasumi Todoh taking her place in the Women Fighters Team.
Replacing Rugal Bernstein as the main antagonist is Goenitz: a religious missionary and leader of the followers of the divine being Orochi. Replacing Saisyu Kusanagi as the main sub-boss is Chizuru Kagura: a priestess and businesswoman who hosts the tournament under mysterious circumstance.
Fatal Fury Team
Art of Fighting Team
Ikari Warriors Team
- Leona (new addition, has an alternate unlockable "cursed" version in the Game Boy version)
- Ralf Jones
- Clark Steel
Psycho Soldier Team
Women Fighters Team
- Kasumi Todoh (new addition, originally from Art of Fighting 3: The Path of The Warrior)
- Mai Shiranui
- Iori Yagami (has an alternate unlockable "cursed" version in the Game Boy version)
- Mature (new addition)
- Vice (new addition)
Unlike other teams, each of the three fighters have their own accompanying theme song during fights on their stage. As each
- Geese Howard (sub-boss and new addition, originally from the Fatal Fury series)
- Wolfgang Krauser (sub-boss and new addition, originally from the Fatal Fury series)
- Mr. Big (sub-boss and new addition, originally from the Art of Fighting series)
- Chizuru Kagura (sub-boss and new addition, only playable via cheat code in console versions) - In the single-player mode, she is fought team-less as the first boss encounter.
- Goenitz (final boss and new addition, only playable via cheat code in console versions) - In the single-player mode, he is fought team-less as the second boss encounter.
- Mr. Karate (Game Boy version only, unlockable with code)
- "Kagura" (Game Boy version only, unlockable with code)