exodus i learned how to play fighting games in general from snk vs capcom: motm and snk gals fighters, on the neo-geo pocket color. i couldn’t even reliably do a fireball until then, haha! but they’re very bite-sized, inviting little games that help to familiarize the player with these characters and how they play without any complicating elements. and they’re cute as hell. (both are on the switch right now, but of course this returns to the problem of giving snk any more money as things are at the moment.)
and i only just put together how it’s… basically iori, by way of miss x, who spurred my curiosity about kof in general.
i tell you what, the more i pick at my history it’s just queer turtles all the way down.
as far as full-sized games go, the obvious answer is ’98, especially ’98 um, which is on steam and which kind of fills in some blanks that there wasn’t rom space or dev time available for originally, and polishes a few rough edges. similarly, 2002 um is… fine; it’s basically the same idea, with a focus on the characters from the nests era ('99-2001) rather than the earlier games.
neither of those has a story, and by nature neither is very progressive. they don’t really introduce any new ideas. they’re about messing around with the toys that have already been pulled off the shelf over the last few games, right? so you get a good sense of, like default kof mechanics and you get to mess with all these different characters. and they’re good games. but also you miss what i personally consider one of the biggest draws of kof, which is both its ongoing melodrama and its ongoing evolution in terms of how it plays, what new ideas it proposes and explores every chapter.
if you wanted a neat experience, you could try comparing and contrasting kof ’95 (the first real chapter of the orochi saga), kof ’99 (the start of the nests era) and 2003 (the first “tales of ash”) game. they’re all broadly similar in construction, all running on the same hardware even, but each has such different mechanics and such a different tone and cast of characters. it’s that ongoing change that defines kof to me, and makes it so vital and interesting.
(also ’99 is just achingly beautiful in every way, as wonky as some of its mechanics may be. i love it so much.)
’98 (or rather “dream match 1999” 😆) was my first exposure to kof, and due to the lack of context in the game as to who all these normal-looking people in clothes were and what their deal was or what was going on, i just… didn’t get it. a little while later, ’99 (or “kof evolution”) hit dreamcast, and boing. i was hooked.
depending on what you’re looking for, of course, one’s mileage will vary. there are many valid options, haha. one of the things about kof is, unlike a lot of fighting games, as an individual you can kinda just… play it. you know how street fighter ii was meant to be a single-player game, sort of like a boss run that one was meant to play through, and that the two-player mode was kind of an afterthought at first? kof is one of the few series out there that continues to emphasize the single-player experience, a thing that really sets it apart, that you lose in a game like ’98 or 2002, no matter how well they might suit competitive play.