The King of Fighters fighting game series, produced by SNK Playmore, includes a wide cast of characters, some of which are taken from other SNK games. The story takes place in a fictional universe in which an annual series of 3-on-3 or 4-on-4 fighting tournaments are held.
The first game in the series introduces the initial main character of the series, Kyo Kusanagi, a young Japanese fighter who is the heir to a powerful group of martial artists having pyrokinetic abilities. Kyo fights against the Kusanagi clan's enemies, his rival Iori Yagami, and the god and its human followers, among others. The first four games in the series revolve about these fights, while The King of Fighters '99 introduces a new story arc, revolving around K', a young man who seeks to destroy the mysterious NESTS organization because they kidnapped him at an early age and stripped him of his past memories, so that they could force him to be a fighter under their control. In The King of Fighters 2003, a new character named enters the tournament, to steal the powers of the clans who sealed the Orochi in the past for an unknown reason. A new group of antagonists, known as , also appears in the series; they want to obtain Orochi's power for the purpose of giving it to their unknown master.
The plot and the characters came from the Yamata no Orochi legend. There are also several characters in the games that are parodies or homages to several popular anime, manga, and film. Merchandise based on the characters has also been released, including action figures and keychains. The characters have garnered praise from several video game publications for the quality of their designs and movesets. Comments focused on the lack of improvements in some of the characters, but added that the roster is greatly diverse.
The developers of the series claim that their prototype version for King of Fighters was going to be a side-scrolling beat 'em up titled Survivor. It would have used only core characters from the Art of Fighting and Fatal Fury series, specifically allowing players to play Robert Garcia and Terry Bogard for location testing. However, the idea was quickly abandoned. Since the developers were attached to the idea of the two series cross-over, they eventually agreed to make their idea into a fighting game. Characters from the Ikari Warriors and Psycho Soldier games were also added in the spirit of other gaming genres considered for their final product. The concept of a three-man team was one of the ideas kept from the side-scrolling version. Flagship director Toyohisa Tanabe asserts that the Art of Fighting and Fatal Fury fighters were added specifically for adults. The newer King of Fighters characters were aimed to appeal to younger and newer audiences. He adds that every original character for the series was added based on the developers' strong desire to make one. For example, he agreed to include characters such as and to add an off-beat variety to the cast, which he had previously deemed to be too serious. Later in the series, their approach to creating their characters altered slightly, to also serve as a type of fan service, which he refers to as a collaborative effort between fans and the staff.
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