The King of Fighters 98 Ultimate Match Final Edition is a revamp of the fourth game of the KOF series featuring new levels, characters and gameplay tweaks to make what is regarded as the best game of the franchise even better. It features no story, unlike the previous titles which allows them to bring back previously killed fighters to once again battle it out. For the newcomers, all you need to know is that King of Fighters is a fighting game made up of SNK characters from various franchises and is known for its three versus three combat. Heading on over to the “how to play” section and then the practice mode is recommended as even on the lowest difficulty it will be quite the challenge to fight the AI.
You will get nowhere trying to brute force it without an understanding of the intricate four button fighting system and your fighters since this was originally an Arcade game meant to eat up your quarters. This version of the game has 64 characters in total; there is a lot to learn about each and constantly experimenting with your three-person setup can quickly get addicting. If you are more into the traditional one on one matches, you can choose Single Play instead of Arcade on the main menu. It also a great way to polish up your skills with a character of your choosing.
The regular three vs three fights will have you fighting until your character drops. There is no swapping out with your teammates, and the only way to recover health is to win against your foe, only then will your bar slightly refill before facing their partner. You must make the most out of them while you can and are able to choose what order they fight in. It is true that there is no story to speak of, but you will still always face the same boss at the end. He is alone but even being outnumbered by your three characters, it will be quite the challenge to beat him. If you find yourself losing a match, it will then give you the option to either start the rematch with a full energy meter, lower AI difficulty, enemies at 1/3 health or nothing at all if you are feeling confident you can win without assistance.
Overall there are 18 stages to play in, but only nine are used in Arcade/Single Play mode. To see the other nine arenas, you must either play against a CPU or friend in Versus mode where you can select them. You will also see them online though the community is mostly dead minus the odd straggler. The graphics have held up reasonably well even after nearly two decades and is packed with the detail and fluid animations SNK is known for. Stages are full of movement and you can see your teammates in the background either looking cool, cheering you on or with their asses kicked if they lost a round already. You can either have border art or black bars around the game, stretching it to the widescreen aspect ratio is also an option though it will look a tad funky like that.
Others modes include Endless where you will fight all the characters with a single life bar until you finally bite the dust and Challenges that task you with various conditions to win the match. By far my favorite addition is the inclusion of the original Neo Geo version of King of Fighters 98 to appreciate the changes to the “Ultimate Match Final Edition” version. It is basically the same game but the small changes go a long way, and I’d be damned if I go back to willingly using Terry’s original short ranged Burn Knuckle attack. Oddly enough, I do find it to be easier than the newer version so it may be worth your time if you are still struggling to grasp how to play. This title is not beginner friendly or one you will simply pick up and play though it will give you all the tools you need to learn.
It can be fast paced but most of the time will be a slow & intense search for an opening between exchanging blows. If you have a friend to play with it can be as hectic as you want it to be though against the AI jumping around and trying to rush will result badly most of the time. Truthfully, I am far from the best at Fighting games, however even with the tough reintroduction to the series after so long I was hooked from the get go. The sheer variety of vastly different characters to learn how to use or to fight against, keeping it from feeling like a drag while you slowly but surely improve. Once you break in enough to easily hold your own, you will find so much more mechanics and character quirks to master that will keep you playing for a very long time. If you call yourself a Fighting game fan, you owe it to yourself to check this out.