Pretty darn awesome port of both KOF 2002 (see entry 141 for the DC version and comparative screenshots) and KOF 2003.
Why awesome? Well, two-for-one, to begin with. Expectedly, the manual is cut-rate: black and white, and actually, to my surprise, entirely lacking character portraits, not to mention move lists. But the games come on separate DVDs, where I had expected mere CDs, so you get nice quick load times, and--get ready for it--both support progressive scan! WHOA! Progressive scan is rare enough in PS2 games, but in ports of low-res arcade games? Unheard-of! Big ups to SNK for that. 02 looks easily as marvelous here in 480p as it does in VGA on the DC.
Better, in fact, because in place of 2002's rather crappy 2D backgrounds, you can enable pretty darn nice 3D backgrounds. The 3D work is at least on par with the 3D backgrounds in the earlier DC ports, and heck, if you don't like it, you can switch back to the 2D backgrounds. Actually, the 2D backgrounds in 03 are really nice, but more on that later. Most of the time there will be multiple versions of a 3D background, for different times of day, but I should mention that a couple of these use too much colored lighting, over both background and character sprites, and sort of muddle the whole picture out in an icky yellow or red color. Thankfully, those are the exception.
Other than the background option, I didn't notice much different from the DC version of 2002. You can put the backgrounds on random select in Practice mode, which is nice. Oddly, you can't switch Practice mode to use 2D backgrounds, which is a shame because that's the mode where it's easiest to select backgrounds just to view them, but oh well.
While KOF 2002 was never one of my favorites, I really like 03. The character roster is much smaller but they got some good people in there: Tizoc and Gato from Mark of the Wolves are much appreciated and look nice, if not quite as animated as in their native game, and the three brand-new characters in 03, while a little punked-out compared with the older KOF crew, aren't nearly as stupid as the characters introduced in 01 and 02, and--shock--actually play really, really well.
What else can I compliment 03 on? It has both team and solo Survival modes, a nice distinction. Oh, the final boss, although rather extremely quick, isn't even all that cheap for an SNK boss. Has the universe ended? Has hell frozen over? You mean I can actually hope to enjoy the end of a KOF game, rather than having to use one of the built-in continue cheats (lower the skill level, boss health, etc) to win? Huzzah!
On the down side, I haven't seen per-team endings, just a single generic one. Doh. And really there isn't much discernable story at all here, if you care about such things in your fighting games.
As in the 02 port, the 3D backgrounds for the most part look quite nice, but do try the 2D backgrounds, as they are surprisingly smooth and rich, and take things back near the quality level of the backgrounds in 2000 (see entry 139), which I do so love.
I really like 03. I haven't this excited about a KOF in quite some time.
Download added: terry_super_duper.gif (133196 bytes) "In 03, the team leader (first person you chose) gets an extra, huge super. Neat."
Oh man, I forgot to talk about 03 character switching! Rather like the Marvel vs Capcom games, you can now switch your active character during the fight in team battles. Normally though they just jump in and land: if you want them to attack, you have to throw in a bit of a joystick twist and spend, I think, a power stock. The switching really opens things up; although hardly original, I think it works well for them. You can also play a "Team" mode or something, that doesn't have the character switching, if you prefer old-school KOF style.
I am definitely off the 3D versions of the 2002 background. : P The 2D backgrounds are bland and oddly colored at best, but at least they don't poke you with low-res, weakly-filtered polygons. Not sure why I thought the 2D backgrounds can't be enabled for Practice mode, because they definitely are if you change the setting in the main game options.
Like other SNK PS2 ports of the era, you can set the game's Practice mode to run endless 1-round Vs CPU battles with randomized opponents and stages. It's a fun way to play, and really smooth in 2002, maybe particularly because of how the stages all sort of blur together into an oddly tinted melange. Partner this with the weirdest alternate character palettes (I find that selecting characters with Square tends to give the weirdest color schemes) and you've got yourself a near psychodelic experience. : o
I did that in this video, although I didn't get the character palette choice right (picking them with Square) until 3:36 in:
And I single-credited Single Play mode with Shingo (on difficulty 3)! : )
Anyway this is me trying out all of the single-player modes, and unlocking the two bosses, of The King of Fighters 2003 on PS2; this is the version sold in the States as a 2-disc pack with KOF 2002 in a single case, titled "The King of Fighters 02/03."
I hadn't played the game in a long time because I didn't like the overpowered mid-boss, Kusanagi--yet another Kyo clone :P--but I thought I'd give it a shot, and keep an eye out for some way to play it (VS CPU in Practice Mode had turned out to be too easy) that had a better difficulty curve--and I think I may have found one or two!
- Team Play is Arcade Play w/o tagging - LK+HP and HP+HK tag out, there's also a tag-out attack (1 super charge) by adding in a qcf motion - Defeat mid-boss Kusanagi w/ a super (or tag attack) to get the "good" ending vs Mukai, instead of the easy ending w/o credits against Adelheid - Can use the leader super dupers in Single Play - This is one of the maybe two(?) KOFs that doesn't re-randomize your team every match if you picked them with the random [?] "Roulette" button
The "Single Play" difficulty curve seemed pretty decent, even with the mid-boss. (Survival is waaaay too easy for a long time, then suddenly turns into a boss rush.) I'll have to try more of that! The AST is pretty nice, and as predicted I could tell no difference between the "Normal" and "Arcade" "System" settings (in KOF XI, a similar setting did small mechanical things like putting in a tweak--for Normal--that slowed crouch-punch spam, which the developers thought had been too dominant in the arcade version); guess I'll keep it on Arcade 'cause you know, being real and all. :P
Gotta play Single Play some more and see if it holds up! Hopefully it wasn't just me getting lucky against Kusanagi or something.
Getting through Single Play mode in The King of Fighters 2003 on PS2 with Ryo Sakazaki, Jhun Hoon, and Chang Koehan, on difficulty 4 (4 of 8, default arcade difficulty); I was going for the easy ending with Adelheid, but the third time I had to KO the mid-boss, Kusanagi, with a Leader Super, condemning me to face the tough ending, with the harder boss Mukai, preceded by the awful illusion twins Chizuru and Maki. ; P
I was playing Single Play because I'd found previously--on difficulty 3--that the difficulty curve with the too-tough Kusanagi mid-boss hadn't seemed as bad in single play as it had in the default Team Play; well, it was worse at difficulty 4. :P And all in all it felt like more of a messy slog what with difficulty funkiness and even a surprising amount of attacks looking like they were going right through each other; I suppose that could be down to the faster execution speed of 2003 just making them look that way, but it was noticeable and disconcerting.
I wonder if setting "System" to "Normal" (I'd set it to "Arcade") would help any of that? Kind of doubt it but who knows.
The Leader Super Special Moves I saw were disappointing, looking like recycled versions of typical moves. :P
Oh yeah and something really weird happened at 12'35: I'd been continuing repeatedly as Ryo against King (this was only the 3rd stage! ;_;), and after continue #3, King was replaced by Mai! !! What the heck??
Anyway I think for now I'll stick with the slower '98 and 2000, which feel more solid, and allow me to turn off super moves altogether. ^_^