Since its first title in 1994, King of Fighters has established itself as one of the best franchises in the genre, both for its recognizable team-based gameplay and unique characters. However, just which members of this vast roster remain the kings of King of Fighters?
10 Rugal Bernstein
Everyone appreciates a strong villain, and Rugal Bernstein fulfills this archetype. Despite his notoriety as an arms dealer, participants in the King of Fighters Tournament know Rugal for his exceptional power and technique mimicry.
Rugal becomes notable for his signature swagger, pride, and boastful sense of godhood. In fact, Rugal restructured the King of Fighters Tournament to become 3-versus-3 precisely to look for worthy rivals. Thankfully, Rugal fulfills his self-evaluation as he serves as one of the most difficult bosses in the series.
As a fighter, Rugal possesses a variety of punishing combos designed with fierce grabs, zoning attacks, and even brutal reversals. Essentially, players who can manage his large hitbox and attack lag will have a force to reckon with courtesy of Rugal.
9 Ash Crimson
Rarely do franchises intentionally create unlikable protagonists, and yet KOF has Ash Crimson. Nicknamed “The Sneering Blaze,” Ash started as one of the franchise’s unheroic heroes. Ash has pyrokinesis, albeit with unknown origins. He also has power absorption abilities, a trait he possesses as the descendant of Saiki, a servant of main antagonist Orochi.
Despite his frail appearance, Ash is an extremely graceful and acrobatic fighter. His speed and mobility build his zoning and poking specialization. Moreover, his mixups allow Ash to continuously rush and pressure his opponents. His unique status as an “unlikeable hero” makes him one of the best KOF – or even the fighting game genre as a whole – has to offer.
8 Kyo Kusanagi
As the main protagonist of the crossover franchise, Kyo Kusanagi initially carried the heavy burden of standing alongside the likes of notable SNK protagonists Terry Bogard (Fatal Fury) and Ryo Sakazaki (Art of Fighting). Kyo may have begun as the unremarkable “delinquent student-brawler” cliche protagonist, but he develops into an admirable leader. The franchise may have expanded to include new protagonists, but “The Scion of the Flame” and Kyo’s signature pyrokinesis will remain his.
Kyo is notable in the fighting game community for jumpstarting the trend for multi-input characters. His empty-hand martial arts and fire attacks blend nicely with his technical mixups, combos, and situational follow-ups. Newcomers to KOF might find Kyo overwhelming at first, but mastering his inputs will pave the way for the other technically diverse members of the franchise’s roster.
7 Kula Diamond
Formally nicknamed as “Ice Doll,” Kula Diamond served as the thematic antagonist to K’ (K-Prime) during the KOF NESTS Saga. Kidnapped by the NESTS cartel as a child, experiments had given Kula cryokinesis at the cost of repressed emotions. As a cold-blooded killer, her original purpose is to kill K’, the cartel’s traitor.
Since her “defrosting” into the side of good, Kula now has a more childlike state. Fans love Kula for her K-based fighting style, uniquely fitted with high-speed ice attacks, better mobility, and her signature ice skates. Moreover, Kula’s growth in the series gave room for her to become her own person despite starting with an “anti-character” motif.
Thanks to her background and fighting style, SNK fans will instantly realize that Leona is there to subtly replace Heidern. Leona underwent strict military training under the General, resulting in her having a difficult time interacting with others outside missions, earning her “The Silent Soldier” nickname. However, Leona’s time with her team developed her strong sense of duty and desire to protect her friends.
Given Heidern’s tutelage, Leona shared his fighting style. However this time, Leona’s techniques focused on acrobatics and speed. She’s notable for her explosive cuts and slices, perfect for punishing enemies who love to rush their opponents.
Thankfully, Leona’s character growth helped her branch out of her “replacement” status and become a character of her own.
5 Iori Yagami
When Iori Yagami entered the picture in The King of Fighters ’95, SNK intended him to become Kyo’s rival. However, his cold and utterly blunt personality – paired with his stylish getup – helped Iori become a standout fan favorite. Iori, the “Flame of the End,” hails from the Yagami – formerly the Yasakani – Clan, one of the families who guarded Orochi’s seal. Due to deception, the Yasakani beseeched Orochi’s power, adding a bluish hue to their crimson flames.
Throughout the story, Iori finds himself crossing paths – and fists – with Kyo, deeming him as the only one worthy of being his match.
As a fighter, Iori his pyrokinesis with the Yasakani style of martial arts, which involves aggressive slashing and clawing moves. In the game, Iori boasts high-damage combos in exchange for slow movement and attack lag. However, those who get a hang of his violent combat style will have a powerful rushdown character in their hands.
4 Mai Shiranui
A lot of fans like Mai Shiranui for her design, and she’s not the “Alluring Ninja Girl” for nothing. However, this fighter debuted as far back as Fatal Fury, and she sits alongside the likes of Chun-Li (Street Fighter) as one of the fighting genre’s most popular female characters.
Mai is heavily inspired by kunoichi, female shinobi who use the art of seduction and distraction to kill their targets. In the series’ story, Mai tries and change Andy Bogard’s ways.
However, just because Mai has a rather mundane story doesn’t mean she’s to be underestimated. Mai has a graceful fighting style that could be mistaken for dance, but her moves rely on speed and throws to stop the enemy’s advance. Mai’s fighting style is swift and relentless, making her perfect for those who want to punish defensive characters.
3 Terry Bogard
Terry Bogard and his trademark cap remain one of the most recognizable parts of King of Fighters. However, the “Legendary Hungry Wolf” actually hails from Fatal Fury as the cheerful half of Andy Bogard – siblings who swore vengeance against Geese Howard for their father’s murder. Whereas Andy trained in Japan, Terry learned a mixture of martial arts. In turn, Terry fights with a mix of street fighting, kickboxing, kung fu, karate, and even boxing.
In the game’s story, Terry would consistently enter the King of Fighters Tournament to hone his skills. Thanks to his charismatic nature, Terry almost always leads Team Fatal Fury.
Terry is loved for his balanced and straightforward fighting style. His normal attacks almost always connect into hard-hitting combos, and his special attacks have a decent lag that gives Terry a unique “weight” to his movement.
Anyone who thought King was a man meant her stylistic choice was successful. After all, even as far back as in Art of Fighting, King wanted to fight under the guise of a man for various reasons. However, this doesn’t mean King is a pushover.
In the lore, “The Beautiful Kick’s Illusion” gained early fame as a Muay Thai practitioner and ended up working as a bartender. When her secret is exposed, she joins the King of Fighters Tournaments, initially to help Ryo and later to hone her skills.
Unlike other characters in the series, King doesn’t have extravagant energy blasts or elemental control. Rather, fans appreciate her fast and loose martial arts that are a mixture of Muay Thai, Kickboxing, and even Savate.
1 Geese Howard
His name is Geese.
Aside from that, he’s one of the few characters to serve as a villain in both Fatal Fury and Art of Fighting. Due to his violent history with some of the cast, it’s predictable that Geese would end up becoming a villain or an anti-hero in KOF.
Geese is notable for killing the father of the Bogard brothers and becoming the main quest of vengeance for both Terry and Andy. Geese also became the first host of the King of Fighters, a place to find worthy opponents.
Like Rugal, Geese is a proud and powerful warrior. His combat style focuses on Aikijutsu, which involves Geese capitalizing on locks, throws, and counter-throws to capture defeat. He can empower his attacks with electricity, transforming them into swift yet hard-hitting attacks. Fans love Geese for his powerful throws and dominating strikes that can easily turn the tide against an aggressive opponent.
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