Best King Of Fighters Games, Ranked By You 1
Image: Damien McFerran / Time Extension

Capcom and SNK went toe-to-toe during much of the '90s, each trying to outperform the other in the realm of one-on-one brawlers.

While the former found global fame via its Street Fighter series, the latter hit back in 1994 with The King of Fighters, a team-based and deeply technical rival which, at one point, was comfortably the most popular example of the genre in Japanese arcades.

Since King of Fighters '94 appeared, we've seen numerous sequels (at one point, they were a yearly occurrence) as well as spin-off releases and collections. But which King of Fighters game is the absolute pinnacle of the franchise? We asked you, our dear readers, to cast your votes, and the list below is based on those very same votes.

Don't agree with the running order? Then get voting, as you can still impact the ranking of this dynamic list!

23. The King of Fighters: Kyo (PS1)

An RPG-like visual novel spin-off from the main King of Fighters series, King of Fighters: Kyo was never released outside of Japan and is rather hard to play unless you understand Japanese.

Nonetheless, it's interesting as it introduces several characters which aren't seen anywhere else in the franchise, including Kyo's mother, girlfriend and cousin (that's three different people, before you get any funny ideas).

Combat takes place in a turn-based format, with animations being lifted from the games. It's a unique concept, for sure, but not an essential purchase by any means. An unofficial Spanish translation was released in 2013 if that's any help to you.

22. The King of Fighters EX: Neo Blood (GBA)

A scaled-down take on the mainline King of Fighters titles, King of Fighters EX: Neo Blood has awful audio and low-resolution visuals. On the upside, you get an entirely new character in the shape of Moe Habana.

Based loosely on King of Fighters '99 (the Striker system is present), King of Fighters EX: Neo Blood has largely been forgotten by fans of the franchise, and with good reason; it's hardly the most appealing instalment and not really worth bothering these days.

GBA sequel King of Fighters EX2: Howling Blood is much better.

21. The King of Fighters EX2: Howling Blood (GBA)

Following the lacklustre GBA title King of Fighters EX, there was little reason to be optimistic when King of Fighters EX2: Howling Blood turned up, but it's actually a massive improvement on its forerunner.

Almost everything is improved this time around, with better visuals, sound, controls and animation. Four entirely new characters make the cut here – Reiji Oogami, Jun Kagami, Miu Kurosaki and boss character Sinobu Amou – which make the whole package feel a lot more substantial.

It's still not quite in the same league as the full-fat King of Fighters titles, but it's an excellent example of the genre on the GBA.

20. The King Of Fighters XII (PS3)

King of Fighters XII abandons Sammy's Atomiswave arcade system and uses the powerful Taito Type X2 board. It also jettisons the Tactical Shift System 'tag' mechanic, stripping away one of the major innovations of the franchise up to this point.

However, King of Fighters XII does have some new tricks up its sleeve. Critical Counters can turn the tide of a match, while Guard Attacks allow characters to counter incoming blows when used correctly. Like fellow SNK series Samurai Shodown, this entry also features a 'clash' mechanic; should both fighters land an attack at the exact same time, they are blown backwards without taking damage.

Home ports for the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 arrived in 2009.

19. The King of Fighters: Maximum Impact (PS2)

Just like its rival Capcom, SNK struggled to transition its famous fighting franchise to the world of 3D. Here, players can shift their fighter in 3D space, but the visuals aren't quite up to the sumptuous standard of the best 2D games of the same era, making the whole thing look a bit clunky.

Developed by Noise Factory, King of Fighters: Maximum Impact (also known as KOF: Maximum Impact) has a story mode which removes the team-based system and is instead focused on a single character each time around.

There's still a half-decent game hidden away here (and newcomer Lien is easy on the eye) but it's not the finest hour of the series by a long chalk.

18. King of Fighters 2001 (Neo Geo)

Following SNK's collapse in 2000, King of Fighters 2001 was developed by South Korea-based company Eolith, with the assistance of BrezzaSoft.

It expands the Striker system by allowing players to pick the ratio; you can have four fighters and no Strikers, or one fighter and three Strikers. (the configturation of your team impacts the length and number of stocks of your Power Gauge). The Striker system would be retired after this instalment.

King of Fighters 2001 was ported to the PS2 and Dreamcast.

17. The King of Fighters: Maximum Impact 2 (PS2)

While many series fans don't have a high opinion of King of Fighters: Maximum Impact, it obviously performed well, as SNK Playmore developed a sequel in 2006.

Retaining the same 3D visuals, it offers 38 playable fighters as well as a host of 'alternative' versions to unlock.

King of Fighters: Maximum Impact 2 would get an arcade update in the form of Regulation A in 2008; a second update, Regulation A2, was cancelled before release.

16. The King of Fighters Neowave (PS2)

Notable for being SNK Playmore's first release on Sammy's Atomiswave arcade hardware, The King of Fighters Neowave is effectively a remake of King of Fighters 2002, and retains the same 'Dream Match' setup.

When it was ported to home systems, the roster was rejigged and the visuals spruced up slightly, but there's no way to escape the feeling that this is a slightly lazy entry in the canon.

Certainly, the critical consensus at the time of release was that the game felt stale and unexciting; some even believed it was worse than the 2002 entry.

15. The King Of Fighters 2003 (Neo Geo)

The final entry in the series to be released on the Neo Geo hardware, King Of Fighters 2003 is a divisive release amongst fans thanks to the introduction of the ability to switch out fighters mid-match, not just in-between bouts.

There's also the Tactical Leader System, where one of your team's characters is given access to a Leader Super Special Move.

Japanese artist Tatsuhiko Kanaoka (better known as Falcoon) served as the main artist behind the game, giving it a different look from previous instalments.

14. The King of Fighters '94 (Neo Geo)

The game that started it all. King of Fighters '94 was quite a revelation when it appeared in arcades; fusing the worlds of Fatal Fury, Art of Fighting, Ikari Warriors and Psycho Soldier, it introduced a team-based mechanic where players had to master not one but three different fighters, adding some much-needed variety to the one-on-one fighting genre.

Granted, the game has been significantly iterated on over the decades (this is the only entry in which players can't edit the members of their team) and feels somewhat basic today, but it's still an iconic and important entry in the genre – but one that notably wasn't ported to any other home system at the time of release.

In 2004, SNK released The King of Fighters '94 Re-Bout, a remake which contains both the It features the original game and an enhanced version with higher-res visuals and 3D backgrounds.

13. The King of Fighters XIV (PS4)

While the King of Fighters series had dabbled with the third dimension via the Maximum Impact spin-off titles, PS4 title King of Fighters XIV was the first mainline entry to entirely ditch 2D graphics in favour of 3D. In reality, the action is still 2D in nature, just like Capcom's Street Fighter IV.

Speaking of which, Yasuyuki Oda, who worked on that title, also directed this one. King of Fighters XIV certainly looks the part, although some compared it unfavourably to Capcom's challenger in terms of visuals.

An arcade port running on the same Taito arcade hardware as the fourth Street Fighter instalment arrived in 2017. Fans would have to wait until 2022 before they got another entry in the shape of King of Fighters XV.

12. King of Fighters R-1 (NGPC)

One of the biggest games released on SNK's monochrome Neo Geo Pocket handheld, King of Fighters R-1 is based on King of Fighters '97, and features cute, super-deformed fighters with surprisingly smooth animation.

While there are only 15 fighters and the existence of the superior King of Fighters R-2 renders this somewhat superfluous, it's still amazing to think that we got such a solid handheld fighter back in 1998, when the Game Boy was still the most advanced portable console most people had seen.

11. King of Fighters XV (PS5)

There's a lot to like about King of Fighters XV if you're a fan of the genre. Deep, technical gameplay. A large and fairly interesting character roster. All-important rollback netcode, which allows for mostly smooth online matches.

All of the ingredients are here, but the finished product still lacks a certain edge — the kind of edge that some would argue SNK lost when it transitioned from sprite-based, 2D fighting games.

It feels like SNK has improved upon King of Fighters XIV in all of the ways that matter. Better visuals, expanded mechanics, and, perhaps most importantly, smooth online netcode make for fighter that's hard to fault — even if it's lacking the cutting edge of its peers.

10. King of Fighters R-2 (NGPC)

Released after SNK had launched its improved Neo Geo Pocket Color handheld, King of Fighters R-2 is definitely the better-known of the two 'R' titles, and with good reason.

Taking its story from King of Fighters '98, it features lovely colourised visuals and the unique ability to connect with the Dreamcast entry King of Fighters: Dream Match 1999 via a special link cable.

Sadly, there are still only 15 fighters, with Chizuru Kagura and Kim Kaphwan making way for Saisyu Kusanagi and Kasumi Todoh.

9. The King of Fighters '95 (Neo Geo)

Notable for being the first game in the series which permitted players to edit the fighters in their three-person team, King of Fighters '95 also sees the introduction of Iori Yagami, the rival of Kyo Kusanagi, the 'lead' character of King of Fighters '94.

Also, the game marks the beginning of the Orochi Saga, an overarching plot which would run through several subsequent instalments. Another first is the fact that this was ported to non-SNK hardware, including the PS1 and Saturn (the latter shipped with a special ROM cart which allowed for a surprisingly faithful conversion).

A Game Boy port was also released, although it predictably differs from the original quite dramatically in terms of presentation.

8. The King of Fighters XI (PS2)

With a new storyline, plenty of gameplay features and a cast of 40 fighters, The King of Fighters XI was an attempt to get the series back on track following the rather disappointing King of Fighters Neowave.

Once again utilising Sammy's Atomiswave arcade standard, this instalment introduces new features such as Dream Cancels and the Skill Bar, giving veteran players some new toys to get to grips with.

The Tactical Shift System returns, but new features – such as Quick Shift (where you can tag in another character mid-combo) and Saving Shift (which allows you to pull a character out of an attack to avoid damage) give the combat system more depth than ever before.

7. The King Of Fighters 2002 (Neo Geo)

The Striker system introduced in King of Fighters '99 is finally done away with here; King Of Fighters 2002 returns to the traditional three-on-three setup that made the franchise so famous in its early years.

Like King Of Fighters '98, this entry is a 'dream match' which lacks a grand storyline and instead focuses on pulling together a wide range of fighters from the history of the series. For this reason, it is considered to be one of the best entries in the franchise by fans.

A remake, entitled The King of Fighters 2002: Unlimited Match, was released in 2009 for the PlayStation 2 and Xbox Live Arcade the following year. This includes a whopping 66 different characters to play as. It was ported to PC and PS4 in 2015 and 2021 respectively.

6. The King of Fighters '99 (Neo Geo)

King of Fighters '99 is notable for introducing a new story arc involving the character K', who was previously a member of the shadowy NESTS organisation. K' was the game's focal point in terms of promotion, so much so that previous series stars Kyo Kusanagi and Iori Yagami were very nearly removed from the roster entirely; they are featured as hidden characters.

Another new addition is the ability to add a fourth character to your team, who can be called in as a 'Striker' – these can be summoned during battle to perform a special move.

King of Fighters '99 received an excellent Dreamcast port which, like King of Fighters: Dream Match 1999, utilised 3D backgrounds with 2D sprites.

5. The King of Fighters '96 (Neo Geo)

With Rugal Bernstein defeated at the conclusion of King of Fighters '95, a new tournament is created by Chizuru Kagura, who seeks Kyo Kusanagi and Iori Yagami's aid to seal the Orochi demon.

King of Fighters '96 introduces a flood of new characters, including the aforementioned Kagura, Goenitz, Kasumi Todoh, Leona Heidern, Mature and Vice – as well as 'returning' SNK fighters, including Geese Howard (Fatal Fury), Wolfgang Krauser (Fatal Fury 2) and Mr. Big (Art of Fighting). Heidern and Takuma Sakazaki are absent.

As was the case with the previous entry, King of Fighters '96 was ported to home systems, including the PS1, Saturn and Game Boy (the latter being called King of Fighters: Heat of Battle in the West).

4. The King of Fighters 2000 (Neo Geo)

The final game in the franchise before SNK's bankruptcy, King of Fighters 2000 sees Heidern forming a new tournament to capture ex-NESTS agents K' and Maxima.

Because of SNK's financial troubles, the game contains various technical issues due to staff leaving during development. Despite this, it remains a well-liked entry in the franchise.

While King of Fighters 2000 once again got a solid port to the Dreamcast, it didn't include the 3D backgrounds that had been featured in King of Fighters: Dream Match 1999 and King of Fighters '99: Evolution. The game was also ported to PS2.

3. The King of Fighters XIII (PS3)

It was all change again with this entry. Gone are King of Fighters XII's Guard Attack, Critical Counter, and Clash System; in their place, we have new features such as EX Mode, Hyper Drive mode and Drive Cancels.

While it's often hard to keep up with the chopping and changing of combat systems and mechanics in King of Fighters games, the alterations in this case were generally for the better, resulting in a more balanced and enjoyable game.

Ported to the PS3 and Xbox 360 in 2011, King of Fighters XIII would more recently come to the PS4 and Switch under the title King of Fighters XIII Global Match.

2. The King of Fighters '97 (Neo Geo)

By the time King of Fighters '97 came around, the format of the series was already starting to become a little stale, so SNK introduced the 'Advanced' and 'Extra' gameplay modes.

Advanced mode is based on King of Fighters '96, but the player's power gauge now fills up as their character takes damage or lands a special move. Three power gauges can be stocked up, allowing the player to perform three Super Specials or trigger the 'Max' mode, enhancing their defensive and offensive power. There's also a rolling move in this mode.

'Extra' mode takes inspiration from King of Fighters '94 and King of Fighters '95; once their power gauge is full, the player enters Max mode, and they can only execute Super Specials in this mode, or when their health is critical. The rolling move in Advanced becomes a side-step in Extra mode.

The addition of these modes did much to improve King of Fighters '97's playability, giving fans the chance to master two different approaches to competitive play.

1. The King of Fighters '98 (Neo Geo)

For many fans, The King of Fighters '98 is considered to be the definitive game in the entire series. It was promoted by SNK not as a mainline entry but more of a 'greatest hits' collection, pulling together all of the characters seen in all of the titles released up to that point.

The expanded roster makes this a brilliant entry point for series newcomers, as there's a wide variety of styles and tactics to put to use. It's also worth pointing out that, by this point, the series had really begun to shine in terms of presentation, with each fighter boasting a superb degree of detail and smooth animation.

The King of Fighters '98 would be ported to home systems again, with the PS1 getting a Japan-only port. However, Saturn missed out this time around; instead, its successor, the Dreamcast, received a conversion, dubbed The King of Fighters: Dream Match 1999 (this was to separate it from King of Fighters '99). Boasting 3D backgrounds and a slick animated introduction, this is arguably one of the most beloved entries in the franchise.

Another update – King of Fighters '98: Ultimate Match – arrived in arcades in 2008 and was followed by King of Fighters '98: Ultimate Match Final Edition in 2011. This would be ported to PS4 in 2022.