Around this time in 2001, SNK had gone belly up, and handed the King of Fighters franchise over to Eolith. The Korean studio only appointed producers and the Director, though, while most of the actual development staff were still Japanese, many with previous KoF experience. Yet the result is one of the least polished entries in the series.
For starters, the character artwork is terrible, to the point where some fighters actually look horribly distorted. The artist this time around is Nona, who thankfully improved in later installments. Some of the backgrounds are also ugly, consisting of garish colors that hurt the eyeballs. The music is a horrendous collection of unmelodic cacophony, a mixture of techno and drum and bass, mixed with some truly awful distorted guitar samples. It’s not too much to call it one of the worst fighting game soundtracks in existence.
The King of Fighters 2001 also introduces a ratio system similar to Capcom vs SNK 2, giving the option to freely distribute four characters between fighter and Striker slots. The fewer active characters, the more powerful they’ll be, and the more power stocks are available. It’s a weird system, and isn’t exactly a welcome change, especially since 4-on-4 matches can drag on. In single player mode, the CPU always sticks to a 3-1 distribution like the former games, anyway.
The midboss this time is Original Zero, who has three of his own Strikers – including Krizalid, the evil ninja Ron, and a nasty looking lion. But the main boss is the massively overpowered Igniz, who at least looks really cool. The new characters – Angel, May Lee and K9999 – are pretty strange to play as, although they offer some new combo-based tactics. There is also a new kind of move called “Wire Attack”, which causes foes to be launched to the side of the screen and then bounced back so a combo can be continued. The American version of the game is once again censored to remove the boob jiggle.
The King of Fighters 2001 appeared on Dreamcast and PlayStation 2. The Dreamcast version, only released in Japan, features a strange puzzle minigame. The object is to match up blocks by punching them, aligning four or more together makes them disappear. Combinations strengthen a power meter. After building it up enough, you can attack the opponent. In order to win, one either has to to clear one’s own screen or the opponent needs to lose. Unlike most puzzle games, the screen is horizontally oriented. The matches go on far too long to be considered worthwhile, though.
The initial PlayStation 2 release loses the puzzle mode, but addresses some of the original complaints by using completely new character artwork for the portraits. All of the backgrounds have been touched up and recolored to look less garish, and the whole game looks much better as a result, even though some superficial 3D effects detract from them. There’s also a whole new intro, rendered in FMV, which features plenty of hilarious Engrish. Both ports use the same crappy music as the Neo Geo version.
KoF 2001 is also included in the NESTS Pack, with both the original arcade and the Dreamcast versions, including the puzzle mode. There is also a brand new arranged soundtrack especially produced for this anthology, as there had never been one during the time of its initial release. It’s definitely a step up from the original music, with much higher quality instrument samples, although it’s still lacking compared to the other installments. However, neither version includes the updated character portraits or redrawn backgrounds found in the initial PlayStation 2 release. As such, there is no “definitive” version of this game.