The King of Fighters ’95 is a nice improvement over its predecessor, mostly because it let players choose their own team. It also begins an episodic story arc revolving around the Orochi powers. The USA Sports team has been removed from the game, but in their place SNK has added a new team that includes Eiji Kisaragi from Art of Fighting 2 and Billy Kane from Fatal Fury. The third added character is an original character named Iori Yagami, a fan favorite who has remained Kyo’s main rival in every King of Fighters game since. The final enemy is once again Rugal, but Kyo’s brainwashed father Saisyu also appears as a midboss.
The speed of the fights has been increased since the first game, and health bars are emptied in no time. There are, however, some unfortunate quirks that unbalance things. The game plays mostly the same as it did in ’94, but now due to how block damage is handled, some super moves actually do more damage to you if you successfully block them than if you let them hit you! Fortunately, the returning roster has several altered and new moves as well as slightly improved animations. Another addition to the game is that every character can do a quick attack immediately after dodging. This makes dodging in general more useful as your opponent has to quickly weigh the risk of getting hit by this attack or continuing their own. Finally, some characters can jump much farther by tapping down immediately before jumping forward.
With questionable damage levels and only minor animation improvements, the big standouts of the game remain its roster size and variety along with its backgrounds. These are extremely colorful and well animated for a 1995 fighting game, and can be an eye opener for gamers used to the mostly static backdrops seen in some more recent 2D fighting games. One of them even has a person playing an instrument in time with a “solo” in the background’s song! SNK’s fighting game backgrounds tend to be impressive in general due to their attention to detail with shadows and consistent lighting. This way even if an area doesn’t have a large number of cheering people in it it still stands out.
The King of Fighters ’95 was ported to both the PlayStation and Saturn. The PlayStation version was released in the US, and although it played well, was saddled with cut animation and lots of loading time between matches. The Saturn version was sold with a ROM cartridge required for the game to work. Unlike the RAM expansion carts used in other SNK and Capcom games for the Saturn, this ROM cart contains most of the character animation data, reducing the amount of information needed from the CD-ROM and resulting in faster load times. Unfortunately, this addition makes it very hard to play in the US – due to the CD region lock, just playing the game would require a converter cartridge, which of course means there’s no place to plug in the required ROM cartridge. Unfortunately the game’s sound doesn’t fare well in either versions, with very scratchy and low quality sound effect and voice samples on both ports compared to the clarity on the Neo Geo. While the PlayStation and Saturn could have supported better sound, these particular ports were made from the Neo CD version of the game rather than what we got on the original Neo Geo cartridge. It’s very common for Neo CD games around this time to have reduced or cut sound effects to help with that system’s much longer loading times or reduce the amount of RAM needed, a drawback that unfortunately was not fixed when bringing the game to the Saturn and PlayStation. The ports do, however, also have the arranged soundtracks from the Neo CD, so it’s almost a wash.
Besides a 2010 Virtual Console release, King of Fighters ’95 is was also available in The King of Fighters Orochi Collection (2006). The Japanese PlayStation 2 version of this release includes perfect ports of King of Fighters ’95, ’96, and ’97. SNK also added online play and arranged soundtracks options to each game. This collection was released in the US two years later on the PS2, Wii and PSP. While the US releases lack both the rearranged music and online play, to make up for this SNK Playmore US added KoF ’94 along with the excellent King of Fighters ’98 to the collection.