Well most of us have played it by now and the general opinion seems to be that this is rather a weak link in the long running KOF lineage. I could not disagree more; the criticisms that have been so widely broadcast about the internet don't even seem to be aimed at the game mechanics themselves but rather at the presentation and overall package.
I will start with what seems to be most people’s main gripe:
IN-GAME ART, PROMOTIONAL ART.
When the first shots of the characters were flashed about the news sites, Iori looked like Elvis, Takuma’s too tanned, blah blah blah. Nobody seemed to care that this is how Eolith and Playmore want the characters to look -they are trying to progress the series with the game play as well as the character representations, and progression is something we are all crying out for in this series so things will inevitably have to change. The fact that ‘99 and 2000 moved more towards an anime style was simply the beginning of the transition.
The in-game art needs to be up to date and in ‘01 we have a really stylized look. I commend Playmore for their gamble because the further away from the new-romantics-80s-look of earlier games we get, the happier I will be.
Now for the more justified of the criticisms.
THE MUSIC. SOUND EFFECTS. VOICE ACTING.
The music is pretty poor’ like a bad Japanese techno band on an off day. The memorable tunes from the likes of 96 are long gone, I think anyone would be hard pressed to try and recall a track. The sound effects and voices however are a different story, they are both really good. The impact sounds give a real sense of connecting fist to face. It’s all very crisp and definite. The voice acting is superb, and a lot of it, especially Shingo, really long; he often sings after a round. Its touches to the audio like this that elevate the game’s sound design above some of the other more recent offerings, ’99 and 2000.
We also have one of the best additions to KOF ever, K9999 (played by Nozomu Sasaki of Akira fame): he’s a cool addition that was progressed for ‘02 with Kusanagi. Some of the special intros like Kyo and Iori are also worth a mention as they add a lot to the whole experience. It’s a shame that you can’t turn off the music and just appreciate what has been done with the sound effects. The overall quality of the voice acting manages to suck you deeper into the whole KOF universe, and the game is all the more enjoyable for it.
The new characters are mostly superb. K 9999, I have already mentioned, is one of the best in any neo game he looks brilliant, his whole demeanor screams contempt. He is obviously a homage to Katsuhiro Otomo sans Tetsuo, when I first saw his SDM I almost cried -it’s that cool. He plays quite old school with limited specials, however his F+LP hit multiple times as do his over head P which make him pretty hard. Angel is very weird; she looks great with loads of frames of animation, but she plays strangely she has like a custom combo system where you input a starter then can continue with a number of different modifiers by simply pressing a direction and an attack then end with a finisher. Unless you really learn her she is a hard character to do any serious damage with. I still have trouble pulling off her DMs out of practice mode. Then there’s Foxy who, like Lin, I don't think fits in that well. She plays okay, with plenty of specials -I don't use her much though so I will leave it at that. Last is May Lee: she looks like she's cosplaying as some Japanese super girl. She has two modes of play, standard and super. Her standing animation changes as do her moves, in super she can’t block but has some very cool attacks. I wish Playmore would just lock up Chang and Choi as I find them both really irritating. Then we could have Kim Jhun and May Lee as the Korean team: much better.
The sprite animations are of a usually high standard; obviously due to the amount of character on offer we can’t have the sublimely smooth animation of the likes of MOTW. But what we get is pretty good, I don't think it’s the best in the series (with possibly 98 taking the no 1 spot in terms of overall shine). Athena, the only character to always receive a whole new sprite, looks very sweet with her short hair and all but she seems to have a little less animation than some of her previous incarnations. Overall the sprites and special effects are all very good. Iori’s SDM being a prime example of designer’s talent being lovingly applied: he goes crazy!
Oh dear here we go… The stages are another area for KOF ‘01 bashers to have a good old moan. No they are not as detailed or as packed with animation as say ‘96 or ‘97, but they still do the job. Surely it is with the game play and the enjoyment to be had from the game that we should be concentrating on rather than the fact that you can’t see Geese sitting at the top of a tree or something, and whilst the flaws with the backgrounds do slightly detract from the overall experience, they pale into insignificance when you actually start to get in to the play mechanics.
GAME PLAY AND CONCLUSION.
I’m not going to go over board on detail as there are game play FAQs for that. What I will say is the inclusion of wire attacks where your enemy can be bounced off the wall and then juggled add a lot to a tired genre that only a select few developers are still producing new and interesting games for -and this is my point: KOF ‘01 adds a lot to the series, the game play is faster to begin with. When I first played it I thought things had all become a bit Capcom, but commit a little time to learning the nuances of this cart and you will not be disappointed. 2d fighting games are a funny thing: you either get them or you don't. I think Capcom, with games such as Marvel vs Capcom 2, is trying to appeal to the more casual gamer; which, while this is a good thing (more often than not) in such games, tactics and dedicated master players do not come in to the picture: all is lost in a wash of color and noise designed for the instant adrenaline rush generation. This will never happen with KOF and 01 is solid proof of that. The game has hidden depth that is at least as profoundly enjoyable as the rest of the series, if not more so.
Indeed out of all the KOF’s, ‘02 included, it is ‘01 that brings me back time and time again, because see through the unfortunate presentation problems and here you have probably the most hard core KOF. There seems to me to be more to learn in this one than any other.
The reason we play these games does differ between us but we all fundamentally are in it for the same reason, we enjoy playing the games. 2001 is an enjoyable experience and I challenge anyone with the dedication to put in some time and effort to not come out having had one of the greatest 2d fighting experiences of there lives, and you will go back for more.