Monday, March 18, 2013

Complete KoF Timeline: How SNK Should Retcon Things to Unify their Fighting Game Universe

When story in videogames is brought up in conversation, people will typically turn to the epic sagas of single-player games with long, fleshed-out campaigns. Your Final Fantasies, Mass Effects, Metal Gears, and so on. Games where the primary focus is on the player vs. the game itself, and one of the biggest draws is the unraveling of an epic yarn.

Often omitted from such discussions of spellbinding storylines are the plots and backstories of fighting games...and for good reason, really. While Metal Gear Solid as a series is an intensely story driven game (to the point where it's accused of being more movie than game) with countless twists and revelations every ten minutes, games like Street Fighter or Tekken treat the storylines of various characters as an afterthought. The story is there to set up the action, typically a fighting tournament, and give it a fitting resolution. Stories involve such martial arts movie tropes as revenge, honor, and being the number one man.

Still, this is not to say there is nothing positive about the stories of the genre. Since characters in fighters must be colorful and interesting in order for us to want to play as them, we are often presented with massive casts with myriad, often overlapping, backstories. Character X killed Character Y who was Character Z's father, but Character Z is friends with Character A who learned from Character B who now works for Character X, whose brother just so happens to be Character Q. It makes for an interesting "universe" setup where the viewers are given but small glimpses into any concrete happenings other than "This is how we got here" and "This is how it ended up". Stories are very rarely shown on screen, with most backstory told in brief still-image cutscenes or, better yet, the game manual itself. The player must fill in the blanks of this character's life, taking tips from their playstyle or character bio (Favorite food, Hobbies, and more are routinely listed) in order to reach a fuller understanding of the character. Not at all like watching ten hours of cutscenes.

While there are several fighting games with intriguing and mysterious universes to analyze and explore, for my money none is more interesting than the multi-game, multi-genre spanning universe brought to us by Japanese game company SNK. Yes, Street Fighter, Tekken, Guilty Gear, and others have fascinating stories of similar fashion. There's no denying that. What makes the plot of the SNK universe so interesting and appealing to me is the way that almost every fighting game produced by the company can potentially be woven together into one ongoing story within the same fictional SNK-verse.

This concept is nothing new, and is something that SNK has openly promoted since Geese Howard appeared in Art of Fighting 2. Of course the ball really started rolling when The King of Fighters '94 was released, featuring fighters from all manner of different games, including sports games, sidescrolling shooters, fighting games, and bizarre arcade platformers like Psycho Soldier.

The King of Fighters series has only expanded since '94, and today incorporates dozens of characters from perhaps close to a dozen different franchises. I say perhaps because I just don't have the time to check that claim. What I'd like to do today is showcase and illustrate just how interconnected the majority of SNK fighters are by establishing a solid timeline of the games' events.

This too is nothing new, and an SNK timeline has been established before here: The author of that piece posits that the only games that can be definitively linked to one another are The Last Blade, Art of Fighting, Fatal Fury, and strangely enough Savage Reign/Kizuna Encounter. The author claims that other series such as Samurai Showdown, Buriki One, and especially King of Fighters create too many contradictions and plot holes to properly integrate and must be treated as part of a separate timeline.

I take issue with that assertion, and so today I'm going to attempt to show how through a series of almost-established retcons and a few liberties, SNK could very easily realign their entire fighting universe to neatly fit into one solid timeline with the KoF series as the base reference point. Let's get nerdy.

For starters, I'll establish a few ground rules and explain the key changes that must be made (or confirmed) in order for this crazy unification scheme to work.

1. Each game, KoF included, takes place during a different year
For its first ten games, King of Fighters utilized a unique naming scheme that likened it to sport simulators by using the year of production in place of a numeral. For example, the second King of Fighters was called The King of Fighters '95, not The King of Fighters 2. Using this as a standard, we can determine when exactly every KoF game takes place, starting in 1994 with the original. Things get fuzzy after 2003, when the series switched over to numbering its sequels instead, but the same rule can apply. Basically: KoF11 takes place in 2004, while KoF13 takes place in 2005. KoF12 had no story and sucked, so we can basically say it never happened and place 13 in 2005.

This same logic should then be lifted and applied to the Art of Fighting and Fatal Fury series. Now, Fatal Fury 1 already canonically takes place in 1991. This allows room for its two numerical sequels to take place in 1992 and 1993, finishing Terry's story just in time for KoF '94. Strangely enough, Art of Fighting 1 takes place in 1978 for some bizarre reason. This would put Art of Fighting 3 in 1981, a full thirteen years removed from KoF, which is far too many for this to work. As a result, we should instead consider that...

2. Art of Fighting 1 takes place in 1988
Honestly, there is ZERO reason for AoF to have taken place in 1978. Zero. It just makes no sense. The first game was released in 1992, a full 14 years after the setting of the game. Nothing in the game requires it to take place in '78, and I feel that the later changing of characters' birthdays reflects that SNK at least considered a retcon to this, moving Ryo's year of birth from 1957 to 1967 so that he wouldn't be old as dirt in Buriki One, which takes place in 1999. Moving the action forward ten years to 1988 and following our first rule allows Art of Fighting 3 to finish sometime during 1990, right before Terry's story begins in 1991.

By moving AoF forward ten years, we must also adjust the birthdays of all the characters in that series as necessary, especially those characters that appear as far in the "future" as KoF13 (2005). For example, Ryo's father Takuma should now be born in 1944 instead of 1933. Playing with and retconning ages becomes important for multiple characters if they are to make sense in established and future releases. Hence, we go to...
3. 18 is the Age of the Hero
In SNK fighters, there are three primary heroes who could be considered a sort of "big three": Ryo Sakazaki, Terry Bogard, and Kyo Kusanagi. While the KoF series would see new protagonists in K' and Ash Crimson in later years, it's hard to deny Kyo as KoF's main character. In the canon of all three key series (AoF, FF, KoF) the characters are the following ages at their debut.
Ryo- 21
Terry- 20
Kyo- 19
While it's interesting to note that they each debuted one year younger than their predecessor, it's important to see that these ages make each character a bit long in the tooth by the time 2005 would roll around. Like so.
Ryo- 38
Terry- 35
Kyo- 30 (!!!)

These ages, particularly Kyo's, are just too old to make sense in KoF13. While Terry and Ryo are certainly in their 30s by then, I wouldn't consider Ryo to be pushing 40, and Kyo is just too youthful looking to be any older than 29 (his age by my new, retconned birthdays).

So, in order to counter these bizarre ages, let us instead declare that each character was 18 at the time of their debut. This means Ryo was born in 1970, Terry in 1973, and Kyo in 1976. Characters with birthdays close to theirs should also subtract the necessary number of years. AoF characters like Robert and King get three years younger, Fatal Fury characters lose 2 years, and KoF characters lose 1 (or 2, if desired).

With this principle, we can also comfortably decide that K' is 18 years old when he appears in KoF'99, making him 24 in KoF13. Still, at the very youngest he's 16 at his debut and 22 in 2005, which is perfectly acceptable.

Interestingly enough, Rock Howard is 17 in Garou, but if made the hero of the next KoF game would also be 18.

The only other age anomalies in KoF '94 who are not adjusted by their relation to these three heroes are the Ikari Warriors: Ralf and Clark. Their given ages are 38 and 33, respectively, which makes at least Ralf old as dirt by the time 2005 rolls around. Instead, they should both be retconned to be in their early 30s during '94, which allows them to be rugged and middle-aged by 2005 instead of old. Oh yeah, there's also the problem of...

4. The Yuri Sakazaki Dilemma (and other "young" girls)
One of the most common "jokes" amongst SNK fandom is that while she appears to be around 17 years old, Yuri Sakazaki is actually pushing 40. This is often seen as one of the most glaring problems of including AoF and KoF in the same timeline without considering one to be an alternate universe. Now, we've already removed 10 years from Yuri's age by retconning AoF1 to take place in 1988. With that in mind, we see the following scenarios with her age.
AoF1 (1988)- 17 years old
KoF94 (1994)- 23 years old
KoF13 (2005)- 34 years old
Now make no mistake, 34 really isn't THAT old. However, it does seem a bit much in comparison to most of the cast, especially considering how young Yuri looks compared to other females she should actually be older than. Plus, 17 just seems awfully old for her to be completely helpless and kidnapped by Mr. Big in AoF1. Thankfully, by applying the three year subtraction to her like we did with Ryo, we're left with a Yuri that is 14 years old when abducted in 1988...if not younger. This means by the time KoF rolls around she's only around 20...the exact age she's officially listed as in KoF-centric materials. Eleven years later in KoF13 she would be 31, still plenty young and beautiful, particularly if we compare her to current actresses around that age. It really isn't unheard of for her to look like she does.

Other key Art of Fighting and Fatal Fury females are saved from aging in a similar manner. The age subtraction method sets it up so that by 2005, Mai Shiranui and her legendary cleavage have just hit 30, while the less provocative King is a respectable 34...perfect for finally getting hitched to Ryo. Finally there's Blue Mary...who after losing 2 years is 21 and able to drink in 1994, making her 33 as of her "latest" cameo appearance in Garou (2006).

Females who appear exclusively in KoF do not need to have their ages adjusted at all, though Athena could handle having a year or two removed to make her schoolgirl attire a bit more believable in later games, even if Kyo already makes fun of her for it.

5. The Life and Times of Geese Howard
One of SNK's most iconic villains, Geese Howard plays a major antagonistic role in all three of the key series discussed here. He is the man behind the man in Art of Fighting, and the final boss in Art of Fighting 2. He's Terry's greatest enemy and the man who killed his adoptive father in Fatal Fury. He practically invented the King of Fighters tournaments, and is constantly scheming behind the scenes and watching over things like the Orochi power. Plus, he's Rock Howard's daddy.

Geese and his constant evildoing and even more constant dying and resurrecting would first seem to create several plotholes in our big timeline. After all, he appears, super young, as the boss of Art of Fighting 2 and as his normal middle-aged self in Fatal Fury...and supposedly he visited Japan somewhere in between. Not to mention he's dead in Fatal Fury and alive in King of Fighters.

Well, again, moving AoF forward in time has a wonderfully coincidental way of making things work out for the best. The timeline later will showcase Geese's actions more clearly, but dig this, alright? Rock Howard is 17 years old in 2006, which means he is born in 1989. He never knew his father, Geese, because Papa Howard abandoned Rock's mother after he was 1989. Art of Fighting 2, after our retcon time move, takes 1989. Ryo Sakazaki defeats Geese Howard, who flees from Southtown (supposedly to Japan)....IN 1989. Ryo is potentially directly responsible for the absence of Rock's father, and everything that goes along with it.

Now, Geese is said to have fled from Southtown following AoF2 and gone to Japan. It's likely he would make a return to town sometime in 1990 after healing and training. In 1990, Ryo and Yuri were in Mexico helping Robert in the events of Art of Fighting 3, so Geese would easily be able to resume control of the underground with no heroes to stop him....right in time to host the KoF tournament in 1991 and lose to Terry.

Finally, note that Geese still kills Jeff Bogard in 1981. The only difference is that everyone involved (Terry, Andy, Geese) are younger. Jeff and Tung Fu Rue could still be the same age.

The only remaining anomalies with Geese’s personal timeline involve his status as living or dead in the two series (alive in KoF, dead in Garou) and the events of Real Bout Fatal Fury (FF4) in the timeline. I’ll be addressing both of these issues in part 7.

6. Buriki One, KoF '99, and Mr. Karate II Issues
One of the more minor hiccups in this unification of timelines involves the lesser-know game Buriki One, in which Ryo Sakazaki makes a cameo appearance. He appears older than in KoF games and is called Mr. Karate II, a play on his father Takuma's secret identity as Mr. Karate.

The Buriki One tournament also takes place in 1999, which would seem to overlap with KoF'99, where Ryo also participated. The "older" Ryo and year of the tournament would seem to indicate that something is amiss, but these issues too can be easily resolved. For starters, Buriki One officially retconned Ryo's birth year to 1967, making him 32 at the time...already 10 years younger than his Art of Fighting birthday. If we go a step further and use our new birth year of 1970, we're left with a Ryo that was 29 in 1999.

Now, Ryo is considered to look "older" because he's sporting some facial hair and the Mr. Karate II title. There's no reason to believe someone as rugged as Ryo would be incapable of growing facial hair at 29, and there's also no reason that being Mr. Karate has to be a permanent change. Both of these "aged" features could simply be Ryo trying something new. Maybe he wanted to keep his identity more secretive for this tournament, so he entered as Mr. K. The facial hair is also explicitly brought up in B1's story, with Ryo wondering if he should shave it, since his friends and family complain about it.

Ryo is clean-shaven in KoF'99.

This would indicate that the KoF tournament takes place later in the year, presumably closer to the end of the year. Obviously he decided to finally shave the facial hair and enter KoF under his real name, as per tradition. Whether or not Ryo won the Buriki One tournament is unknown, but there's a good chance he did. If not, Gai Tendo was probably the winner, though this isn't really important.

One final plot point involving Ryo takes place in Garou: Mark of the Wolves where Kyokugen fighter Khushnood Butt states that Ryo has retired to the mountains to live as an ascetic and train. This would create a problem if SNK had shown us anything that happens after 2005 yet. As far as the KoF series is concerned, there is no reason Ryo can't be training in the mountains following the events of KoF13. For all we know he'll change his mind in 2007 and return to the tournament. Possibly with the Mr. Karate 2 persona intact.

7. Real Bout Repurcussions
I said earlier that the last remaining problem with Geese’s personal timeline involves the events of Real Bout Fatal Fury and his final defeat and “death” at the hands of Terry Bogard. Initially, I had planned to address this by claiming Real Bout took place near the end of 1993, not 1996 as the other timeline indicates. However, it would also be possible to retcon the events of FF4 so that they coincide with KoF96 properly.
In both timelines, 1996 marks Geese’s last official tournament appearance. Though he appears in later KoF games, he is only playable in the dream match installments of ’98 and 2k2; neither of which have actual stories. 1996 is also listed as the year Rock Howard visits Geese and yells at him or whatever.

If we want to accept both the events of KoF’96 and Real Bout as happening in ’96, we have to address that there should not have been two tournaments in the same year, hence the apparent plothole. There are a few ways to look at this. Either…
A-    Geese’s tournament in Real Bout was not actually a King of Fighters tournament, but something else. Garou featured the Maximum Mayhem tournament, and it is possible this was the tournament’s predecessor ten years earlier. This tournament is held at the end of the year, after Geese and the rest of the cast enter KoF’96 and Kyo fights Goenitz. Terry defeats Geese here once and for all. Alternatively…
B-    The events of Real Bout and KoF’96 are concurrent, and Geese never really hosted the tournament. Any Real Bout characters not present in KoF could be handwaved as having failed to make it past preliminaries. Terry fights and defeats Geese at the same tournament where Kyo defeats Goenitz.
Neither explanation is perfect, and both require some degree of real retconning by SNK, but neither is an overwhelming stretch. Like a lot of the proposed changes, this is something SNK could believably pull if they wanted to.

8. Mark of the Wolves and Onward
This section might not be necessary, but I think it bears mentioning that following the conclusion of the NESTS Arc (1999-2001) SNK began to drop more and more bits of story that related to Mark of the Wolves. Characters like Gato, Tizoc, and B.Jenet are playable in 2003 and XI, while Andy is mentioned as missing a KoF tournament because Hokutomaru is sick, Ryo states that Butt is a green belt, and Terry sports his Mark of the Wolves attire in 2003 and 2004. With the Ash Saga ending in 2005, the slate is clean in time for Rock, the Kim twins, and the newly Black Belt Butt to make their big debuts in Garou in 2006, and for the story to continue on in KoF14 (2007).

9. Maximum Impact Series
These games and their events simply did not happen, and are not canon. At best, they can be treated like an OVA or alternate universe to the main KoF/SNK timeline. The same can be said of any bizarre spinoff like the GBA KoF titles or other expanded universe games.

Without further ado, here is the timeline as best as I can currently revise and see it.

1786-1811: The events of the Samurai Shodown series take place. Since these games have a ton of established lore on their own, we'll leave it at that. Mai's ancestor Gen-An participates in some of these things.

1863-64: The events of Last Blade. Eiji Kisaragi's ancestor Zantetsu takes part. The Bakumatsu rages.


1944: Takuma Sakazaki and Saisyu Kusanagi are born.

1954: Geese Howard is born.

1960: Wolfgang Krauser is born.

1964-1969: These five years can be assumed to be Takuma's "glory days" which he spends fighting the notable martial artists of the time and developing Kyokugen Karate, much like his real-life inspiration Mas Oyama. Confirmed to have defeated Ryuhaku Todo and to have at least fought the sennin Li Gakusei. Probably encountered Saisyu in his travels. NOTE: This would be an awesome period for SNK to explore in a new series, where we could see young versions of older fighters and their glory days in the wild '60s. Geese travels to Europe and loses a fight against the 9-year-old Wolfgang Krauser.

1970: Ryo Sakazaki is born to Takuma and his wife. Robert Garcia is born.

1973: Terry Bogard is born.

1974: Andy Bogard and Yuri Sakazaki are born.

1976: Kyo Kusanagi is born. It can be assumed Iori Yagami is born around this time, possibly as early as 1975.

1977-1979: Around this time it can be assumed that all the major heroes and villains of the next two decades are steeped in training and other unknown battles. Takuma is in his 30s, Ryo and Robert are nearly 10, Terry, Andy, and Yuri are 5-6, Kyo and Iori are toddlers. Geese is 24 in 1979.

1980: Ronette Sakazaki dies in a car accident, Takuma leaves home on the pretext of vengeance. Ryo is 10, Yuri is 6.

1981: Geese Howard kills Jeff Bogard, orphaning Terry and Andy, who at an unknown time embark on training journeys despite being REALLY young.

1982: Gai Tendo is born.

1981-1983: Somewhere within this span, the boy who becomes K' is born.

1987: Ash Crimson is born?

1988: Yuri Sakazaki is kidnapped. Art of Fighting 1 takes place. Ryo and Robert defeat Mr. Big, his syndicate, and Mr. Karate, who is revealed to be Takuma. Sakazaki family is reunited.

1989: Geese hosts the first recorded KoF tournament, and is defeated and driven from Southtown by Ryo. Rock Howard is born and abandoned by his father, which is further compounded when Geese flees town.

1990: Ryo and Yuri go to Mexico to help Robert (Art of Fighting 3). After spending time in Japan (training?), Geese returns to Southtown and assumes control of the underworld near the end of the year.

1991: Terry Bogard, along with his brother Andy and friend Joe Higashi, enter the latest King of Fighters tournament and defeat Geese Howard, supposedly killing him. Fatal Fury 1. Kyo Kusanagi becomes the head of the Kusanagi clan at age 15.

1992: Fatal Fury 2. Terry and friends defeat Wolfgang Krauser.

1993: Fatal Fury 3 and Real Bout Fatal Fury potentially both take place this year.

1994: The King of Fighters '94. Rugal Bernstein hosts. Kyo, Benimaru Nikaido, and Goro Daimon defeat him. Rugal self-destructs his airship and is presumed dead.

1995: KoF'95. Rugal returns as host and Iori Yagami makes his KoF debut. Rugal powers up but is defeated by Team Japan yet again. Rugal attempts to unleash his full strength but cannot handle the strain of his power and is killed for good.

1996: KoF '96/Real Bout Fatal Fury(possibly, see Section 7 above). Prior to the tournament, Kyo is defeated by Leopold Goenitz. He devises new punching techniques following the defeat in hopes of becoming stronger. Geese, Krauser, and Mr. Big enter the tournament, though their placement is unknown. Kyo eventually becomes the champion after defeating Goenitz with the help of Iori and Chizuru Kagura. Goenitz commits suicide after his defeat.

1997: KoF '97. Chris, Shermie, and Yashiro enter as the New Face team to get revenge on Iori and are revealed to be servants of Orochi. Kyo, again with help from Iori and Chizuru, is able to defeat them and ultimately put a stop to Orochi. Orochi Saga thus ends.

1998: There is no tournament this year. It could be assumed that Kyo is abducted and experimented on by the NESTS syndicate. Kyo clones are created, and K' is infused with Kyo's DNA.

1999: Spring: The Buriki One tournament is held. 29-year-old Ryo Sakazaki and 18-year-old Gai Tendo participate. The winner of the tournament is unknown.
Late '99: KoF '99 takes place. K' and his partner Maxima join with Benimaru and Shingo to defeat Krizalid and thwart NESTS schemes.

2000: KoF2K is held. K' and his team track down and defeat the evil “Zero”, a former member of NESTS. The Zero Cannon is fired and destroys Southtown, but is in turn destroyed by Kula Diamond and her team. K' and Maxima spend the rest of the year attacking NESTS bases across the globe.

2001: NESTS Cartel hosts the 2001 tournament in order to eliminate all of their enemies at once. K', Maxima, Lin, and Whip reach the finals and defeat Original Zero and NESTS true leader, Igniz, who wished to become a god. K' saves Kula and she joins the group. Kyo, Benimaru, Daimon, and Shingo enter as Team Japan but apparently do not reach the finals.

2002: There is no tournament again this year. Kyo has still not graduated high school. :)

2003: KoF2k3. At the request of Chizuru, Kyo and Iori team up to investigate mysterious happenings regarding Orochi. Dubbing themselves "Team Sacred Treasures" they reach the finals and defeat the monstrous Mukai. In the aftermath of the fight, Ash Crimson ambushes them and steals Chizuru's powers. He escapes, taunting that Iori will be next. 2k3 marks the first appearance of Ash, Shen-woo, and Duo Lon.

2004: KoF11. Kyo, Iori, and Shingo team up to take down Ash, who steals Iori's flames at the end of the tournament. Elizabeth Blanctorch, Benimaru, and Duo Lon also team up. Shen-woo and Oswald fight to an unknown outcome. Magaki is slain by Shion following his battle with Kyo’s team. Before losing his flames to Ash, Iori falls into a Riot of the Blood fit and badly injures Kyo and Shingo, hospitalizing them both.

2005: KoF13. Several classic teams reunite to find and defeat Ash and “Those From the Past”. At the tournament’s climax, Ash erases his evil ancestor, Saiki, from history. Ash, in turn, disappears from existence. Iori regains his flames and begins to fight with Kyo. Hoahmaru’s ghost appears on a statue in Tokyo. J

2006: Garou: Mark of the Wolves. Rock Howard and Terry Bogard enter the Maximum Mayhem tournament in Second Southtown, hosted by the mysterious Kain. Rock leaves with Kain after the latter is revealed to be his uncle and alludes that Rock’s mother is alive.

2007: The setting for any future KoF game. Could potentially start a completely new story or continue Rock’s story from Garou.

Which brings us to the end, I suppose. Please keep in mind that almost nothing you’ve just read through is considered to be valid SNK canon at this time, but is instead merely showcasing just how with a few simple retcons and changes the company might be able to completely unify their games and proceed with any character arcs with the KoF series as the focal point. For my money, this is the actual canon I want to believe in.

I hope you enjoyed this or found it useful. If nothing else, maybe it will help people to appreciate the depth and scope of the SNK fighting game universe.


  1. I really enjoyed reading this post, I always appreciate topics like this being discussed to us. Information very nice. I will follow post Thanks for sharing.
    Deep Rock Galactic Aimbot Script

  2. Been a fighting game fanboy since childhood and was always interested in the lores mostly plus unlike other games like SF, MK, Tekken etc. lores were complex but simple to understand, Snk game franchise on other hand was on another lvl of complexity but more intriguing and interesting than other games...... and here it's all been solved and explained

    Appreciate your hardwork, good job👌👍

  3. Thanks for putting this back up.