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The King of Fighters 2002 is the ninth game in The King of Fighters series. It was released for arcades on October 10, 2002 before coming to the Neo Geo two months later. It was the second game to be published by Eolith after SNK's bankruptcy.
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With the NESTS Chronicles concluded in the previous game, KOF 2002 is once again designed as a Dream Match Game that brings back most of the cast from previous games, including some who didn't appear during the NEST Chronicles, such as Rugal, who is once again the Final Boss.

2002 is the installment where the series goes back to its roots. After introducing and tweaking the Striker system throughout the NESTS Chronicles, 2002 abolishes the Strikers entirely, returning to the standard 3-vs-3 format present in games before '99. In other words, KOF 2002 plays mostly like KOF '98 in its Advanced Mode. It's not an exact copycat of it, due to some major changes that adopt systems from the NESTS Chronicles games. Like before, you can spend one bar of Power Gauge meter to enter MAX Mode, but instead of just boostng your character, it grants you access to perform Super Cancel on any of your moves into a combo at expense of MAX Mode's duration. This allows creating a combo that, if used efficiently with very tricky timing, can become a death-dealing blow, turning the flow of a match at a moment's notice. Additionally, if you activate MAX Mode at low health, you can perform a hidden, character-specific Desperation Move (called "MAX2 Move") that is hard to connect but does a lot damage if you succeed to.

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The game would eventually be ported to the Dreamcast, Playstation 2, and Xbox, with each port adding new content.

In 2009, SNK Playmore released a Video Game Remake, The King of Fighters 2002: Unlimited Match, for arcades and the Playstation 2, with an international release coming to Xbox Live in 2010. It adds the rest of the characters that were left out of the original game (Kasumi, Jhun, Xiangfei, Bao, and the Kyo clones from '99, Lin and Hinako from 2000, Foxy and Heidern from 2001, and all bosses from the NESTS Chronicles). In addition, the graphics and soundtrack was completely revamped, and a new character, Nameless, was introduced to replace K9999. It would later be released on Steam on February 27, 2015.

     Teams In This Version 

From Unlimited Match

  • Yuri replaces Takuma on Team Art of Fighting
  • Bao replaces Chin on Team Psycho Soldier
  • King and Kasumi Todoh replace Yuri and May Lee on Team Women Fighters
  • Foxy replaces K9999 on Team NESTS note 
  • Team Pretty Girls: Li Xiangfei, Hinako Shijou and May Lee Jinju
  • Team Asian Triple Allaince: Jhun Hoon, Lin and Shingo Yabuki
  • Team Masters: Heidern, Takuma Sakazaki and Chin Gentsai
  • Single Entry: Geese Howard (regular and Nightmare version) and Leopold Goenitz

  • Bosses
    • Mid-Boss 1: Nameless - A clone of Kyo who can wield both fire and ice note 
    • Mid-Boss 2: Team NESTS
    • Mid Boss 3: Team Clones: Kusanagi, Kyo-1 and Kyo-2
    • Final: Depending on your rank you can either fight Krizalid, Clone Zero, Original Zero, Igniz or Omega Rugal

  • Likewise special edit team cards return, 19 in total.
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This work shows examples of:

    open/close all folders 
    Tropes in the original KOF 2002 
  • Actionized Sequel: After some demonstrations in previous NESTS games, KOF 2002 officially applies Super Cancel to the standard MAX Mode meter, which can shorten the recovery of almost every move (you can even speed up MAX Mode activation ifself). This has opened door for a great number of combos never seen before in the KOF series.
  • Actor Allusion: When K9999 and Kusanagi fight each other, the two have an intro sequence that quotes a scene from AKIRA almost verbatim.
  • Adaptation Expansion:
  • Arrange Mode: The console versions introduce three:
    • Single Attack is an endless mode where you fight using one character until they're defeated.
    • Team Attack is the same as Single Attack, but you use a full team of 3 instead of just one.
    • In Time Attack, you're tasked with defeating a certain amount of fighters under a time limit. There are 40 levels, and the number of fighters and the time limit vary with each level.
  • Balance Buff:
    • The original KOF 2002 temporarily brings back the slight damage of Blow Back Guard Cancel. This was removed again in Unlimited Match.
    • Previously, only the defense could quickly Evasion Roll as Guard Cancel. In 2002, the offense also can Evasion Roll during their attack, which can fake out the defense.
  • The Bus Came Back: This is the first time Vice, Mature, Ryuji Yamazaki, Billy Kane, Rugal, and the New Faces Team have been playable since The King of Fighters '98.
  • The Cameo:
    • Heidern (who is not playable in the original 2002) makes a short appearance in the arcade mode's ending.
    • Orochi briefly appears as part of Orochi Chris' MAX2.
    • Many SNK characters, some of who were Put on a Bus for this game, appear in the stage backgrounds. For example, Bao, Lin and Xiangfei appear in the China stage, while Tizoc, Lucky Glauber, Brian Battler and Duck King all show up in the Mexico stage.
  • Cycle of Hurting:
    • Angel has an infinite that works on every character and can be started from a number of setups. It requires borderline godlike execution, but that's the only catch — it doesn't need MAX Mode or even meter.
    • Due to a bug, May Lee can be juggled after moves that otherwise wouldn't allow it. This allows for combos that don't work on any other character, including touch-of-death combos.
  • Desperation Attack: Known as a "MAX2 Super Special Move", or "MAX2" for short. Each character has one, and it can only be performed if they're in MAX Mode, have 2 bars of meter, and have less than 25% HP remaining.
  • Dream Match Game: The second one in the series after KOF '98, bringing back most of the NESTS Chronicles cast, although there're also some characters that came from the Orochi Saga.
  • Lag Cancel:
    • MAX Mode grants access to "free cancels", allowing a character to cancel a special move with another special move. Moves that can be free cancelled or free cancelled into vary depending on the character, but anything that isn't a projectile or command grab should work.
    • Activating MAX Mode can act as a Lag Cancel in and of itself. It can be cancelled into like any other special move, and the animation is quick enough to allow for true follow-ups.
    • The "Stomp Cancel", a Good Bad Bug that allows Kim to link into almost anything from his Haki Kyaku special move, returns in this game.
  • Mechanically Unusual Fighter:
    • Like 2001, KOF 2002 is completely free of Stun, with one exception: Ryo's MAX Super, Tenchi Haohken, makes the opponent dizzy on hit, setting up for another combo. He's the only one who can produce this effect in both the original 2002 and Unlimited Match; not even the bosses can do this.
    • Chris and Leona can turn themselves into Orochi version via Super Move. The former is a MAX2, while the latter is a regular Super that depletes 50% of her health.
  • Megamix Game: Although KOF 2002 is at glance a backtracking to the previous dream match game, KOF '98, it has some gameplay systems from all of the previous NESTS games.
    • From KOF '99, there is Super Cancel that was available in its Counter Mode, which is now changed in 2002 as Free Cancel that can be used via the MAX Mode. KOF 2002's MAX2 also works similarly to '99, where you could perform a MAX Super with one Power Gauge stock if your health is low enough.
    • From KOF 2000, 2002 adopts the separation of Normal-only and MAX-only Super Moves. So unlike KOF '98, MAX Super Move still requires a different command input even if its normal version exists.
    • From KOF 2001, 2002 follows the rule of depleting an extra Power Gauge if you use a Super Move through Super Cancel. This also applies to MAX Mode activation; you can instantly enter the MAX Mode after your Normal Attack connects and keep your combo streak, at the cost of two Power Gauge stocks instead of one. In addition, some character moves have a Wire effect like in 2001, which rebounds the opponent against the wall on hit and sets up for extra combo.
  • New Work, Recycled Graphics:
    • The Orochi Saga characters are mostly redrawn from scratch for this game...that is, mostly. Some of their animation is still the same one from KOF '98.
    • Orochi Shermie's MAX2, Unmei no Ya, summons a lighting blot from cloudy sky. This particular graphic is recycled from Korea stage's intro scene in KOF '94.
  • No Plot? No Problem!: Once again, you fight Rugal as final boss, who has even less justification in this game than KOF '98 as he remained dead during the NESTS Chronicles, and the game just ends after a very short ending and Animated Outtakes.
  • Real-Place Background: The Korea stage features a view of 63 Building across the Han River in Seoul.
    Tropes exclusive to Unlimited Match 
  • Adapted Out:
    • In KOF '99, Krizalid had a two-phase battle, beginning with his formal NESTS suits before burning them and turning into an SNK Boss in the second round. In Unlimited Match, he burns them as soon as the battle starts, leaving out the first phase (although it makes little difference, as he had barely any Special Move in that form).
    • Although he appeared in the vanilla version, K9999 is rather noticeably absent from the roster of Unlimited Match. Nameless does inherit his moveset, but that's about it.
  • All There in the Manual: Unlike '98 UM, Unlimited Match's promotional materials do have some elaborate story concerning Nameless. However, because this is still a dream match game with few cutscenes, very little of his backstory is reflected in this game except for some battle intros and win quotes.
  • Balance Buff:
    • In the original 2002, SDMs and MAX2's always required the MAX Mode to be activated, which'd let the opponent know you're preparing for it and therefore make it hard to connect. In Unlimited Match, both can be used instantly without the MAX Mode by spending three Power Gauge stocks at once. It's a very risky thing to do, but you now have more options to make your MAX2 count.
    • The highest health limit for MAX2 to be used is increased from the original 2002, from 25% to 30% of a full health.
  • Cycle of Hurting:
    • Krizalid's Rising Dark Moon special move can juggle if only the first two hits connect. With the right setup, you can do this until either the opponent is KO'd or you mess up the timing and land the final hit.
    • EX Geese has a command normal that puts him in the air, allowing him to follow up with two Double Shippukens. While that on its own isn't impressive, if you fire both Double Shippukens in a specific pattern, you can run up to the opponent and repeat the combo. If you're good enough at it, you can keep this up until the opponent is KO'd.
    • Igniz's Sagittarius Blade loops return in this game. He has other specials that can be used to achieve similar results, but using them to loop someone to death is a lot more difficult.
  • Defeat Means Playable: All of the bosses, as well as Geese and Goenitz, can be unlocked by defeating them in battle. Averted in the Tougeki edition, where they're unplayable without cheats, and the Steam version, where they're unlocked from the start.
  • End of an Era: This is the last game in the series to use the old King of Fighters sprite artstyle. Later games would use a different artstyle, or abandon sprite-based graphics entirely.
  • Mechanically Unusual Fighter: Original Zero can still summon his Strikers just like in 2001, even though the Striker system was removed since the original 2002. Also, it still doesn't spend a Power Gauge stock.
  • Nerf:
    • Blow Back Guard Cancel does no damage, as with more recent KOF games.
    • In general, damage has been reduced significantly. Most combos that would have killed in the original 2002 either don't deal nearly as much damage or just don't work.
  • No Ending: Nameless is an original character created specifically for Unlimited Match and has a few sub-plots concerning his creator, NESTS, and his love interest, Isolde. However, as a dream match game, Unlimited Match has no ending cutscene for him at all, leaving them unresolved.
  • Nostalgia Level: Every NESTS boss gets their own level from their games when they're fought as a final boss in the arcade mode. Omega Rugal from 2002 also gets one, although it's based on the Sky Noah from 2002's console versions and not the ransacked airship from the arcade version.
  • Point of No Continues: Continues are disabled if you manage to reach Omega Rugal. Make your only shot count.
  • Secret Character: Some characters have alternate versions that can be unlocked.
    • EX Robert uses his Charge-Input Special-based moveset from '99 and 2000.
    • EX Kensou is based on his appearance in '99, where he was Brought Down to Normal.
    • EX Takuma is based on his appearance in 2000.
    • EX Geese is based on Nightmare Geese from Real Bout Fatal Fury Special.
  • Sprite/Polygon Mix: In the PlayStation 2 version, the stage backgrounds are 3D, while the characters are 2D sprites. Averted for all other versions, where both the characters and backgrounds are 2D.
  • Super Move Portrait Attack: All MAX2 moves display a brief cut-in of the user's portrait when they start.
  • Updated Re-release: The Playstation 2 version received one known as King of Fighters 2002: Unlimited Match Tougeki. It fixes a few bugs that were present in the original release and removes the bosses from the character select screen.
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