After having presumably blown himself up aboard an aircraft in the last game, Rugal Bernstein mysteriously came back from dead, hosting yet another iteration of the KOF tournament. The entire cast of '94 returns to join it, with the exception of the American Sports Team. In their place fills the Rivals Team, a band of bad guys, each holding grudge against one of the heroic teams. Central to this team is a new and intriguing face, Iori Yagami, an enigmatic young man with mysterious powers who sees Kyo as his sworn enemy.
The general gameplay of KOF '95 is about the same as KOF '94, sticking to the 3 Vs. 3 team system, but with lots of bug fixes and improvements that change the speed of match. When your power guage maxes out, you can now perform Guard Cancel by quickly inputing Special Move command while blocking the opponent's attack, giving yourself a chance to counter it. The evasion move is tweaked so that it can be easily linked to a combo. Most importantly, you're able to select individual team members as opposed to the locked-in compositions of the last game.
Besides the AES Neo Geo and the Neo Geo CD ports, KOF '95 was the first game in the series to arrive on mainstream home consoles, releasing for the PlayStation and the Sega Saturn. The Saturn port was bundled with the game-specific RAM cartridge for faster loading. The later Sega Saturn ports would switch to cheaper, universal Extended RAM Cartridge. In addition, Takara developed and released a Game Boy port in 1996, adding Nakoruru from Samurai Shodown.
This work shows examples of:
- Adaptation Expansion: The Game Boy port adds Nakoruru from Samurai Shodown as a secret character (20 years before her real debut in KOF XIV).
- Artificial Stupidity: A CPU player never does Guard Cancel even if its character has maxed out their power gauge.
- Balance Buff: Previously in KOF '94, an attack from the evasion dodge could only hit the opponent once, with miniscule damage. In this game, most characters can link it to a standard combo, making it an effective way to punish your opponent.
- Brainwashed and Crazy: After the events of '94, Vice kidnapped Kyo's dad Saisyu and brainwashes him into Rugal's loyal servant. The player faces Saisyu as a sub-boss just before taking on Rugal himself.
- The Cameo: Much like the last game, Geese makes a cameo apperance in the Fatal Fury Team ending, this time outright saying the next time would be his turn, foreshadowing his playable appearance in KOF '96.
- Early Installment Weirdness:
- You can now pick any member of three, but the game still has an option to choose a preset team at once like in '94, even though it has no functional difference. This would be completely gone in KOF '96.
- New to this game is Guard Cancel, which allows you to quickly launch your special move while blocking your opponent's pokes. Starting from KOF '96, the evasion dodge was progressively replaced with the evasive roll, and Guard Cancel's function was drastically changed along with it. That leaves KOF '95 as the only game to have this kind of Guard Cancel.
- KOF '95 has stage intros that directly affect the match's flow. The Art of Fighting stage waits for a few seconds to open its walls, trapping the fighters in limited space. The Fatal Fury stage kicks off the first round with both fighters jumping from background, and the one with shorter jump height has a chance for preemptive hit. No other games would have a stage intro like this.
- No Honor Among Thieves: The Rivals Team's ending has Iori, with his business with Rugal wrapped up, backstabbing his other team members, Billy and Eiji, seemingly just for kicks. This starts off a series-long feud between them, as both Billy and Eiji would react antagonistically to him in every game they meet Iori.
- One-Winged Angel: Omega Rugal himself, but unlike most other video game examples, he turns into this as soon as you fight him, since the typical "first form" role is filled by brainwashed Saisyu. He's still an SNK Boss, perhaps even worse than in KOF '94.
- Passing the Torch: In the Hero Team's ending, Saisyu is impressed by Kyo and decides to go in self-exile, essentially electing Kyo as a new head of the Kusanagi clan. He'd stay Put on a Bus since then, save for a non-canon dream match game (KOF '98) and minor appearances in story scenes (KOF 2003).
- Perfect-Play A.I.: Saisyu, despite being a mid-boss preceding Rugal, has better AI than him, and might be one of the most vigilant in the main series. He has both projectile and anti-air move, and he knows how to use them at the exact moment you try to hit him. On the highest difficulty, unless you know how to break Saisyu's AI, your success will depend on whether the computer decides to let you win or not. Keep in mind he's usually ranked as mediocre tier as a playable character.
- Power Incontinence: After defeating Rugal for the second time (and the first in his Omega form), he loses control of his new found power and vanishes into light, leaving no body behind. KOF '96 retcons this was a result of him overusing the Orochi power given by Goenitz, as he's not of the Orochi bloodline.
- The Rival: This game marks the introduction of Iori Yagami, Kyo Kusanagi's greatest rival for the rest of the KOF series.
- Villain of Another Story: Billy Kane, Geese Howard's right-hand man from Fatal Fury, and Eiji Kisaragi, the Sakazakis' rival from Art of Fighting 2, make their first appearances in the KOF series.
- Violation of Common Sense: Due to an oversight in programming, the chip damage from blocking attack in a row scales up improbably. Therefore, it's possible you take more damage from blocking them than letting them hit you.