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Who are the ten mainstay characters of King of Fighters who haven't missed a single game since their first appearance? Some omissions may surprise you

No Mai, no Andy, no K', no Kula and no Leona — Even as a massive SNK fan, I'd be lying if I said some of these exclusions didn't shock me

Posted by Nicholas 'MajinTenshinhan' Taylor • August 14, 2020 at 9:44 a.m. PDT • Comments: 50

With King of Fighters 15 on the horizon, one of the main things on everyone's mind is of course which characters are going to make it. It's no wonder — SNK has some of the most iconic fighting game characters known to man, and more importantly they have a heavily rotating roster, with instances of highly popular characters not appearing for over 10 years from time to time. When talking with a friend, I started thinking about who are the actual mainstays of the King of Fighters series — the ones who never miss a single game. This made me sit down and actually research which characters this applies to, and the results were actually shocking for a few of them.

Of course, you can't count instances of a character who was introduced in a later game not showing up in King of Fighters '94 (it's difficult to appear before you even exist, after all), but even with that rule in mind, there was just one single character who was introduced after King of Fighters '94 who's managed to stay a part of the main series' roster in every title since then. As you can see from the banner, highly popular characters like K', Mai Shiranui, Kula Diamond and Leona Heidern who showed up a few games into the series have actually each been removed from at least one title after their inclusion.

Obviously newcomers from King of Fighters 14 don't count in this research since they haven't even had the chance to be removed from the roster yet, and it'll be interesting to see which ones stick around for King of Fighters 15. But for now, let's take a look at which 10 characters SNK has stayed loyal to through thick and thin — if you main any of these 10, you can likely rest easy when it comes to the upcoming game's launch roster.

Kyo Kusanagi

Original First Appearance: King of Fighters '94 (1994)

It shouldn't surprise anyone to see the King of Fighters posterboy be an enduring presence in the series, though it was notable just how often he was relegated to a "single entry" character without a team aligned by his side.

Although he's only officially considered the main character for the Orochi Saga (which spans King of Fighters '94 to '97 and technically also the Dream Match game '98) there's no doubt that in the vast majority of King of Fighters' fans minds, Kyo Kusanagi is the main character of the series.

On this entire list, he feels like one of the absolute least likely to ever be going anywhere.

Benimaru Nikaido

Original First Appearance: King of Fighters '94 (1994)

It'd be easy to say that Benimaru simply skated by on virtue of being Kyo's teammate and that's why he's managed to keep his mainstay status, but in fact Benimaru has been an extremely flexible character in the series lore and team makeups.

He very clearly is most happy when he gets to team with his OG group of himself, Kyo and Goro Daimon, but he's actually teamed with K', Maxima, Shingo Yabuki, Seth and even the venomous Lin at various points of the NESTS Saga. Later on in the Ash Crimson Saga, he found himself in another weird position in King of Fighters XI when he teamed up with Duo Lon and Elisabeth Blanctorche to oppose Ash's team.

Definitely a flexible character with high popularity and a shockingly effective moveset, Benimaru Nikaido stands solid across 14 titles as one of King of Fighter's most important cast members.

Terry Bogard

Original First Appearance: Fatal Fury: King of Fighters (1991)

Terry is without a doubt the least surprising character on this entire list, even eclipsing Kyo Kusanagi in what an obvious choice he is to simply never remove from the game.

He's mixed up his teams a few times and even rocked his new Garou: Mark of the Wolves look for a few games, but he's always been there and likely always will be. As SNK's most popular character bar none via official polls (multiple times, I might add), Terry is the very face of SNK as a whole and they're not going to give up on him unless something very drastic happens.

The only real question is whether we'll stick with just one Terry Bogard in King of Fighters, or if SNK will want to pull some shenanigans to include the SNK Heroines: Tag Team Frenzy version in the main series as well...

Kim Kaphwan

Original First Appearance: Fatal Fury 2 (1992)

This is the first pick on the list that might be somewhat of a surprise, not so much because it's Kim himself since he is a fairly popular character and an enduring presence in King of Fighters as well as SNK's general character library, but moreso because Kim is here but fellow Fatal Fury alumni Andy Bogard and Joe Higashi are not.

The simple explanation is that when you start mixing up Terry's team, it's easy for Andy and Joe to fall to the wayside on occasion, but given that Kim has largely spearheaded his own team through the King of Fighters franchise (most often based around reforming villains like the recurring Choi Bunge and Chang Koehan) it becomes more of a matter of Kim's team (whoever it may consist of) being a mainstay which automatically qualifies Kim himself as a constant as well.

While he's never had a particularly strong presence in the story, he has ties to many other characters and we've seen several interesting new additions come to light because of him even beyond the original duo of Choi and Chang, such as Jhun Hoon and May Lee Jinju as well as more recently getting to see Kim's own master Gang-Il and said master's beautiful wife Luong.

Ryo Sakazaki

Original First Appearance: Art of Fighting (1992)

Although he doesn't carry quite as much weight as Terry Bogard does, Ryo Sakazaki is the headliner of their other big fighting game franchise, Art of Fighting, and is thereby an important part of SNK history.

Much like the situation with Kim, it's fairly rare for the Art of Fighting crew to figure in too deeply in the core story of King of Fighters, but they have their own niche of fighters and the ongoing Kyokugenryu style and its development. It helps that Art of Fighting is canonically a series taking place in the same area as Fatal Fury (though several decades before, although this has been revised in the King of Fighters timeline to not be the case), which automatically gives them familiarity with the recurring Fatal Fury cast as well.

As the main successor to Kyokugenryu and probably its most powerful weilder (unless Takuma still holds that title even in his older age), Ryo is another character who I'd be highly surprised to see ever go anywhere within the scope of King of Fighters.

Robert Garcia

Original First Appearance: Art of Fighting (1992)

The other protagonist of Art of Fighting — the Ken to Ryo's Ryu, if you will — Robert Garcia was actually quite a surprising character to see in this list to me. Much like with Kim, however, it wasn't because I was in any way diminishing Robert's presence itself, but rather that he managed to stick around for every title when fellow Art of Fighting alumni Yuri Sakazaki and King did not.

When it comes to the friendship and friendly rivalry between Ryo and Robert, they actually fight a good deal different from each other than even Ryu and Ken from Street Fighter do, which makes Robert a very solid mainstay gameplay-wise since he adds a distinctly different flavor than his training partner does.

It should be noted that Robert comes with a slight asterisk to his name in this list — while he has technically been playable in every mainline King of Fighters game, he actually wasn't in the arcade release of King of Fighters XI, but was later added to the home version on the PlayStation 2. He still makes the cut, but not quite as elegantly as the rest of the members on this list. Sorry, Robert!

Athena Asamiya

Original First Appearance: Psycho Soldier (1986)

As the only woman on the entire list, Athena takes centre stage as usual.

While there are many SNK women you would expect to make the cut on a list like this with Mai Shiranui, Yuri Sakazaki, Kula Diamond and Leona Heidern probably the top candidates besides Athena, each of them fell short by missing at least one game since their King of Fighters debut, meaning they'll never be able to catch up to this purple-haired idol unless she gets the cut in a future title.

Given the gimmick of giving Athena a brand new outfit for each game and the fact that she's been around for almost 10 years before King of Fighters even started as a series, that seems highly unlikely, though. She has a strong fanbase with the community and likely an even stronger push for her inclusion internally at SNK as the idol who keeps bringing them smiles, strength and most importantly — sales.

Ralf Jones

Original First Appearance: T.N.K. III (1985)

I totally thought that Athena would be the oldest character on this list, but it turns out that Ralf actually beat her by a whole year by originally appearing even before his Ikari Warriors debut back in the SNK game T.N.K. III.

This makes Ralf Jones the oldest character (not age-wise, but you get what I mean) that SNK have in King of Fighters, and clearly that comes with a good deal of respect given his mainstay status within the King of Fighters series.

Ralf's case is similar to Kim in the sense that there's been an Ikari Warriors team for every King of Fighters game and it just wouldn't work without having Ralf in it, even if the third member can rotate now and then. Oh, the second member, you ask? Well, let's jump down a few inches...

Clark Still

Original First Appearance: Ikari Warriors (1986)

Clark Still makes up the other half of the Ikari Warriors duo alongside Ralf and has stayed by his side throughout the entirety of the King of Fighters series, to my slight surprise.

I was totally expecting either Ralf or Clark to have been in every single King of Fighters game, but I was honestly shocked to find that both of them had been appearing in every single title since the very beginning.

With this level of pedigree to their names, it's hard to imagine any scenario where we see a King of Fighters game launch without both of them ready to bring some high-grade military rambo tactics to the battlefield, and while Leona Heidern did miss the cut in King of Fighters XI, we expect her to be their third in the future as well, as it's a role she's held (with that aforementioned sole exception, thanks to Whip) since King of Fighters '96.

Iori Yagami

Original First Appearance: King of Fighters '95 (1995)

The one and only character on this list who didn't debut in the first game of the series, Iori Yagami made his entrance in King of Fighters history in its second game, King of Fighters '95, and he hasn't missed a single game ever since.

Despite being the character on this list who has seen the least King of Fighters main series appearances, he's also the character alongside Terry, Athena and Kyo who seems the least likely to ever disappear, rounding out a solid top 4 of absolutely guaranteed characters no matter what, at a level slightly above the rest of the ones listed here.

Quickly becoming one of the most popular characters SNK has ever had, Iori's popularity hasn't wavered in the slightest and despite the Orochi Saga being over he's retained plot relevance for the most part simply because of how much fans want to see more from him. Another character who tends to sport new designs from time to time, he's a highly fashionable and iconic character for the series who most everyone who's only played King of Fighters casually will definitely remember.

And that wraps up the list of the only 10 King of Fighters characters to endure in the series through thick and thin, come rain come shine, 'til yet another bankruptcy do us part. Were there any characters who's absence surprised you? Or did you like me find yourself surprised at some of the names who've actually always been in the roster? Let us know in the comments.

Also, in case you're curious, the characters I counted who missed just one game since their inception were Mai Shiranui, Yuri Sakazaki, King, Joe Higashi, Sie Kensou, Chin Gentsai, K' and Maxima — though I definitely may have missed a few.

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