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During the King of Fighters '97 tournament Kyo Kusanagi and Iori Yagami defeated the evil entity known as Orochi, a being of pure malice unleashed from its 1800 year captivity by the fighting energy generated from all the previous tournaments. As the Riot of Blood boiled within him, Iori held fast onto Orochi while Kyo attacked with a huge wave of crimson fire. After the blast both Kyo and Iori were missing, and no trace of them could be found. With the Orochi threat gone, everyone thought that the tournaments would end.
It's 1999, a series of mysterious invitations have again gone out to the great fighters of the world. Unlike the last two tournaments, King of Fighters '99 would shed the media coverage in favor of the secretive matches of the tournament's origin. And in a departure from the established rules of the tournament, this time teams will be composed of four members each: three fighters and a striker. Most of the familiar faces from previous tournaments return and are joined by some faces. A pair of mysterious Kyo Kusanagi look-alikes have joined the tournament as single entries. They seem to share Kyo's techniques, but aren't aware of his past. Missing its leader, the Japan Team has undergone a change. Benimaru Nikaido returns with Kyo's student Shingo Yabuki, and are teamed with an enigmatic pair of fighters by the name of K' and Maxima.
Players have a selection of seven teams of four fighters each plus a pair of single entries to choose from, giving the game a playable total of 30 characters. Unlike the previous KOF games, this time players choose four characters to fight with and arrange the order in which they will appear. The first three characters selected are the regular fighters; they fight one by one until either the opposing team is totally defeated, or they're all defeated. The fourth fighter is the striker; this character doesn't participate in the fight itself but can be called upon a number of times to deliver some sort of special action.
The dual mode fighting system originating from King of Fighters '97 is gone. In its place players now have the in-game ability to go into Counter or Armor mode for a certain amount of time. When in Counter mode fighters do more damage, can perform desperation moves indefinitely, and can even cancel a special move into a desperation move. In Armor mode fighters do more damage and cannot be hit out of their attack animation. They also receive less damage from attacks and take no damage from any attack that's blocked.
Each fighter has a health bar as well as a power meter. The power meter can be charged up to three stocks, and increases whenever the character performs an attack or gets hit. Fighters can perform their desperation moves with the use of one power stock; if their health bar is low and flashing they perform a super desperation instead. With the use of all three stocks fighters can enter Counter or Armor mode. ~ Kyle Knight, All Game Guide