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Position in the series
Saga/Story Arc
Chapter
Is it canonical?
10th
Tales of Ash
1st
Yes

"The King of Fighters 2003 begins. As usual, matches are 3-on-3... But this time, you can look forward to some new rules. We welcome all oncomers!"

-Intro

Now, the portal to a new punchfest opens.

-Tagline

2003, a new saga starts! Fresh flames flare up on the KOF Stage!

-Arcade Tagline

The King of Fighters 2003 (ザ・キング・オブ・ファイターズ 2003ツーサウザンドスリー), is the tenth game in The King of Fighters series. It is the last game of the series to be based on the Neo-Geo MVS hardware, and the first game in the series that was developed and published under the SNK Playmore custody. It is also the first chapter of the "Tales of Ash Saga", the third story arc of the series, and the last game of the series with the year's release in the title. The game is also known by fans as The King of Fighters X.

The main illustrations are made by Falcoon.

Story

As indicated by the game's name, it takes place two years after the last canonical The King of Fighters game, The King of Fighters 2001. According to the game's storyline, a new King of Fighters tournament is organized by an unknown host. The several new rules are instituted, including a whole new team system, based in Tag-Battle Team, which allows the player to change his choosen character at the time of the fight. Only in console mode, there is a fighting option without this mode (The Team Play).

At the end of the tournament, depending on how players defeat the mid-game boss, Kusanagi, the players will either face Adelheid Bernstein or learn that the tournament organizer is Chizuru Kagura and that a group known as "His Distant Land" is working in a secretive plot. After defeating the mysterious stone fighter known as Mukai, Ash Crimson appears before Chizuru, attacks her in her weakened state and steals her powers. Kyo Kusanagi and Iori Yagami come to Chizuru's aid as Ash tells Iori that he's his next target.

Development

The game was first revealed in Tokyo Game Show 2003, originally planned to be developed on the Atomiswave hardware before settling on the Neo-Geo MVS hardware. In North America the game was released alongside The King of Fighters 2002 for the PlayStation 2 and Xbox. The game was solely released for Switch on February 21, 2019. The title was developed as the first chapter of a new story arc, Ash was designed as an "attractive evil character", in contrast to previous King of Fighters heroes. Due to Ash's late appearance in The King of Fighters 2003, the staff joked that teammate Shen Woo seemed more like the series' main character than Ash did. The two boss characters, Adelheid and Mukai, had no problems during their designs with the former being the last added to expand the narrative of the series. While Kusanagi was first introduced in The King of Fighters 2002 without a plot focused around him, KOF 2003 gave him the idea of being a clone of Kyo Kusanagi created by Chizuru Kagura while also intending to include his school uniform highly popular within Kyo's fans.

The series inspired a manhua with the same name. In China the series was divided into two halves: The King of Fighters 2003 composed of five issues, and The King of Fighters 03: Xenon Zero (拳皇 XENON ZERO) composed of eight issues. The two series were combined for the North American release under the name of The King of Fighters 2003. In July 2004, distributor of Asian comics ComicsOne licensed the series with its first volume tying the release of a new video game and kept publishing it after their transition to Dr. Master.

Gameplay

Gameplay of Shingo vs. Ralf in the console version.

The King of Fighters 2003 returns again with its 3 vs. 3 team battles. For the first time ever in the series, matches are taken place in a single 3-on-3 round, unlike the 3-5 round matches of previous installments. This due to the new Tag Shift mechanic, where fighters can switch out with other members during a match, similar to the Marvel vs. Capcom series. By pressing either BC or CD, players can switch place with any standby team members, with BC switching out with the second member and CD switching out with the third member. Because of this, CD Attacks do not appear in this game.

It should also be noted that KOF 2003 also feature the traditional 3-on-3 team matches as well as singles fights in the console ports.

Terry using his Leader Desperation Move "Power Stream" against Tizoc.

Another mechanic introduced in this game is the Leader System, where one member of the player's team becomes a "Leader". The leader will always be the first character which the player chooses when picking his team, and during the match.

The leader will be highlighted by a blue life bar, unlike the members, whose life bars are orange. The leader gains access to a 2 stock supers, known as Leader Desperation Move.

Characters

The new characters added to the roster (between original and of other franchises) are:

Ash Crimson.jpg
Ash Crimson, a mysterious young man and leader of the new "Hero Team" (with quotation marks), is the new protagonist of the series. He enters in the KOF tournament with unknown intentions.
Duo Lon.jpg
Duo Lon, one of the members of the "Hero Team", is an ninja assassin who is part of the Hizoku clan, and is son of Ron, the traitor of the clan. He decides to hunt him.
Shen Woo.jpg
Shen Woo, the last member of the "Hero Team", is a street boxer raised in Shanghai. Like Duo Lon, he enters the tournament at the invitation of Ash.
Tizoc-2003.jpg
Tizoc (A.K.A. The Griffon), from Garou: Mark of The Wolves, is the new member of the Fatal Fury Team. He enters to the KOF tournament in order to gain his passion for the ring and to hopefully find the mystery man who defeated him.
Gato-2003..jpg
Gato, another character from MOTW. He enters the KOF tournament at the request of Geese Howard and to prevent his probable sister, Hotaru Futaba, from being harmed.
Malin-k3.jpg
Malin, member of the High School Girls Team, is an enigmatic Japanese girl from an unknown organization that specializes in gathering intelligence.
Kusanagi-2003.jpg
Kusanagi, the mid-boss of the game, is other creation of Chizuru. He also appears in the two versions of KOF 2002 (non-canonical games) as an experiment of NESTS cartel.
Chizuru-maki-2003.jpg
Maki Kagura, one of the sub-bosses of the game, is the dead elder twin sister of Chizuru Kagura. She appears in the tournament as an illusion created by the Mirror of Yata, the clan's artifact.
KOF2003-Adelheid+Rose.png
Adelheid Bernstein, one of the final bosses of the game, is Rugal Bernstein's son and one of the tournament's hosts, who lives with his sister Rose Bernstein in the Sky Noah, one of the old homes of his father.
Mukai-2003.jpg
Mukai, the true final boss of the game, is one of the members of an organization known as Those from the Past. He is ordered to not directly intervene with this tournament, only making an appearance to test the winning team to see if they will survive "the new age".
Note 1: With the end of Striker System, the return of the formation of trios and the implementation of the Tag Battle system, the new team formations are the following:
  • Heidern also leaves the Ikari Warriors Team, passing the leadership back to his adoptive daughter Leona;
  • The criminals Ryuji Yamazaki and Billy Kane reunite again after four tournaments off, at the new request of Geese Howard, and form the new Outlaw Team, together with Gato, who fills Mary's entry for this team;
  • Benimaru Nikaido, Goro Daimon and Shingo Yabuki form the new Japan Team, after Kyo Kusanagi's left of the team. Benimaru replaces Kyo as the team's leader;
  • Athena Asamiya leaves the Psycho Soldier Team for a while, and forms the new High School Girls Team, with the sumo student Hinako Shijou and the secret agent Malin;
  • Kyo Kusanagi, Iori Yagami and Chizuru Kagura, the Three Sacred Treasures Team, appears alone in this tournament, and Chizuru is, again, the host of KOF. However, they are still a team based on their character select background colors.
Note 2: The K' Team remain with the same formation as the previous game, becoming canonical in this game.
Note 3: About both Sub-Bosses and Final Bosses, there are some considerations:
  • The Sub-Bosses are exclusive to the True Ending, and fights together as a team.
  • The Final Bosses are NPCs in Arcade mode as Maki Kagura, and Hidden unlockable in Home Consoles.
Note 4: Some parenthetical citations are sometimes Japanese team names, sometimes shortened team names.

Official Team Roster

"Hero Team" (A.K.A. Ash Team or "Protagonist Team")

Ashkofxi.gif
Ash Crimson
Duolon2003.gif
Duo Lon
Shenwoo2003.gif
Shen Woo

Fatal Fury Team (A.K.A. Garou Densetsu Team)

Terry2003.gif
Terry Bogard
Joe99.gif
Joe Higashi
Tizoc2003.gif
Tizoc (The Griffon)

Art of Fighting Team (A.K.A. Kyokugenryu Team)

Ryo2002.gif
Ryo Sakazaki
Robert2003.gif
Robert Garcia
Yuri2003.gif
Yuri Sakazaki

Ikari Warriors Team (A.K.A. Ikari Team)

Leona99.gif
Leona Heidern
Ralf-kof2001-stance.gif
Ralf Jones
Clark99.gif
Clark Still

Women Fighters Team

Kingkof2000.gif
King
Mai96.gif
Mai Shiranui
Bluemary98.gif
Blue Mary

Korea Justice Team (A.K.A. Kim Team)

Kimkaphwan2002.gif
Kim Kaphwan
Chang96.gif
Chang Koehan
Jhun99.gif
Jhun Hoon

Outlaw Team

Yamazaki2003.gif
Ryuji Yamazaki
Billykane2003.gif
Billy Kane
Gato-sprite2.gif
Gato

Japan Team (A.K.A. New Benimaru Team)

Benimaru2003.gif
Benimaru Nikaido
Gorodaimon96.gif
Goro Daimon
Shingo 2k3.gif
Shingo Yabuki

High School Girls Team (A.K.A. Athena Team)

Athena2003.gif
Athena Asamiya
Hinako2000.gif
Hinako Shijou
Malin2003.gif
Malin

K' Team

K' 2003.gif
K'
Maxima99.gif
Maxima
Whip99.gif
Whip

Single Entry Fighters

Kyo2003.gif
Kyo Kusanagi
Iori2001.gif
Iori Yagami

Mid-Boss

Kyokusanagi2002.gif
Kusanagi (Hidden in Arcade version)

Sub-Bosses

Chizuru96.gif
Chizuru Kagura (Hidden in Arcade version)
Maki-sprite1.gif
Maki Kagura (NPC in Arcade version)

Final Bosses

Note: Unlike prior games, there are multiple different Final Bosses. Depending on how the fight against Kusanagi went, you'll face off against two different Bosses.
Final Boss
Conditions
Adelheid2003.gif
Adelheid Bernstein (Alternative Ending Boss)
Failed to reach the requirements.
Mukai2003.gif
Mukai (True Ending Boss)
Defeat Kusanagi with a Super Special Move or a Leader Super Special Move.

Special Edit Teams

Three Sacred Treasures Team

Kyo2003.gif
Kyo Kusanagi
Iori2001.gif
Iori Yagami
Chizuru96.gif
Chizuru Kagura

Original Japan Team (A.K.A. Orochi Saga Hero Team)

Kyo2003.gif
Kyo Kusanagi
Benimaru2003.gif
Benimaru Nikaido
Gorodaimon96.gif
Goro Daimon

'94 Women Fighters Team (A.K.A. Classic Women Fighters Team)

Kingkof2000.gif
King
Mai96.gif
Mai Shiranui
Yuri2003.gif
Yuri Sakazaki

NPC Characters

Rose.gif
Rose Bernstein
Kofxiiibotan.png
Botan
Goro-2k3-win3.gif
Kogoro Daimon

Original Cameo Characters (only in PS2)

Stages

Note 1: In the console versions, depending on the chosen fighting mode (Normal or Arcade), the stages may vary. In normal mode, all stages vary in time and space.
Note 2: In this game, the stages are randomly chosen by the game's system.

Normal Stages

Stage
Stage Name
Description
Stage Changes
Nara, Japan
Japan
The temple complex of Tōdai-ji, in the city of Nara. In the Arcade Version, the fight takes place next to the Ango and Ungyo statues of the complex, in the Namdaimon Gate. The main temple can be seen in the background, along with various Shinto gods and lanterns in the gate, people cheering, sakura trees and a fountain. In the Console Version, the fight occurs next to the South Central Gate.
In the first variation, the fight takes place next to a tree. Spectators can be seen cheering, along with a bridge, a big lantern in the gate of the temple and traditional Japanese buildings. In the second variation, the fight takes place around sunset and occurs next to the other buildings; in the third variation, the fight takes place near the gate at night and the stage is empty.
Prague, Czech Republic
Czech Republic
In the Arcade Version, the fight takes place near the Orloj, in the city of Prague. In the first variation, spectators can be seen amongst the buildings. In the second variation, the stage is empty and it's already night. In the Console Version, the fighters battle on a flatbed truck that runs through the streets of the city (the Orloj can be seen for a brief moment of the fight). The flatbed truck passes through a tunnel next to a park.
The first variation takes place during the day; in the second variation, the battle takes place during sunset; in the third variation the fight takes place at night.
Hong Kong, China
China
In the Arcade Version, the fight takes place on the rooftop of a building in the city of Hong Kong. The NEO GEO and SNK Playmore logos can be seen in the background. There are two variations of color in this stage: in the first, the hue is blue; in the second, the hue changes to green. In the Console Version, it take place on the same rooftop, but there are 3D modifications to some of the signs in the background.
In the first variation has a neon logo, an old man and cats; the second variation has the game's logo and a helicopter; while the third variation has children and a woman watching the fight, with helicopters flying overhead.
Korea
Korea
In the Arcade Version, the fight takes place at a Korean seaside. People can be seen cheering on the fighters, against the backdrop of a boat with tires, fishermen and a zeppelin. The only change is that the stage turns green. In the Console Version, the fight takes in a beach instead.
In the first variation, can be seen some people, a cabin, other zeppelin, boats and a moutain. In the second variation, the fight takes place near the sea. In the third variation, the fight occurs on a pier during sunset. Boats, people and the same zeppelin from the arcade version can be seen.
Yucatán, Mexico
Mexico
The Mayan city of Chichen Itza, in Yucatán. In the Arcade Version, the fight takes place near the Kukulcan Temple. Amongst the ruins, crows, trees and a light fog can be seen. The only change is that the stage turns a greenish hue. In the Console Version, the fight takes at another area of the Mayan city.
In the first variation, next to the Temple of the Warriors, some local people, stones and mariachi singers can be seen; in the 2nd variation, in the Columns in the Temple of a Thousand Warriors, with tribal dancers, under the sunset and with the Kukulcan Temple in the background; in the 3rd variation, it's night and the monuments previously mentioned can be seen.
Glenbrook Railway, New Zealand
New Zealand
In the Arcade Version, the battle takes place at the Glenbrook Railway. The fight itself takes place directly next to the train and the tracks. Plaques, people, balloons, a cow and a house can be seen in the background. In the Console Version, the fight occurs on a moving train departing from a station. People can be seen cheering inside of the station with the city of Auckland passing by in the background. The train then proceeds through the New Zealand countryside where balloons and sheep can be seen in the background.
In the first variation of the normal console mode, it's daytime and the rail line goes to the left. In the second variation, the SNK Playmore and game logos can be seen on a truck, inside the station and outdoors, and it takes place during the sunset while the train travels to the right side of the screen. The third variation takes place at night with the train proceeding in the opposite direction.

Mid-Boss & Boss Stages

Stage
Stage Name
Description
Stage Changes/Notes
Giza, Egypt
Egypt
The city of Giza. In the Arcade Version, the fight takes place next to the ruins of the city and the Great Sphinx and the Pyramids can be seen in the background. Spectators and a camel can be seen in the background as well. The first variation takes place at sunset, while the second takes place at night. In the Console Version, the fight takes place on a boat that passes along the River Nile. The famous monuments of the city and various spectators can be seen in the background.
In the 1st variation, the fight takes place next to a tree. Spectators can be seen cheering, along with a bridge, a big lantern in the gate of the temple and traditional Japanese buildings. In the 2nd variation, the fight takes place around sunset and occurs next to the other buildings; in the 3rd variation, the fight takes place near the gate, it's already night and the stage is empty.
Sky Noah
Sky Noah
An airship floating high above ground, featuring the Bernstein family lounging and doing their business. Multiple terminals and high-tech consoles are strewn across the stage. Rose can be seen playing the piano and at her feet rests the black panther of her father, Rugal. In the Console Version, the structures release vapors.
This stage also can be seen in KOF XIII, with some changes.
Lava Cave
Lava Cave
A lava cave. Mirrors and a lava river are seen in the background. Associated with Chizuru & Maki.
This stage also can be seen in KOF XIII, with some changes.
Cave
Mukai's Cave
Another cave. in the background is a statue of a snake with a green glowing eye, sparks and chains. In the Console Version, the snake moves. Associated with Mukai.
None.

Critical Reception

The game got a 7.1 score by Japanese magazine Famitsu. The site DefunctGames gave it a B+ praising the new gameplay style gave the series a major change. One of the new characters introducted in this game, Tizoc, was noted by the blog Kotaku for appealing South American fans based on him being wrestler. The portuguese site Eurogamer was a negative believing, saying that previous SNK fighting game like The King of Fighters 2002 offered a better cast and that the new gameplay of this entry system would confuse newcomers.

Nevertheless, the reviewer commented that the new Garou: Mark of the Wolves fighters introduced in 2003 would also appeal to players similar to Kotaku. American magazine HardcoreGaming101 believed the new gameplay features, cast and artwork were interesting, but adds that the sequel, The King of Fighters XI, easily fixed most of its issues.

External links

The King of Fighters series
Mainline '94'95'96'97'98'992000200120022003XIXIIXIIIXIVXV
Remakes Dream Match 1999'99 Evolution'94 Re-Bout'98 Ultimate Match2002 Unlimited Match
Offshoots R-1R-2EX: Neo BloodEX2: Howling BloodNeowave
Spin-offs Quiz King of FightersThe King of Fighters: KyoBattle de ParadiseKOF: Maximum ImpactKOF: Maximum Impact 2KOF Maximum Impact Regulation "A"KOF Sky StageOnline'98 Ultimate Match WebSNK Heroines Tag Team Frenzy
Mobile The King of Fighters -Mobile- / R-2-Volleyball-KOF Gals MahjongThe King of MillionaireThe King of ReversiMahjongKOF Kentei - Mezase Cult Quiz Ou!Moeyo! KOF DaiundokaiKOF x Garou DensetsuBattle Festa-i/AndroidEncounterThe Rhythm of Fighters'98 Ultimate Match OnlineBeast Busters featuring KOFWorldDestinyAll StarOrochi GoM: Fighting Stars AssemblyKOF: Chroniclefor Girls
Pachinko The King of FightersChapter of NESTSMaximum ImpactIIICR The King of Fighters
Compilations Orochi CollectionThe Orochi SagaNESTS Collection
Cancelled Online (UnoTechnology)Fighters' WorldKOF MI "A2"KOF: Maximum Impact 360Online (DragonFly/Triple A Games)
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The King of Fighters games
Prologue The King of Fighters '94
Orochi Saga The King of Fighters '95The King of Fighters '96The King of Fighters '97
NESTS Chronicles The King of Fighters '99The King of Fighters 2000The King of Fighters 2001
Tales of Ash The King of Fighters 2003The King of Fighters XIThe King of Fighters XIII
Shun'ei Saga The King of Fighters XIVThe King of Fighters XV
Dream Matches The King of Fighters '98The King of Fighters 2002The King of Fighters XII
Remakes The King of Fighters: Dream Match 1999The King of Fighters '99 EvolutionThe King of Fighters '94 Re-BoutThe King of Fighters '98 Ultimate MatchThe King of Fighters 2002 Unlimited Match
Maximum Impact series KOF: Maximum ImpactKOF: Maximum Impact 2KOF Maximum Impact Regulation "A"
Offshoots King of Fighters R-1King of Fighters R-2The King of Fighters EX: Neo BloodThe King of Fighters EX2: Howling BloodThe King of Fighters Neowave
Spin-offs Quiz King of FightersThe King of Fighters: KyoThe King of Fighters: Battle de ParadiseKOF Sky StageThe King of Fighters Online (DragonFly)The King of Fighters '98: Ultimate Match WebSNK Heroines Tag Team Frenzy
Mobile The King of Fighters -Mobile- / R-2The King of Fighters -Volleyball-KOF Gals MahjongThe King of MillionaireThe King of ReversiMahjongKOF Kentei - Mezase Cult Quiz Ou!Moeyo! KOF DaiundokaiKOF x Garou DensetsuBattle Festa-i/AndroidEncounterThe Rhythm of FightersThe King of Fighters '98 Ultimate Match OnlineBeast Busters featuring KOFThe King of Fighters: WorldThe King of Fighters Destiny (Game)The King of Fighters All StarOrochi GoThe King of Fighters M: Fighting Stars AssemblyKOF: ChronicleThe King of Fighters for Girls
Pachinko The King of FightersChapter of NESTSMaximum ImpactIIICR The King of Fighters
Compilations The King of Fighters Orochi CollectionThe King of Fighters Collection: The Orochi SagaThe King of Fighters NESTS Collection
Cancelled The King of Fighters Online (UnoTechnology)The King of Fighters' WorldKOF Maximum Impact Regulation "A2"KOF: Maximum Impact 360The King of Fighters Online (Cancelled)
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