|“||Repeat this after me, I'll never take on a god again!||„|
|~ Rugal Bernstein|
Rugal Bernstein is a fearsome international arms dealer who is also an eccentric billionaire and a martial arts master. He is the main villain in the first two King of Fighters games, although his popularity among the developers and fans has allowed him to become a recurring boss in the series, cementing his place as one of the primary villains of the franchise. Designed with the intention of creating the strongest and most evil boss character for the series and perhaps SNK as a whole, he is one of the most iconic examples of "SNK Boss Syndrome".
Although the details of his past are unknown, Rugal Bernstein was a powerful and influential arms dealer whose operations were carried out on his aircraft carrier, the Black Noah. Untouchable by governments and politicians, Rugal was also an exceptionally powerful, deadly, and undefeated self-trained martial artist who killed anyone who crossed him. He also has a pet panther named Rodem.
Years before the King of Fighters tournament, Rugal sensed the Orochi power and sought to claim it for himself, but encountered Goenitz instead, who refused to grant Rugal such power. Rugal attacked him, and as powerful as he was, Goenitz took out his right eye in one strike. Impressed that he had survived the attack, Goenitz decided to grant Rugal a portion of Orochi's power, but warned him not to overuse it. Rugal had since replaced his lost eye with a bionic one, and Goenitz sent two women, Mature and Vice, to watch Rugal and ensure he didn't abuse his powers.
Over the years, many people had tried to take down Rugal, but none had succeeded. Among them was Heidern, who was investigating Rugal and was preparing a team of fifty mercenaries to take him down. Eager to demonstrate his power, Rugal attacked their base in Brazil and annihilated them. Heidern managed to survive, losing one of his eyes in the attack. Displeased, Rugal killed Heidern's wife and daughter right in front of him as compensation.
8 years later, Rugal hosted the 1994 “King of Fighters” tournament, sending his trademark invitation to the best fighters from the world, most of them champions from other tournaments. He also invited Heidern, who was shocked by the invitation, but entered his game to learn his intentions and avenge his family. A martial arts master known as Saisyu Kusanagi challenged Rugal alone to stop his plan, but was defeated by him. Kyo Kusanagi, Saisyu's son, was also invited for the tournament, and it was also him and his team who won the tournament. They are invited by Rugal's secretary, Mature, to the Black Noah to face its sponsor.
As Kyo discovered his beaten father, Rugal revealed that he wanted to find the strongest fighters in the world to add to his trophy collection that decorated his ship. The trophies consisted of defeated fighters who were bathed in liquid metal to preserve their bodies, which Rugal didn't hesitate to boast about. As Saisyu was believed to be dead, Kyo attacked Rugal with everything he had and managed to defeat him. Refusing to accept that he was beaten, Rugal activated the self-destruction system on his ship in an attempt to send them to a watery grave. Kyo and his friends escaped, and the ship was blown in a huge explosion.
Rugal was considered dead, but he managed to survive thanks to the Orochi power, though he lost his right arm which was replaced by a mechanical one. Invitations were sent the next year to sponsor a new tournament, with Rugal seeking revenge. Kyo Kusanagi's team won once again, and the winning team was led to a room by another of Rugal's secretaries, Vice, which was actually a gas chamber where they fell unconscious. Rugal greeted them once they woke, and revealed Saisyu was still alive, but brainwashed. Pitting him against them, Kyo manages to snap his father out of the brainwashing, but he ends up too weak to fight. Rugal then unleashes his new powers, which turned him into a cybernetic fighter: Omega Rugal. They fight once again, but Kyo defeats him again. Rugal tries to keep on fighting with the full use of his powers, but his powers consume him. Iori Yagami tells him that only those of the Orochi bloodline can control such power. Rugal promises to return, explodes in a burst of energy and is disintegrated.
The King of Fighters 2003 reveals that Rugal had two children, a son named Adelheid and a daughter named Rose, who travel in an airship called the SkyNoah. While Adelheid wishes to be a strong like his father, he is a noble fighter who respects his opponents and even aids Heidern in his investigation of Those from the Past. Rose however is spoiled and a sore loser like her father, but admires her brother and is skilled in swordsmanship.
It is revealed in The King of Fighters XIV that Rugal was among the many deceased souls trapped within Verse, having a special winquote against Mature where his soul manifests and says he would let her be his secretary again. At the end of the game, Verse explodes and releases all the souls trapped within him, resulting in their resurrection and triggering a worldwide search for their whereabouts. Although Orochi was unable to fully manifest without a vessel and was sealed once more in its weakened state, Ash Crimson was discovered to be alive, and while it remains to be seen, it can be safely assumed that Rugal's haunting last words had finally come to pass.
Rugal is a twisted megalomaniac who is obsessed with power, strength and domination, but carries a calm and collected demeanor that compliments his otherwise classy appearance. He is also extremely arrogant and narcissistic to the point where he even has delusions of godhood. Unlike Igniz or other bosses in the franchise, his motivations do not extend beyond anything more than a desire to become more powerful and will stop at nothing to get his hands on whatever he desires. The spiteful suffering he inflicts along the way is seen as a bonus.
He shows absolutely no remorse for any of his actions or the lives he takes, whether it was the fighters of his trophy collection, Heidern's team and family, or brainwashing Kyo's father, and takes glee in rubbing it in the faces of those who stand against him. While Heidern considers Rugal his arch-enemy, Rugal dismisses him as another annoyance. As seen in KOF '95 though, Rugal holds immense grudges against those who defeated him or thwart his plans.
Aside from his status as one of the most powerful bosses in the series, Rugal is also best known for being a complete sore loser in each of his appearances. Refusing to let his opponents live after he's defeated, he either attempts to blow up whatever ship he is on with them on it ('94, '98, 2002 UM), or attempts to gain more power only for it to consume him ('95, 2002, Capcom vs. SNK 2). Naturally, he only causes his own demise.
Although Rugal is feared by the cast and most consider him an enemy, his pet panther Rodem is shown to be loyal to him and his former secretary Mature seems to have some kind of affection for him. While Rugal was not around for his children Adel and Rose and their relationship remains unknown, he granted them access to his fortune, and Adel desired to be as strong as his father to uphold his legacy.
Design and Conception
As The King of Fighters '94 was a new crossover series consisting of characters from SNK fighting games such as Fatal Fury and Art of Fighting, as well as other SNK properties such as Ikari Warriors and Psycho Soldier, Rugal was designed with the idea of creating the most evil and strongest fighting game boss ever. In his first appearance, Rugal was originally intended to possess the ability to copy any special move used against him and use it himself. Because of the strain this would cause the programmers, Rugal was instead given Geese Howard's Reppuken and Wolfgang Krauser's Kaiser Wave, and his copying ability was retained in his backstory. Toyohisa Tanabe admits he went "a bit overboard" with the damage ratio of the Genocide Cutter.
Although Rugal is supposedly deceased at the end of KOF '95, as he no longer appears in future story arcs, he continues to appear as a recurring boss in the Dream Match titles (where story is non-existent and characters that may have been killed off return), with hints that he may actually still be alive. This was perhaps as a gag by the developers, as his official hobby is "resurrection". Although XIV finally confirms that he is in fact deceased, which should have put the issue to rest, it's implied that he was also resurrected in-canon in the same game among many others.
By KOF '98, the developers of the franchise have stated that Omega Rugal was their favorite boss design, hence his inclusion in the game, and his moveset was designed with the intention of giving him the coolest and most stylish moves in the game. Because of his popularity with the developers and fans alike, Omega Rugal also returns as the final boss in the next Dream Match game, KOF 2002, and continues to make appearances in non-canon games.
The King of Fighters '94 / Rebout
Rugal is introduced as the sponsor and final boss of The King of Fighters '94. He is fought in two rounds, with the fight taking place on his ship, the Black Noah. For each team, he reveals that the trophies spread throughout the ship are fighters he had defeated and bathed in metal, and desires to add the current fighters to his collection. Against the Japan team, Kyo also discovers the grievously beaten body of his father.
In the first round, Rugal faces against the players wearing his full tuxedo, using basic moves. In the second round however, he throws his coat across the room, revealing a skin-tight shirt and unleashes his full power against the players, and can demolish all three teammates in mere seconds. He possesses Geese Howard's Reppuken and Wolfgang Krauser's Kaiser Wave, and his trademark moves include the "Genocide Cutter", a circular kick with massive priority with disproportional high damage to boot, and the "God Press" where he grabs his opponent and slams them into the wall. After he is defeated, he refuses to accept defeat and blows his ship up in an attempt to take the victors with him, but they make it out safely. In the Fatal Fury team ending, Geese seems impressed that even the mighty Rugal fell before Terry and his friends.
Rugal is unplayable in the arcade and home versions of the game, but was made playable in the remake The King of Fighters '94 Rebout, and is featured in the game's animated opening sequence. His stage now features statues of boss characters from more recent games.
The King of Fighters '95
Rugal's survival is shown in the introduction demo of The King of Fighters '95, who once again sends invitations with his trademark "R" to fighting teams throughout the world, and serves as the sponsor and final boss of the tournament. Driven by revenge, he observes the tournament with the fighters unaware of his survival, and lures each team into a trap where they are knocked out by gas and taken to an underground missile base. The final match consists of two rounds as before, but the first is against a revived and brainwashed Saisyu Kusanagi. After his defeat, Rugal reveals his new powers and becomes Omega Rugal. He has many of the same moves as before, but he is now enhanced by the Orochi power. A code allows him to be playable in the arcade version.
The King of Fighters '96
Rugal is seen in a flashback provided by the tournament's sponsor, Chizuru Kagura. She mentions to the winning team that the power that destroyed Rugal was that of Orochi, given to him by Goenitz, the game's boss and the man who ripped out Rugal's right eye.
The King of Fighters '97
Rugal is again seen in a flashback in Kyo's ending, as Kyo contemplates the cost the Orochi power had on those who possessed it.
The King of Fighters '98 / Dream Match 1999 / Ultimate Match
Serving as a Dream Match game with no storyline that also includes deceased characters from the previous games, Rugal appears as a playable character in The King of Fighters '98. Available from the beginning, he possesses his original '94 moveset along with new desperation moves. He has special pre-fight intros against Heidern, Saisyu, and Chris (Orochi's vessel), and one of his new win poses introduces two new secretaries, Aya and Hermione.
His Omega form serves as the game's final boss with several new attacks. He is fought in an underwater sunken ship filled with blood and machinery, with Rodem in the background. As before, he self-destructs the ship upon his defeat. He is playable in the home versions, and is briefly seen in the animated intro for Dream Match 1999, the Dreamcast port of the game.
In the game's remake, Ultimate Match, Rugal in his normal form may challenge the player mid-game, and has new pre-fight intros against Goenitz and Krauser. His Omega form now serves as one of three final bosses, as Orochi and Goenitz can also be fought as final bosses under different conditions. When fought against, like the other bosses, Omega Rugal's stamina is significantly increased. His intro and ending sequences have been removed.
The King of Fighters 2000
Rugal makes a cameo in The King of Fighters 2000 as a secret Striker for Kula Diamond, and will perform the Genocide Cutter. In the game, deceased characters will fade away after their attack. Strangely, Rugal simply jumps off the screen just like every other living character, leading many to speculate whether he's really dead or secretly alive.
Capcom vs. SNK series
Rugal also appears as a playable character in both Capcom vs. SNK crossover fighting games, sporting his full tuxedo as seen in his first appearance and is accompanied by Rodem before the fight. He has special pre-fight intros against M. Bison, Guile (who appeared as one of his statues in KOF '94) and Vice.
In Capcom vs. SNK 2, depending if certain conditions are met, he may serve as the final boss representing SNK, forming a rivalry with Capcom's Akuma.
- In one scenario, Rugal may challenge the fighters at the end of the tournament seeking a worthy foe. When he's defeated, he will consider them unworthy and discover a new worthy opponent in Akuma, who appears behind him. The two then face off to an unknown outcome. The roles are reversed if Akuma is fought instead.
- In another scenario, the celebration ceremony is interrupted by Rugal and Akuma's duel.
- If Rugal loses, he will grant Akuma his Orochi powers before he collapses, which transforms him into Shin Akuma who becomes the final boss.
- If Rugal is victorious, he will hold a lifeless Akuma in his hands and absorb his dark powers, becoming God Rugal (Ultimate Rugal in some regions). Notoriously, Rugal throws Akuma's lifeless body off the screen when the fight begins, and possesses some of his rival's moves. Once defeated, Akuma's power possesses him and deems him unworthy of it, transforming him into an unknown being who resembles Akuma and disappears.
The King of Fighters 2002 / Neowave / Unlimited Match
Omega Rugal returns as the final boss in the second KOF Dream Match game, The King of Fighters 2002. His body has been mechanically altered, and the fight takes place within an airship that blows up prior to the fight. When he is defeated, the Orochi power consumes him once more and the ship crashes. It is also the only game in the series where he is voiced by Norio Wakamoto. He can be unlocked in the home release, and is given a different stage in the PS2 and XBox versions, which is retained for Unlimited Match.
Omega Rugal is an unlockable bonus character for the home editions of KOF Neowave and has the same appearance, moveset, and voice clips from KOF2002, although he is also toned down.
In the remake Unlimited Match, which now includes the bosses throughout the NESTS storyline, Omega Rugal is now fought as a bonus boss who can be faced if certain conditions are met when facing the boss. However, the fight is now a one-shot; should the player lose, they will not be given another chance to fight him. When defeated, he activates the self-destruct system on his ship and destroys himself, with a newspaper article showing the wreckage, accompanied by the text: "Omega Rugal become extinct...?" He has special pre-fight intros against Goenitz (different from '98 UM), Heidern, and Chris.
The King of Fighters 2003
A glimpse of Rugal briefly appears prior to the battle against his son Adelheid, indicating their relationship.
KOF Sky Stage / Neo Geo Heroes: Ultimate Shooting
Rugal also appears as one of the bosses in the vertical arcade shooter KOF Sky Stage. Against certain characters, he'll mention that he had once expressed interest in NESTS and their experiments, but ultimately lost interest in them. Omega Rugal is the final boss of the unlockable second loop, having manipulated the events of the entire game. In Ultimate Shooting, both forms return, although Neo Geegus can take Omega Rugal's form before the final battle against it.
The King of Fighters XIII
In the home versions of the game, Rugal can briefly be seen in the monitor of the SkyNoah stage prior to a fight.
Metal Slug Defense
Rugal can be fought as a boss and be unlocked as a player character in this strategy defense mobile game. Like many other KOF characters appearing in the game, his moveset and voice clips are taken from KOF '98. His long range attacks include his Reppuken and Dark Barrier reflector. His trademark move, the Genocide Cutter, can only be performed at a close distance and will kill anything it touches in one hit, perhaps as a reference to its disproportional damage ratio in KOF '94. Unlike other characters, upon his defeat, Rugal will get back up, pull out a detonator and blow himself up in an attempt to damage other enemies caught in the explosion.
The King of Fighters XIV
It is revealed that Rugal is among the many deceased souls trapped within the game's final boss, Verse, as shown in its winquote against Mature. In the game's ending, Verse explodes, releasing the souls trapped within him and bringing them back to life. Rugal's fate in the matter has yet to be revealed but is likely among those who were resurrected.
In the life action 2010 movie, Rugal is the main antagonist and portrayed by Ray Park.