Review: The King of Fighters XIV
In the past couple of month, it seems like fighting game fans got an overwhelming bunch of new releases for all styles, from Capcom’s Street Fighter V, Mortal Kombat XL, Pokken, and of course the upcoming Tekken 7 and Injustice 2… Among this awesome list of names comes as well a new chapter in Japanese legendary series, The King of Fighters, now out with its 14th edition, released exclusively on PlayStation 4.
SNK Playmore, the studio behind the King of Fighters series, unfortunately made us forget the franchise with the past two opus. After a pretty ok KoF 12 and really good KoF 13, this new King of Fighters XIV has the difficult task to not disappoint the fans, as it transition finally out of the being the “ugly duckling” of fighting game series. You see, the King of Fighters until this 14th edition was always built in the way arcade fighting games were made, with your typical 2D sprites and this new upgrade to 3D models and characters is a bit worrisome as it changes a lot indirectly the way these games are played (Capcom only switched to 3D renders during Street Fighter IV days). But is it really a bad change? Will this new engine created by Yasuyuki Oda (who worked on Street Fighter IV) affect that much the gameplay that it will push fans away? Or will it be enough to add a modern twist and appeal to newcomers of the series? These are questions I will address in this review.
Before we start, and for those that just stumbled upon this site and review, you should know that I’m ruthless fighting game fan for years, and one of the reason I entered this gaming industry as a career path. This is also why I don’t turn any blind eye to issues in fighting games and with the King of Fighter XIV, i’m a bit annoyed by this visual upgrade of the game, which on paper when announced sounded promising. Apart from the ugly aliasing that is everywhere, it’s the smaller details that I can’t forget like the characters’ weird hair that is like a flickering mop, or stiff 3D curves like with the costumes and the scenery… These defects are not visible on all items, only some costumes and background elements which feel like they were copy pasted from the old games without upgrades.
On the actual topic of the 3D character models, you really feel a big difference from the previous games. You’ll notice it of course on fan-favorite characters like Athena, Yuri and Kyo. But some other characters don’t feel like they have received the same update (and there’s 50 in total including 20 new ones), either in pure graphics and textures, animation of some special moves, feel downright cheap for some fighters, or even a character design that also appears uneven, with unrealistic faces that seem straight out of a comic book. This pushes the title into a weird visual dissonance, but at least there’s some sort of consistency on the level of special effects, which are really successful and unique to each character and its fighting style, from stunning lightning to fiery kicks.
So now that I kind of nagged about the graphical engine, i’ll be going to speak about gameplay, which is the the only thing that – if possible – should be perfect in a fighting game. Although some efforts were made on that front to attract mostly new customers, KOF XIV is no exception to the rule and respect the tradition of this very technical franchise. Fighting as a team of 3, the game is pretty fast and dynamic, with a your typical button layout of strong/low kick and punches, on top of special moves that work almost in the same way as in Street Fighter, with half circles and button combinations for example. In addition, each character has several super and special moves achievable in exchange for a power gauge segment. Add to this a dodge mechanic and “blowback”, a move which will allow to push your opponent away from you reminds you the gameplay is pretty simple, but don’t be fooled by the appearance as things will quickly get complicated.
In exchange for your full gauges of power, you can switch to “Max” mode, which will give you access to a new range of punchs, a bit like the “V-Trigger” in Street Fighters Fighter V, with “EX” hits, but above all new opportunities to “Cancel” attacks. The thing is, with the King of Fighters, you’ll soon learn that it’s all about the cancellations of a current move to chain on a second combo to create a more devastating chain. Starting with the “super cancel”, which allows to cancel a special move to transform the special super sudden we then to the “advanced cancel”, which cancels a combo to make place for a second set, then the “climax cancel “which operates under the same principle but with a final hit even more powerful. This gameplay mechanic lets out some crazy combos that can almost kill your opponent in one successful sequence. But unfortunately all of that is not free of problems.
In terms of accessibility first, unlike Guilty Gear Xrd: Revelator’s Stylish mode, the tutorial mode might not suffice for a novice player to win against an actual real or even AI fighter who knows how to control and manage its power gauges and cancel moves. In the end, King of Fighters XIV (and the series in general) has a sharp and precise gameplay that is sure to please newcomers, but it will need a lot to get used to, such as the management of jumps (which is very particular in comparison to other fighting games), or the ability to take shortcuts in combo execution.
But that’s not all, because in terms of game modes, the title has an abundant content: A story mode that will also act as an arcade mode, training that has everything you can expect of it, but also a tutorial mode (as mentioned above) that will explain the basics of the gameplay and mechanics. Add a survival mode, time trial and challenges that will put your nerves to the test. For those that are willing to go through the hassle of playing online (sorry, but I personally can only enjoy the MKX netcode here in the Middle East), King of Fighters XIV allows you to create rooms for up to 12 players to join and battle in 1v1 and 3v3 matches. Net code of the game seemed more than adequate, since I have very rarely had any problems, but there is a lot of framerate drops when playing online, which is unaceptable in fighting games.
The King of Fighters XIV was reviewed using an PlayStation 4 physical copy of the game provided by Atlus and SNK Playmore. We don’t discuss review scores with publishers or developers prior to the review being published.
• Sharp and precise gameplay
• A cast of 50 fighters.
• Numerous game modes.
• Solid online mode
• Very niche for newcomers
• Graphical upgrade is uneven throughout the game
• Unequal character design and animations
• Unacceptable framerate drop during online games