The year 2016 might be known as the year of mediocrity when it comes to fighting games. A tumultuous launch for Street Fighter V, mediocre anime fighters and a relatively quiet launch for Guilty Gear Xrd -Revelator, have put the year into a weird tail spin. Enter SNK, amidst a re-branding and return to console gaming with their flagship fighting game, The King of Fighters XIV. Previously announced at the beginning of 2016, the reaction to The King of Fighters XIV’s initial trailer wasn’t the greatest. However, over the last few months the reception to the game has increased significantly. Does this translate into a complete fighter? Can The King of Fighters XIV position itself as 2016’s Fighting Game of the Year?
Game Name: The King of Fighters XIV
Platform(s): PlayStation 4
Release Date: August 23, 2016
The Orochi Threat Is Not Over
After defeating Ash Crimson in the previous King Of Fighters Tournament, a wealthy Russian businessman by the name of Antonov purchased the rights to hold the eleventh King of Fighters Tournament (canonically speaking, as 98, 2002 and XII are simply dream matches.). Claiming to be the first champion, Antonov brings an air of excitement to the tournament that hasn’t been seen in years. However, a massive threat has come to the world and now Tung Fu Rue, Nakoruru, Kyo Kusanagi and their respective teams must stop this threat from coming to pass. Can the heroes stop this unknown force from manifesting itself, or will the world once again fall into chaos?
Okay, so that sounded like a back of the box quote, but that is the story. It’s typical of the King of Fighters series of games, and if you’ve seen it once, you’ve seen it before. The good side about it is that since this story isn’t too similar to the ’94-’97 story, it’s a little more fun to get through. Antonov is such a fun character to just see, even if it’s a small cut scene after the 5th fight. He’s a lot more of a softy than initially presented, and his interactions with his executive director are pretty hilarious. Fighting Antonov is no joke either. It’s difficult at times, but overall it’s fun. The story interactions between select characters are also pretty interesting, such as the typical Geese-Terry intro and Kyo-Iori, as well as some new ones, such as Mature and Mui Mui. My favorite has got to be the interaction between Ryo and King. There are countless others, however, I’ll let you decide on which ones you like the best.
Violent Fighting to Come Again
The King of Fighters XIV takes advantage of the system it brought in for The King of Fighters XIII while simplifying it significantly. While you can still get your combo on, like in KOF XIII, the general gameplay feels like you’re playing KOF ’98, with XIII’s enhancements. It creates a fairly easy entry point to the game, but it’s still pretty difficult to master, as you may find yourselves working on Super and Climax cancels to maximize combo damage output (or to be kinda flashy.) The basics are still there, nonetheless. You still walk in with 2 punch buttons and 2 kick buttons, and your arsenal of jumps and hops to work with (Hop C is still pretty legit.) Hidden in the basics is a bevy of mechanics that are pretty easy to grasp, but very difficult to master. If taking time in the lab is something that you like to do, this is definitely the game to do it. You can even do Online Training with a friend, so you can prep for your tournaments when you guys aren’t in the same place!
Right off the bat, you’ll notice that this is a fully featured game as well. Much unlike the maligned Street Fighter V, The King of Fighters XIV comes with a total of 50 characters, fully featured story mode (which I spoke about before,) and a vastly robust single and multiplayer experience. The Trial mode allows you to master 5 combos for each character, ramping up in difficulty, as you begin to work on EX, Super and Climax Cancels. Even some of the Max Mode combos can be a pain, but once you execute them, you feel a level of accomplishment.
For the uninitiated, there is an auto-combo you can do by repeatedly tapping square (light punch,) with a different end result dependent on the meter you have, or whether you’re in Max mode or not.
The Online mode isn’t something to sneeze at, either. The rollback system makes for quite the seamless experience in a match, which is something that many fighting games call standard nowadays. The lobby system is actually pretty swank, as you can set up in any one of 6 “booths” in an 8 man lobby, in a much thinner and more streamlined Blazblue-like lobby. This gives more people an opportunity to be active in a lobby outside of just largely spectating two players fighting.
Visually Appealing…in More Ways Than One.
King of Fighters as a series was known for utilizing pixel art to maximize the visual appeal of the game. This game departs from that, and it does a pretty bang up job with their visuals in general. The backgrounds are insanely vibrant, and the lighting is very well executed in each stage. The stages have their own personalities as well. Take for instance the South Town stage:
While it is a throwback to the 96 South Town stage, the background when in motion is alive and vibrant. The colors match the time of day and are well blended together. All stages have some semblance of personality and a vibrant feel, and it only adds to the experience. As for the fighters themselves, they’re a far cry from the “PS2-era graphics” that people first saw back in January. I remember playing an early build at PAX East this past April, and I was definitely impressed with the advancement of the graphical fidelity. Now that we’re at the final release of the game, the characters look pretty solid for a transition from pixel art to 3D models on a 2D plane. The biggest surprise to me is how much more feminine King appears, knowing that King was designed to appear androgynous in previous games. SNK also stayed true to their roots, especially when it came to Angel and Mai if you get what I mean (haha.)
Final Thoughts and Loose Ends
The King of Fighters XIV does everything right, in a time where just so much is going wrong with Fighting Games. Where e-Sports are at an unparalleled popularity level and the most popular game caved into the e-Sports distribution model, it’s pretty amazing to see a fighting game that is complete on day one. It does well in all the places that it needs to, while excelling in places where others have faltered, specifically its Online mode, which is pretty fully featured as it is. That doesn’t mean the game is perfect by ANY stretch of the imagination. The execution barrier is still high, and one-button auto combos are, and have always been, a babysitting mechanic, and doesn’t help the player advance at all. Fortunately, there are the modes that can help players understand the mechanics, and while it isn’t necessarily Skullgirls level, the tutorial is pretty solid in teaching the game mechanics.
The King of Fighters XIV is far and away a leading contender for 2016 Fighting Game of the Year, and no game can take that away.
*The King of Fighters XIV was provided by ATLUS USA for review purposes. You can find additional information about our review policy here.
While I summarized my feelings in the final thoughts of this article, I still have to mention how impressed I am with this game. SNK was a company in crisis after the King of Fighters XIII, and once KOF XIV was announced and the rebranding of the company made public, SNK knew it was on the right path. The game isn’t necessarily a world-mover, however, with all the hubbub that Street Fighter V had surrounding it, and the fact that other games’ launches were relatively quiet, The King of Fighters XIV moves the needle enough to make some kind of impact on the scene. I’m hoping that this game sees more love than it’s predecessors, it’s just that good.
Easy to learn, hard to master
Online Mode is smooth and fully featured
Auto Combos are still lame
The King of Fighters XIV is far and away the best fighting game of 2016.