Six long years have passed since the King of Fighters series has been a relevant part of the gaming community. On August 23rd, King of Fighters XIV returns to the spotlight but did the hiatus do more harm than good?
Simply put, that question depends on how invested people are to the fighting game community. For the hardcore fighters among us who practice for hours on end with their fight sticks, this title has big appeal. People like me however, looking for a casual good time, may very well come away from King of Fighters XIV disappointed.
I’m not about to call KoFXIV bad, precisely, because it’s actually a good fighting game with easy to learn but complex mechanics. I must, in fact, point out that most of my disappointment stems from me not clicking with the game’s fighting style. While I may not find much joy in trading blows KoF style, this does not mean others will absolutely belong in the same category. I have no doubt in my mind that at the next EVO tournament, King of Fighters XIV will be there with a healthy amount of participants, because this title has a solid foundation.
King of Fighters XIV supports a roster of exactly 50 characters to choose from. Mainstays like Ryo Kusanagi and Iori Yagami make their returns as well as some surprising faces like Nakoruru. Nakoruru hails from the age old fighting game Samurai Showdown, which also comes from SNK. Newcomers like Antonov and Sylvie Paula Paula enter the ring as well with their own street fighting style.
Speaking of street fighting, as it currently stands, players won’t need to worry about DLC characters unlike Street Fighter V. Street Fighter V’s currency system relies too heavily on spending real world money or playing through offline modes multiple times unnecessarily to gain enough fight money to purchase new characters. I give KoFXIV respect for not hassling its players with the DLC character approach.
I’ve not been the biggest KoF fan but I have come to appreciate how fluid the fighting system is with this latest entry. The visuals are clean and animations flow smoothly in the heat of combat. As the first main series title to go for 3D models, King of Fighters XIV acclimates well to using 3D models on a 2D plane. One of the main concerns when playing a fighting game, no matter what, is if the fight mechanics come together smoothly. After engaging in quite the number of bouts, I feel as though this fighter definitely has what it takes to be a serious contender in the fighting game community.
King of Fighters XIV doesn’t change the face of what a fighter should be, though the game does function as well as a fighting game should. Classified as a team focused fighter, players will pick a team consisting of three fighters to brawl with the game’s AI or other players.
The tutorial was the first thing I did after the game loaded up. After all, I wouldn’t try to build furniture without reading over the manual first. The basics of learning how to play are quite important since some actions can mean the difference between victory and defeat.
Characters can move left to right on the 2D plane, can dash forward for quick follow-ups or hop back to avoid painful combos and can also dodge attacks with the Emergency Evasion action. Standard use of light and heavy attacks are crucial for setting up combos but that’s not all players have in their arsenal to do damage. Command moves are actions only some characters can use. These unique attacks can confuse opponents and make a way to extend combos.
Now, every character is able to use command inputs, which are special attacks suited for the characters in possession of them. Command inputs require pressing specified directional and attack buttons simultaneously to perform the action. Depending on which attack button the player presses (light or heavy), the speed, damage, distance and property of the attack varies.
For example, one of Kyo’s command inputs is a spinning fire uppercut called 100 Shiki Oniyaki. The light version only does a small bit of damage and doesn’t travel far. However, the heavy version travels much farther, does more damage and goes higher in the air. Knowing the pros and cons for each version will allow for a better chance to create longer, more deadly combo strings.
The Hyper Drive system which was implemented in the last game has been replaced with “Max Mode”. The Max Mode system is actually making a return from previous entries such as King of Fighters 2002: Unlimited Match. When a character puts Max Mode into use, they can use unlimited EX moves as long as the Max Mode gauge is still full. Over time, the gauge will eventually dwindles down to zero. Players have to be smart though because for every use of Max Mode, one power gauge goes away.
This time around, characters will have three different types of supers. Each super requires a certain amount of power gauge to activate it. “Super Special Moves” are much stronger than the regular command inputs and uses one power gauge. “Max Super Moves” are way stronger than the Super Special Moves and as such, requires two power gauges to activate. However, if a characters currently resides in Max Mode when performing a Max Super Move, only one power gauge and the rest of the Max gauge is consumed. Last but not least and new to King of Fighters XIV, “Climax Super Special Moves” are the strongest moves in the game. These unique devastating attacks take up three gauges and with some characters, a short cinematic animation will play.
In short, KoFXIV’s implemented fighting system has a lot for players to master.
As mentioned earlier, King of Fighters XIV returns after a six year hiatus with the last main series title launching in Summer 2010. With the game’s resurgence comes a new storyline; King of Fighters XIII was the finale for a story arc started in King of Fighters 2003. For how many installments will the new story remain in play I cannot say. Time for me to be brutally honest because I’m not even sure there is a storyline here.
The premise behind KoFXIV focuses on Antonov, a new character to the series and one of the final bosses. Having acquired the rights to host a King of Fighters tournament and being the current possessor of the champion belt, Antonov challenges the world’s fighters to try and take the belt from him. Then there’s the secret final boss who literally pops out of nowhere. What was its purpose? Where did it come from? These are questions for which I have no answer because the game’s cutscenes offered no form of helpful clues. For now, this is a boss who just has the luxury of appearing for no good reason other to cause mayhem for mayhem’s sake.
The only useful piece of information I’ve come across has been from the secret boss himself. “I am…Orochi” is one statement the creature makes after suffering a loss at its hands. Orochi was one of the main villains in past installment and could very well be the same being but in different form. What truly bothers me about the story mode is how players must experience the same mundane cutscenes over and over to start randomly unlocking movie pieces.
Now, if picking different characters lead to different events unfolding throughout the story, I would gladly go through each character. This is not the case and to be quite frank? I wasn’t about to play through the story 21 times to unlock the movie gallery in its fullest–once was quite enough. I’ve not played a story mode this sleep-inducing since I covered Dengeki Bunko: Fighting Climax.
Besides story, players can touch upon the other modes offered to add variety. Players can challenge their friends at home with the versus mode or develop new combos in training. Three sub-options exist within the mission section: trial, time attack and survival. These modes are pretty self-explanatory and should provide some entertainment for players looking to do stuff offline. As with most fighting games, most of my time was spent playing online against other players.
The online area has quite a number of things for player to test out. Ranked and free matches offers players the choice between highly competitive fights or friendly bouts. Free match includes more than ranked such as the ability for two players to fight with a team of three, go 1-on-1 or fight with a twist using Party Vs. Party vs has six players fighting 3-on-3 with each player controlling one of the fighters. Relying on randoms or even friends to help fight to victory turned out to be more fun than I thought, especially when I’m not too great at this game to begin with.
The last online option for players to try out would be the online training. It’s the same as regular training but with the added feature of training with someone who is not local. In my experience, attempting to train with randoms was not a fruitful venture, seeing how 90% of them did not have/use a mic. This feature would serve people better if they have a friend who’s willing to help train.
I really enjoy the tournament style set up when playing online. After setting up a lobby, players can choose between six brackets. Each bracket can have a different fight mode that sets up the rules of a bout. Tourney removes the losing player, Elim removes the winner and Series has players fighting the same opponent repeatedly until one of them gives up their spot. Up to 12 players can enter a lobby and if they feel inclined to do so, the other players within the lobby can watch whoever is fighting in their bracket.
What I didn’t like about online was the lag I experienced. During lag, it felt like I was playing John Woo’s Stranglehold with all the slow motion. Slow motion does not make for a good fighting game companion. Other than these occasional moments, my time spent online was decent but at the end of the day, the netcode and its inability to constantly uphold a steady connection drags the experience down quite a bit.
While King of Fighters XIV performs properly, I can’t help but feel this game will only be worthwhile to hardcore KoF fans. Outside of playing online, none of the offline modes held my interest for very long. The only exception would be trials but I couldn’t stick with it for more than half an hour; the D-Pad made my thumb severely sore after a short period of time.
For $60, I don’t think this game will be for everyone. It seems like there’s a lot of content but none of it has any lasting power. King of Fighters XIV is a well crafted fighting game suited more so for the hardcore folks rather than people simply looking for something new to play. So did the hiatus do more harm than good? I think KoFXIV deserved the chance to come back and did so with a robust return. I just know this fighter isn’t for me, and it won’t be for most.