The NEO-GEO-originated fighting franchise of King of Fighters (KOF) has been around for more than 20 years. King of Fighters was one of the first fighting games, if not the first, to employ the 3 vs 3 style of team-based combat. With characters taking turns in 1 vs 1 knock-out matches, one team must knock-out all members of the other team to win the match. Teams consists of fighters from specific themes or other stand-alone games like Fatal Fury, Art of Fighting and even the classic top-down shooter, Ikari Warriors.
Being a fan of the KOF series since the first installment, the King of Fighters ’94, I’ve been sure to play and acquire every KOF that’s come out all the way up through the last console port, King of Fighters XIII. Now six years later, Atlus has released the newest addition to the series, the King of Fighters XIV. After playing the game extensively for days before its actual release, I’m ready to spew out this beefy review! Let’s dive into the King of Fighters XIV, released for both the PlayStation 4 and PC via Steam.
Roster and Presentation
King of Fighters XIV (KOF XIV) is the latest KOF game to use 3D graphics since the release of KOF: Maximum Impact 2 on the PS2. KOF purists can exhale a sigh of relief as the game stuck to its roots by remaining on a 2D plane. Off the bat, you are supplied with a whopping selection of 48 unique characters to choose from, with the main characters being divvied into 3-man factions. Of course you can still mix and match your team members as you see fit as well as re-ordering your line-up before each fight.
I was definitely impressed with this lengthy roster of characters consisting of both new characters and seasoned KOF attendees. Fighting game fans of all types have plenty of team variations to mess with, whether you like speedy strikers, grapplers, or something different altogether. KOF fans will have the fan favorites they have grown to love and plenty of new characters to try out and explore. With just the roster alone, KOF XIV should keep gamers occupied for quite a while as it urges you to revisit your line-up over and over again.
That roster of characters is all the more impressive with the lush new graphics style of KOF XIV. The new 3D graphics brings those beloved, once-2D character sprites to life, each with unique and well-defined looks for each character. Save just a handful of characters, the bulk of the classic KOF fighters received updated looks and outfits. Chang and Choi, originally from Team Korea (or Team Kim) with Kim Kaphwan are now in the Villains Team with new character, Xanadu, all sporting jail-house orange jumpers. A close look at Terry Bogard’s jacket shows KOF XIV’s attention to visual details like the stitching in his classic red jacket.
Looking past the beautiful new character designs, the background stages and music are also treats to both the eyes and ears. Backgrounds are quite lively and defined in the 3D world behind the fighters. Some stages have actively moving 3D NPC’s (non-playable characters) in the background, watching the fights and reacting to the outcomes. Others have a more sports-event feel to them, with the fight in the foreground being displayed simultaneously on big screens in the rear. What do you know? You’re really in a tournament!
Going even deeper into the presentation, there’s also a new twist on the unique character interactions before the fights. KOF games traditionally used unique pre-fight animations and quotes when specific character match-ups occur. These usually happened between characters with particular history with one another. The most common example of this is with KOF’s most note-worthy rivalry between Kyo Kusanagi and Iori Yagami. Pre-fight interactions had each of these characters spouting something specific to the other character’s while sometimes waving flames around.
These interactions don’t effect the fight, but they are indeed fun little tropes and Easter eggs to find. In KOF XIV, characters with these unique relationships now get zoomed-in cut scenes, with each fighter acting and speaking “live” with their opponent. I thought this was a very nice new touch, giving the player not only a closer at the new 3D models, but also a window into their personality, behavior and mannerisms. I found myself changing my pre-determined order of characters before matches to suit these unique match-ups so that I can find them all. On top of that, if your 1 on 1 match-up is extra special, like again with Kyo vs Iori, the background music actually changes to something more nostalgic or remix-y for that battle.
The story mode cut-scenes were enjoyable to watch and did well to showcase the KOF tournament’s latest new host, Antonov, and his personality. I purposely won’t dive to deeply there as not to spoil the story. Endings are shown a similar comic book style as seen in KOF XIII, with frames that move when the story requires it. Also common in KOF, team specific endings only display if you beat the final boss with a themed team intact. For example, to get Team Japan’s ending, beat the game with specifically with Kyo, Benimaru and Goro. With 48 characters divvied into 16 uniquely themed teams, Story Mode’s replay-ability will pull you in at least that many times to see all of the different stories.
Overall, I loved what King of Fighters XIV did with its presentation. The visuals and sound alone are enough to suck you in and keep you invested. The stories of the various teams could have been fleshed out a bit more, however. Aside from their specific endings and the standard goal of “win tournament”, there really isn’t much to help the player understand the characters’ motives. For example, the Villain Team of Chang, Choi and Xanadu has each character in those jailhouse uniforms. I can only assume they escaped and are somehow allowed to participate in this tournament. Yet, I won’t know much beyond that outside of a proper google search.
Each team could have used some sort of intro, paragraph, or pretty much anything else to hint at their origins. I can arrive at assumptions due to my familiarity with the long-running series. However, someone new to the series may be left in the dark.