The King of Fighters franchise arrived in the fighting genre not long after Street Fighter II started a full-scale movement. Since then, it has represented some of the best of SNK's fighting offerings, but long held a reputation for being "married" to the NeoGeo hardware, maintaining its 90s appearance even as franchise installments landed on other platforms like the Atomiswave. Finally, 2010 brought us The King of Fighters XII in HD for the PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, and the Taito Type-X2 arcade hardware. While it was generally regarded as a quality fighting game, the poor netcode in the console versions made it a tough sell for players who didn't have dedicated fighting communities in their areas. Now, KOF is back with its sophomore effort in its HD era.
What's It About?
The King of Fighters XIII continues the series' hallmark of 3-on-3 elimination battles as opposed to the usual 1-on-1, best of three format that has been the genre standard. The idea is that all fighting games are inherently matchup-driven. The best way to avoid balance problems is to have a team structure in place that allows players to manage matchups, much like building a deck in a collectible card games. The result is a fighting game that allows its players to perfectly tailor their character selection to both their personal playstyle and their particular matchup issues. It never did lead to absolutely perfect balance, but it has always mitigated any issues extremely well, as is the case here.
From a storyline perspective, XIII concludes the Tales of Ash Crimson story arc, which has followed the titular character – the first real anti-hero to be used as a KOF main character – as he goes around gathering the powers of the Orochi clans. So far, Ash has stolen the powers of series mainstays Iori Yagami and Chizuru Kagura, with original protagonist Kyo Kusanagi next in his sights. Meanwhile, a clan simply known as "Those From A Distant Land" are preparing for the revival of Orochi, KOF's most threatening big bad to date (at least in storyline terms), and have added Ash to their numbers.
Why Should I Care?
Both SNK Playmore and new KOF publisher Atlus went back to the drawing board for KOF XIII well aware of the fighting game community's grievances against the previous game. All major issues, from the anemic roster to the poor netcode to the lack of variety in game modes have been addressed. Although the netcode still doesn't stand up to the likes of GGPO, or even Super Street Fighter IV's (generally considered quite effective if not ideal), it is still a stark improvement over XII's with Atlus promising more improvements in the pipeline. In comparison, however, the character roster and features have expanded dramatically, with character selection much more reminiscent of what we've come to expect from the series. The single-player component is straight out of Super Street Fighter IV. In particular, the tutorial and trial modes will help a lot of newcomers learn the ropes of what has been regarded as the 2D equivalent of Virtua Fighter in terms of approachability.
The partnership with Atlus pays tremendous dividends in the form of the game's story mode. KOF has long been the top series in the genre for its storytelling, but the in-house localizations have never been up to par, to the point of being known primarily for their broken English. Not only does Atlus' assistance provide a much better translation than fans are accustomed to, it also provides a strong visual novel-inspired story mode that has the story of KOF XIII play out in branching paths. This means players will have to make decisions on which teams to follow over the course of the tournament and which locales to check in on from chapter to chapter, leading to quite a bit of replay value for players who want to see everything.
Why Is It Worth My Time And Money?
XIII marks a point in the series that many gamers have hoped to see it arrive at, and few believed it would. SNK Playmore's long-respected gameplay quality crosses paths with high production values and masterful localization to bring the KOF series to within reach of its true potential for the first time ever.