I have to admit that when I first saw the teaser trailer for The King of Fighters XIV (KOFXIV), I was highly skeptical. It gave a brief glimpse of a now fully 3D-modeled game, but promised traditional 2D gameplay. These things generally either go very poorly or serve as a reset for the franchise.
KOFXIV is the first game from the newly restored SNK. It’s an important title, since it will set the tone for the company and either reestablish the brand or bury it.
I’m very pleased to find out that my skepticism was unwarranted.
What Is It?
For those who aren’t familiar with The King of Fighters, the game is a 3v3 ream-based 2D fighting game. You start off by choosing three fighters from the roster of 50 and then face off against a series of other teams in the game’s main story mode. There is no standalone arcade mode, but the story uses the arcade mode’s ladder to sub-boss to main boss format. The cutscenes can be skipped, so if you want to quickly go through it as an arcade mode you can do so. The AI can provide a decent challenge at the higher difficulties but can be almost insultingly dull-witted at the lower ones.
Along with the story mode, there are a number of other offline modes. There is a time attack mode for those who want to see how quickly they can plow through a series of bouts. An endless survival mode and a combo trial mode. There is also a robust training mode if you just want to go in and practice. Rounding out the suite of offline features is a VS mode where you can play either team or solo fights either against another player or the CPU.
Why Should I Care?
If you prefer to play your fighters against other people online, KOFXIV has a full suite of online functions as well. Ranked matches, casual matches, party play and online training modes are all present and accounted for. Unfortunately the online play is a little rough at the moment. The network code is definitely better than KOFXIII in my experience, but there were still rough spots where matches felt sluggish. How the servers will hold up once the game launches and thousands of people hit them at once remains to be seen, but if they do melt into puddles of molten silicon slag at least you can still play the game.
That’s the most important thing–being able to play and enjoy the game regardless of whether you’ve got the ability to connect to the server at any given moment or not. There is enough offline content in the game to make sure that you’ve got enough to do in the event you can’t find an online match or can’t connect due to maintenance or high server load.
What Makes It Worth My Time And Money?
All of these modes and features would be irrelevant if KOFXIV wasn’t fun to play. SNK has managed to create a responsive, easy-to-learn game that has many layers to it. This starts with a re-evaluation of what made KOF great to begin with. KOFXIII had systems upon systems and an excessive reliance on stringing together moves to do big damage. It had earned the reputation as being a “Combo Fighter”, much like a Killer Instinct or Marvel vs. Capcom game. For this installment, this has been scaled back.
The first and most noticeable change is that damage really means something again. Much like Street Fighter V, KOFXIV matches can be ended very quickly. Hard hits really are hard hits, and super moves will do a ton of damage. That isn’t to say that the game is not approachable to newcomers. Rush combos allow you to tap the light punch button when up close to your opponent and execute a chain of moves. They look cool and are generally good for a knockdown, but the damage isn’t even in the same world as what an experienced player can lay down with the more traditional, freeform combos you have access to. Rush combos primarily act as a gateway drug to more advanced techniques. They can be used as a confidence builder to help new players. There really isn’t anything quite as demoralizing as facing off against someone who mops the floor with you, doing things you didn’t even know were possible.
With such a large roster of characters, picking teams in online matches could be a tiresome affair if you have to do it each and every time. When you first load up the online mode, you’ll be prompted to register a team, a character, and a favorite background. This will make it much easier to get into matches quickly. You can store up to three teams, solo characters and backgrounds. These settings are stored in your profile, and you can use these registered teams and characters globally.
At launch, The King of Fighters XIV isn’t missing much. It comes out with a full suite of offline and online modes, a large roster featuring 50 characters, a ton of backgrounds, and an excellent soundtrack to keep the adrenaline high. It is worth mentioning though that legacy fightstick support is not yet available. (Edit: Shortly after publication, an Update was released which added this feature.) This will be an important feature to some, and it’s one that SNK will be adding in an upcoming patch. Out of the box, KOFXIV is still a complete game, which is rare nowadays.
2016 is shaping up to be an excellent year for fans of fighting games. Earlier in the year we saw the release of Street Fighter V, a game that was fundamentally sound, but lacking in content. Guilty Gear Xrd -REVELATOR- was recently released to much headbanging, as it should be, and later this year, we still have Netherrealm’s Injustice 2 to look forward to.
This week’s release of The King of Fighters XIV should be no less exciting, as it does for The King of Fighters what Street Fighter V did for its respective franchise: it reset the game. Except it did it without alienating a large chunk of its fanbase, and Atlus and SNK would do very well to market KOFXIV as such. If this is what we can expect from the new/old SNK, then we’re in for good times ahead.