King of Fighters XIV Review – King Me

Heavy lies the crown.

Posted By | On 22nd, Aug. 2016 Under Article, Reviews | Follow This Author @will_borger


The King of Fighters is an odd series. The first game in the franchise, released in 1994, was a crossover that combined characters from previous SNK fighters Fatal Fury and Art of Fighting with characters from other, older franchises, like Ikari Warrior and Psycho Soldier. Add a dash of original characters, and throw them all into a blender with a fresh fighting engine, and you had King of Fighters ’94.

That’s not the shocking part. Crossover fighters are as common as colds, and were nearly as numerous in the 1990s. No, what’s shocking about King of Fighters is that it’s outlived each and every one of the series that inspired it on its way to becoming SNK’s most recognizable and successful franchise. For reference, that would be like if Street Fighter x Tekken was so successful that Namco and Capcom stopped developing Tekken and Street Fighter and just made that crossover. It’s incredibly impressive.

"While the 3D models don’t look as bad as they did during the initial reveal, they don’t look good, either. The main issue seems to be caused by the chasm of detail that separates the character’s clothes from their skin."

But success isn’t easy, and even a series as storied and respected as King of Fighters has had its issues (we’re looking at you, KoF XII). It’s been a little more than six years since King of Fighters XIII revitalized the franchise and brought back its previous critical acclaim, which means King of Fighter XIV has a lot to live up to.

Let’s start with the elephant in the room: the 3D models. Like Arc System Works and Capcom of old, SNK’s games were as well known for their beautiful sprite art as they were for their complex fighting engines. But sprite art is almost unfeasibly expensive for studios in the AAA space today, and companies, beginning with Capcom with Street Fighter IV, have largely switched over to 3D models on a 2D plane, which are cheaper and easier to make.

Capcom mitigated the change with a very stylized approach, and Arc Sys performed some technical wizardry to make the 3D models in Guilty Gear look and animate exactly like the original sprites. SNK, unfortunately, has done neither, and while their 3D models don’t look as bad as they did during the initial reveal, they don’t look good, either. The main issue seems to be caused by the chasm of detail that separates the character’s clothes from their skin.

king of fighters 14

"So King of Fighters XIV isn’t a looker, unlike XIII. That’s unfortunate, but as a friend of mine once said, a fighter could be using stick figures and as long as the fighting itself was solid, most people probably wouldn’t care. Thankfully, in that regard, XIV delivers"

While outfits are colorful, textured, and detailed, the characters themselves lack texture and their skin looks flat. This isn’t that big of a deal when the characters are fighting far away from the camera, but it becomes an issue whenever the camera zooms in for some pre-fight banter or to highlight a CLIMAX Super Special Move (New to the series. Think Ultras from Street Fighter IV, and yes, that is really what they’re called). This lack of detail extends to the stages, as well, though it’s less noticeable.

So King of Fighters XIV isn’t a looker, unlike XIII. That’s unfortunate, but as a friend of mine once said, a fighter could be using stick figures and as long as the fighting itself was solid, most people probably wouldn’t care. Thankfully, in that regard, XIV delivers. I’m fairly new to the series, so I can’t compare the game to anything other than my brief playtime with XIII, but the fighting feels responsive and impactful.

The fighting itself is pretty standard. Characters are equipped with both light and heavy punches and kicks, throws, and special moves. Dealing damage and getting hit builds your power gauge, which can be filled up to five times, and expended on various Super Special Moves. Characters can also enter MAX mode, a special mode that powers up your characters moves. And of course, there’s a variety of defensive options like Blow Backs and Emergency Evasions, both of which do exactly what their name implies.

king of fighters 14

"There’s a good tutorial mode that will walk you through all of the game’s major techniques, as well as character specific missions that teach combos and special moves. While it’s not as robust as, say, the teaching tools available in games by Arc Systems Works, Namco, or Team Ninja, it’s still very solid."

King of Fighters has a reputation for being unforgiving, and it’s well-earned. As a game that primarily plays out as a 3 on 3 affair, it requires a lot of character knowledge, impeccable timing, and technical skill to get into. SNK has realized that, however, and made some concessions to new players. There’s a good tutorial mode that will walk you through all of the game’s major techniques, as well as character specific missions that teach combos and special moves. While it’s not as robust as, say, the teaching tools available in games by Arc Systems Works, Namco, or Team Ninja, it’s still very solid. Considering the game’s 50 character roster, 19 of whom are new to the series, this is especially important.

The other major carrot for new players is Rush. By repeatedly pressing light punch, you can perform a simple combo ending in a Special Move, or a Super Special Move if you have at least one bar full in your power gauge. It won’t win matches for you, but it’s a nice for new players who are struggling with the game’s rather complex combo system and execution barrier, even if it doesn’t really teach them how to get any better.

In addition to playing well, KoF XIV also supports a number of modes of play. There’s a story mode, in which your team of fighters faces off against a number of other three-person teams arcade style, in the latest iteration of the King of Fighters Tournament in an attempt to take down Antonov, the cigar smoking bear of a man hosting it. The story itself is pretty silly, the cutscenes look a bit dated, and there’s not really much to it (those looking for something like the story modes in Mortal Kombat, Blazblue, Guilty Gear, or Street Fighter V will be disappointed), but it’s fun. Beyond that, there’s a versus mode offering both 1 on 1 and 3 on 3 action, as well as Time Trial and Survival modes. There’s even a gallery with illustrations, voice overs, and movies to unlock.

king of fighters 14

"The game features the standard smattering of ranked and player matches, as well as an online training mode so you can practice with your buddies. There’s also a party mode, where you can have six players, three on each team, duke it out, so you can relive the glory days of the arcade."

Like any modern fighting game, the core of King of Fighters XIV is online. The game features the standard smattering of ranked and player matches, as well as an online training mode so you can practice with your buddies. There’s also a party mode, where you can have six players, three on each team, duke it out, so you can relive the glory days of the arcade. At the time of this writing, I haven’t been able to play online because there hasn’t been anyone on, but SNK is promising a far better netcode than the one that appeared in KoF XIII.

Like most fighting games, what you put into King of Fighters XIV will determine what you get out of it. Despite SNK’s best attempts, the amount of content available to people who can’t or won’t play online is pretty minuscule, even with such a big cast. The high degree of execution difficulty, even with the new teachings tools and things like Rush, will likely turn others off.

So King of Fighters remains what it has always been with its latest entry: a niche fighter with a great cast, an unforgiving learning curve, and a lot of heart anchored by an incredible fighting engine. It’s not for everyone; no game is. But if you’re willing to dedicate yourself to it, and learn it, it’s a tournament worth entering and a fight worth fighting, all these years later.

This game was reviewed on the PlayStation 4.

THE GOOD

A big, diverse cast. Exceptional fighting engine. Solid teaching tools. A decent number of modes to play. The story mode is silly.

THE BAD

Not a lot of variety if you’re not going to play online. Graphics are hit and miss. Steep learning curve. The story mode might be too silly.

Final Verdict

King of Fighters remains what it has always been with its latest entry: a niche fighter with a great cast, an unforgiving learning curve, and a lot of heart anchored by an incredible fighting engine. It’s not for everyone; no game is. But if you’re willing to dedicate yourself to it, and learn it, it’s a tournament worth entering and a fight worth fighting, all these years later.

A copy of this game was provided by developer/publisher for review purposes. Click here to know more about our Reviews Policy.

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