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King of Fighters XIV Launch Review

The King of Fighters franchise has an overwhelming legacy to live up to in my eyes. It was my first fighting game, next to Time Killers but that was definitely not a PG game that I found at the beach. However, Fatal Fury was the first real fighting game that I got my hands on; Terry and his brother Andy Bogard, Tung Fu Rue, Mai Shiranui, the villainous Kingpin of Southtown – Geese Howard. Needless to say the story was solid, resulting in some unexpected pleasantries like the birth of fighting game parody, Dan Hibiki as a mix of Robert Garcia and Ryo Sakazaki. King of Fighters XIV has a story, one that I won’t touch too much on so I don’t spoil it for those who plan to buy into it, but I will say that the ending is quite the surprise! But the story is not at all what makes the game solid. KOFXIV calls back to the 3v3 squads that made the game such a success with all of your favorite [or at least my favorite] teams, as well as a few new ones: Official Invitation Team, Another World Team, and the South American Team.

King of Fighters XIV Launch Review

Now that's what a launch roster should look like!

The Roster

This has been the first fighting game in about a decade that I have had zero complaints about the cast coming out of the gate, day one. Well, almost no complaints. . . Dear SNK: WHERE THE HELL IS DUCK KING? Seriously! He’s the break-dancin’, high-flyin’, no limits beat-down machine that this style of game deserves. You bring back Choi, Tung Fu Rue but not Duck King? Come on, guys. Other than this one minor infraction, the 50 member game has something for every KOF fan, something for newcomers, they really went all out. Even the new characters and guests [from games like Samurai Showdown and Sky Love], or the newcomers like the Mexican wrestling sensation “King of Dragons,” each fulfill my fighting game needs in their own ways. Lets get out the checklist:

  • Gritty characters with amazing moves: Iori, K`, Ralf Jones, Mature, Vice.
  • READY TO SAVE THE DAY: Andy Bogard, Terry Bogard, Ryo, Kyo.
  • Fanservice: Leona, Mai Shiranui, Yuri.
  • Silly quirky weirdoes: Choi, Chang, King of Dragons, Mian.
  • Badasses: Geese Howard, Ralf [he bears mentioning twice], Clark, Maxima, Antonov.

Yup! We have everything necessary for a top-notch anime fighting game. The backgrounds are gorgeous, the music is terrific, the gameplay really captured my attention in a way the KOF franchise hasn’t in years [thanks, KOF12]. But we definitely need to talk game mechanics because King of Fighters is not known for being forgiving or easy to play in many regards. So many of the special/ultimate moves are ludicrous, and the combo timing is not the least bit forgiving to top it off. SNK realized this and added the “Rush System” to help people new to the franchise/people who want to play in a casual manner get into the game. Maybe learn what the standard/bread-and-butter combos look like. How do you do it? By simply mashing light punch. You can also link into Desperation Moves if you have the meter to do so. It’s a great way to see a preview of how cool you will look once you’ve put the practice in. They realized that not everyone who buys this game has been playing since Garou, or Fatal Fury Special or whatever ancient game you pick out to show your street cred. I don’t need it, but I sure do think it’s a nice addition to the game.

King of Fighters XIV Launch Review

Still shots just don't do this game justice.

Gameplay

In fact, mechanically speaking, they borrowed from a lot of different games in the series to make this one as good as they possibly could. At its core, King of Fighters XIV is a very mechanically sound game, and one of the big standouts to me was “Just Defend” from Garou: Mark of the Wolves. While I don’t think it quite does the same thing as in Garou, the idea behind Just Defend is to block at the perfect moment, lowering block stun so you can recover from attacks faster. I’m not 100% certain how it works yet, but I believe it lowers Block Gauge depletion and builds more meter. This one’s good, but I also love Blowback! By pressing HP+HK you can throw a move that knocks your opponent away and bounces them off the wall. It’s a great counter hit, or a way to relieve pressure. Or you can use it in the corner to start, reset, or finish combos. I’ve used it in a few really fun ways with Iori and Geese, setting up ludicrous amounts of damage.

There are also tech rolls, using LP+LK, which can roll you forward, backward, or recover off of the ground. I do not think they have invincibility, but I’m still not certain on this. I have used it to roll under aerial fireballs, but I haven’t tried it versus the ground moving blasts. I do appreciate that you gain meter on character loss, but one of the big, big, big drawbacks in the mechanics of this game I’ve seen is this: I have no idea how close I am to stunning someone at any moment in time. In fact, it hasn’t happened in any mode but Training Mode. There’s a guard meter, but I don’t know if that correlates. This tidbit of unknown information is really starting to grate on my nerves. Being able to stun and prepare unstoppable combos is important to me, but having no idea how close I am, well. . . I cannot tell if that’s by design or simply overlooked. I’m also willing to accept that I simply am blind and cannot see it.

The combat is pretty simple to grasp at first but becomes increasingly technical the farther down the rabbit hole you go. It’s a four-button fighter [Light Punch, Heavy Punch, Light Kick, Heavy Kick] and you block by holding or tapping away from your opponent. There are a variety of things that can be done by pressing two buttons at once, some of which I covered above. Throws are done by tapping forward/backward and Heavy Punch/Kick. When I made the mistake of thinking it was a three button game on my stick, I really had a hard time with that, but that has nothing to do with the game and everything to do with me not bloody paying attention. You also have command/unique moves, which are done typically by pressing a direction and a button, which vary by character. Then there are special moves, which require inputs followed by a button. Some of these have follow-ups, colloquially called “rekkas” if it’s the same motion over and over. There are also three types of Super Moves. First there’s the Super Special Moves, which can be canceled into Climax Super Special Move. Yikes. That’s a lot of words. And if you really want to be a jerk and do as much damage as you can, you can activate a Neomax Super Special Move, but that can only be activated during Max Mode.

King of Fighters XIV Launch Review

Every blow has impact and weight behind it. So satisfying.

Max Mode Returns

What’s Max Mode though? It’s a popular feature brought back! If you have at least one bar of meter, you can activate it with a button press, which pops up another gauge over your regular meter. While this mode is active, you can throw EX Specials all willy-nilly, and of course, activate the Neomax Super Special Move. Don’t judge these attacks but their cumbersome titles; the damage they release is not to be trifled with. This is a very combo-heavy game and I don’t recommend just throwing these super attacks out by themselves, as there’s generally a lot of time to prepare, block, or just jump over them and counterattack. Wall-bouncing or comboing into them is definitely preferred.

Training and Story Mode

Though speaking of combos, I have to say one of the hardest parts of this game, if not the hardest to me, is not in any of the actual fights. It’s the Missions in Training Mode! I see they have not forgotten to show off just how intense the game can be! This is not a detractor but I have to say, my teeth itch from trying some of those combos. They start off deceptively easy and descend into madness by Mission 5. It’s not like SF4 where you have 30 training missions that slowly ramp up. No, no, no. .they kick you in the balls immediately, with great prejudice.

There’s, of course, the Story Mode, pitting teams of 3 vs. other teams of 3 until you reach the climactic [and entertaining] finish of the story that I still cannot talk about. You have the Training/Mission Modes, which includes the above Training, Mission, and Survival, which seemed too easy until I got to about match 19 or 20. You get a little health back and your meter carries over, which certainly helps. This is a pretty good way in addition to training mode to learn a character and decide if you’re going to put in work.

King of Fighters XIV Launch Review

Once you get the complex combos going on a character, your battles begin to look like art.

Online PvP

There is also the Vs. Mode where you can play your friends on the couch. But if you want to go online, they have you covered too. The Netcode is definitely heads and tails above 13’s, and let’s not even talk about 12’s. You can play Ranked, Casuals, and from what I’ve seen 1v1, 3v3, or the big daddy of them all – PARTY VS. This is the absolute coolest/most friendship-ending mode that I’ve seen in a fighting game. It’s 3v3 with a twist: Each player controls a character on the team! Why can this end friendships? Are you too competitive? Are you 100% sure you can land that sick EX Climax Combo Super Finisher to close out the game? No, you aren’t. You’re going to miss it, it’s going to be blocked, avoided, and that meter is now gone. Oh, by the way: It’s your turn, and they have full Meter. Have fun! This is the mode that I can’t wait to play with my friends.

Even more intriguing than Ranked is definitely Party Mode, which should be called “Chaos Mode” in my opinion. You can register teams/individual characters and the colors you want for them, and the stages you’d prefer to play on. There’s one more thing to mention here: If the stage has a Marquee/Scrolling Text, you can put your own text there! Want to plug your stream while playing online, or say something to your foes? Go for it! But please, keep it PG. Let’s not abuse this privilege and have it taken away.

YOU OKAY!? BUSTER WOOOOOLF!!!:

Score: Excellent 5/5

This is the game I wanted when they announced King of Fighters XII. The full 3D sprites in a 2D frame make me happy. It’s a beautiful game, has something in the range of 15,000 possible combos of characters and just so many different game styles to use and abuse them in. This is a franchise that’s been alive through ups and downs since 1994, and it’s clearly not going anywhere. I’m disappointed it’s not also on PC, but as a PS4 exclusive, it’s really showing the Playstation as the console for fighting games. If I had to choose between Killer Instinct, or SF5 and KOF14? That’s not even a question. PS4 all the way. It’s not a perfect game, but it makes me incredibly happy and hopeful for the FGC just in general. I’d like to see it on PC later on in the year if it sells well, and I’m predicting it will. Sure, KOF is more of a niche’ pick these days but I don’t think it’s going to be swept under the rug and forgotten.

King of Fighters XIV Launch Review

Stage customization is an entirely unnecessary piece of polish that I couldn't be happier to have.

Some of the mechanics frustrate me, though: Throws don’t seem to always work even in training. I might toss in a forward or backward throw with one of the buttons, then do another one right away and it doesn’t activate. Maybe it’s me? Maybe my timing is lacking. But I have so little negative to say, especially comparing it to the last couple of games in the franchise. This is the 2D fighter I’ve needed and didn’t even realize it.

Pros:

+ Solid, interesting game mechanics. So much going on under the hood, plenty of stuff to practice and train in.

+ 50 characters out of the box: You don’t have to wait a month for a new character to have someone new to try! New characters, characters from other games, other parts of the franchise. Nothing but love for their fans.

+ It’s Beautiful. It’s so beautiful. So much fanservice, muscle, gorgeous backdrops. I mean, this review isn’t complete without talking about Mai’s suggestive stance, Leona being bouncier than ever. . . Yeah. . .

Cons:

  • The mission mode combos do not seem to be practical, helpful, or at a decent skill level. They get really silly really fast and someone new to the franchise might be turned off.
  • Unlocking Artwork? This isn’t 2002. Let’s do something useful.
  • A lot of hate going on with the Rush System. I think it’s a neat idea, and am glad that the damage is less and there’s no mix-up game around it, but man. There’s a lot, and I mean a LOT of hate in the community. Let’s let beginners get in, however, yeah?

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