The King of Fighters XV - An Old School Beatdown
The King of the Fighters is one of the very few prestige names left in the world of one-on-one fighters. Born out of NeoGeo’s Art of Fighting and Fatal Fury franchises, it introduced 3 on 3 battles well before we heard the words Marvel vs Capcom. The game was setup around a team system where players picked a team of three characters and battled towards tournament victory. The franchise never quite reached the heights of Mortal Kombat or Street Fighter, but it carved out its own niche in the arcades, attracting players who liked to show off by mastering three characters at a time instead of just one. Now many many years and games later we are at the 15th King of Fighters title. Has it kept up with the times or has KoF fallen too far behind to catch up.
Let’s get this out of the way, The King of Fighters XV is a safe sequel. It does little to change the formula, mix things up or offer new features. This is, for better or worse, just another King of Fighters game. If you bounced off the formula previously, there is nothing here to change your mind. But does that matter? Personally, I don’t think so, because when the core is as good as it is here, there is little reason to change, just enhance.
The first enhancement is easy to talk about and that is the graphics. A crisp comic book style, with clearly outlined characters, plenty of detail and some flashy effects make this a great looking title. The action moves crisply and never stutters. The backgrounds are also universally fantastic, with my favourite paying tribute to one of my other loves of the NeoGeo era, Metal Slug. The one area they haven’t updated, much to my regret, is the character design. Well the design of one specific character to be exact. I know that it is often contentious with fans to change a long-standing character’s look, but do we really still need to see so much of Mei’s…assets? I mean sure she looks good for someone who is probably in her mid 40’s by now, but I am sure she can find a better fighting outfit. Other characters seem to be in pretty good taste, some probably showing off more skin than needed, but generally, things are kept on the tasteful side of skimpy. This is why Mei feels like such a throwback to an era where she was designed to pull Street Fighter players away from Chun Li to ogle pretty girls on NeoGeo systems instead.
The fighting systems have largely remained the same. This is a four-button fighter, a weak and strong punch and kick with no mid-strength attacks to complicate things. The game does include a fairly handy tutorial that features some of the more advanced movements you can use. Things like hops, guard breaks and dashes are explained and taught in a proficient manner. It doesn’t go as far as some other games in this area, but it is certainly worth doing the tutorial to brush up on rusty skills. Also for those that don’t know, this is not a tag battle game like the previously mention Marvel Vs Capcom. In KoF combatants battle till victory with the victor carrying their health bar into the following battle against the next member of the opposition’s team.
The super system in this game is quite interesting and brings a fair bit of tactical thought into play. Your first character has a super meter that reaches three bars, your second character four and final character five. The super bar progress carries over between characters, creating a situation where it is often best to have your rapid hitter first to build up that meter and save the fighter that has high damage supers for last, giving you a great equalizer up your sleeve if you lose early battles. Speaking of supers, there is one auto move that automatically hits your highest level super just by stringing four light punches together. It feels like that is a little overpowered, with level three supers taking about 40% of a health bar. Pro players will have no problem dealing with it and have the ability to cancel and move into different supers for even higher damage, but it does encourage button mashers.
As for game modes, there is nothing here that will surprise anyone. Traditional arcade modes, with dodgy stories and some missions for solo players, is all there is. I know that Netherealm has ruined me, making me expect more from a fighter, but I still can’t help but think that more can be done. That said, I liked this simple approach more than the half-baked attempt at story that Street Fighter V came up with so perhaps there is something to be said for sticking with what you know. The multiplayer is great and the inclusion of rollback netcode means that there are very few issues with online matches. There already seems to be a healthy community out there too, but be warned, a lot of players out there seem to be seasoned professionals from previous titles so if you are new, you might want some more practice before you dive in.
I also want to comment on the feel of the game. For me, I thoroughly enjoyed just how smooth everything is. I have enjoyed one-on-one fighters since Street Fighter 2 and while I have never considered myself “good” at them, I do have quite the history with the genre. So when I say KoF feels better than just about every fighter from Japan, with the expectation of Street Fighter 4, you know I have some history to back that up. It is almost hard to quantify, the way characters move, the way specials flow into supers, the way the snappy attacks can be parried and countered, it creates this feeling that you are truly a part of a ballet of violence, not just a bit of biffo out in the street. Now this could be a personal thing, I am willing to admit, but I have to congratulate the devs for the effort they clearly went to in order to polish the game’s motion until it shines.
With King of Fighters XV you are getting exactly what you expect from a King of Fighters game, but at the same time, it is better than what you expected. The lack of more single-player content, as well as some dated character design, does little to take away from one of the most competent and exciting fighters I have ever played. Every one-on-one fan owes it to themselves to check it out. There may be no big surprises but sometimes the best recipes are the ones that are refined over many years and that is certainly the case here. The King of Fighters XV is a fantastic fighter and one that deserves to make a splash in homes and at esports tournaments around the world.
The King of Fighters XV was reviewed on the PS5 with code kindly supplied by Koch Media Australia