The King of Fighters XIV Review
Extra Features: online multiplayer (2-12 players), leaderboards, download content
The King of Fighters (KOF) series started back in 1994 with KOF '94 and has carried on with the same 3v3 style fights since the beginning. The series constantly gives us teams of fighters from other SNK fighters and SNK series along with some new original fighters that are exclusive to the KOF universe. The series was released yearly until after KOF 2003 when SNK decided to start numbering the series to spend more time with each installment. Along with the main series SNK released a few updates to the main series installments and they released a full 3D KOF entitled KOF: Maximum Impact and its sequel. The latest installment developed by SNK and published by ATLAS is The King of Fighters XIV.
The early KOF games used 2D sprites and backgrounds and often kept the same overall character designs for its roster as the series went on. Starting with KOF XII, SNK started using redrawn character sprites and 2D backgrounds. With KOF XIV, we get a totally revamped presentation where both the characters and backgrounds are rendered in 3D. The overall look of KOF XIV is fantastic thanks to the this change. Along with the change in 3D is a major improvement in character animation and it feels like the smooth animation really helps out for smoother play control. The KOF characters and their moves look just as good as they did in the Capcom vs SNK series now. The overall sound to this game is really good too. The characters and announcers sounds great - one of the announcers sounds like the announcer from Tekken Tag Tournament 2. As expected, all dialogue is in Japanese with English subtitles. The soundtrack itself is fantastic and has two vocal tracks. It's hard to get the menu music out of my head as I type this because it's so catchy. KOF games often had specific intros for certain characters that meet up before a fight and this game is no exception. Some characters will have a small cutscene with dialogue before they square off against each other.
KOF XIV has a huge roster of 50 characters. Two of the characters are unlocked after finishing story mode and there are 16 teams of 3 characters in the roster. A good bit of the cast returns from KOF XIII but there are plenty of new faces and characters that we haven't seen in quite some time. One of the cool parts about a new KOF for me is the way the teams change and the storylines of each team, both new and old, so I'm going to list out all characters and teams for you. If you don't care about the complete list of characters in the game then just skip the rest of this paragraph. For the complete roster of KOF XIV, we have the usual Japan Team of Kyo Kusanagi, Benimaru Nikaido and Goro Daimon, the Yagami Team of Iori Yagami, Mature and Vice, the K' Team of K', Kula Diamond and Maxima the Ikari Team of Ralf Jones, Clark Still and Leona Heidern, the Fatal Fury Team of Terry Bogard, Andy Bogard and Joe Higashi, the Psycho Soldier Team of Athena Asamiya, Sie Kensou and Chin Gentsai and the Art of Fighting Team of Ryo Sakazaki, Robert Garcia and Yuri Sakazaki. For new teams we have the Official Invitation Team of Sylvie Paula Paula, Kukri and Mian, the South America Team of Nelson, Zarina and Bandeiras Hattori, the Kim Team of Kim Kaphwan (KOF XIII), Gang-Il, Luong, the Mexico Team of Ramon (KOF 2002), Angel (KOF 2002), King of Dinosaurs, the Another World Team Nakoruru (Samurai Shodown), Mui Mui and Love Heart, the Villains Team of Xanadu, Chang Koehan (KOF 2003) and Choi Bounge (KOF 2003), the China Team of Shun'Ei, Tung Fu Rue (KOF XI) and Meitenkun, the South Town Team of Geese Howard (KOF XI), Billy Kane (KOF XIII) and Hein and the Women Fighters Team of King (KOF XIII), Mai Shiranui (KOF XIII) and Alice. Along with all the teams are Antonov and the final boss (both are playable).
Each fighter has been completely redone with a 3D model and better animation. Most fighters that return play just about the same as they did in the last installment of KOF that they were in. For returning characters, the changes are usually minimal if there are any changes. One of the biggest changes that I have noticed is that Maxima now has an extra laser Super Special move and his Climax super has changed since KOF XIII. Some of the move properties for some characters have changed some here and there as well. One change for all characters is that the Blow Back attack (that can be done with the press of the two hard attack buttons) now causes a wall stun to where you can hit your opponent with an attack while they are stunned against the wall.
Each character still has a power gauge that can be charged up to five levels (max level depends on fighter) as you attack your opponent. The Drive gauge from KOF XIII has been dropped for a new mode called the "Max mode". The Max mode requires one bar of the power gauge in order to activate the Max gauge, much like how the drive gauge required activation in KOF XIII. While the max mode is activated, players can perform EX special attacks at the cost of some of the max gauge and they can also use one bar of meter to perform a more powerful version of a Super Special Attack. The more powerful Super Special Attacks can also be performed by pressing two buttons while performing a Super Attack just like in KOF XIII as well. Canceling a special attack into a Super Special Attack can still be done just like in KOF XIII and you can also cancel super moves into more powerful super moves (such as climax supers). The Max mode can also be activated to cancel a normal attack into another attack - your fighter will dash toward your opponent upon activation and you can continue a combo during that time. For instance, you can attack with a heavy punch then activate the max mode and be able to instantly attack again with another heavy punch - this takes about half of the max gauge's time limit. Each fighter also has a custom combo that can be activated by tapping the light attack. The custom combo will end with a super move if you have any of your power bar at that time.
For gameplay modes, the game has a story mode, versus mode, training mode, tutorial mode, online mode, mission mode and a gallery mode. The story mode allows you to pick an existing team or make a custom team and go through 8 teams to reach the final battles of the game. The story has a few cutscenes here and there and includes exclusive cutscenes involving the official character teams if you have pick a full team, but overall, the story to KOF XIV is very basic and lacking in depth. KOF games are never really that big on story, but with KOF XIV, besides the team endings and character specific discussions before some battles, there isn't that much character development or progression here at all. The Versus mode has your standard team or single bouts against a second player or the CPU. The training mode offers your standard training options found in most fighters now. The tutorial mode feels much like the tutorial mode in KOF XIII, but this time it's broken up into sections, so if you just want to learn a specific mechanic, you can choose it to learn about just that one. Antonov serves as your training instructor and acts much like Dan did in Street Fight IV with his blend of comedy and teaching. The Gallery mode allows you to view illustrations, movies, sounds and artwork that you have unlocked in other modes. There is quite a bit here to unlock through single player and online play. The illustrations are taken from throughout the series of KOF. The game also has unlockable titles that are unlocked through online mode matches.
Mission mode includes Trial, Time Attack and Survival. Trial allows you to go through five combo trials for all fifty characters. Time attack lets you fight through ten opponents (1v1) to try to get the fastest time possible. Survival allows you to fight against CPU opponents (1v1) until you get knocked out. Your health will refill a bit at the end of each fight just like in other games. The online mode allows you to choose from Ranked Match, Free Match, Online Training or you can view Online Replays. Just like with Street Fighter V, you need to choose your characters beforehand (in Ranked), so you'll need to have a team ready in your online profile. In Ranked, you can choose to wait in training mode while the game searches. Free Match allows you to create 12 player lobbies for Team VS (3v3), Single VS (1v1) or Party VS (3v3). The first two are pretty much self-exclamatory, but the Party VS is new to KOF and quite fun. All players meet up in a 12 person lobby and get to join a team of 6 players that each pick a character and battle it out in 3v3 matches. This allows for a sort of co-op function in between the teams and its very nice for both casual players and hardcore players. I can see hardcore players very much enjoying trying to carry a team of beginners with this mode. Just like in the other modes, the winner gets a slight health refill at the end of a match and all players on a team share the same power gauge. One cool part about all online lobbies is that 12 players group in them and can have up to six fights going on at the same time with different rule sets for each fight. You can wait in one fight lobby and view matches as a spectator or you can choose to wait in another fight lobby for another opponent instantly and this all goes on in the same lobby. Online training allows you to go into a training room with an online player, much like in Netherrealm games. Online Replays allows you to download replays from players of varying ranks.
The online netcode for the game has the rollback system just like in Street Fighter V and Mortal Kombat X. If you get a good connection then the fight will go perfectly and you will have no lag when trying to perform attacks. I did run across a very mixed amount of lag and good games in my time online however. I either got really good connections or really bad connections. The bad connections made it feel like I was fighting underwater - there was tons of slowdown when this happened! The response to moves was good, but everything was super slow. To my surprise, the really laggy players that I fought were often from my same region, so I'm not really sure what is going on with the online. I found very few laggy matches in the game's Party VS however. It's like the Party VS mode is running on more servers than the rest of the modes. SNK has mentioned a patch for the online but at the moment, my online experiences are very random whether I will get a good or bad connection no matter the connection values on a player's profile. Hopefully this will be addressed in the weeks to come since this game's online is quite nice when I got good connections. While playing online, I'd say I got about 70% good connections and 30% bad connections.
The King of Fighters XIV is a huge improvement over KOF XIII and many games before it. The game has really evolved into a quality fighter that is great to look at and the play control has gotten way better. KOF veteran players will be able to take right off with KOF XIV and new players will find it easier to get into compared to past KOFs. Even if you're not that good at fighting games, the Party VS online mode is a lot of fun to try out with friends or random players. If you're a KOF fan then be sure to give KOF XIV a try and if you're new to the series, it's definitely a fighter that is worth a try. With a roster of 50 fights, this game has a lot of variety and techniques to learn.
+ Large roster of 50 characters (2 unlockable)
+ The new 3D graphics look fantastic
+ Really good soundtrack
+ The game is easy to learn for KOF veterans and newcomers
- Story could be more interesting
- Online play is a mixed bag of good and bad connections at the moment
Final Rating: 85% - The King of Fighters XIV should be on every fighting game fan's list of games to try for this year because it has definitely improved in many ways since the last installment.