-Review from a fan.
It’s been about 23 years since I saw a little poster of King Of Fighters ’94 “Coming Soon” in a little strip mall in Hong Kong. The concept of SNK merging their most popular IPs into one fighting game was hugely enticing–after all, in 1993 all you saw in arcades were the Fatal
Fury and Art of Fighting series. Within several months, SNK released their first entry in the globally popular 3-on-3 series; KOF ’94.
13 main entries later, SNK releases the much awaited The King Of Fighters XIV. Boosting a cool 50 characters selection
a plethora of game modes with a variety wide of content right out of the gate and not to mention their first 3D iteration in the main series– it was indisputable SNK sought out to make a statement with KOFXIV.
As they say, beauty is in the eye of the beholder but let’s get this one out of the way first. KOF has always been a very stylistic game that has a very unique feel and look to it unlike any other game. For the first 11 entries of the series SNK always used the same tried and true sprites. Were there complaints back then? Sure. However, nobody seemed to care about it enough to back then to not try the game. KOF XIII then introduced hand drawn sprites based off of 3D models and people went berserk over it –rightfully so as it was an indisputable work of art.
As KOF XIV transitioned to 3D models, SNK released some early teasers and the fans did not receive them well. Fortunately, consequent teasers and trailers showed an almost quantifiable improvement, and later interviews revealed that indeed the developers knew at the time the trailers were just a work-in-progress and had to just bite the bullet.
Fast-forward 11 months and the finish product looks amazing in person. It looked even better on Sony’s Bravia flat screens at E3 2016, it’s just one of those things you have to see for yourself. When you actually play the game you don’t even think twice about the graphics. Check out the animations on Mian and Zarina. After a short few hours, I actually fell in love with the way it looked. Ironically, I popped in KOF XIII in my PS3 afterwards; KOF XIII actually looked funny to me. To-MAY-toes, toe-MA-toes. Does KOF XIV have room for improvement? Sure, not to think so would be naive.
However, the most important takeaway is: KOF XIV still feels very KOF-like and has that same stylistic feel of KOF that we grew up loving.
Look, I’m by no means an audiophile. I don’t know all the names of the tracks and I don’t collect previous soundtracks. What I do know is quality when I hear it, and dayam is the soundtrack spectacular! There’s just a very nostalgic 90’s feel to the tracks and this is probably due the fact that producer of KOF XIV, Yasuyuki Oda, rounded up the majority of the SNK employees from the 90s, to return to make KOF XIV. Make sure you opt to buy the Burn to Fight Premium Edition if they are still available, as it comes with:
- The King of Fighters™ XIV game
- Collectable SteelBook®
- 144-page Art Book
- 3-disc Soundtrack
- Collector’s Box
Online feasibility is the million dollar question and I’m not going to answer it. Why? It’s too early to tell so I really don’t have a concrete answer. What I can say is that of the few matches I did play, from Free Match, Ranked Match to Party Mode. Strangely, Party Mode was the smoothest. Go Figure.
Online game modes is split up into several categories:
- Ranked Match
- Free Match
- Online Training
- Online Replay
- Online Profile
- Fighting List
- Leadership board
Ranked Match allows you to play with players all over the world allowing you to set parameters such as connection type (1 through 4 with 4 being a superb connection), region, high rank players only etc. For those who are ambitious, they can select Rank Skip Mode which allows you to compete with players that are similar to their skill level. This is determined by the first 10 matches you play–if you win 8-10 you advance to level 21, win 5-7 you advance to level 15 only and so on. SNK’s own online manual has more details on Rank Skip Mode.
- While you are waiting for your opponent, you can even sit in Training mode practicing your favorite combos till the all-to-familiar message, “HERE COMES A NEW CHALLENGER” interrupts you and you’re immediately launched into character select screen.
Free Match is the same as Ranked except the match result will not affect your overall ranking. You also have the freedom of either creating a room of up to 12 players or joining one yourself.
- Team VS allows you to select your regular 3-on-3 character match
- Single VS allows you to select just one character match
- Party VS is the much anticipated 3-on-3 match with your buddies. Six players connect in this mode and you either select which team you belong on or you can randomly shuffle it as well. This is the ultimate KOF player dream game mode where no doubt you have done your own version in local sessions with your buddies (if not, why haven’t you tried?) Quite frankly, this is what sets apart KOF from any fighting game, and this is the closest thing to the old school arcade environment. Let me say: this mode alone, is worth all the marbles. Regardless of your skill level, there’s just something about the camaraderie of playing in group of players cheering each other on. Have a mic? Coach your friends through the match! Your buddy’s using too much shared resources (meter)? Get that IOU (or YOM) across to him. Your opponents playing in a less-than-desired way? You get the point.
Online Training allows you to train online with a buddy across the country.
Online Replay archives ranked and free matches allowing you to download them at your leisure so you can study up on unfamiliar characters and players.
Online Profile is pretty niffy:
- Profile settings: Choose what stats you want to be available for viewing such as win-lost percentages.
- Change team registration: Have up to three preset teams and character colors registered for quick retrieval online play.
- Character registration: Same as team registration but reserved for single play use such as training mode etc.
- Change stage registration: Like Character and Team registration, preset a stage you want to use frequently. On certain stages such as Neo Esaka and Iguazu Falls you can set a customize message on the scrolling LCD displays in the back (Like my www.dreamcancel.com)
Fighting List is a history of players that you have played online.
Leadership Board shows ranking of online players.
Mission mode is split into 3 sections
- Time Attack
Survival pits your skill against an infinite amount of opponents, each progressively harder than the last, with the same life bar you started. The caveat is the same game rules applies in terms of life gain– finish the round quicker and you’ll receive more life back.
Time Attack is a race to defeat ten opponents as fast as you can.
Trial mode are five individual missions per all 50 characters. In the past, KOF trial modes have been ranged from easy to table-flipping challenging. I remember sleepless nights playing XI’s trial modes. The five trials in KOF XIV however, sadly feels more like a tutorial rather than a challenge–it simply helps you understand the potential of the character. This would probably be the only section I wished they could build upon; hopefully future DLC packages will expand on this.
If you have not played a Kay-OH-Eff before it can rather daunting. Fear not! SNK has designed a simple to follow tutorial to catch you up to speed taught by none other than the first proclaimed King of Fighter Champion (alleged), Antonov. Learn the fighting game basics, walk, crouch, block, and jump. Then KOF specific mechanics such as rolling, back dashing, running, Guard Cancel Rolls and Guard Cancel Blow backs. KOF has four types of jumps: Hops, Hyper Hops, Jump, Hyper Jump. Training mode teaches you everything you need to know regarding the mechanics of the game (more on system mechanics unique to KOF XIV in the Gameplay section).
What else needs to be said? Chances are if you purchased the The King Of Fighters XIV, your whole purpose is to beat up your buddies whilst showing off your combos that you have been grinding out in the lab. Choose between Team VS or Single VS.
Pretty standard training mode as modern day fighting games goes. Don’t forget to check the options out in training mode; if used effectively, can really help you master your character.
One of my favorite things to do is chose the same character (as each have different jump speeds), set the CPU to 1-hit Guard Jump (the opponent will jump as soon as it leaves blockstun frames), attack the guarding CPU dummy and hold up to jump. What this does is illustrate how much recovery your attack has, essentially showing you the vulnerabilities/limitations of said move. Want to test your reaction time? Do your favorite combo and set your opponent to Guard Random and only finish your combo upon hit. Try setting your CPU dummy to level 5 and you might learn a thing of two from them!
A welcome addition to training mode is the use of the touchpad to choose your restarting position, left corner, middle of screen, right corner. Sure you can press start, tap right or left under restart then exit back out–but that wastes precious time. When you are grinding out combos for hours at a time to perfect your execution, you will appreciate the touchpad feature.
Training mode is the complete deal. Only thing I would like to return is the ability to set your opponent to attack with specific buttons such as HP or HK and so forth. Currently, you have to record your computer dummy and play it back, which, still works just fine–it’s just a little more tedious. Lastly, don’t forget you can train online with a buddy as well.
The KOF series has always been known for their storyline arcs and KOF XIV marks the beginning of a new series. It is highly recommended you read the prologues of each team located on SNK’s official page. Atlus has done such a phenomenal job in assisting with the dialogue translations since KOF XIII that, I almost missed the Japanese Engrish from the SNK ’90s. The backstories are developed enough to intrigue the most casual players, without making you feel like you have to hit up the local lore-guru in order to play catch up. They’re also incredibly entertaining this time around too.
Each character has a potential of having pre-battle dialogues due to a myriad of reasons. Some are storyline related, some are easter egg throwbacks to older KOFs, while some are just straight comical (I’m looking at you Terry vs KOD). This really creates replay value for the game even if you are not a completionist.
You play eight stages against random teams, after the fourth team there’s a cut-scene, certain teams have an extra cut scene after defeating Antonov, and finally you get a team ending.
You have to defeat the game with all 16 teams to really know what’s really going on; also keep in mind that KOF XIV is the first installment of a new series, so you know that SNK is just getting started setting up the storyline.
Gallery is pretty straightforward, you get to collect soundbites, artwork, movies & cutscenes from all the KOFs as you progress through the game. There’s tons; every match I’ve played so far has given mean a new galley photo and I’ve completed 4 stories so far and I’m not even close to finishing.
Content (Player data)
Also self explanatory
- Player Record
- My Ranking
- My Profile
- Character Record
- Replay Data
I’m not going into detail about them; Check them out on the official Web Manual.
The usual suspects here like game difficulty, language change, button config presets. Regarding button config, they finally got the the permission to program buttons in as you press them. Previously, you select LP and you toggle left or right until you reach the desire button, then you go to LK and you repeat the same process for all your buttons. In KOF XIV, they are allow you to simply press the desired button to preset it for LP and so forth. Included in the 1.01 day 1 patch, is the support for Legacy Controller. Hip hip hooray! No need to plunk another one-fitty for a PS4 stick–just use your PS3 one!
50 characters. That’s right, 48 character plus two unlockable bosses. With all the features mention so far, if all 50 characters were from previous KOF installments and SNK gave us the current training mode, story mode, and in the risk of sounding redundant, party mode–I would already consider The King Of Fighters XIV a steal!
However that’s not the case. Let’s examine the facts:
- 17 out of 48, that’s more than a 1/3rd of the cast–is BRAND new to the series
That is quite unheard of in today’s fighting game industry. A huge financial risk for SNK to gamble, but definitely a play that’s paying dividends now and they’re grinning from ear-to-ear. The feedback from multiple location tests and hours of playing myself reaffirms that SNK still has what it takes–They develop characters with soul. So much personality in each and every character that it’s hard not to instantly fall in love. Mian, the invitee from Team Official Invitation who practices the secret art of Chinese Sichuan Opera Bian Lian, changes her mask subtly throughout the match. Any time her hand covers her face she changes into one of her 10 different masks. The beloved charismatic villain’s leader of old time favorite Chang and Choi, Xanadu, commands the most unorthodox special moves in recent fighting game memory. Yell at your opponent and nullify projectiles? Check. Run up to your opponent and rock them to sleep (yup)? Check. Use your Climax move to finish them and end up staring at the “light” like a crazy loon? Double check. Tongue-in-check parody character of a JPOP star? A boy who fights sleepy all the time with a pillow? How about Alice from SNK’s former Pachiko game division who studies her moves from the Fatal Fury team, emulating one special move from each of them. Kukri the mysterious trash-talking hooded figure who has the ability to control sand. There’s a luchador wrestler by the name of King Of Dinosaur (KOD). ‘Nuff said. Let’s not forget the new protagonist Shun’ei with the strange demon handsThe list goes on, each one with enriched with personality that suits their playstyle; SNK has struck gold with KOF XIV.
Every iteration of KOF they introduce new system mechanics:
- Blowbacks (CD)
- Advance cancels and Climax Cancels
RUSH is a feature for mainly novice players trying to get acclimated to KOF XIV. By pressing LP in succession four times, you activate normal attacks only used by RUSH that ends in a special move if you have no meter; a super move if you have one meter; or a Max Super Move if you are already in Maxmode. It should be noted that RUSH combos do less damage than a comparable normal combo and cannot be cancel out of.
Blowbacks (commonly referred to as CD), now have a wallsplat property. Not to be confused with wallbounce, wallsplat sends your opponent across the screen where they end up slumping over in a crumple state–as long as the opponent is grounded when the hit occurs.
Maxmode (MM) is a combination of KOF XIII’s Hyperdrive and Ex moves. Basically, you activate MM by pressing LK+HP and you now have a MM bar that depletes over time. Only in MM, do you have access to enhanced special moves called Ex Moves. Each use of these Ex moves depletes your MM bar even faster. Ex Moves usually have different properties from their regular counterpart such as: increased damage, faster startup, quicker recovery, ground bounce that puts your opponent in a juggle state, and wall bounce which propel the opponent across the screen and off the wall (or wire damage is older KOFs)–mainly to extend your combo.
Advance cancels allow you to cancel your Super Move into a different Max Super Move. Although requiring a total of three meters, it allows you to do a lot of damage in a short amount of time. It also gives variety to how you spend your meter. Do you use MM and end in a Max Super Move? Do you perform the Climax Special Move? Or do you go for Advance Cancels and style on your opponent that way. Climax cancel is simply canceling a Super Move or Max Super Move into the Climax Special Move which costs a lot of meter but can turn the tide around of a match.
Thanks to the day 1 patch 1.01, the game’s second most common concern, the floaty jumps seen in earlier location tests–are basically a thing of the past. Jump speeds are more akin to KOF XIII speeds which is fast paced but still manageable for most players. KOF XIV has a heavier emphasis on the use of normal attacks similar to KOF ’98 and the general neutral game that KOF ’98 players grew to love.
The use of the new Blowbacks really change the momentum of the matches and also can setup some very stylish combos. It’s also really clever for SNK to enhance the properties of blowbacks, seeing that they are a very natural counter strategy to opponents who like to excessively poke with normal attacks.
Like playing most KOFs for the first time, it can feel a little slow and hard to adapt. But like mentioned before, once you really get accustomed to KOF XIV, the game can become incredibly fun at any causal level while still competitive for the tournament players.
Conclusion and closing remarks
KOF XIV is better than KOF XIII.
Having played KOF XIII for five plus years since the hay days of Arcade Infinity and TRB; that’s saying a lot! Hell, Dream Cancel was founded to support the influx of players from KOF XIII. SNK took an already excellent title and expanded on it more.
The King Of Fighters XIV had a some big shoes to fill after KOF XIII’s revival success. The Party Vs feature was conceived back in KOF XII but never reach fruition until KOF XIV. The character roster was missing a lot of fan favorites such as Chang, Choi, Angel, Geese and now they’ve all return and then some. The mechanics of KOF XIII were exciting, but a lot of casual players felt it was too complicated.
Indeed, trial modes can be improved on and training modes can be slightly tweaked, but it’s really negligible compared to the over package that is KOF XIV.
Immerse yourself in the gorgeous KOF XIV soundtrack and backgrounds while you’re battling away with six other players, and all the graphic concern melts away. You’ll soon start seeing the stylistic charm of KOF XIV intended by SNK’s artists.
As a fan of the series since KOF’94, something was perceptibly different about the way SNK approached KOF XIV. From the international location tests, the character release trailers, the new KOF Station Channel and generally embracing 2016 social media–there was a different umph about the company as a whole. You really get the feeling that they’ve really stepped up their game and you were on the receiving end of a 5-star company that’s just only getting started.
Curiously, SNK has never been so transparent with their fans as shown in some of their recent interviews, expressing some of the hardships of developing the KOF series, often anecdotes you don’t normally see developers revealing about their game–but I think it’s truly a testament to how confident that they developed a polished product they can be truly proud of.
tl;dr — The King of Fighters XIV lives up to the hype and then some. SNK has really hit this one out of the park and I for one, will not be surprised when KOF XIV finally becomes the global success that it should have been along time ago.
Updated post netcode patch: Very solid online play
97 out of 100.