DISCLAIMER: I love to play fighting games all the time, and I have reviewed fighting games before. However, that does not mean that I am a competitive player or have any knowledge about the complexities that they are looking for in games like these. I am, without a doubt, a casual fighting game player. If you are coming here looking for an in-depth analysis on the invincibility frames or a rant on how King of Fighters ’98 will always be better than anything else, you’re in the wrong place.
Short Version: It’s the same King of Fighters as always, and even more accessible than before, which is always a good thing. However I don’t understand why they felt the need to make the game 3D, since it doesn’t really add anything other than to make the game slower and look less interesting. On the other hand, if it weren’t 3D, it probably wouldn’t get even half of the attention it has gotten. If you want a KoF game for PS4, then here it is, and it’s solid, but I’d still rather play any of the previous titles over this one.
Long Version: For some reason, I never really got into The King of Fighters as a kid. In my eyes, it always looked like Street Fighter for cool people, and I definitely wasn’t one of them. Whenever I saw kids older than me play it at an arcade, I always thought that that series only belonged to people that knew what a quarter circle attack was, or folks who understood the significance of mix-ups and reversals. Obviously, that wasn’t the case, and it’s even further enforced now thanks to The King of Fighter XIV, the newest SNK fighting game that now boasts some brand new 3D graphics, some new characters and added accessibility for newcomers.
If any of you are aware of how KoF (King of Fighters) works, then you’ve pretty much played this game already. After going back and playing some previous games in the franchise, like 13 and ’98, I noticed that there really wasn’t that much of a difference in the fighting, other than the fact that it was slightly slower than the sprite-based predecessors, mostly due to the animations of the 3D models. I quickly got used to it however, as the learning curve wasn’t that tough to begin with, and all of the moves that you would expect are still intact in this game. But, if you do feel like you need some guidance, then there is a very simple tutorial that shows you the basics, along with one very useful button. This button in question is none other than the square button.
There have been other fighting games like Persona 4 Arena Ultimax, the Blazblue series and Guilty Gear Xrd, who have their own “Stylish Mode,” in which casual players can simply mash on this one button to automatically activate combos and cool-looking attacks. Stylish Mode was created for the purpose of making people feel good when playing games like these, even if they don’t know any advance techniques; and King of Fighters XIV is no exception. However, the big difference here is that this isn’t a mode that you can turn on or off to make this happen. Instead, it is fully integrated into the fighting system.
Initially, I thought this would be a problem, since I visualized myself accidentally activating the Stylish Mode if I pressed square one too many times, without being able to turn that feature off if I wanted to. Fortunately, I never had that problem. The game is really good that telling when you want to create your own original combos and when you simply want to mash the button and get your enemy out of your face quickly. Switching from one style to the other is very smooth, especially when your opponent has very little health left and you just want to get rid of them quickly and enjoy some flashy attacks. Speaking of flashy visuals, I would like to address the elephant in the room and start talking about the graphical changes from 2D to 3D made to the game, which I’m not a big fan of.
My main issue with the graphical changes is that I don’t feel that they do anything to further improve the King of Fighters experience. If anything, it seems like it deters from it by desperately try to draw attention to itself by doing this change, on top of the fact that the gameplay feel way slower than its predecessors because of it. The cynical side of me likes to think that SNK saw popular titles in the genre like Street Fighter IV, Guilty Gear Xrd, and even smaller ones like Koihime Enbu and Blade Arcus From Shining Battle Arena, and thought that they needed to follow on their footsteps in order to be relevant. Whenever I think about SNK, I think awesome sprite art and memorable art direction, and they completely ruined that winning streak by following the trends and employing this bland, forgettable change that will not withstand the test of time, unlike all the previous game they’ve done, whose art still holds up to this day.
Me Too! Me Too! Me Too!
All of the games previously mentioned have 3D models and artistic changes that makes sense and further improve the game, while KoF XIV feels like it has 3D simply because everyone else was doing it. Imagine a small child that wants a toy that the rest of his friends also have. He doesn’t understand what the toy even is, what it does or why it’s even popular in the first place. All he knows is that he wants it, so as to not be left out or be deemed irrelevant by his friends, even though he already had a bunch of cool toys at his house that are way better and more long-lasting than this fleeting trend he’s chasing. That’s what the 3D graphics in the King of Fighters XIV feel like to me. Even the backgrounds look way less interesting than in the previous games, which had sprite art that always seemed full of life and movement. I can only remember about 2 stages in this game that I thought were cool, while I struggle to think about any other stage that I would denominate as memorable in any way.
Whenever these characters are not fighting, their expressions and animations feel really stiff and cheap, almost like figurines that were placed in different poses. Most of the characters will look like knock-off Barbie and Ken dolls that will make you feel like you’re playing Street Fighter IV, but with King of Fighters characters modded onto it. There are also some cutscenes from the game’s Story Mode that look like they were taken straight out of Knack, and look just a tad inconsistent with what most of the game ends up looking like.
Fight For The Belt!
Speaking of inconsistent, the Story Mode in question is also the blandest thing you’ll ever see in this game, with very typical and played out story beats that you can see in literally every single fighting game that has ever had a fighting tournament in it. It doesn’t help that whenever you beat the story mode with each of the established teams, you get a special ending cutscene for them. The problem here is that these cutscenes are not 3D or fully voiced acted at all. Instead they are 2D still images, with zero voice acting, despite the fact that not 2 minutes ago there were cutscenes in the game that were the exact opposite. The actual contents of the cutscenes are nothing to write home about either. Some of them are incredibly vague, nonsensical attempts at a story, while others are tired anime clichés and comedy relief. Needless to say, getting every single ending is a complete waste of time and I don’t recommend you going out of your way to get all of them, unless you were intending to play with all of the characters anyway.
Speaking of the characters, on a more brighter note, I enjoyed playing as everyone a great deal, mostly due to the aforementioned square button that allowed me to see most of their moves without much effort. All the new characters feel right at home with the rest of the cast. Sometimes, they would fit in so well that I would sometimes stop and think if any of these people had actually appeared in previous games. Old or new, they felt like KoF characters and none of them seemed like they didn’t belong, with a huge amount of fun to be had in playing as all of them and combining them into different teams.
If there is anything else that I feel I should point out is the severe lack of different game modes to play. There’s a Story Mode, Versus Mode, the typical Survival, Time Attack and Challenges that you get in most fighting games nowadays, and online play, but not much else after that. All of those are the bare minimum, but considering that there are other games out there like Blazblue that has about 10+ modes and even Mortal Kombat, that has a full-on dungeon crawling mode, I feel it is about time we stopped feeling complacent and start demanding more creative modes from these kind of games, especially for people like me who have absolutely no interest in ever fighting anyone online.
That Was Hot! You Win!
Overall, despite my negativity on the visual aspects of this game and it’s story, it is still a King of Fighters game through and through, which means it is an incredibly entertaining fighting game that still contains the same combat mechanics and characters that we have come to know and love, but with a newer coat of paint, for better or worse. I think it is a solid experience, especially if any of you have been clamoring for a KoF game for PS4. However, I think back at my recent visits to the older games in the series, and I think that I would never replace any of those for this new one. Again, I enjoyed myself quite a bit with this game, and am fully planning on jumping back into it from time to time, but that’ll only serve as a warm-up for when I inevitably start wasting my weekends on either KoF 13 on my PS3 or ’98 on Steam. I like it, but not THAT much.