Review: The King of Fighters XIV (PlayStation 4)

The King of Fighters XIV: Member Review

PlayStation 4 111 views 1 like 2 comments
Reviewed by DS1, posted May 2, 2018, last updated May 5, 2018
I've been a life-long King of Fighters fan, ever since gushing over 1997-2002 with my best friend in High School, to braving the shaky years of 2003, Maximum Impact, and *shudders* The King of Fighters XII. While I've always loved fighting games, I spent a 10-year hiatus from even touching a Street Fighter title because of how superior the King of Fighters series was. I didn't have a PS4 when XIV was first released, and waited a bit (specifically until it was on sale for $20 and had undergone several graphical upgrades) before I bought the game. While it took me a while to get over the gross 3D graphics, I don't regret the purchase at all. In fact, I liked it enough to write something nice about it!
May 2, 2018
  • Release Date (NA): August 23, 2016
  • Release Date (EU): August 26, 2016
  • Release Date (JP): August 25, 2016
  • Publisher: SNK, Atlus USA, Deep Silver
  • Developer: SNK
  • Genres: Fighting
  • ESRB Rating: Teen
  • PEGI Rating: Twelve years and older
  • Also For: Computer
  • Single player
    Local Multiplayer
    Online Multiplayer
    Co-operative
The King of Fighters, a once-yearly released fighting game series from arcade legends SNK nearly met its end when the company pivoted to mobile gaming. 6 years since its last release, SNK wizened up, bit the bullet, and dared to release a new game - at the cost of the beautiful sprites that once made them famous. How does this ugly game stack up? Is the future now?
DS1
The mid-2010s have truly seen a renaissance in fighting games, with the integration of the Fighting Game Community into "e-sports", proliferation and stability of online play, and a slew of new titles from the same developers that formed the genre in the mid-to-late 1990s; Street Fighter V, Tekken 7, Guilty Gear 3 (Xrd), and.... The King of Fighters? While maybe not a household name outside of perhaps Latin America and parts of East Asia, the series deserves its place in the hearts and minds of gamers just as much as any other.

Unique to fighting games of late, The King of Fighters XIV is robust. Boasting a roster of 50 characters (before DLC!), tons of stages, a huge soundtrack, amazing gallery mode, brief - if informative - tutorial, helpful trials for every character, serviceable story mode and more, there's little reason that the title shouldn't blow every other fighter out of the water. Or at least, that's what you'd think if you'd never seen the game.

I've Seen Better
I'll get this out of the way up front - the game is ugly. SNK was once known for its unique, bright, and interesting character designs and beautiful sprite-work. While the King of Fighters series notoriously used the same sprites from 1996-2002, titles like Garou: Mark of the Wolves and Samurai Showdown V were a hallmark of fighting game visuals. The King of Fighters XIII (2010) is, and will probably remain, the most beautiful 2D fighter of all time. But as we all know, 2D artwork and animation is time and labor-intensive. And so SNK had to decide - kill the series at the height of its visuals, or risk taking away one of its strongest features in order to give it the revival it deserves.

Since the release of The King of Fighters XIV, the plastic-looking 3D character models have always clashed with the game's hazy and all-too-distant seeming backgrounds. In an odd way, it's impressive that they were able to cheap out on the look of the characters and simultaneously not having them overpowered by what would otherwise be some impressive backdrops. The character portraits look awful, and when the game zooms in for one of its many unique character-to-character match-up cutscenes, it's hard not to think about how stupid the faces look (mileage may vary from model to model). While these graphical deficiencies shouldn't affect gameplay, it does leave you to wonder if your attacks wouldn't whiff so often if the characters weren't so stiff.

THE KING OF FIGHTERS XIV_20180501212441.jpg

On the plus side, despite the game having been around for nearly 2 years, SNK has made slight improvements on the graphics with each upgrade patch (all of which are free, which would go without saying, if not for some of their competitors doing just the opposite). While the faces still appear a bit awkward, the lighting and shadows have improved dramatically. I'm not much of a graphics snob, but even I noticed the latest update, released no more than a month before writing this.

Looks Awful, Plays Great!
Luckily, King of Fighters fan or no, if you're able to get past the decidedly legendary Japanese developer-meets PC indie developer resources-look to the game, you'll find it is fantastic to play. The huge cast of characters includes a bulk of series staples, but also several newcomers (the most in the series' history) who are quite unique and fun to play, despite lacking the nostalgia factor of fan-favorites. While the series is well-known for having fairly difficult inputs (your joystick/control pad may get a workout trying to execute even a simple-looking special move), the controls are more forgiving than they have ever been - almost too forgiving, to the point that a resource-draining super move may come out instead of a regular attack. For absolute beginners, mashing the weakest attack button over and over will unleash a flashy combo in the vein of Arc System Work's Persona 4: Arena. For other casuals such as myself, the game offers a series of five trials for each character, which more-or-less teach you their basic combo-starters and some flashy-looking cinematic chains.

At a higher level, the game is a bit simpler than its predecessors (King Of Fighters XIII still in recent memory), but offers most of the features the series is known for. You get both a special meter that increases with damage dealt and taken, allowing you to unleash huge attacks, as well as the ability to enter a powered up mode for a brief period of time. You can even cancel simple combos into the powered up mode, which then lasts half as long, but opens the potential for even longer and more damaging combos. Like many other KOF titles, you'll also be able to chain your giant super attacks into even bigger super moves - assuming you've saved up the resources.

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No Tagging? No Fear!

Like all King of Fighters titles before it, XIV pits teams of characters 3-on-3, and like its predecessors (with the exception of 2003), you cannot tag these characters in and out at will as you can in Tekken Tag Tournament, Marvel vs Capcom, or the more recent Dragon Ball FighterZ. Instead, you have to defeat your opponent's team one by one, recovering a little health between each match. Health recovery is based on how much time is left on the clock, leaving a lot of room for meta-strategies involving stalling or rushing down an opponent's weakened character (I recommend watching a tournament to see these high-level tactics!).

Given that your team is set at 3 characters, and you'll potentially be using all of them, it's a good thing that the game offers so many choices - 50, with 8 more as paid DLC. Though they may look like it, these characters aren't poorly thought-out one-offs either. The returning characters have an amazing pedigree with the refinement of over 20 years of tweaking. While the move sets of characters has always changed from game to game, nearly everyone's classic moves and super attacks are back and flashy as ever (a note to veterans - some of the famous inputs to moves like Geese's Deadly Rave and Iori's Ya Otome, have sadly changed). Coupled with the fun, arcade-y gameplay that made the series what it is today, The King of Fighters XIV offers an impressive experience for any fighting game fan.

But What's In It For Me?
Graphics bad, gameplay good. What else is there? Quite a lot, actually. The King of Fighters has traditionally been an arcade affair, with several dodgy and unmentionable ports to non-native (that is, non-Neo Geo) consoles, it is rarely concerned with presentation outside of the large character select screen and some unique transitions. Despite the series' history - even XIII, as beautiful as it was, had a rather dull presentation - XIV does its best to stay in line with modern console releases. All of the menus and transitions look clean, and you are presented with a booming nu-metal anthem every time you boot up the game (in a genius move, you can silence the cringe-worthy vocals by pressing the triangle button... hats off to whoever had the introspection to add that feature).

There is a short series of tutorials to get new players up to speed with the game's features (in the arcades, this was always relegated to a 10-second animation that flashed on screen just after you put your quarters in), a 1-vs-the world survival mode, a 1-vs-10 time-attack mode, and of course, a training mode with all of the modern-day options you would expect from a fighting game (including record/replay actions and touch-pad reset). Besides the aforementioned character trials and staple local Versus mode (seriously, do not support a fighting game if there is no local multiplayer), the main event is the game's Story Mode.

THE KING OF FIGHTERS XIV_20180501214801.jpg

Yes, Story Mode. Unfortunately, the online Versus mode leaves much to be desired - specifically in the way of a serviceable netcode (that which makes the game feel smooth when playing with someone halfway across the world, or even country). For many, losing the ability to have stable fights against an unlimited pool of human opponents is a deal-breaker. For others (myself included), this is par-for-the-course, having grown up in an age where you either played against your friends, against the computer, or in the ever-dwindling arcade scene. Sadly, this means that the professional scene will probably stay relegated to the usual suspects - Latin America and East Asia specifically. But for everyone else... Story Mode!

The mostly-campy Story Mode involves a self-proclaimed fighting champion Antonov - think a combination of Mr. Satan from Dragon Ball and Russian strongman Vladamir Putin - hosting the legendary King of Fighters tournament, before having the show stolen by a typical video-game godbeast of a boss known only as Verse (a note for beginners, Verse is probably the easiest final boss in the series' history, bringing a bit of shame to the infamously difficult lineup of King of Fighters bosses). Throughout the tournament, there are a few full video cutscenes, and the possibility to trigger one of a myriad of character-vs-character-specific cutscenes - pretty much any time a character faces one of their teammates, or historic rivals. If you select a full 'cannon' story team (the China Team, the Heroes Team, the Spiky-Haired Edgelord team), finishing the game will treat you with a unique ending. While this is nothing new for the series, these scenes are full of fanservice and last almost three times as long as the typical fighting game epilogue. Outside of maybe Tekken, I've never enjoyed endings more in a game.

One more element to the Story Mode, and this cannot be understated, is the incredible gallery. Every time you finish a match in the story mode, you'll unlock one of a seemingly endless number of pieces of art from the game's history. This ranges from simple goofy icons to now-famous promotional art from every title in the series. And let me tell you, some of this stuff is so beautiful it brings a tear to my eye (specifically the Shikirou pieces, but everyone from Nona to Falcoon is represented).

If that weren't enough, the game's soundtrack offers both brilliant new pieces for each team (highlights include the ever-jazzy "Saxophone Under the Moon", and the Bald-Eagle saluting Beer-Guzzling country-meets-butt rock jam "Departure From Southtown") and a number of character-specific classics remixed for modern times. Meet the right conditions, and the Pop-Star fighter Athena's theme will even include a vocal layer. All of these extra touches are extremely heartening, and prove that SNK was not looking for a mere cash-grab, but to honor one of their most iconic series, even if they couldn't get the looks to match.
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Verdict
Pros
+ It's a real King of Fighters game
+ Accessible to Anyone That Braves The Genre
+ Massive Character Roster
+ Great Soundtrack
+ Tear-jerking Gallery Mode
Cons
- The game is ugly
- Even after 3 graphics patches, it's still pretty ugly
- Netcode not up to snuff, but then neither are most PS4 fighters (blame Japan)
8 Presentation
+Clean Menus +Clean and modern screen transitions +Soundtrack worthy of the series +Gallery mode is a fan's dream +Fan-service filled endings +The ability to turn off the nu-metal vocals at the main menu
8 Gameplay
+Plays like a real King of Fighters game, even if it doesn't look like it -A bit simplified compared to the previous entry, but no less fun than the classic titles -Almost all characters feel as though they have a short reach, but it may just be the stiff character models playing tricks on the eyes
8 Lasting Appeal
I have to give this one the old "hate-out-of-ten", as the graphics will not last the test of time. The gameplay will, however, until SNK decides to release a new title. If they can top the graphics of this one while keeping the costs down, I don't think it'll be revisited much. On a side note, the title has been dropped from the enormously popular annual EVO fighting game tournament, showing that it has already lost what luster it had with the community in general.
9
out of 10
Overall (not an average)
Despite its crude looks, this is NOT a low-budget King of Fighters game. Respect for the series and its legacy flows throughout, and whether you're a veteran or a beginner, you owe it to yourself to try out the latest title!
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