Can fighting games still be a thrill even with barebones mechanics? Some would answer no, as more casual fighting games tend to not be as deep as some would like. That being said, crazy combos with long input commands can be intimidating to newcomers, especially those without a fight stick. A game like Super Smash Bros. show that a huge community can still form around a more simplistic or “casual” fighter.
One of SNK’s goals with The King of Fighters XIV was to make a more accessible fighting game while pleasing older fans of the series. Luckily, this game is able to balance these things and make itself a more accessible fighting game, while still appealing to fighting game fans and veterans of this long running series, making it one the best fighting games in recent memory.
Let’s get the negatives out of the way first: The King of Fighters XIV represents the series’ jump for 2D to 3D characters and environments, and did not make the transition unscathed. While characters are designed well, some models aren’t well-detailed. While most of the stages are fine to look at, none are visually stunning. If the game had decided to go with either a more realistic or cartoonish art style, it may have looked better, but as it stands, the graphics fail to excite.
Luckily, The King of Fighters XIV is one of the smoothest-running games I have played in a long time. The game has no problem holding up at 1080p and 60 FPS, making matches very fluid and easy to control. Lag can kill a fighting game, so it is great to that it is running this well, and that fact in itself excuses some of the graphical flaws. In an era where many games are struggling to handle even 30 FPS, it is nice to see such a fast paced game run so nicely.
The King of Fighters XIV plays amazingly. It is simple enough for newcomers and casuals to play the game with little practice, but deep enough to please series veterans. While the graphics are in 3D, all fighting takes place on a 2D plane. Players have two varieties of punches and kicks, and can string them together with other control inputs to pull off combos (like any fighting game).
For those familiar with the previous iterations, The King of Fighters XIII’s Hyper Drive system has been removed, with a new version of Max Mode taking its place. The power gauge is built up by dealing and taking damage, capping out at five full gauges. Once at least one bar of the power gauge is full, Max Mode can be activated. When in use players can use an unlimited amount of EX special moves until the Max Mode bar fully depletes. This is very rewarding to new players too, as there are simpler “Rush Combos” that will take advantage of this feature without being too complicated to pull off.
For more advanced players and those already accustomed to the KOF series, there are many more advanced combos to use and take advantage of Max Mode, along with different evasion, recovery, reversal, cancelling, countering, and throwing techniques to be learned and mastered. While somewhat simple on the surface, there is a lot for players to learn in The King of Fighters XIV.
In short, this is a great game for people who want to get into the fighting game scene, as it eases players in from more simple mechanics to the advanced mechanics through an excellent tutorial mode which I will talk more about later. The King of Fighters XIV is a very rewarding fighting game, and is a better choice for those looking to get into the competitive scene than Street Fighter V or Mortal Kombat X.
The game’s story, while nothing revolutionary, ended up being more enjoyable than I expected. Before story mode begins, players must chose three characters to make their team. Once characters are chosen, a cutscene activates showing a new character named Antonov claiming he was the original King of Fighters Tournament winner, and has decided to throw a new King of Fighters tournament. Your team must participate in matches against opposing teams in order to face Antonov and receive the coveted King of Fighters belt.
Throughout story mode, there will be an occasional cutscene, which will flesh out the games plot a little bit more. The game is aware of its situation, being a once great fighting series that has not been very notable the past few years, and hopes to regain its fan base. It was nice to see some thought was still put into the story mode, and such a self-referential story at that. Occasional dialogue between combatants during matches fleshes out the characters and world builds even more. It is a great story for newcomers to the series, and a great introduction into the world of The King of Fighters XIV.
Two additional characters, along with various extras such as artwork or sound clips, can be unlocked by playing this mode, which makes it a good place to try out new characters on without halting progression. The campaign is pretty easy until the last few matches — however, if players do get KO’d, they have the option to quit or continue in the story mode. If it proves too tough, special handicaps, such as giving the enemy 75% health, giving a character +1 on their power gauge, or a combination of the two, lightens the challenge for newcomers to fighting games. These can be ignored, making them non-intrusive and a welcome inclusion to this mode.
If completed with one of the preset teams which have been featured in many of the games trailers, a special clip will play after beating the final boss, which gives conclusion to these characters. Even though they are done without voice acting and not animated, these scenes are still a nice reward for putting time in with the characters and completing the mode.
The game taught to the player through an extremely detailed tutorial, which goes very in depth and teaches players about everything from basic movement to recovery, emergency evasion, canceling, and how to activate combos and super-moves. Antonov walks players through step by step, and gets them accustomed to the game’s controls and mechanics.
After the tutorial is finished, players will be able to properly use the character Kyo Kusanagi well in any battle, as he is the focus of the tutorials. While some may see the tutorial only focusing on one character as a negative, what is learned in that the mode translates to all other characters and, with a little practice, one can master any character. This is the best fighting game tutorial since Killer Instinct, and is a blessing for newcomers or those who want to get a better understanding of the game’s mechanics.
Other than the Story Mode, Online, and a Tutorial, The King of Fighters XIV also has a Versus mode, which lets players fight in teams or with one character, and is an extremely fun mode that supports couch co-op. Versus mode is pretty much a requirement for any great fighting game, and it is executed well here. A training mode is also included, which gives players another place to try out their character and practice combos without being under any pressure. It customized a lot, and will definitely be of great assistance to those looking to get in the game competitively.
Other than those features, there is also a Mission Mode, which is separated into three separate challenges: Trial, Time Attack, and survival. Trial gives set challenges for each playable character in which they have to execute moves in a certain order to be able to move on to the next level. This mode is great because it will teach newer players different combos for each character, and give veteran players new ideas for combos. It is the natural extension of the training mode, and I am glad it is included here.Then, in Time Attack, the chosen player character must face a series of 10 opponents as quickly as possible. While your health is restored after each match, if a battle is lost, you will have to start all over.
The last mode is Survival, which is an endurance test where one sees how many opponents they can beat before being knocked out. Mission Mode is a great place for people to test their skills with a certain character, as all three different mission types test out different skills for the player. People looking for a challenge is this game will enjoy this mode the most, as it is harder than the Story mode, and addicting to return to again and again after practicing in the training mode.
The King of Fighters XIV’s online mode also functions very well. When players first enter the online portion of the game, they will be asked to create a team of three characters and stage to use in battle online. Afterwards they will have access to three online modes. Ranked Match is the rates the player on how well they do in online matches. Scores from this mode are displayed on leader-boards. There is also a free match mode, which puts players in a twelve player lobby and lets them fight in 3-on-3 or 1-on-1. There is also a special Party VS Mode, which has six players each control one character, and participate in a 3-0n-3 match. During these confrontations, the game ran very smoothly and while the weren’t very full do to playing it pre-release, everything seemed to run without any problems. If they severs stay this strong once the game launches, The King of Fighters XIV will have a great online mode when it released launches.
There is also an online training mode, which has all the same functionality the the single player training mode, but puts two players together in the mode. This is a very cool feature, and will certainly be enjoyed by friends who want to practice their moves without being in the same room. Everything you do online is stored in your online profile, and is all organized very well. There is even a feature that connects to Live From PlayStation, enabling one to watch live streams of the game from the title itself. Leader-boards keep track of every players ranking, so you can always see how other people are doing in the game and what teams they are using. The King of Fighters XIV’s online modes are very fleshed out and enjoyable, and many players will have no problem sinking many hours into this mode.
All scores from any of the previously mentioned modes are stored on personal leaderboards and kept in the player records portion of the main menu. Character data and progression are kept track of well, which will definitely please completionists and others who like to see how the game thinks they do with certain characters.
All modes are properly fleshed out. They all focus on different things, and all succeed in what they are trying to accomplish. Players looking to get into the competitive scene will be quite content with the tutorial and training modes, those looking for more of a single player experience will have fun with both the Story and Mission modes, and Versus is as classic as ever. No one mode is any worse than another in this game, and they are all great.
The cast is also quite memorable and well-designed. While some might play similarly, each character has a quirky personality. Each is animated uniquely enough to make the player remember who they are. The game’s soundtrack is also very catchy — the game starts with a cheesy (but well made) music video, and the song that plays over it is quite catchy and is used a lot in the game. The Final Boss’s theme is my personal favorite, and has been stuck in my head ever since my first fight with them ended. You can tell that everything in this title was made with extreme care, and the passion oozes from the game.
If you own a PS4 and are into fighting games, or are just starting in the competitive scene, The King of Fighters XIV is perfect for you. It is simplistic and easy to use on the surface, but still has huge combos and advanced mechanics for players to learn and master if they put time into the game. While the graphics could be better, everything else about the game is so amazing that you tend not to notice after a while. The King of Fighters XIV is one of the best fighting games I have ever played, and will satisfy fans of the series, hardcore fighting game enthusiasts, and those hoping to get into them. Quite the return for SNK, isn’t it?