I was cautiously optimistic when I first played the King of Fighters XV. I know about the game’s long legacy and history. I’ve seen some of the pros play it during fighting game tournaments before. So I was fairly familiar with it but I never got the hankering to play any of SNK’s fighting games before. There was, well, a jankyness to the way the previous King of Fighters games looked. The old Neo Geo games looked fine but too… orange. I mean, the characters have this weird flesh tone and, forgive me for being a modern gamer, it just looked a little too pixelated for my tastes. The King of Fighters XIII had better animated sprites but I didn’t like the designs and art style. I wanted to like the King of Fighters XIV but I just couldn’t get over how plastic-y the character models came across.
These are some of the reasons why I’ve never really touched a King of Fighters game before… until now, that is. There was something about SNK’s latest entry which struck a chord with me. The way the game was promoted and how slowly the roster was revealed was spectacular. The artstyle was vastly improved, giving them a more anime-ish look to them. The stylish combos and how they all flowed into one another also piqued my interest. So the King of Fighters XV is my grand entry to the series… and I’m not disappointed I did.
Before we get to the review itself, I do have to mention I’m reviewing the PlayStation 4 version of the game. I know there shouldn’t be that many differences between the PlayStation 5, Xbox Series X/S and PC versions. However, I just would like to note it down as, before the latest patch, the game did freeze on me a couple of times or the sound would cut out on me. After the patch, however, I haven’t encountered the bug. Just food for thought because maybe I just haven’t ran across the issue since then or the patch squashed the bug.
The King of Fighters XV has all the essential trappings of a traditional fighting game. Your character faces off against another character and the goal is to use your attacks to drain their life to nothing while defending yourself against their attacks. However, the King of Fighters series eschews the typical 1-on-1 battles of most fighting games. Instead, you build a team of 3 fighters and you play with that character until he or she is knocked out. If you manage to knock out the opposing team’s 3 fighters, you win. It does feel a little archaic as newer fighters involving teams enable you to tag in different characters on the fly. Still, having a team battle like this is a neat little wrinkle as it does allow you to think of who to put in your lineup and in what order.
I really do like the roster they put here. For one thing, I’m amazed how many female characters the King of Fighters XV has! Not since Dead or Alive have I seen a fighting game roster stacked with female fighters! I also have to say this game is one of the more diverse cast of fighters when it comes to fighting styles. You have a lot of characters with projectiles yet SNK still gave them something like a command throw! It can feel a little overwhelming, especially for a newbie like me, as there’s a lot to consider regarding who to pick as well as what to keep in mind when fighting them. With a whopping 39 characters to pick from from the start, you’re bound to find at least 3 characters you’ll generally gel with your fighting style.
However, with such a big roster, I can already see some characters becoming easily top tier while some languishing in the bottom. The weird this is the bottom tier characters are still very effective but they’re going to be easily overshadowed by the ones on the top as they would have much better tools to work with. Even this early in the game’s lifespan, I can already see a staggering number of players picking Vanessa, Ralf and Terry. Vanessa is easily top tier as you can easily hit confirm from her very fast crouching B into her command normal which does 2 hits and then into any of her specials. Ralf can do an insane amount of damage simply by using his superior poking range and big damaging specials. Terry is simply a great all-rounder who can close out rounds quickly with just a few EX attacks.
Like I said, though, that doesn’t mean the low tier characters appear weak. Everyone in the roster appears to have a “touch of death” combo in their holster. However, from some of the lower tiered characters like Whip, Khronen, Kukri and even main hero Shun’ei, it takes a lot more work to actually get in while characters like Vanessa can take them down much faster because their combos are less execution heavy while doing more damage.
I will say the game mechanics involved is really fun as there are so many unique things the King of Fighters XV has over other fighting games. There’s a ton of mobility options like dashes, combat rolls, short hops and even hyper jumps to move across the screen. It does take getting used to the short hop mechanic but it’s something you really have to master as they’re almost unreactable to anti-airs because of how low they are to the ground. I also love how you can use command normals into your combos and the ability to string together your super combos together, which adds a whole new layer to combo structures. SNK also uses the game’s 3-on-3 format to their advantage when it comes to their comeback mechanic. Basically, the more characters you lose determines how many super meters you get and how much MAX Mode time you have. This means, by the 3rd and final character, he or she can get buffed out with a lot of meter to hopefully make the comeback. It’s really a smart way to use the 3-on-3 gimmick.
Of course, if Street Fighter V has taught us anything, really solid game mechanics and great balance doesn’t really matter if the game isn’t a complete package. So I’m thankful SNK did put in the effort and add all the necessary bells and whistles to give the King of Fighters VI a satisfactory single player experience. The game’s Story mode is your primary way of playing all by your lonesome and it’s adequate. At the normal difficulty, the CPU does put up a decent fight but on higher difficulties, the computer becomes a button reading bastard.
Each of the official teams have their own endings but all you get are a few still shot without any voice acting. What makes this weird is the end credits scene of each team ending is fully voice acted! Why did the scrimp out on the “main” ending scene? I do like how there are “hidden” special team endings for specific combinations of characters. They feel weird but some of them, like the team of Shermie, King and Elizabeth, make me feel all warm and fuzzy with how silly they are.
This actually links to the DJ Station, where you can listen to all of the songs of King of Fighters games past as well as a few other SNK games. It’s a nice little bonus for longtime fans but, for someone like me who’s just getting into the series and doesn’t have any nostalgic love for the music yet, it’s not that enthralling for me. There’s also Mission mode which is basically the combo trials and they do feel rather easy. I guess they learned their lesson from XIII wherein SNK made them virtually impossible for anyone besides experts to complete. I do kind of wish there was more, like more detailed character bios so I know why Luong wants Shermie to take it easy on her and why the team of Terry, Andy and Shun’ei is a special team that gets their own secret ending. I would have also appreciated a way to look at replays of online matches within the game. Oh, and the tutorial sucks as it teaches you the basics but not really how to use them and when. It’s not a excellent single player experience but good enough.
All-in-all, however, I do feel King of Fighters XV is a very solid game. Coming from my perspective, I do feel SNK made it accessible enough for newbies and scrubs like me to get a handle of the very deep game mechanics. Combos are fun once you get a handle on how to do them and the characters, while not exactly balanced, do feel really capable in the right hands. The game looks bright and I see SNK is doing their level best by adding new content for the King of Fighters XV. The game is really good right now so I’m hoping things will get even better in the future.
Have you played the King of Fighters XV? How does it stack up to the previous games in the series? Let me know in the comments section below!