It’s hard to believe that it’s been six years since the last installment in the King of Fighters tournament.
SNK have built one of the most respected and well-regarded fighting franchises on the market, and now, perhaps most interestingly, one of the first built for this new generation of systems.
Over a year on and only now we’re seeing one of the big hitters of the genre, with most releases ultimately updates of existing fighters, like Mortal Kombat 11.
It’s something of an unexpected privilege for SNK, then, the pandemic almost certainly playing its part, but with it will also come hefty responsibility. There’s increased rumours that Street Fighter 6 is about to be announced and it’s doubtful we’ve seen the last of games like Tekken and Soul Calibur.
While King of Fighters XV hasn’t really lost a step compared to its predecessors, with its excellent 3v3 action, fast and fluid combat and vicious movesets, this doesn’t feel like the best of benchmarks for a fighter for the new generation, even if it’s a fighter that can be enjoyed by anyone, not weighed down by some of the technicalities of its peers.
There’s just no drastic evolutions or developments. Surprisingly, KOF XV just feels a bit barren.
To be honest, it feels like there were two key focuses for SNK in the development of KOF XV. Improved online functionality and ensure the franchise really benefits from the transition into 3D. Both of those have been accomplished brilliantly, but it does feel like its come at the expense of everything else.
If you’re not all that bothered about the online element – or struggled to get a match, which did affect us a few times – there’s not much to sink your teeth into. Sure, the net code seems solid and stable and I had some great matches, but the story mode is considered one of the key selling points for the game, yet each campaign is over relatively quickly and it can feel like you’ve seen most of the game’s backgrounds in just a couple of playthroughs. The AI also isn’t the most friendly and enjoyable to compete against which does dampen some of the experience.
There are 39 fighters to choose from out of the gate which is definitely nothing to sneeze at and each, of course, plays differently from the other, so learning their fighting styles and who you favour is always the fun part of every fighter. The other cool element to the story mode is that you have 15 registered teams you can immediately hop into the fray with established groups and even see some characters have tete-a-tetes with each other beforehand.
This is a nice way to keep things fresh, to carry on any sub-stories that have happened throughout the franchise, and to add a sense of unique importance to each fray. Not just that, but using registered teams does change the ending of the game in a variety of ways, so it’s worth ploughing through them all to see how the outcomes differ.
Personally, I’d recommend starting with Registered Team 2 as their story provides some helpful context as you build towards the end.
To the fighting itself, if you’ve ever played KOF before, you’ll have a pretty good idea of what to expect. If not, basically your team of 3 takes on another. You choose your fighting order before the battle and, in theory, could run the gauntlet as a round ends once a fighter is downed. Or the timer runs out.
It’s an interesting mechanic that does seperate itself from the preferred 1v1 format, and adds a strategic element most fighters don’t ever get you to think about. Do you keep your strongest fighter at the back, career headfirst from the off, or break things up in the middle? Positioning is just as key as the fight itself. Though the option of a tag format as well might have been really fun to play around with to capture the Marvel vs Capcom crowd who maybe never dipped their toe into the franchise before.
That’s where I think King of Fighters is at. People have heard of it, they’ve probably even seen it, but SNK need to get more people playing it and KOF XV is a great opportunity for that, especially with Terry Bogard becoming a bit of a household name again with his Smash stint. I’m just not sure the incentive is quite there.
It’s a pretty consistent feeling I had coming away from KOF XV. Nothing here is really changing the fighting game or evolving beyond what we’ve seen in recent years. The game pays plenty of homages to its history and other fighters in the 90s, particularly with the comic-book esque endings and the very stylised art, but it seems to prefer to be respectful to its origins rather than trying to fit in with the current mold or break ground.
I do love the evasion features, though. The dash effect of being able to run at enemies, hyper hopping around the arenas, and being able to seamlessly pass their guard to get on either side of them. It all feels very slick and satsifying and will definitely make for some entertaining to watch matches.
The game does look great in full 4K as well. While I was more of a fan of its traditional 2D style, I absolutely cannot deny the level of details on each of the characters, from creased shirts, to stylised pillows. SNK have done a great job making some of these classic, well-known fighters three dimensional, and the action always seems frenetic with sparkling effects and explosive striking. It’s just a shame the UI and menus are so bland in comparison.
Beyond story, there’s a mission mode you can hop into with each character where you have to sequence a series of moves together, a nice test of skill, though one that can quickly become pretty monotonous, especially with repeated tries.
There’s also a DJ Station where you can listen to all the tracks, some of which are real bangers, and same as visually, really pay homage to that 90s fighter feeling.
And who could forget local versus, which is always nice to hop in and out of if you want to butt heads with a buddy on the sofa.
It just all feels a bit limiting after the extensive modes we’ve seen in Streetfighter V and the amount of content you can wade through in Mortal Kombat 11, though who knows what kind of additions we’ll see in future content.
KOF XV is a good, solid, safe fighter with a relatively rich roster, that looks great and plays slick. It may yet be the best King of Fighters game for years, but it doesn’t really feel like a next-gen fighter that pushes limits or ‘shatters expectations’. SNK probably should have added more offline content to balance things out and help build upon the gradual success the franchise has gained over the years. While KOF XV may have the honor of being one of the first major XSX/PS5 fighters, it’s probably one that’ll be mostly forgotten about in short order.
+ Lovely 4K visuals
+ Net code is better than ever
+ Healthy, balanced roster of fighters
+ Combat plays well and is accessible
– Limited set of modes lacking solo content
– No groundbreaking new features and exciting evolutions to push the series forward
– AI can be very unbalanced
KOF XV is now available on Xbox, PC and PlayStation
Played on Xbox Series X
Code Kindly Provided by Koch Media