SNK’s The King of Fighters franchise has an incredible thirty-year-spanning legacy that is, without a doubt, legendary amongst arcade- and fighting game fans. The franchise originated with the Neo Geo Art of Fighting, evolved through to Fatal Fury, and eventually became its own prolific series in 1994. Spanning no fewer than fifteen mainline entries, The King of Fighters is, without a doubt, legendary. The King of Fighters XV is the latest entry in the fighting series, marking the first title to release in nearly seven years. Staying true to form, the latest addition immediately grapples onto the high bar set by the current fighting game kings, Street Fighter and Tekken. The question, however, is whether or not the prodigal entry can regain its status as the true king of fighting games?
SNK’s The King of Fighters XV takes place directly after the events of The King of Fighters KIV. Fortunately, players who missed the title six years ago do not necessarily need to be up to speed to enjoy the latest title. Like many Mortal Kombat games, The King of Fighters XV can largely be played as a standalone story. In this sense, the world has been left in chaos after Verse caused worldwide destruction. In the hopes of re-establishing the legendary tournament, a new sponsor enters the ring. Very similar to how the World Fighter Tournament in Dragon Ball kept bringing bad guys to the forefront, so does the tournament in this game. The story largely takes a backseat from the opening beats, however, with a few cutscenes interspersed amongst visceral arcade game fighting. It is actually surprising how little story there is considering the pedigree The King of Fighters XV follows on from. With that said, it must be noted how the story it features does push forward the overarching narrative in a super concise and very logical way.
Narrative beats aside, the true star of the show here is most definitely the nuanced combat system. Unlike fighting games such as Injustice and Tekken, The King of fighters XV boasts precise inputs where muscle memory will ultimately be the key to victory. Combos do not queue up like they do in other modern video games. Instead, the game relies heavily on players who can follow up on moves whilst also keeping track of animations. A good player will be able to perform technical cancel combos, while most other players will make heavy use of preset combos learned through the key mapping screen and combo menu. Rush combos return too, allowing players to do basic combinations and pull off some fancy moves in a quick and dirty way, while more complex systems persist from previous The King of Fighters titles.
It is clear SNK put a lot of time and effort into modernising older systems, keeping the legacy of the game intact while continuing Ito modernise the game for the current console generation. In so doing, the studio has introduced a new mechanic called the Shatter Strike system. In short, Shatter Strike behaves like another way to introduce new lethal combos, as well as counter some of the more damaging basic combos. It is initiated with a quarter circle motion and a number of inputs. Similarly, players can also play around with the franchise staple “MAX Mode”, which are essentially a set of buffs. Without a doubt, the biggest use of MAX Mode will be to increase attack speed, allowing Shatter Strikes and Rush combos to be initiated without leaving big openings for more skilled opponents.
Beyond new combination and gameplay systems, SNK also decided to bring back the absolutely massive roster of characters The King of Fighters is known for. There are 39 fighters in total, all available right from the get-go and all of which play and feel differently thanks to different move sets. Like Tekken or Street Fighter, it is imperative players take the time to learn and relearn character moves as no single fighter is equally as fast or features the same combo and move set flows as the others. There are a plethora of in-depth tutorials and training missions, as well as unique character-based tasks available for each, and while it may sound like a daunting task to figure out which fighter fits players best, the process feels snappy. Learning which combinations to use for whatever chosen character comes naturally and figuring out how best to counter opponents is a matter of playing a few matches against them. Unfortunately, younger and/or inexperienced players cannot simply mash buttons and wish for a win. However, there are more than enough systems in place to make it easier for these players to get a win or two in no time.
Playing online is never something amateur players should dive into right from the get-go. The infamous saying of “there will always be someone better” is a very real statement in The King of Fighters XV. However, once enough tutorials have been finished, unique missions completed, and players feel comfortable enough to finally enter the big leagues; a whole new level of competition awaits. The King of Fighters is a franchise renowned for its strict input queues and superior net-code. The King of Fighters XV is no different. Playing offline, or against computer-controlled opponents is one thing, but it really does not teach players how to not spam buttons. Doing so will literally queue up attacks and moves online, which could very well lead to a quick loss. Instead, players need to learn how to take advantage of gaps opponents leave open, and ensure their Internet connections are strong and stable. Lag in this game is heartbreaking. In a way, multiplayer can be off-putting to many when compared to games like Injustice and Mortal Kombat, but as soon as that first match is won and done it can really become quite addictive.
Beyond gameplay, The King of Fighters XV also presents itself exceptionally well. While still pseudo 3D, the visuals are great, albeit “samey”. SNK have always injected a whole lot of colours into the game, which can, at times, be quite ostentatious during lengthier combos and grapples. There are a whole lot of particle effects and beautiful hand-drawn skills flashing across the screen. Every character is also unique where their artwork is concerned, further expanding on how no fighter is the same. It must be said how the game feels similar in nature to the way other games look. While it is unique in the way it portrays its fighters, the art style and over the top graphics are reminiscent of Street Fighter. A quick and dirty solution would be to simply go into cel-shading, or perhaps even exploring how all of the characters and their moves would look in proper 3D.
From the way fighters are presented, through to the incredibly nuanced and layered combat mechanics, the King of Fighters XV proves why it truly is a contender for ‘king’ of fighting games. Although improvements can be made for an even better experience, the game ultimately proves how it deserves a spot amongst the best fighting games available. It simply has it all. Newer players may be hard pressed to enter the arena, but there are so many new inclusions to the formula that the price of entry may be worth the learning curve. This latest title in the franchise has been a long time coming, and there is no doubt the inevitable sequel will finally push the bar up even further. For now, however, the game rests comfortably alongside other fighting game staples.
|Great new combat systems.||Looks too similar to Street Fighter.|
|So. many. fighters.||Online play can be harrowing.|
|Tutorials and unique missions are crazy good.|
Title reviewed on Xbox Series X with code supplied by SNK.