Platforms: PS4 (Reviewed)
As the last major 2D fighting franchise to finally make the transition to 3D graphics, King of Fighters' fourteenth entry makes up for a lot of lost time. While the gameplay doesn't make as much progress as something like Street Fighter V, nor is the kitchen sink thrown in as with Mortal Kombat X,what is here carves out its own niche that is sure to be added upon as SNK brings its flagship fighter into the present.
13 previous kings?
While this may be King of Fighters' first entry with this graphic style, you wouldn't be wrong to think this is the third or fourth version of the same title, based on the amount of characters here. Upon starting the game, there are 48 charactesr to select from, of which 19 are new. There's a character for everyone here, and sometimes you wonder if the characters were made first, and then the world around them. There are series mains such as Kyo, Terry Bogard, and Ma,; but the new characters range from Alice, who is the Sakura to Terry's Ryu, to characters who somehow time-traveled from Samurai Shodown. Then there are just strange characters like the old man who loses his shirt to show a buff upper body during his special moves.
If you played a previous King of Fighters game, you will feel right at home playing King of Fighters XIV. Each match is between two teams of three characters, however there's no tag and each round brings in a new character until one team has been defeated. There are four attack buttons for two different strengths of kick and punch, and pressing two attacks of the same strength will make your character roll to evade an attack.
It's simple and translates well to a console controller, but where KOF gets complicated is through the many ways to use meter to make attacks stronger. Of course special attacks can be made stronger by pressing both strengths of kick or punch, but there are a number of ways to change the intensity of a super move. Sacrificing a meter to activate Max mode will allow your character to execute charged-up versions of certain moves that will make them flash blue and cause more damage. The sole new addition is the ability to make opponents crumple and bounce off the wall to continue combos.
A light buffet of content
While King of Fighters XIV isn't as barebones as Street Fighter V was during launch, it's not as full of content as Mortal Kombat X is. Single player consists of Story, Training, Trial Mode, CPU vs., and Survival. The modes are all self-explanatory, except for story.
Story mode may sound similar to the ones in nearly every fighting game that comes out these days, but it's basically arcade mode with a King of Fighters twist. Most of the older King of Fighters games have a TON of special intros based on which characters are fighting the first round of a match; story mode takes Arcade mode and throws in a few of these special intros and an ending based on the team selected. While you can play it safe and choose a team based on how characters are grouped together, some combinations of characters will lead to unique dialogue before matches and a special ending.
As an Arcade experience, this mode is fine. However, you can't really guess when new scenes may pop up if you don't play one of the main teams. If you play a custom team, you often don't see any special scenes and the play-through feels like a waste. This combined with the length to get to the end makes experimenting with this something not worth risking with characters you are just learning to play. The final boss is also completely random, as if someone crossed over from another franchise, and isn't as memorable as other bosses in the series.
The Prince of Graphics
When first revealed in 2015, King of Fighters XIV's graphics faced the brunt of the criticism the title received. Now that the game is out, it doesn't look as jarring as it did back then, but when the camera zooms in during certain attacks you can't help but wish more was done to some character faces. It looks like the style of the old games brought to 3D, but some of the faces look plain compared to the sprite art that made the previous games shine.
While the graphics are something that I can appreciate, what I can't accept as easily is the dialogue. There is no English dub, and there is a lot of dialogue that wasn't translated from Japanese in the subtitles. In a game that relies on its personality to stick out, having all of the side banter translated for the first time would have been great.
Like Street Fighter IV and Mortal Kombat before it, King of Fighters XIV is the first wholly successful 3D transition for an established 2D fighting series. The gameplay of the previous titles has been brought over faithfully and a base has been established for future 3D entries from the franchise.