King of Fighters XIV Review – A Royal Return (PS4)
While The King of Fighters has never been my favorite fighting game series (I’m more of a Capcom guy), it sure is nice for it to be back. SNK’s signature franchise received yearly releases from 1994 to 2006, and regularly saw games until 2010’s The King of Fighters XIII. However, it hasn’t had a new entry since the PS3 title released six years ago, which is an unprecedented gap.
SNK has brought it back in a big way, though, as The King of Fighters XIV features a ton of characters and modes. It’s a content rich game in a genre that has been constantly trying to reinvent itself with different pay models and structures. In many ways, it feels like the antithesis of 2016’s biggest fighting game, Street Fighter V.
While SFV launched without key features (and still lacks genre standards such as versus play against the computer and an arcade mode), there is no doubt that The King of Fighters XIV is a finished package. It has a roster of 50 characters that range from beloved regulars like Terry Bogard and Kyo Kusanagi to fantastic new additions like Antonov, a gigantic Russian billionaire who buys the right to the King of Fighters tournament and is hosting the latest incarnation. All of these characters can be used in a wide range of modes both online and offline.
That said, while The King of Fighters XIV has a lot of modes, none of them really stand out as something special. Everything you would expect is here (survival mode, time attack), and the one mode that has potential — the story mode — is actually just a glorified arcade mode. Short cutscenes setup the 10-match tournament, but there are only a few story moments that occur. It’s more of just a collection of random fights until you’re treated to an ending cutscene for your team’s victory. It just feels like a missed opportunity considering how good Mortal Kombat X‘s story mode was, and at least Street Fighter tried to do something like that (even if it was several months late).
Since the offline offerings are rather blasé, it’s a good thing that the actual fighting has a lot to offer. A lot of the new additions revolve around a common theme of making KoF more accessible to new players. There is a good tutorial that walks players through all of the basics and advanced moves (even if it isn’t quite as in-depth as Guilty Gear‘s excellent one). Other key additions include a new powerful ultimate attack called Climax Super Special Moves (which take three power gauges to activate) and Rush Combos.
Similar to Persona 4 Arena’s auto-combo system, a Rush Combo is triggered by getting into close range and pressing square repeatedly. This allows new players to pull off some pretty slick combos while they’re still learning the ropes. It’s not something that players will be able to rely on, and an expert player won’t lose to someone just picking up the game due to it, so I think it’s a great addition. Fighting games need to be more accessible, and this is a good move by SNK.
Thankfully, new players will be able to learn full-fledged combos in the game’s trial mode. Similar to Street Fighter‘s challenge mode, this puts players inside the training mode and tasks them with hitting moves in succession. There is one key difference, though, and that’s the fact that the trials start off pretty darn difficult. A better ramp would’ve been nice, but instead players are kind of thrown into the fire and are expected to put together three to four moves very quickly.
Perseverance is ultimately king, and those that stick with the trials will eventually learn each of the 50 character’s fighting styles. It won’t be easy, but this is still a step in the right direction for the series. I’m very interested in seeing how other fighting games in the future will tackle this issue, and it’s great to see the genre making sure that new players feel just as welcome as those who used to spend all of their quarters at the arcade in the ’90s.
The rest of the game feels distinctly King of Fighters. The series’ signature three-person team combat is still fully intact, and the four-button gameplay is just as fun as it was in 2002. Those that prefer 1-on-1 battles will be glad to know that the option is readily available both in versus mode and online, but if you’re going to be playing KoF then you might as well play the way its intended. Many other contemporary fighting games feature stellar mano a mano combat, but none have the team focus that makes this series so special.
Besides these modes, The King of Fighters XIV also has some hooks in to encourage players to keep coming back. There’s a substantial gallery mode that is full of character art, cutscenes and music. This isn’t a unique feature, but Mortal Kombat and BlazBlue have both gotten a lot of mileage out of similar modes. KoF doesn’t have a point system so you can’t really just buy the extras that you want. Instead, they are distributed seemingly randomly after matches which is a tad bit disappointing. Regardless, the artwork and music is all really well done, so I wanted to see these extras even if SNK could’ve done more to make them fun to unlock.
Perhaps what is most interesting is King of Fighter XIV‘s online play. SNK has done a fantastic job implementing several different modes. One nice addition is the ability Obviously ranked play will be where most players spend their time competing, but the real interest comes in the game’s free match mode.
Players can create individual rooms that can contain up to 12 different players in free match mode. Once in a room, players can compete in three different match types: tourney, elimination or series. Tourney removes the loser of the match and inserts the person next in line. It’s not unlike what one would see at an arcade, and it’s fun to scout your potential opponents while you wait. Elimination is the opposite, as the winner is removed, and series allows two players to fight as much as they want.
Free matches can be made for team and solo fights, but they also house a unique battle type called Party Vs. This mode is a team match that has six different people competing at once. That means each person controls one of the characters in the match, and it’s not unlike playing a basketball game online with real teammates. I find the prospect of this mode to be super interesting, and I can’t wait to see actual teams formed around this concept. It’s fun, fresh, and a smart addition to the genre (even if I found that it can be difficult to get six people together).
The King of Fighters XIV is a fully featured fighting game. It still feels like its classic predecessors, but it has been updated in some important areas to feel like a modern take. Its roster is both a celebration of the series that also signifies that this is a new step forward. I’m excited to see KoF back in the spotlight, and I hope to see SNK continue building on this great installment.
Review code for The King of Fighters XIV provided by publisher. Reviewed on PlayStation 4. For more information on scoring, please read our Review Policy here.