The fifteenth main game from the long-fighting series, King of Fighters XV looks and plays well. Will it convert those unfamiliar with it? The Finger Guns review.
As some of you may have gathered from my King of Fighters 2002: Unlimited Match review, I have never been big on the series. But that’s not to say I don’t respect it or its lineage that SNK have carved out over the years. So as a curious bystander, when King of Fighters XV was announced, it piqued my interest.
Whilst not the first King of Fighters to go fully 3D, it’s the first to go current gen. So whilst Tekken and Street Fighter haven’t made that leap, KoF XV now joins Mortal Kombat in that regard. And boy, does it look good for it.
Now, quick disclaimer: if you’re looking for an in-depth analysis of the mechanics, systems et all, this isn’t it. This review will be, however, one of spectacle from a fighting game fan. Let’s go…
Long Live Indeed…
Much like any modern counterpart, King of Fighters XV has a story to it. Unlike, say, the fleshed out modes of Mortal Kombat 9-11, or Street Fighter V’s eventually-added one, this one just feels… there. That’s not to sound dismissive, it’s just hard to decipher when the game doesn’t give you much to go on.
From the “research” I did (read: Wikipedia’d the KoF XIV’s summary), events continue on from the ending of that game. There was a big, evil entity called Verse wreaking havoc, mysterious powers, all that jazz. In the midst of the chaos, unexplained powers saw thought-dead fighters brought to life, not unlike Mortal Kombat’s revenant gimmick.
There’s a new lead character, the teenager Shun’ei, who’s inherited some of Verse’s mystical powers and wants to find out why. Another new entrant also has powers, there’s a sinister motive to rebirth Verse… that’s really as much as I can give away. There are teams, all with rhymes and reasons for getting involved, each with a little epilogue after the story is complete. I’m being flippant, of course, but it’s a beat ’em up. Story is somewhat secondary.
What we’re here for is the fighting, and in that regard, King of Fighters XV delivers. Battles are either 3v3 or one on one, with the former being the default/standard type of fight. With a roster of thirty-nine fighters across thirteen teams (with more planned as DLC, of course), there’s plenty of styles to get used to.
Before we get into character specifics, we’ll talk about the fighting in general. First and foremost: it is quick. King of Fighters has always been about the spectacle and style, with the fifteenth iteration being no different. Uppercuts, screen-skipping split kicks, projectiles and god knows what else can be rattled off with quick inputs. A dedicated dash button will close the gap if you’re getting air countered, whilst dashing away will get you out of a bind (maybe).
If you’re a KoF veteran, there’s all the whizzy moves like Guard Cancels and whatnot too. However, I am not a veteran, but what I did enjoy was just mix-and-matching it up with the roster. Believe me, there’s a lot of variety here.
A Royal Court
With thirty nine initial fighters to choose from, players will either be spoilt for choice or overwhelmed when they start. The series mainstays are here: the Bogards, Joe Higashi, Benimaru and later stalwart K’. Then I get a bit lost.
There have been plenty of changes over the years, and considering I don’t play King of Fighters regularly, I couldn’t tell you who’s who. But in terms of stereotypes, SNK have covered every base. Stereotypical, big mouthed wrestlers fight against stern, secret agent types. Busty, attractive women fight against hyperactive, manic schoolgirls… and there’s a dinosaur.
There isn’t much in the way of customisation with fighters, outside of palette swapping their outfits. This isn’t Tekken 7, there’s no garish fighter dressing up modes. Just near-40 ass-kickers of varying speeds, strengths, silliness and super move shenanigans.
Getting In The Mode
It feels odd reviewing an arcade beat ’em up in 2022. I’m being flippant about it because, well, what more can I possibly say about the series? It hasn’t reinvented itself, or focused on story over substance, it’s just merely continued doing what it’s been doing for all this years. In that regard, players should know what to expect in terms of game modes.
There’s Story, obviously. Pick a preset team, find out what happens when you beat the end boss. There’s Ranked and Casual online multiplayer, as well as an “endless lobby” Rooms mode. If you want to keep it local, there’s your couch multiplayer made famous some twenty-odd years ago.
Then there’s training, which is self-explanatory. For the uninitiated, there’s a tutorial and mission mode to help players refine their skills on individual characters. Both are great if you’re struggling on a particular combo or move, without the risk of getting your ass kicked whilst practicing.
Outside of fighting, it’s the usual gamut of artwork galleries, music and movie players, and extra padding to justify a full price purchase.
In terms of criticisms for King of Fighters XV, I can’t think of anything immediate. As mentioned, I don’t know the series well enough to know who’s been buffed or nerfed, who’s moves have been changed or removed, or who’s frame data is better. Some of those are real “fighting game community” words, by the way.
I have no qualms with the gameplay itself. It looks beautiful, special moves are a joy to watch, and the super moves are pure spectacle when they’re pulled off. Loading times could do with a slight tweak, given how touted the PS5 is meant to be in that regard, but that’s not game-breaking.
I suppose my only real issue is more fighters being hidden behind paywalls. But then, I’ve gone on about that in every fighting game I’ve reviewed and nothing’s changed.
Let It Reign
In summary, King of Fighters XV is incredible. From a spectator’s point of view (ie. someone not invested in the series), I can see me playing more of this. Is it going to make me stop playing Street Fighter V and switch to this?
No, but it’s going to stay on my hard drive as an alternate game to learn more of. Conversely, is this a continuing streak for the long time fans, or should they take their continues elsewhere? I don’t know, that’s what forums are for.
So yes, King of Fighters get a massive recommendation from me if you want something new. It’s a beautiful looking, fleshed out fighter with enough different styles to sink hours into. I’ve had some success in a few Ranked battles, and I’m going to try and keep that streak up.
If you like 2D beat ’em ups and fancy something new, then this is the King… of Fighters.
Living up to its title, King of Fighters XV is a fantastic slice of 3D fighting action. Don’t worry if you’re not a long-time fan, there’s enough to get you started here. A massive cast of brawlers, plenty of styles to choose from, and a host of fighting modes make this worthy of fighting fan’s collection.
King of Fighters XV is available now on PlayStation 4 & 5 (reviewed on latter), Xbox One and Series S|X, and PC.
Disclaimer: In order to complete this review, we were provided with a promotional copy of the game. For our full review policy, please go here.
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