Review: The King of Fighters XIV (PS4)

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Title: The King of Fighters XIV
Format: Blu-ray Disc / PlayStation Network Download (16.01 GB)
Release Date: August 23, 2016
Publisher: Atlus
Developer: SNK
Original MSRP: $59.99
ESRB Rating: T
The King of Fighters XIV is exclusive to PlayStation 4.
The PlayStation 4 download version was used for this review.
A copy of this game was provided by the publisher for review purposes.
PS Nation Review Policy

Despite being a fan of fighting games, the King of Fighters series is one that I’ve only ever dabbled in before. However, the announcement of The King of Fighters XIV managed to catch my eye. This newest entry in the long running series aims to bring the franchise back to the forefront. It may not succeed in every way but it is certainly a solid fighting game worth taking a look at.

Gameplay:
Unlike the graphics I’ll talk more about later, The King of Fighters XIV sticks very close to the traditional gameplay of the series. The claim to fame, one of them anyway, is how it melds some aspects of the 3v3 fighting games (see Marvel vs Capcom) and some from the 1v1 fighting games (see Street Fighter).

Strictly speaking, this is a 3v3 fighting game. Each player picks a roster of three characters with which to fight their opponent. However unlike some of the other 3v3 fighting games, the player cannot swap between their team at will. Rather, the members of the team are played in order with each swapping in once a previous member has been knocked out.

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In a way, this means that each match is akin to a best three out of five rounds with the losing player being forced to switch to a new character after each round and the winner regaining a small bit of their health. Doing well means being good with several characters, especially if the opponent manages to take out the lead character.

Mechanically, the game feels pretty familiar. It uses a four button layout with light and heavy punch and light and heavy kick, and most of the typical fighting game motions for special attacks, making it easy to jump into. It has the genre standard special meter too, which can be used for super special, max super special, and climax super special attacks. All of which are fancy names for “moves that use special meter”.

… sixteen teams each with three characters …
One new mechanic is Rush mode which is the game’s take on the auto-combo mechanic where mashing Light Punch gives the player a short combo at the expense of it not doing as much damage as it normally would. Another new gameplay mechanic is Max Mode which costs one super bar to activate but lets the player use more powerful EX versions of their special attacks.

In terms of pacing, it seems to lean toward the slower, more methodical end of the fighting game spectrum. It is possible to do some longer combos, usually revolving around burning special meter to chain the different kinds of special attacks together. Before that point, however, you’ll see a lot more footsies and short attack strings as players vie for positioning.

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The game uses the typical set of modes as the shell for the fighting game innards. Story mode is as advertised, as are the time trial and survival modes. A Trials mode constitutes the game’s combo practice, although with a paltry five trials per character. And of course there is a Training mode for training and a Tutorial mode for newcomers.

One place the game shines is the roster. The franchise is known to have a wide and diverse cast of characters and unlike some of the recent fighting game reboots, XIV actually delivers on the series’ legacy. It features sixteen teams each with three characters, plus two story mode unlockables for a total roster of fifty.

… the single player options are a little lacking …
This includes a number of crossovers from other SNK properties like Fatal Fury and Art of Fighting. There are also some new characters here including King of Dinosaurs, a heel wrestler who wears a dinosaur costume, and Sylvie Paula Paula, who visually seems to spoof Kyary Pamyu Pamyu, among others.

From a purely mechanics perspective, I’m enjoying it. Though other than the unusual 3v3 format, it doesn’t particularly stand out to me but it’s also solid and well made. Unfortunately the single player options are a little lacking, except for those who really want to hunt for all of the gallery unlockables. But fighting games are meant to be played with friends so fortunately there are plenty of multiplayer modes which are outlined in the section below.

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Visuals:
As mentioned before, the graphics really help to set the game apart from its predecessors. Like Street Fighter and Guilty Gear before it, King of Fighters XIV takes the franchise from the realm of 2D visuals to the world of 3D. The game is still played strictly in two dimensions but now all of the action is displayed with three.

Unlike those other fighters though, this doesn’t feel nearly as splashy or visually impressive. It doesn’t look bad, as the graphics are technically passable and each character has a distinct and varied style. Just something about the game lacks the impact I felt the first time I saw Street Fighter IV or Guilty Gear Xrd Sign.

… a lot of awesome music and a full gallery …
I think my biggest misgiving with the game is in the odd uncanny valley where the characters seem to straddle the line between cartoony and realistic. Overall though, the graphics get the job done fine and there are enough cool looking special attacks and combos possible in the game.

Audio:
Contrarily, I really enjoyed the audio. The soundtrack especially is all kinds of great from the opening/main menu theme song to the individual stage songs. There is a lot of awesome music and a full gallery in game that can be used to listen to them once they’re unlocked.

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Character voices aren’t anything too special but they do a fine job overall. I did particularly like the characterization of the penultimate boss character in the story mode for his few cutscenes. Voices only come in the original Japanese though as there is no English dub.

Online/Multiplayer:
The true heart of any fighting game is the multiplayer and King of Fighters XIV provides a few different ways both online and off to enjoy beating the snot out of one another. Offline mode is the more basic of the two with two ways to fight: 3v3 or 1v1. 3v3 is as described above while 1v1 lets players play it like a normal fighting game.

… an interesting six player mode …
Online mode hosts a few more options broadly split between Ranked Matches, Free Matches, and Online Training mode. The latter is an online version of the game’s Training mode. Ranked matches are match-made using the 3v3 ruleset against similar rank opponents.

Free mode is the online mode with the most freedom, letting players jump into twelve player rooms to fight as they see fit. Rooms can be set to 3v3 or 1v1 as with offline but this also features an interesting six player mode. The aptly named Party mode plays like a 3v3 match but
with each player controlling one member of the team.

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Outside that, the online offering is solid and by-the-books giving all of the features that a fighting game should have without too many unnecessary or silly ones. The Party mode is the one real unique aspect and could prove to be a big draw for communities or large online focused friend groups.

As the game is still pre-release at the time of this writing, my sample size in the online modes is relatively small. As with any fighting game, the quality of the online can vary wildly as several games I had were stellar and others were anything but. I didn’t get the feeling that the game handled lag particularly well for the couple of laggy matches I tried. When I had a solid connection though, the game performed wonderfully.

… enough to keep fighting game fans entertained …
Conclusion:
The King of Fighters XIV is a solid fighting game. The mechanics and match-to-match gameplay are fun and interesting with plenty of depth. Though the 3v3 setup is the only real unique part of the game, the wide roster and competent systems are enough to keep fighting game fans entertained.

The biggest complaint is that the single player content is wanting, with only a few hours of things to do before boredom sets in. I would probably not recommend this game to players who intend solely play by themselves. But as a fighting game is intended to play with others, this complaint seems relatively minor overall. With online and local versus modes, the true King of Fighters tournament can begin.

Note: On legacy controllers (ie PS3 fightsticks): As of this writing the game does not support them. However Atlus says that SNK is planning a patch which will add in support for legacy controllers.

Score:
7.5

* All screenshots used in this review were taken directly from the game using the Share functionality on the PlayStation 4.

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Written by Andy Richardson

Andy Richardson

A longtime PlayStation fan who enjoys JRPGs and rhythm games when he’s not tweeting about his parrot.

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