With so many iconic fighting game series dominating the scene, it’s a surprise to see the King of Fighters XIV take a more classic approach to the genre. Anyone who has touched a King of Fighters game in the past before will feel right at home. Team matches, an arcade like story mode, and a huge roster of characters offer something for everyone. But despite the King of Fighters XIV sticking to its traditional roots, its falls short in a few areas that other popular fighting games have handled much better.
The hand-drawn sprites that were part of the King of Fighters XIII are now gone in favor for 3D models, but the gameplay still takes place on a two-dimensional plane. This is a first for the numbered entries of the series, but it makes the transition well. Returning characters look more like their many previous 2D incarnations, rather than the hyper stylized and exaggerated designs of the previous game. This looked much better to me for some characters that looked terrible in the last game, specifically fighters like Joe and Ralf, despite everyone’s outrageous clothing and style.
The fighting is great and plays similar to any system from the older KOF games since 1994. Matches can be done with 3-on-3 team battles, or single fights for a more classical bout. The Climax System, a refined iteration of the Super gauge found in KOF games, gives special moves and Supers an extra boost to be devastating and flashy on screen.
But the most polarizing change to the fighting is the Rush System, which allows anyone to do combos into a Super attack by tapping one button continuously. This makes dealing damage to an opponent very easy in most situations, despite the damage being scaled back when attacks hit. It will definitely divide old and new players on its significance to the fighting, but the Rush System makes the game more inviting to anyone that’s never play a King of Fighters game before.
Learning a character can take some time, but the Mission Mode and Tutorial do help significantly. Trying to use basic strategies and character specific combos in Mission Mode can be both challenging and rewarding. I played with a few characters in Mission Mode so I can learn how to use them better, and by the time I was done, I became adept with using them. Some character combos are pretty tough to pull off, especially during a real battle online or offline. Yet the satisfaction and flashiness of big combos is definitely worth taking the time to build the skills needed to use them.
The Story Mode plays out like a traditional arcade mode found in older fighting games. You have some cutscenes during the 10 matches you play through in Story Mode, with an epilogue for each team at the end. But much like older fighting games from the 90s, the story doesn’t make a lot of sense, nor does it have any real continuity.
Epilogues flat out contradict each other and reference plot devices from previous KOF games that some may not understand. The final boss at the end does appear at random, with little to no explanation, and does the archaic fighting game thing of being overpowered and more difficult than previous fights. Even on the lowest difficulty setting, the final boss still has a huge difficulty spike that will be frustrating to some.
Completing the story mode does unlock various items in the Gallery, which are great to look at. Each fight you complete in any of the game modes unlocks one random item for the Gallery, including multiplayer. This can be somewhat annoying when you play through a bunch of matches and don’t make any significant progress to completing the Gallery.
It would have been better to have an unlockable shop where I can pick and choose which items I want, either through in-game currency or otherwise, but the game doesn’t offer such a thing. It’s also disappointing that all the unlockables are concept art and promotional material for older KOF games, rather than new colors or costumes for the characters in King of Fighters XIV. The fan service and nods to the series’ legacy is great and all, but I wanted to see more unlockables that focused on this game, rather than the past.
Multiplayer online is flat out terrible. You have VS Mode with Team Battles and Single matches online or offline, but the constant latency problems online make it nearly unplayable. In all of the matches I played online with the King of Fighters XIV, I had very few stable matches that weren’t plagued by constant slow down, disconnections, and screen freezing. This could be for any number of reasons, but even with a stable connection I used to go online, I still had lots of issues playing with other people. There is a ranking system that tracks your stats with every match you play, but it lacks any significance if you can’t get into any stable matches online.
If you’ve wanted a new KOF game that fell in line with older entries of the series, then you’ll enjoy the King of Fighters XIV. The online modes definitely need a lot of improvement, especially if the game is going to be played for a long time after release. But if you’re dying to play against another human being, you always have the offline VS Mode to get a set going. The story mode might be cheesy and confusing to some, but it’s a nice addition to have that will keep you busy for some time. It might not be the best in the franchise, but the King of Fighters XIV is a good entry in the long running series.
This review is based on a digital review code for The King of Fighters XIV for the PlayStation 4 provided by ATLUS.