Making Kyo Humble
As some of you fine followers may know, yer boy Moyse is a long-time King of Fighters player, dating all the way back to the heady days of 1994. Additionally, my oft-used online pseudonym of “OrochiLeona” is based on one of my “most-played” video game characters of all time, the inimitable Leona Heidern. You might also know that, after literal decades of dedicated 100 MEG SHOCK! support, developer SNK and I are unfortunately going through something of an extended separation… And honestly, I don’t how it’s going to end.
Regardless, I thought it important as a lifelong KoF player — and an internet scribe — that I jump on the weekend’s beta for the newest entry in the now 27-year-old fighting game franchise, The King of Fighters XV. Coming after a lengthy delay of over one year, the new sequel promises to be the biggest, best, and most feature-filled entry in the series to date. Lofty goals indeed. I jumped into this highly truncated edition (eight characters, three stages, and a mere handful of modes), to see how KoF XV might square up in the ninth generation of fighting games… REEEADDDDY?… GO!
To immediately address the polygonal elephant in the room, I personally don’t have too much of an issue with the series’ move to 2.5D gameplay, as well as slightly janky 3D models. Do I prefer the pixel stylings of yesterday? Of course I do. And do I wish the beautiful, hand-drawn visuals of KoF XIII would return? Absolutely. However, I’m pragmatic about this. The simple fact is that The King of Fighters only continues to exist at all because it made the transition to “modern” visuals.
SNK would not have found the cash, the backers, or the non-dedicated fan eyes necessary to continue producing its gorgeous hand-drawn 2D fighters. Bankruptcy and full studio closure beckoned time and again for an entire decade, and SNK had to be seen to be “moving forward,” especially in the eyes of investors. Could the classic 2D style make a return eventually? Perhaps, and I really hope it does. But, realistically, KoF “evolved” (at least in the eyes of the money-men), in order to survive. And for now, at least, it has to be accepted that this is The King of Fighters. For better or worse.
Playing on PS5, the new character models are pretty slick, well designed, and nicely animated. It can’t be denied that the textures occasionally look a little “flat” not even matching up to the quality of the now five-year-old Street Fighter V. But, for the most part, SNK’s venture into the 2.5D universe is acceptable, with colorful, attractive characters that still “pop” thanks to their dazzling fashions, wild hair, colorful getups, and explosive movesets. Street Fighter might be for The World Warriors, but The King of Fighters has always been for the catwalk. New gal Dolores is an example of this mandate.
Those who have put time into the underplayed and underappreciated King of Fighters XIV will immediately be at home with KoF XV‘s general gameplay and performance. For those yet to try the newer KoF titles, The visuals might be hugely different, but the fight itself maintains the speed, flow, and dynamism of even its pixel iterations. Charitably, Kof XIV and XV provide a mere coat of paint over the engine of the classic games, and while the segue from 2D to 2.5D has never been 1:1 from a flow standpoint, it’s far closer than many would give it credit for.
The King of Fighters XV retains the deep mechanics of its many predecessors, with Dashing, Hops, Hyper Hops, Hyper Jumps, and the classic, four-button setup all in effect. Also returning are the five-stage meter; the power-boosting MAX Mode; Climax and Hyper Climax moves; and the C+D… (sorry, old habits die hard)… HP+HK “Blow Back” attack, which sends the opponent reeling into the corner, while offering a short opening for dash-in combos.
The single button “Rush” combos return from KoF XIV, while the all-new “Shatter Strike” mechanic (QCF + HP+HK) allows players to crumple the opponent at the cost of meter — think a fully charged Focus Attack from Street Fighter IV. In terms of defense, evasive roll returns, as does fall break, guard crush, and Blow Back out of blockstun, letting a fighter spend bar to reverse the pressure of an onslaught. Almost all of these mechanics will be immediately familiar to KoF fans.
KoF XV makes for fast-paced, intense, and often dizzying gameplay, as is the series trademark. The King of Fighters has always been a fighter that can quickly overwhelm new players, (and even the in-game tutorial might be a tad over-complicated for absolute beginners). Regardless, KoF XV already appears to be an exciting and pulse-pounding slugfest, ready to rushdown your favorite team o’ three all over again. Of course, the best players have already found 100% combos, wonky hitboxes, and other issues. But this is why we have betas, and there are still a few months to iron out the missteps.
The crux of this beta was to test the global performance of King of Fighters XV‘s much-vaunted rollback netcode, with connections defined by a five-level scale of quality. Over the course of the weekend, I had the best part of around 50 online fights. At Lvl. 3 connectivity or less, I didn’t see many major lock-ups, but I definitely felt hefty frames of input lag — enough to affect a player’s sense of control, and definitely not tight enough for KoF‘s unforgiving input windows.
Happily, however, all fights I had at connectivity Lvls. 4 and 5 were uniformly great. These battles were slick, responsive, and reliable, with maybe three to five screen freezes in total, all of which only occurred during “busier” moments, such as character intros or the highly cinematic Hyper Climax moves. In my experience with the beta, The King of Fighters XV has very solid and very reliable, if not quite exceptional, netcode. Lvl. 4 provides a smooth, speedy, trustworthy connection.
Whether The King of Fighters XV will be a smash success will come down to three distinct factors: The strength of its gameplay, the strength of its netcode, and the strength of its community. After just a handful of hours with a limited edition of the final game, I can speculatively speak to the gameplay — I think it’s gonna be great. In regards to netcode, I had a very solid experience with strings of reliable, stress-free matches. As for the community? Ay, there’s the rub…
The King of Fighters XV is shaping up to be a fine title, a worthy chapter in the franchise’s storied legacy. However, it is on the players and the Fighting Game Community as to whether the title lives or dies, whether it’s a flash in the pan, or runs proudly on the competitive circuit for season, after season. I’m here to tell you that The King of Fighters XV is currently looking pretty damn good. Whether it reaches its potential within competitive fighting games… That’s your call.