When SNK released The King of Fighters ’94, it took arcade gaming by storm with its innovative team-based battles and NEOGEO-powered graphics that were the absolute cutting age of 2D at the time. The graphics were so ground breaking that it would take Capcom several years to catch on. The NEOGEO tech was truly ahead of its time, remaining at the cutting edge of 2D graphics until 2004 when it was finally retired.
SNK would then move on to the Atomiswave arcade board for a short while before making the jump to Taito’s then revolutionary Type X-2 Hardware, and it was on this platform where SNK were able to truly reinvent their graphics and art style in The King of Fighters XII. This reboot of sorts was joined by the likes of BlazBlue: Calamity Trigger and even Street Fighter IV on the very same arcade platform. Undoubtedly, 2008-2009 marked an epic resurgence of 2D fighting games; a resurgence which has only gained more momentum a decade later in 2019. The King of Fighters XII certainly produced incredible graphics, but sadly this was all the game had going for it as even by 2009 gaming standards it was sorely lacking as a fighting game experience.
The King of Fighters XII (12) quite literally felt like a demo disc for a future game in the series, which really ended up being the case when the intended vision was realised roughly two years later in the form of The King of Fighters XIII (13). The King of Fighters (KOF) XII on its own offered very little in terms of content as it had no storyline, no teams, and the roster was so thin that the game didn’t even have a final boss battle. Thin gameplay aside, it was very basic and unfinished in presentation with a repetitive musical score; likely made up of leftover stock music from SNK’s archives. Even the stages felt basic and unfinished as they clearly weren’t given the same attention as the rest of the graphical presentation. KOF XII was nothing more than a glorified demo disc, and this was especially disappointing given how games like Street Fighter IV and, the then-newcomer, BlazBlue overachieved in their gameplay variety, presentation, and production values.
Still, despite being such a bare-bones fighting game release, KOF XII still achieved what it set out to do by rebooting the then ageing franchise and literally starting-over from scratch. It introduced a brand-new graphics engine which meant the character sprites and models were completely redesigned, and while some may have different preferences for art, there was no denying that the character sprites in KOF XII were impressively detailed and sported fluid animation and flow. It’s just a shame the new character sprites and animations were placed in such boring and bland stages, which resulted in a highly inconsistent visual presentation.
The fighting system of KOF XII did some things well. For one thing the core combat felt responsive, tight, and heavy, and the actual battles were a lot of fun. The smaller roster also meant the gameplay balance was generally consistent for the most part, but for a franchise which became known for its blistering fast combat, KOF XII slowed the flow of fights to an absolute snail-pace. Some players certainly would have favoured the slower and heavier pace, but this was not what KOF was about. Even if the gameplay had some redeeming features, the roster was jarringly thin by series’ standards (it at least had the essentials such as Kyo, Iori, Terry, Mai, and other SNK icons) which meant the gameplay variety didn’t offer much to make it a game worth coming back to again and again. KOF XII may have offered some fancy new graphics, but as a complete fighting package it simply couldn’t hold up against Street Fighter IV or BlazBlue: Calamity Trigger.
A couple of years after the unceremonious release of KOF XII, things were done right with follow-up KOF XIII, which not only improved upon the graphics engine but did everything right in other areas as well. KOF XIII offered detailed stages and backdrops which complemented the detailed and fluid character sprites, and even the basic presentation was jacked-up too thanks to stylised menus and a soundtrack which had a lot more range and energy. The roster went from a measly 22 fighters in KOF XII to 36 fighters in KOF XIII, greatly enhancing the gameplay variety and even bringing back boss battles to boot.
In short, KOF XIII was the game KOF XII was always meant to be, and it would go on to be one of the most celebrated fighting games of the generation. Not long ago the series saw another reboot of sorts on PlayStation 4 in the form of The King of Fighters XIV. For now, it looks like The King of Fighters may have found a home on PlayStation 4, but thankfully back in February of this year The King of Fighters XIII (not XII) got added to Xbox One’s backwards compatibility catalogue. Yes, this article was meant to be looking back on The King of Fighters XII, but the point is you need to play The King of Fighters XIII instead if you’re keen to revisit the past.
Do you remember The King of Fighters XII more fondly, or is it an instalment that’s best left in the past? Get in touch and share your memories of it via the comments sections below or on social media!