How many main iterations does your favourite game series have? Gears of War – 5? Pah. Tekken and Forza Motorsport – 7? Pfft, merely beginning. The juggernaut that is The King of Fighters has released its fifteenth game, and so I guess the question has to be whether SNK has brought anything new to the table this time around with The King of Fighters XV. With the promise of forty-two fighters, divided into fourteen official teams of three, there doesn’t seem to be any shortage of characters to get to grips with; the initial promise certainly seems good.
As everyone knows, the most important thing with a fighting game like The King of Fighters XV is the overarching narrative. Now, I have to hold my hands up and say that I am in no way invested in the KOF franchise, as I haven’t played any of the franchise since its glory days in the arcade. Apparently though, in the last game, a creature known as Verse appeared and not only got a good kicking, but it also managed to revive a few fighters from past tournaments. I mean, if you need an excuse to bring back fighters from previous games, then this is a pretty good one, right? Anyway, what this leads to is the start of a new tournament, and hopefully this time there won’t be any nasty creatures appearing to wreak havoc. Well, no spoilers…
The story is suitably bonkers, I mean, the trouble at the end of the last tournament would put me off entering the next one, I don’t know about you? But now we must address the way the game is presented. Here the story is very good, as the graphics are bright, shiny and look very superb on the Xbox Series X|S. The character sprites are big, bold and well designed, and the way they move is absolutely bang on as well. The attacks are bone crunching with just a regular punch, and when the super moves and super duper moves begin to flow, the pyrotechnics on screen are almost breathtaking; some of them are wince inducing as well. Audio-wise The King of Fighters XV is also bang on, with good voice acting and suitably crunching impacts. The personality of the characters is portrayed very well, and they interact with each other nicely, adding another layer of story to the way the game is played out.
So, The King of Fighters XV looks good, sounds good and has a story, but how about the way it plays out? Well, it is set as a traditional side on 2D beat-em-up, but it does have a little trick up its sleeve. Instead of working the usual one on one set-up, you select a team of three fighters and take on other trios as you progress through the rounds. You can either use an official team, of which there are fourteen, with names like “Team Hero” or “Team Krohnen”, or, if none of the trios on offer float your boat, you can just pick your three favourite fighters and mould them into a tight knit team. At least that’s the plan.
The characters on display are a varied bunch, but fall largely into the standard kind of fighting game tropes. There are the standard Ken/Ryu type characters, with the basic fireball/ dragon punch control inputs, and large yet slow wrestler types with a neat line in spinning piledrivers (they seem to remind me of someone…). The standard well endowed and skimpily clad ladies round out the roster, and all in all, with forty-two fighters to pick from, creating a team you like should be fairly straightforward.
What plays out though is pretty much as you would be expecting; a series of beatles, and with each character having one health bar, each bout could be over in three rounds, if you take out the whole opposing team with one character, or it could be as many as five, if the teams are more equally matched. However, even on the so called “Easy” mode, it is anything but.
A large part of the difficulty, if I’m honest, is down to trying to play The King of Fighters XV with a traditional controller, instead of using a fight stick or an arcade cabinet. Most of the super duper special moves are a series of sweeping D-Pad/left stick motions, with the worst being “quarter circle back-half circle forward” motions, and then the pressing of two buttons at the same time. Honestly, an octopus would struggle with some of the inputs. An ageing fighting game fan like myself finds it almost impossible outside of training mode, and while I recognise a lot of that is down to my old joints, it is tricky to use a controller for this game.
The rest of the systems included are equally complicated, with guard cancels, shatter strikes and all sorts of other tactics to get to grips with. Hops? Jumps? You can do both, but it is sometimes hard to play off the move you want to use.
Online play is also present and correct with The King of Fighters XV, and with either ranked or casual matches available you’ll obviously want to check out the murky waters of the online world. If you do, and you thought that playing against the AI was hard work, you’ll discover it is absolutely nothing compared to the opponents you find online. Seriously, it appears that these guys were born with a controller in their hand, and with a really good kicking administered, over and over again, I soon found myself retreating to the safer worlds of the offline game. I can’t even blame lag or anything like that as the net code is solid all the way through. Luckily, with a pretty deep tutorial mode built in, sufficient training should allow you to eventually be able to compete with those around the world.
In conclusion and it’s safe to say that the action on offer in The King of Fighters XV is fast, furious, nicely polished and very addictive indeed. Finding a team that suits your playstyle is good fun, building your own team is rewarding, and with a deep and quite accessible fighting system to get to grips with, it’s well worth playing. The King of Fighters newbies may initially find things to be a struggle, but there’s enough here to keep you playing for a decently long time.
The King of Fighters XV is available to download from the Xbox Store