The King Of Fighters XV

Platform(s): PC, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox Series X
Genre: Fighting
Publisher: Koch Media
Developer: SNK
Release Date: Feb. 17, 2022


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XSX/PS5 Review - 'The King of Fighters XV'

by Cody Medellin on Feb. 11, 2022 @ 8:00 a.m. PST

The King Of Fighters XV is the latest installment in the fighting franchise, featuring a huge roster of fighters, and in addition to numerous popular, returning KOF characters.

Buy The King of Fighters XV

Designed as a team-based fighter that featured original combatants and others from most of SNK's other fighting game franchises, The King of Fighters '94 became a huge hit and stood alongside the Samurai Shodown series as some of the best fighting games to be released for the company's Neo Geo platform. Not counting the duo of Maximum Impact spin-offs, the mainline series wouldn't have 3D models for characters until The King of Fighters XIV in 2016. The King of Fighters XV not only marks the return of the series after six years, but it also marks a return to the Xbox console family.

For those who are unfamiliar with the series, The King of Fighters XV takes a standard fighting game and makes it more of a team-based affair. You select three people from a pool of 39 fighters, either in preset teams or comprised of members of opposing groups. Once you discover who you're up against, you can select the fighting order of each member before the bout begins. Unlike other team-based fighters, you can't switch members on the fly during a fight, but draining the opponent of their energy knocks them out of the fight. When a fighter falls, a new round begins with the next fighter in the queue, and the winner from the previous round gets some health replenished. Gameplay continues until one team's members are all knocked out.

The four-button fight mechanics and special abilities from the previous game have all returned in KoF XV. The rush mechanic seems easy to execute, since it involves simple button presses, but it's much harder to pull off since most novices won't often find themselves in a situation where three light punch attacks can be executed without interruption. Veterans will find it even harder to pull off, since their instinct is to chain different attacks and work in signature moves rather than use the basics. The only new fight mechanic introduced is the Shatter Strike, which is like a parry from Street Fighter III but with the added benefit of having an automatic counter-move. It works nicely and has the potential to become an invaluable tool for real competitive play, especially when you consider how the series has traditionally favored offense more than defense.

Despite the series being almost three decades old, it remains unique because few other fighting games have adopted this mechanic for most of their entries. While some prefer a system similar to the Vs. Capcom franchise, it works here because it makes fights feel more strategic as you vary your roster based on some of your favorite fighters' weaknesses. Selecting the roster is one thing, but juggling it around before a fight can work well to either counter your opponent's selection or trip them up. It can also work to dump your weakest character by using them to soften up the opponent in a losing effort, making it easier for the rest of the group to mop up.

As far as the fighter roster goes, there's a good mix of returning characters and a few new ones that essentially re-create just about every pre-formed team from the past, but like all of the prior KoF titles, there are bound to be people lamenting the loss of some of their favorite fighters in this go-round. What might be more striking is the overall roster reduction, which goes from 48 to 39 in the base game. There is DLC promised to arrive throughout the year, which means 12 more fighters are scheduled, but considering the available variety, the loss stings a bit, more so for PlayStation and PC players, since Xbox-only players never got KoF 14.

When looking at the offline modes, it feels slightly lacking compared to KoF 14 due to the removal of the Time Trial and Survival modes. They aren't huge omissions, but those who aren't into online play might feel disappointed. Everything else remains, from the practice modes to the character combo trials for solo characters and whole teams. There's also a tutorial mode that teaches you the basics of the game and how to execute the special mechanics.

The big focus for offline play remains the story mode, which works fine but doesn't provide an interesting plot. The general tale picks up where the last game left off, where the tournament is used to call forth a dangerous being that needs to be locked away again after a long imprisonment. Pick a specific team, and you get a few scenes pointed directly at them, with an ending sequence that lasts far longer than expected. What makes the scenes feel incomplete is the fact that the subtitled dialog for the final boss is missing, while the ending sequences are fully subtitled without character voices, similar to KoF 14's endings.

The story isn't great, but the opposite is true of the fighting against the AI. Compared to earlier SNK fighting games, the early matches can be tough, and it only gets slightly harder as you progress. The final two fights aren't easy, but you won't experience bosses that have one-hit kills or cheap, unblockable attacks. Like the last game, the story mode's challenge feels more even, so it's enjoyable to play through when compared to early games where the campaigns felt much longer than needed.

The other offline mode that gets a large amount of focus is the gallery. Like the previous game, playing through the story mode with several different teams means replaying all of the associated movies, and there's even an anime promo movie thrown in for good measure. Character voice packs are unlocked by beating story mode with those specific characters, but the real highlight is the jukebox, which not only sports all of the tracks from all of the King of Fighters games but also from some other SNK games, like Metal Slug and Fatal Fury. However, most of the soundtracks are locked unless you complete the story with specific characters, so completionists won't miss the removed modes, since they'll be spending a ton of time going through the campaign multiple times.

Xbox players will appreciate the series returning to the platform with this entry, but the elation is short-lived. For starters, only the Xbox Series X and S are getting the game, so those with the Xbox One are out of luck. That is unusual when you discover that the PS4 is getting the game at the same time as the PS5. It also seems odd when the load times between bouts and when continuing are noticeable, despite the system being armed with a fast nVME drive. It makes you wonder if the speeds on the PS4 are that bad with the mechanical drive or if they're good enough that the previous-generation Xbox consoles could handle it but SNK decided to skip them for some reason. Xbox and PC players also have no cross-play abilities, giving another advantage to PlayStation owners since PS4 and PS5 players can play online against one another. At a time when most major games are striving for cross-play on all platforms, its absence is a shame.

That lack of cross-play becomes even more of a hindrance since it was almost impossible to find an online session during the pre-launch period. We searched on both Xbox Series X and PS5, and after a few hours of waiting, we finally got in a few matches on the PS5. The developers have gone on record stating that rollback netcode was used to compensate for the previous title's spotty online performance, and in our relatively short time online, the code seems to have worked. Lag was nonexistent, and there were only a handful of instances where gameplay stopped for a half-second.

Provided that the community is there, players can enjoy the same modes from KoF 14. Both ranked and casual play are present, and you can also establish your own room for private or public matches with small groups of people. Online training mode is also available for those who want to practice with another person, and there are leaderboards to check rankings. Players can watch clips of online fights, which is useful for checking out some really good matches outside of YouTube or Twitch.

As good as KoF 14 was mechanically, one major thing people criticized was the presentation. While the graphics were meant as a homage to KoF '94, this iteration seems to have taken more inspiration from the recent iteration of Samurai Shodown by going with a slight cel-shaded look. The change is a big improvement, as the characters seem to sport more life in their facial expressions and more fluid attack animations. The change isn't evident in pre-rendered cut scenes, but it becomes more pronounced during the special attacks with multiple close-ups and camera angles. The change showcases the art style and little details of each character, but it comes at a price because the backdrops are inconsistent in quality. Most of them still look gorgeous, with loads of little details here and there to make things "pop," but that breaks down when you start fighting in places with large crowds and see them moving at half of the intended frame rate. One thing we didn't get to confirm is whether the game has a 120fps mode like Samurai Shodown does, as we don't have the proper set to verify that.

The audio has also received an upgrade to keep in line with the graphics. The music remains excellent, as do the effects, but the more noticeable improvement comes from the voice work, particularly that of the announcer. Play in story mode, and every fight comes with special introductions for the first participant of the opening team. In all fights, winning rounds elicit a comment, such as how things have evened up or how one player is keeping hope alive despite being down to the last fighter. There are moments where the calls are wrong, like when the announcer says that you're mounting a comeback even though you've won the first two rounds, but those aren't consistent. While it would've been nice to get some more running commentary like in Capcom Vs. SNK 2, it's nice to have it here and have the option to get a more toned-down announcer.

SNK has always produced solid entries in the KoF series, and The King of Fighters XV is no exception. Even though players will be split on the usual character shuffling, the fighting remains as tight and fast as ever, despite the move from sprites to polygons. The single-player experience feels fair compared to the company's older output. Although the game is largely the same as before, the much-improved presentation makes it feel more like a finished product. With the online performance in a good place so far, KoF XV feels like a significant improvement over the previous title. Fighting fans will certainly be happy with this iteration.

Score: 8.0/10

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