Thursday, February 24, 2022.
by Adam Dileva

KING OF FIGHTERS XV, THE Box art “Shatter All Expectations." That’s the tagline for The King of Fighters XV, the latest entry in the long running fighting series that’s been around since 1994. I actually went into The King of Fighters XV with little to no expectations, not for any fault of its own, but I haven’t played a King of Fighters (KOF) game in quite a few years. While most may think of or gravitate towards the most popular fighters, Street Fighter and Tekken, especially when it comes to eSports and competitive gaming in the genre, KOF has always carved its own niche with fans due to its unique roster of characters and interesting game mechanics.

It’s hard to think that it’s been almost six years since the previous game, The King of Fighters XIV, and with such a gap in-between entries, quite a few improvements have been added, such as graphics, mechanics, roster and online improvements. With just shy of forty characters (and another dozen coming in the future with DLC) ranging from classics, popular picks and even new fighters, there’s surely to be a handful of characters you enjoy and gravitate towards to. Classic 3-on-3 battles return but also bring in a handful of completely new mechanics like Shatter Strikes, an improved MAX Mode and tweaked Rush function means there’s something for KOF veterans and newcomers alike. Having been away from the series for quite a few years, The King of Fighters XV was an easy experience to simply jump into and enjoy, yet has enough depth to become masterful without enough effort and practice.

While normally fighter games have an overall narrative, along with each character’s individual storylines, let’s be honest, that’s not why we play the genre. We play to beat each other up and have a good time mastering combos. If you do care about the ongoing storyline in the series, the saga continues from the previous game, coming to an explosive climax. Of course this isn’t really the focus, but there is an overarching storyline to become invested in if you do care about the lore within the KOF series.

A fighting game is generally only as good as its roster and mechanics, and with 39 characters (and a dozen more coming via DLC), there’s plenty of choice here for you to try out and find your ideal team of fighters. Like previous games, matches are comprised of three fighters per team. Instead of being able to freely swap out mid battle, you choose the order of the three fighters, and if you defeat your enemy, you get some health slightly replenished for the next match until all three of one team is defeated. And if you’re a long-term KOF fan, you’ll be happy to know that the original voice actors return to reprise their roles as your favorite fighters.

The King of Fighters XV features three new original fighters to the series this year as well; Isla, Dolores and Krohnen. Isla is the leader of the Rivals Team, focusing on her speed and utilizes purple phantom arms for many of her attacks. Dolores is also a member of her Rivals Team, a beginner friendly fighter that has psychic medium capabilities that allows her to contact spirits of the earth. Last for the KOF newcomers is Krohnen, leader of the team with the same name. Having an arm that can transform and a red shawl, I instantly thought he resembled Vincent Valentine from Final Fantasy VII at quick glance.

Not that you’re forced to pick your trio that belong to the same team, but when you do, their special logo will appear in the prefight screens as opposed to the typical KOF logo; A small but cool touch. Speaking of Teams, characters have been moved around, alliances made, and should make for some interesting matchups for long-time KOF fans that will notice the roster list of fan favorites. The following team compositions are as follows:

Team Hero: Shun’ei, Meitenkun and Benimaru
Team Ash: Ash, Elisabeth and Kukri
Team Sacred Treasures: Kyo, Iori and Chizuru
Team K’: K’, Maxima and Whip
Team Rival: Isla, Heidern and Dolores
Team Fatal Fury: Terry, Andy and Joe
Team Art of Fighting: Ryo, Robert and King
Team Orochi: Yashiro, Shermie and Chris
Team Super Heroine: Athena, Mai and Yuri
Team Ikari: Leona, Ralf and Clark
Team G.A.W. (Galaxy Anton Wrestling): Antonov, Ramon and The King of Dinosaurs
Team Krohnen: Krohnen, Kula and Angel
Team Secret Agent Team: Blue Mary, Vanessa and Luong

Of course in Story Mode there will be some narrative and your ending will depend on who your team is comprised of once you defeat the final boss(es), both of which can be quite challenging to learn how to counter their attacks. There’s nothing terribly exciting about the story mode aside from trying to unlock all of the different endings based on your team composition. If you’re not planning on playing against others locally or online, I suspect your excitement will wane after a short period of time.

The King of Fighters XV plays like many others fighters but utilizes some interesting mechanics, combos and counter systems in place. The traditional 3-on-3 team battle returns, but also adds some new features that should make for some interesting matchups when it comes to fighting others. The latest and newest mechanics is what’s called a Shatter Strike. This is essentially another form to counter attack an opponent, like the series’ previous Parry system, but this can be used offensively as well when you use a portion of your Super Bar.

The previous MAX Mode returns, much like a Super Bar, but has had some slight changes in KOF XV. Simply engaging MAX Mode now takes two bars, activated with ‘LK’ and ‘HP’. Once in MAX Mode your attack and Guard Crush is increased. Max Mode Quick also returns, but is also slightly tweaked, not increasing your power for attacks, allowing you to flow into your next combo without leaving that small gap for an opening.

What would a modern fighting game be without special moves right? There’s plenty here, from EX Special Moves, Super Special Moves, Max Super Special Moves and Climax Super Special Moves. Depending on the type of special moves will determine how much of your Power Gauge will be utilized, from half a bar to three bars. The Climax moves are the lengthy mini-cutscenes that take a healthy chunk of your opponent’s life if landed, but hope you don’t miss and leave yourself open for a counter.

Rush Mode returns, and while some may see it as controversial when you get to the higher level competition, this system is great for newer players like myself that can now perform “auto” combos, even able to chain right into one of the special moves. This is more meant for newcomers, essentially allowing you to string together some combos without having to memorize all of the complicated inputs. All that needs to be done is hitting Light Punch three times, and depending on the fourth input, that will choose what ‘finisher’ your combo ends with. While easy to perform, you can’t simply rely on these Rush combos, as you’ll leave yourself open if you don’t land the initial attack.

While there is a tutorial mode that will teach you the basics and all of the different attack types, what it doesn’t do well is give you a thought process of how they all connect logically. It took me quite a few hours to really grasp when to use certain moves at the most opportune times and even understand why I would at any given moment. Each character then has a more specific and in-depth tutorial, showing you have to string together their lengthy and powerful combos, but after the second or third lesson, good luck. These tutorial combos want to you string together a handful of different challenging inputs that’s going to take a good chunk of time, effort and dedication to really grasp and perform on the fly when needed. It’s very difficult to master a character and all of their movesets and combos, but of course, dedicate the time and it will pay off in the long run when you go to fight others online or locally.

Speaking of fighting others online, a fighting game can live or die by how good its netcode is. If every match is laggy or servers are terrible, the community won’t bother and the game can slowly die. Sadly we’ve seen this too many times, so I was curious what developers SNK have done to make sure that The King of Fighters XV thrives with an online community that won’t settle for anything less. In general, the better fighter games utilize something called 'Rollback Netcode'. This essentially is a clever way to handle latency online, and even after playing a few matches online with a 250+ ping in a few matches, I only lost because of my skill, not blaming it on lag. Being the first canon King of Fighters to have this implemented at launch is a big deal and shows SNK’s commitment to wanting to have a healthy online community.

There’s a handful of different online modes to choose, from typical Ranked and Casual, but also online training, room matches and a few others. While I feel most will likely gravitate towards the standard Casual and Ranked modes, it should be noted that on Xbox at least, the only crossplay enabled is within the same family on console, so keep that in mind when choosing what platform to play on with your friends. This seems like a large miss, especially if the healthy community currently starts to dissipate over time or is playing elsewhere.

There’s a ton of extras for KOF fans to enjoy, like galleries, rewatching cutscenes, and even a DJ Station where you can play any of a few hundred different songs, choosing your soundtrack. Visually, The King of Fighters XV is of course bright, colorful and flashy, especially once you perform a few of the special finishers, though I was never ‘wowed’. Voiced characters are here as well but like most fighters, expect to hear a lot of the same one-liners when performing certain moves.

While there’s a steep learning curve to reach high level play and a ton of content, there’s something for KOF beginners and veterans alike. The King of Fighters XV has a massive roster of 39 characters in the core game before any DLC, and with a healthy amount of mechanics to learn and master, it will take some patience, time and dedication to find your ideal trio to prove that you’re the true King of Fighters.

**THE KING OF FIGHTERS XV was provided by the publisher and reviewed on an Xbox Series X**

Overall: 8.0 / 10
Gameplay: 9.0 / 10
Visuals: 8.0 / 10
Sound: 7.0 / 10


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