The King of Fighters XIV (PlayStation 4) Review

By Az Elias 31.08.2016

Review for The King of Fighters XIV on PlayStation 4

A brief hiatus from video game development saw the fighting game master SNK focus on creating increasingly-popular pachinko machines in its homeland of Japan following the release of The King of Fighters XIII. After reforming the team in hopes of competing in the market again, The King of Fighters XIV enters the scene with an all-new 3D look, whilst retaining the 2D gameplay its main series has always been famed for. Is it back to winning ways for this long-running franchise?

The main talking point is no doubt the new graphics engine. To retain the same 2D gameplay and make the move from sprites to fully-rendered 3D models is a risky one, especially for a series renowned for its superb animations and arena backgrounds. Initial reactions to the reveal of The King of Fighters XIV weren't overly positive, with the lack of 3D game development experience from SNK being quite obvious. Thankfully, the team took the feedback on board, and managed to improve the visual quality a fair bit in the lead up to release, even if it is certainly not up to par with other 3D titles of the current and past generations.

A few characters are lacking the polish they deserve, and it's clear some have survived the cross-over into 3D better than others. Many have lost a little personality in the overhaul, and the lack of variation in win poses and not being to taunt limits the amount of expression they can deliver. As a result, some fighters feel a tad bland, but the new characters are pretty original in their designs, making up for it somewhat.

Despite some plasticine-looking hair, the odd bit of clipping, and models that belong on a previous console, though, there is plenty to be pleased about on the graphical front. It may not be so apparent without a little straining, but a lot of effort has gone into the details and unique designs of the majority of fighters, and it's not really until the camera closes in on special moves or by studying the results screens that this can be seen for a brief period. Likewise, though, it's also a chance to see how poor some combatants look, and really emphasises how far behind the pecking order SNK is when it comes to 3D characters at the moment.

It's a mixture of good and bad, but it honestly doesn't take long at all to get used to the new visuals once you begin to, you know, actually play the game and realise that this is where KOF XIV excels and hasn't lost its mojo.

Screenshot for The King of Fighters XIV on PlayStation 4

Let it be known that this long-awaited entry is chockfull of content right out of the box; there is no need to wait for future patches to add in extra single-player features, unlike a certain other fighting game that launched with barebones gameplay modes earlier this year. It's sad to even have to proclaim that, but soloists can rest assured there is much to do outside of online bouts. Time Attack, Survival and Versus are self-explanatory, with Trials consisting of five combo challenges for every character. This is a rather small selection of Trials, and for veteran players, they aren't too difficult to clear, so extra ones would have been most welcome. Of course, part of the fun is discovering your own combos through practice.

It's also worth noting that the button combinations required to be inputted to complete each Trial are displayed onscreen. It should go without saying that this should be the case in fighting game challenges, but Street Fighter only displays the names of the moves, forcing constant trips to the command menu to check how to input them, and repeating until memorised. Thankfully, this is not an issue here.


 
Story mode is the main attraction outside of competitive online battles, and although there is no Arcade mode as such, what's called "Story" in The King of Fighters XIV is far more like Arcade than other story modes, since cut-scenes are few, and the flow plays out amongst 10 battles, with a sub-boss, final boss and ending scene. The plot begins a new trilogy arc, and is therefore actually rather lacklustre in terms of entertainment, with even the new final boss being an uninspired bore. It is clear that this is all setting up future events for the inevitable next entries. While more could have been done to make a more engaging story mode (even some team intro scenes would have been appreciated), the brilliant and humorous team endings more than make up for the losses.

There is a whopping 50 characters to choose from—by far the biggest roster to date in the series, and certainly far more than the vast majority of other games in the genre. It's a spectacular list, and whilst not every character has made the cut from previous KOF entries, the selection is undeniably mouth-watering. A number of original characters have entered the fray, and returning favourites have made the transition well. The biggest praise that can be given to SNK is just how varied the cast is in terms of play styles, movesets and even visual designs—no one fighter looks or plays the same, and it only has favourable knock-on effects for the game and community as a whole.

Since the 3-vs-3 team approach returns, the sheer diversity of the line-up means players will be creating all sorts of differing match-ups, which will keep the online and tourney scenes fresh and unpredictable. The added bonus is that players are effectively spoiled for choice, and may have a particularly hard time actually nailing down their three mains.

Screenshot for The King of Fighters XIV on PlayStation 4

The hefty roster also means a larger-than-normal number of officially designated teams plot-wise, and in turn, tons of different endings to unlock in Story mode. Anyone new to The King of Fighters may not initially understand that certain characters make up particular teams, as it's not explicitly clear on the character selection screen, but it is necessary to complete the story with these official trios to unlock the specific team endings. In addition, there are multiple special endings that can only be viewed by playing through the story with other teams of three that consist of characters from different official teams. This may require mix-and-match guesswork, but some can be figured out with a bit of thought (e.g. try putting the ninjas together). It's just a shame the 10-stage Story mode drags on too long, as playing through it so many times for the official team endings can be enduring in itself, never mind trying to find the special endings, which isn't helped by the fact nearly every match is 3-vs-3, with the opponent recovering health if it wins a round.

KOF XIV plays as wonderful as ever, and any reservations about graphics are quickly forgotten once the fight begins. Fast-paced by nature, one of the goals for the SNK team was to make this rejuvenation of the franchise the most accessible and newbie-friendly yet. It succeeds for the most part. The tutorial definitely could have been expanded with a little more depth and example fight scenarios in order to practice some of the more technical moves and tactics. Moving players onto intermediate and advanced situations would have helped in getting to know how to play a little better. As it is, it's left up to them to do a bit of research, watch videos, and practice online with others.

This is accessible for newcomers, though. Similar to P4 Arena, mashing the light punch button allows the selected fighter to perform a Rush Combo, which is an easy way to pull off a combo and special move, removing the need to input specific commands. Beating on the opponent and taking a beating yourself builds the Max bar, which can go through up to five gauges, with Max Mode able to be activated when one bar is full. This allows EX specials to be pulled off limitlessly as the gauge depletes, and Rush Combos benefit greatly from this, also, meaning newbies can reap the rewards of a simple-to-use system.

Screenshot for The King of Fighters XIV on PlayStation 4

Some characters are better suited to inexperienced users more than others, and veterans will appreciate learning the riskier ones to take advantage of mid-match situations better. The traditional fighting rules apply when it comes to counters, reversals, throws and cancels, and this is expanded when more technical characters mix things up with mid-air throws and other unique mechanics. Cancelling into Supers and Climaxes can be a difficult thing to pull off in the heat of the moment, and requires quick thumbs that newbies will need a lot of practice with, but needless to say, vets will be very happy with the depth offered in a game that caters to everyone.

Online, then. What's on offer, and how does it hold up? It's an important area—probably the single most important feature of any modern fighting game today. The expected 3-on-3 ranked matches are available, whilst lobbies can be created for unranked 3-on-3 and 1-on-1 match-ups. New to the series is Party Vs, where six individual players fight in a 3-on-3 battle, controlling a single character each, and it is easily one of the most fun parts of the online mode. Pressure is on when the result of the match rests on your shoulders as the last hope for the team, and shuffle options ensure players can be mixed up after matches so as to maintain some fairness. It's a shame the PS4 can only support up to four controllers at once, because Party Vs. as a local multiplayer feature would have made for some excellent competitive game nights.

The online lobby menus themselves are rather confusing, presentation-wise, and there is the bizarre case that if the host leaves the room, the whole lobby terminates. SNK has quickly fixed launch netcode issues, which were apparent on multiple occasions, with a patch, and the results are excellent. Party Vs. was initially the most stable mode, but it is pleasing that the update has brought the rest of the network features up to par, so there shouldn't be much to worry about in terms of KOF XIV's online future. The room termination just needs sorting out, and perhaps the lobby menus tidied up a little bit.

Screenshot for The King of Fighters XIV on PlayStation 4

Cubed3 Rating

7/10
Rated 7 out of 10

Very Good - Bronze Award

Rated 7 out of 10

The King of Fighters XIV is a solid comeback for the series, and the generally subpar 3D visuals are quickly gotten used to after a few minutes with the game. The proof is in the pudding; the same classic 2D fighting gameplay KOF has been renowned for is meaty, with plenty of depth for series vets to work with, an easier time for newcomers looking to get into it, enough modes for both solo and online players, a supersized character roster, and plenty to unlock in terms of artwork, music and more. Improvements could have been made in other areas, such as the weak story and presentation (menus and models), but more importantly, KOF XIV should have some great competitive legs, and deservedly so.

Developer

SNK Playmore

Publisher

Deep Silver

Genre

Fighting

Players

2

C3 Score

Rated $score out of 10  7/10

Reader Score

Rated $score out of 10  0 (0 Votes)

European release date Out now   North America release date Out now   Japan release date Out now   Australian release date Out now   

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