Burning to Fight: A Look at The King of Fighters XIV
As you are probably well aware by now, we are very excited for The King of Fighters XIV and have been talking about it since SNK teased back in early 2014 that they would be working on the next installment of The King of Fighters franchise. And with less than a month to go there is no better way to build up hype for the series than a world tour, that unfortunately seems to be skipping Europe, and a free offline demo on the PSN store.
We won’t bore you with the history and conflicting history of what was happening during the development in any great deal, as you may have read about it in our interviews with Atma, David of the Sands, Paladin, or Frionel. But there was a moment that many fans of the series worried that the promised title would never come to light as SNK had switched their focus to pachinko machines and it would have seemed that they were no longer focussing on their staple fighting game series.
The first thing many fans of the series will notice about The King of Fighters XIV is the distinct change in visuals between XIII and XIV. Famed for it’s amazing 2D sprite work and sublime animation it was decided, with the return of Yasuyuki Oda as the game’s director, to move on the 3D models – something that a large number of fighting games have been implementing in modern generations. This change was met with a lot of hesitancy, and rightfully so. Early trailers showed off The King of Fighters XIV as looking inferior to modern games and rather poor at times. But as time moved on and with SNK’s stellar promotional approach with weekly trailers and constant announcements, The King of Fighters XIV grew into its shoes as lighting and textures improved over time. The final product in the demo still isn’t the most aesthetically pleasing fighting game on the market, but it’s a damn sight more appealing now than the original announcement trailers.
That’s not to say The King of Fighters XIV is ugly, in fact it looks brilliant and even in the small collection of characters there is a great deal of vibrance and diversity in the cast. Of the 7 playable characters each and everyone looks completely different and plays differently too. Sylvie, Shun’ei, Nelson, and King of Dinosaurs(who isn’t technically new, it’s Tizoc, but the design is new) are all brand new to the series and show that SNK have made a conscious decision to appeal to more players when it comes to design and diversity. EAch character boasts a range of vibrancy in their colours and movesets. As for the returning members of the cast, they look just as you would have imagined. Iori’s distinct purple fireballs look great, Kyo’s explosive rekkas really pop, and Mai’s…fans float effortlessly as she bobs back in forth.
It’s great that the visual style isn’t as garish as we had first imagined, but the real crux of any fighting game is the system itself. Returning players will effortlessly adapt to The King of Fighters XIV as they maiden masher their way through the competition and effortlessly adjust the new moves of characters into their game plan. As for new players, the system lends itself well to learning just how to combo, with links and cancels easy enough to learn with a day or two’s practise. Max mode provides an interesting and explosive nature to normals. If a player can confirm into max mode you will see a flurry of ex moves combo leading up to some truly spectacular specials. On the surface these combos look massively complex, but once a player comes to grips with the system and how to do these combos there are wonderfully satisfying and easy to pull off.
There is a great feel to The King of Fighters XIV outside of combos too. The flow of combat feels effortless as you seamlessly react to short hops, whiffed buttons, and dropped combos alike. It bridges the much needed gap between what players enjoyed about Street Fighter IV and Street Fighter V in terms of execution and performance. So far there seems to be very few excruciatingly tight and unnecessary links outwith style combos and it isn’t so easy and sluggish that ingenuity and whiff punishing are tossed out the window for the sake of ease of access. When it comes to an aspect like this, it’s hard to put into words why The King of Fighters XIV feels so good, but it does. There is enough room into system that not every combo looks the same, and Max Mode adds extra depth to the system that players can utilise for complex resets, massive damage, and a much needed flair.
As far as demos go, The King of Fighters XIV have knocked it out the park when it comes to fighting games. Giving the players the ability to play offline, play against the CPU, and just toy around in a full training mode will surely keep them occupied up until the release in August. And it doesn’t stop there either, not only have SNK have been extremely generous with the demo’s offline capabilities they have also given a lot of players what they have been asking for when it comes to feel and performance. To an extent I had been largely ignorant of the KoF series until XIV as I found the systems to be confusing and the dexterity in 4 different jumps to be impenetrable, but The King of Fighters XIV feels so good that I have struggled to put it down – even in this short demo where very few of the characters that caught my eye are playable. When it comes to fighting games there is something that goes unsaid, an x-factor if you will, that keeps them in the public eye for years and years. MvC2 seen it, Street Fighter IV had it in most iterations, and in countries like China and Mexico KoF has always had it. So maybe now it’s time for The King of Fighters to take the mainstage and seize the throne and prove it’s worth of the title King.