King of Fighters XIV Player Spotlight: TSS Paladin
It’s been several years, 6 to be exact, since The King of Fighters last seen a release. SNK’s staple fighting game franchise almost seen its end with the change in direction within the company and many fans feared that the next time their beloved characters made an appearance it would be on the front of a pachinko machine. Fortunately this was not the case and SNK have resurrected the series in a new direction, focussed on 3d models and as a Playstation 4 exclusive to be published by Deep Silver in the EU.
Previously the King of Fighters games were released months in advance in Japan on arcade machines and they would eventually make the Western market several months later, although with King of Fighters XIV things are working a little differently – much like Street Fighter V – and we are seeing a more condensed release during August with Deep Silver publishing the European version of KoFXIV on August 26th. Another different approach was the invitational events that many players were invited to partake in from all across the world, the most recent of which being Stunfest in Rene, France. These events allowed players from all over Europe to attend France’s largest fighting game event and try out the game ahead of its release and we were fortunate enough to catch up with Michael “TSS Paladin” Strain to discuss his time with the game.
Michael “TSS Paladin” has been around the Scottish scene for years, playing everything from the highly acclaimed Street Fighter IV to “poverty games” like Akatsuki Blitzkampf. Over the years Michael has placed highly in monthly tournaments and always placed highly among those travelling to Hypespotting every year. Although he was not invited to the invitational at first, Michael was able to earn his spot by holding the longest win streak on the cabinets during his time there, proving he was worthy of taking on the big names in the scene. But the most important part is that he is friends with “TSS Atma”, a true achievement for any KoF player.
Q: Congratulations on winning a position in the tournament! How long was your streak on KoFXIV to qualify?
A: Thank you! I can’t actually remember the exact number, about 7 or 8 roughly I think? The qualifying event ran on a ‘two lives’ system. One player before me, who also qualified, defeated a great deal of players as well. While I was playing mine, it seemed the remaining players had all been eliminated or were no longer participating – so my streak was actually ended by a lack of opponents rather than an actual loss!
Q: After you had found out that you had qualified, were there any players you scouted out as competition in the bracket?
A: Given that it was an invitational, I knew going in that it was going to be a very difficult tournament. There were the obvious KoF heavyweights like Xiao Hai and Frionel present, but all of the entrants were experienced KoF players, many of them having achieved international success in KoF in the past. For that reason I wouldn’t say I targeted specific players as competition. Every player had the potential to put me out, and I approached every game with that mentality. I had played many of the entrants in the previous year’s KoFXIII tournament, so I was well aware of what they were capable of.
Q: Do you have any specific highlights from the tournament that stood out for you?
A: The tournament as a whole was a very unusual experience. Unlike a typical tournament, even the best players were in a process of learning as they play, and no one was quite sure was effective within the new systems. It was interesting seeing how different players utilised the new mechanics of the game. This meant that as you went into a game against a new player, you never quite knew what to expect, even if you thought you were familiar with the characters they used. A personal highlight that I think shows this is my final match against Piccolo. I had been relying on a very defensive playstyle with Leona that most players I encountered struggled to respond to, falling victim to Leona’s improved anti-airs and space control in Max Mode. However, Piccolo approached the matchup in a completely different way, utilising Mai’s keepaway potential to avoid having to deal with Leona’s improved defensive options in Max Mode. Caught completely off guard, I did not have any options or strategies prepared to deal with Piccolo’s response. I was unable to adapt and form a real response in time, resulting in my loss. In a tournament like that, having an ability to adapt is even more important than usual. You can never be entirely sure what to expect.
Q: How did you find your time with the test build of KoFXIV? Did you prefer it to KoFXII in its current build?
A: I really enjoyed KoFXIV, getting the chance to play it for a weekend was worth the trip to Stunfest alone. Personally I prefer it to KoFXIII. There has been a general rebalancing of how normal moves interact which I felt created a much more interesting neutral game. Hops and jumps are generally easier to respond to, and many characters have seen the return of normals that have been absent since KoFXII, such as Kyo’s far A and Robert’s overhead.
Q: How does it feel being “TSS Atma’s” friend? Is the friendship reciprocated?
A: There has been a great deal of friction over this back at TSS HQ. I think I avoided the worst of it tough, AER has had similar issues two years in a row now. He has been upgraded from being constantly mistaken as Atma himself at Stunfest 2015 to being “Atma’s brother’ this year. I don’t know how he copes.
Q: You are known to play characters that align themselves in the good side of the KoF lore, but has KoFXIV convinced to change for some characters?
Q: Are there any characters you would consider adding to your team and removing other characters?
A: There’s a few characters I’m keeping an eye on. Tung looks like he could be pretty interesting and he seems strong from what little we managed to see at Stunfest. I’m also interested in trying out ‘Kim’s Master’ (Known in our community as ‘DSP’). I’ll likely be playing a fair bit of King and Ryo as well – absolutely gutted there’s no Shingo though, Iori would have been booted off for sure if he was around.
Q: You have always spoken highly about KoF soundtracks, what were your thought on the current soundtrack and do you have a favourite OST/Theme so far?
A: I think it’s great, one of the better KoF soundtracks so far. There’s some disagreement in the Scottish community though, I know a few players who haven’t been impressed so far. From what I’ve heard, my favourite is probably the new Iori Team theme, his team always has great music and KoFXIV continues that trend. Looking forward to the other teams.
Q: What were your impressions of KoF’s new Max Mode? You had previously discussed the added throw invulnerability after activating to prevent meaty command grabs, did you discover anything else like that?
A: I think Max Mode is a good replacement for KoFXIII’s HD Mode and EX moves. Both were extremely powerful in KoFXIII, and I think Max Mode is a good middle ground, keeping what people enjoyed about the combo potential of HD and the additional options EX specials provided, but without making them as powerful and freely available as they were in KoFXIII.
I’ll be interested to see how use of Max Mode develops. I noticed different players approached it very differently. Many defensively minded players preferred to activate it raw, giving themselves access to EX specials to improve their control over neutral and provide new options, while others, noticing that Max Mode was safe to activate on block, used it primarily as a tool to convert into full combos from relatively safe pokes.In hindsight, I think the latter of the two was the more effective option, and was the preferred method of the players in Top 4 from what I could see. That said, it’s a developing game and new builds will bring changes, so who knows how it’s going to end up.
Q: The other interviewed players have expressed a great desire to travel and compete in KoFXIV, do you have similar plans and where will you be visiting?
A: I think there’s a general feeling in the Glasgow community that the best way to improve at this point is to travel and get as much tournament experience as we can, so I’ll certainly be going along with them on that. There’s currently plans to head to NEC and Morocco this year at the very least. Stunfest has always been a worthwhile and relatively inexpensive trip as well, so I expect a trip to France in 2017 as well. That said, we’re definitely not limiting this to outside of the UK. I’m looking forward to future UK KoFXIV tournaments.
Q: Do you think KoFXIV will appeal to new players?
A: I think so, it is definitely an easier game to pick up than XIII. I think a problem many new players had with XIII is that players had to wrestle with both the execution of HD confirms and combos while also learning the relatively unique ‘fundamentals’ of KoF alongside that. A player could be developing a decent pressure and anti-air game, but effectively it amounted to nothing because landing HD combos and similar were so essential to securing wins. In XIV however combos are much more simple, and the ‘Rush Combo’ exists for those players who would struggle with even that. I expect it will make the game much more enjoyable for beginners who play a very basic game. I think Atma referred to this as well, but many attacks that are traditionally very difficult for new players to deal with, such as Iori’s ‘taco’ crossup, are less effective in KoFXIV, so that will help too. Overall I would say that KoFXIV is likely going to be a good starting point for anyone hoping to pick up the series.
Q: KoF is notable for having a high level of execution, do you think the addition of Rush Combos will lower this for new players?
A: Yes, it’s a controversial mechanic in recent fighting games but I have no problem with how it is implemented in KoFXIV currently. Rush Combos offer significantly lower damage and meter gain than ‘real’ combos, but I think it provides a useful tool for both casual players and those picking up the game that would prefer to focus on the basics of KoF fundamentals before delving into execution. With that said however, I do not think ‘real’ combos in KoFXIV will be particularly difficult for those experienced with fighting games.
The King of Fighters XIV is set to hit the EU on August 26th, NA on August 25th, and Asia on August 23rd this year. If you enjoyed this make sure to check out our other player spotlights with TSS Atma and David of the Sands.