It has been a long time since the last King of Fighters game, King of Fighters 13, got released on last-gen consoles way back in 2010.
Sticking strong to their old school 2D fighting gameplay and visual style, the newest iteration, The King of Fighters 14, marks the first time for the franchise that it goes fully 3D.
Question is, whether the visual update is the only thing that gets innovated for the franchise, or if King of Fighters 14 got a few more tricks up its sleeve?...
Let's get one of the most important things out of the way first: King of Fighters 14 is not a fighting game that you would want to play because of its story.
While games like most notably Mortal Kombat 9 showed us that you actually can tell a gripping and immersive story within a fighting game, King of Fighters sadly, much like the recent Street Fighter V, is far away from being anything like that.
King of Fighters 14 offers a story mode which barely even is worth talking about since it barely even features a story at all. While another King of Fighters tournament held by the villainous champion Antonov is at the center of it all, there is barely a clearly presented narrative path to follow. Instead, King of Fighters 14's "story" only really consists of about 4-5 cutscenes that are spliced into seemingly randomly chosen matches between your team and an opponents team. The fact that the entire story can easily be beaten without too much difficulty in about 30-40 minutes doesn't make it any more appealing.
It quickly becomes clear, that developer SNK once again put the gameplay in the forefront with the story mode being an afterthought. But considering that there is barely any story at all that additionally turns out to be so shamelessly short...why even put a story mode in there to begin with?
|Don't come here for the story mode, cause there basically is no story.|
Much like other fighting games, as for example Tekken, The King of Fighters 14 once again is a fighting game that is "easy to learn but hard to master".
While getting into the basic move sets and combo schemes the game teaches you in a quick but detailed training mode, what lies beneath that surface is a deeply complex game that takes quite some time for players to unlock the complete potential of a character.
With King of Fighters 14, you always have to keep in mind "nothing is as simple as it might seem at first". For example, while jumping is a very standard move in any fighting game that can be accomplished by the simple press of a button, in King of Fighters 14, there are four different ways of jumping, of which each specific way is eventually necessary to pull off a specific move.
|Becoming the King of Fighters sure isn't easy.|
With that said, what already makes King of Fighters standout among its competition in the fighting game genre is most notably the fact that you don't just have to master one character but at least three.
The King of Fighters puts your team of three fighters against an opponents team of three fighters. Thus, knowing your characters as well as placing them in a strategically effective order gives King of Fighters a new layer of tactical gameplay that few other fightings games so consistentally follow upon.
Yet as already said, King of Fighters 14 might feel a bit shallow on the surface, but it's only when you dig deeper into each character that you truely experience and see how much content is hidden in the game.
While King of Fighters 14 doesn't offer the world in terms of gameplay modes, it easily outbalances that with its sheer huge amount of choosable fighters.
Therefore, there's more than enough for fighting game enthusiasts to sink their teeth into when trying to learn (or let alone master) the skills of the game's total of 50 characters. This number puts the roster of most other fighting games to shame. While some special characters have to be unlocked, the great majority is accesible right from the start, offering you plenty of variety in styles and maneuvers of each fighter.
Also it is very welcome that 13 of the fighters are entirely new additions to the franchise giving the giant roster a nice balance of old and new.
|There sure are more than enough fighters to choose from.|
Despite now using 3D models, King of Fighters is still played on a 2-dimensional field. Nevertheless, the action in fights is much different than for example the more frantic Mortal Kombat. In King of Fighters 14, many moves are pulled off a tad bit slower making perfectly timed defenses a must learn for anybody who wants to stand a chance against much harder opponents. Yet at the same time, it makes King of Fighters a much more strategic fighting game whose tad bit slower pace only underlines how both offense and defense have to work perfectly, whereas you will otherwise simply get anhiliated by your opponent who will instantly exploit each one of your failed defensive attempts.
|KOF matches luckily feel quite different from other fighting games.|
It actually does not need mentioning that King of Fighters 14 of course features a multiplayer mode, that despite the big roster of 50 characters feels a bit barebones in regards to different modes.
Other than that though, the characters give a lot of motivation to learn each of them and test out which characters fit your playing style the best and which team combination proves to be the most effective against most opponents.
On a sidenote though, there were some connectivity issues that prevented the game from running as consistently smoothly as its singleplayer. While smooth and intense matches are plenty and can be found in the multiplayer suite of the game, the connectivity issues are still a serious annoyance. Though this should be relatively easy to patch or fix.
|In multiplayer, oftentimes not everything goes as smoothly as planned.|
Even though the franchise for the first time completely devoted itself to the world of 3D, with now both the levels AND the fighters themselves being 3D models, sadly, The King of Fighters 14 is far away from looking impressive.
While admittedly running on smooth 60FPS, the character models and the world very much lack detail and mostly flatout feel like they belong to an early PS3 or Xbox 360 game. Sure enough, one could argue that the very anime and manga influenced style of the game comes into place with the characters lacking any big detail and featuring unrealistically smooth skin, but when even a game like Dead or Alive with pretty much the same aesthetic looks better, then SNK really missed out.
The King of Fighters 14's shift to 3D might be a very welcome change, but it can't distract from the fact that the game is far away from visually really taking advantage of the current consoles' technical capabilities.
Soundwise there really isn't too much noteworthy to talk about.
Music is a very over-the-top J-popy kind of affair while the entire voice acting performance work is held in Japanese. Luckily though, the Japanese voice actors do an expectedly fine job of breathing life into the anime/manga influenced shenanigans happening in the game's "story" and delivering the characters' quirky lines, that the lack of english voice acting or having to read subtitles the entire time doesn't become too distracting or annoying.
|Sadly, KOF14 is far away from meeting today's graphical standards.|
All in all, The King of Fighters 14 is a good game that takes the theme "easy to learn, yet hard to master" truely to heart. With that said, though the game might feel a bit basic and shallow at first, the true complexity of the game's deep mechanics only gets unleashed once the player really takes his time to experiment and learn each of the characters. And with a giant roster of 50 characters, there is plenty of time to experience the different fighters and ways the game can be played.
Despite that, the game's true content and fun really lies in the variety of the many characters the game offers and little else. Resultingly, gamers who don't want to devote much time into really getting to know and learn the different moves and techniques of the characters, won't find much meat in the game since there aren't too many varied modes available (with the "story mode" being the most useless tacked on addition in the entire game).
The King of Fighters 14 continues to impress through its complex mechanics combined with its huge roster of characters. This makes it once again a good entry in the franchise, but which nevertheless doesn't deliver anything that truely goes above what is already expected from it. Thus, King of Fighters 14 is a very enjoyable and complex fighting game, which though probably only already devoted fans of the franchise will get the most out of.
Final Verdict: 7 out of 10
Big thanks goes out to Koch Media
for providing a review copy of the game.
Status: Good / Only for Fans
Big thanks goes out to Koch Media
for providing a review copy of the game.