Playing SNK games is tricky at the moment. The Saudi prince now owns controlling shares in the company and there’s a multitude of reasons why that’s bad news, I won’t go into details here but sufficed to say, you’re one google away from the death of a journalist. As an old school fan of KOF and big fan of KOF 98 & XVIII I’ve kept an eye on XV. I played the open beta on the PS4 around the time the fantastic DNF Duel beta was running (find out about that here) KOF XV didn’t feel all that great and I wasn’t a massive fan of XIV but with an open mind I got my invitation letter and jumped into the brawl.
The 3 vs 3 fighter has always been a unique 2D fighter. KOF is one of the few series where your skills between games are largely transferable. If you know how to do Terry’s combo moves in KOF 2000 and even Smash Bros Ultimate you’ll know how he works here. Combos and moves have largely been the same since KOF95 and if you go into the tutorial with even a little past experience you’ll be hopping and super cancelling in no time. The Service system is back, this is where if you’re fighting offline and lose, when you continue you can lower the opponents HP or have more super and it is a sight for sore thumbs. The new abilities and rush combos (where you tap X 3 times and any attack to do a simple combo) makes KOF XV an accessible fighter to players will little experience but there’s a lot of old habits from other fighters you’ll need to shake off. It’s not an easy one to get into.
Despite playing every previous entry, KOF XV has been a really clunky one to adapt to. Jabs aren’t just simple safe ways to poke and can be easily crushed and just because you countered an opponents move don’t think you’re safe as they’ll likely counter with a special. The Guard meter is incredibly redundant and the Super meter takes a little too long to fill. Multiple times you’ll try for a command grab only to find you weren’t quite as close as you thought. The AI feels like it’s input reading often and you’ll be back cheesing through 3 ridiculously unfair final bosses. KOF XV doesn’t feel as refined as expected and everything feels clunky throughout. There are even simple issues like how when you are using your second fighter if you need the command list for them it still shows the first and you have to find your next. All super climax moves are the same but there’s a huge difference between how they setup to land and half the time you’ll accidentally waste meter on a super attack you didn’t intend. The MAX and Quick modes rarely come into play unless you’re playing someone with a lot of combo knowledge.
Despite how frustrating the fighting can be KOF XV can be visually stunning. The effects, flourishes and animations can pack a real punch. There is a big problem with almost every woman in the game being Dead or Alive on steroids with ridiculous outfits and SF5 beta physics. Yes I know KOF has always had characters like Mai but we’ve seen with games such as Guilty Gear Strive show characters can be updated and modernized while still being sexy. KOF XV feels like huge amounts of incredible polish and flare went in to the game to distract from the ridiculousness but it shouldn’t be a massive surprise given SNK Heroines: Tag Team Frenzy (reviewed over here) There’s a lot of great stages and splendour that feels redundant when you’ve a character jigging about in bra, pants and chaps.
KOF XV continues the tradition of having team endings which are again just text with still images where the text moves so fast it’s hard to read. This is again probably to hide the cringe but given how there’s some funny dialogue it’s a shame. One thing KOF XV is absolutely fantastic for is the voice actor credits. Once you beat the story mode you have a short story end, an incredibly fantastic closing credits to show who all the voice actors are, a post-credits story end scene and then the real credits. It’s a great acknowledgement and one of the things KOF XV excels in is the sound and music. The title track playing during the Finals in Story mode is a nice touch and the cheap bosses have some super music. There’s some really great tracks, voice lines and everything explodes as you’d expect.
What I didn’t expect was a barren online experience. I’ve played lesser known anime fighters on Xbox with more people. When you find someone playing the netcode is pretty robust. It’s nothing to write home about but it’s there. Unlike the PS4 it was a little unstable but given you’ll be playing people across the world that’s to be expected. KOF XV has an arcade mode, Story mode and some trials for characters which is great to see but there’s a large space given to the main menu for netplay and there’s just not a large enough player base supporting it. It’s a real shame there’s no cross-play as KOF XV could really use it.
This is the first fighting game since Persona 4 Arena where I went to the menu to calm down the fighting announcer. If you leave him at default in the options every fight is filled with the announcer from Dragonball Z not shutting up for a second. You can’t turn off his ridiculous announcements before each character introduction in story mode and it detracts if there’s an interaction between them. KOF XV has a lot of cringe like this and I’m left wondering who this is really for? Are they aiming it at what they think Teens and YA want in a fighter these days because in presentation and at its core KOF XV feels like an e-sports game through the lens of someone who’s jaded and doesn’t get what a commentator is for.
It sucks that Rock is DLC again and once again the usual shenanigans for DLC are present (there’s a lot of unsubtle space on the character select screen for DLC) but there is a lot of the core cast to play with in KOF XV. The core gameplay had me craving to go back and play KOF XIII again but for the most part it’s fine just not up to scratch. KOF XV strangely reminds me of Marvel Vs Capcom Infinite, where that game had a really cracking core fighter and terrible visuals KOF XV is the opposite. Despite the cheesecake and moments of cringe KOF XV looks fantastic it’s just a shame the fighting isn’t.
6/10 – More a prince of fighters just waiting for a finished edition