The King of Fighters XV Review
Following a big delay that saw the game slip to 2022, The King of Fighters XV finally launches to a packed February slate. The series has a storied history and is basically a crossover of SNK’s popular franchises like Fatal Fury and The Art of Fighting, compiling them into an ultimate team match that predates some of the best team fighters made in recent memory.
It’s been almost six years since the last iteration and King of Fighters XV takes after XIV’s story where the fighters have defeated the previous entity, Verse. Perennial sidekick Benimaru joins Shun’Ei and Meiten-kun to form Team Hero, where Shun’Ei takes the lead this time around, replacing Kyo Kusanagi and K’. The team joins the new tournament where they’re challenged by Team Rival, consisting of longtime anti-hero Heidern, Isla, and Dolores.
Veterans will know what to expect from the game, and they surely won’t be disappointed. However, for somebody who has not experienced or heard of King of Fighters in general, there are quite a number of things different here than your usual Street Fighter or Tekken game.
The King of Fighters XV features a last-team standing format where you select the appearance order of your fighters and go through their life bars before you can switch to the next character. You can’t tag out nor can you switch characters mid-match, and this mechanic offers a semblance of strategy where you either place your best fighter first while building up your meters, or last, where you can then proceed to blow the enemy sky high.
Despite that twist, King of Fighters XV is a pretty straightforward fighter that eases newcomers in with a fairly simple 4-button scheme along with new features like the Shatter Strike (similar to Focus Attack from Street Fighter), which will be something familiar if you’ve played other fighters before. Shatter Strike, in particular, is a small addition that opens up a whole new dimension to the game, giving players another avenue to kickstart a combo or counter an incoming attack.
In fact, newcomers will certainly appreciate the existence of auto-combos, which are basically simple “press this button 5 times to deal pain” actions that can really be enjoyed by everybody. There’s an argument to be made about how this dilutes getting good at the game or how it rewards button mashing, but the skill ceiling for King of Fighters XV remains very high despite this.
Players will have a full-sized roster of 39 characters in King of Fighters XV, ranging from iconic characters like Terry Bogard and Kyo Kusanagi, to series mainstays like Heidern and Kula. The roster is balanced and unique across the board, offering a range of playstyles that can suit your needs.
Are you OK?
The King of Fighters XV also features a story mode that consists of six matches and two boss fights. Older iterations went on for a little longer, with the boss fights interspersed between the stages. Unlike other fighters that have put a slight premium on storytelling, The King of Fighters XV keeps it rather old-school, treating players to a bunch of battles that culminate in a boss fight that rewards them with some cutscenes and slight exposition.
I stopped following The King of Fighters series back in King of Fighters XII, mostly because I didn’t like the Ash Crimson storyline, and story-wise, I preferred the old-school sagas being a little more serious in tone compared to the lighthearted tone that King of Fighters XV embodies.
Despite taking 6 years, it’s quite disappointing to see that the overall art style of the series still remains on the safe side. Save for the slightly prettier character models and slightly flashier effects, King of Fighters XV doesn’t really do much to give it a visual refresh. Don’t get me wrong, it looks nice, but nothing compared to the likes of more recent fighters like Guilty Gear Strive.
After consulting with some friends who are long-time fans, they didn’t seem to mind the creative choices but preferred the old-school look and approach, even if it meant bringing back its “git gud” personality that needed you to overcome an exceedingly unfair final boss.
Shun’Ei as the main character didn’t exactly resonate with me before, but he’s a lot more likable in this entry. While he’s still not in the same level as some of the legacy heroes such as Kyo Kusanagi and K’, at least he’s not Ash Crimson.
Still a solid fighting game
At the end of the day, fighting games are best played with other people, and King of Fighters XV makes for a fantastic online battler thanks to its implementation of rollback netcode. Even with my sub-par connection, my online matches have been stable and while the system can only do so much to compensate, the experience was most enjoyable, button-mashing my way to victory.
In fact, the addition of an online-based practice session proved to be something very welcome, allowing players to put in some training rounds with their friends before taking on the world.
You can definitely see how SNK has poured their efforts into the online versus mode, as the whole interface is very accessible and easy to navigate. You can easily set up your mains and change your fighters at any time, and also train while waiting to be matched up, which gives you the feel of a classic arcade experience where you play against the CPU while players line up with their tokens waiting to match up with you.
What We Liked:
- Newcomers won’t feel overwhelmed.
- A solid base game with enough of our favorite fighters readily available without them being locked in DLC.
- Solid netcode allowing for good online performance while matching up with your preferred online play.
What We Didn’t Like:
- Default difficulty Story Mode setting is a little less challenging than earlier iterations.
- Character and level designs remain flat for the most part.
- The new story is a little too lighthearted compared to the grittier installments of the past.
Verdict: Buy It!
Despite my opinions about the creative choices of The King of Fighters XV, the gameplay remains slick and fun with its fast-paced combat and combo-centric interface. Probably the best performing SNK game in a long time, but also one of the most accessible King of Fighters game so far, bridging the gap between beginners and competitive pros.
While its disappearance for 6 years didn’t really amount to a full visual overhaul that sees the return of fairly flat character designs and backgrounds, King of Fighters XV makes great improvements to where it counts the most, such as rollback netcode for online matches.
The base package of King of Fighters XV is pretty solid, with 39 characters to choose from and a story mode to enjoy. Whether I choose to play competitively or explore more of the ongoing saga, veterans or even casual players will surely be entranced for a few dozen hours and then some. The storied history of The King of Fighters continues, and it’s definitely here to stay.
*The King of Fighters XV was reviewed on a PS5 with a review code provided by the publishers.