The King of Fighters XV (PS4) Review

Sometimes I don’t bother reviewing new fighting games for fear of people thinking I’m some sort of expert instead of the casual player I’ve been for the past… few decades, but given King of Fighters as a franchise has appeared so frequently on this blog (and in many different forms!) I thought throwing up a review of the latest entry wouldn’t go amiss… so let’s get to it!

Background:

I wonder how Terry’s power makes the back of his jacket glow? It’s pretty cool either way!

The King of Fighters XV was released worldwide on February 17th 2022 for the PS4, PS5, XBOX Series X/S and PC. Not actually anything else to say there, really… Still, always nice to get an extra screenshot in!

Gameplay:

Ash and Chris, two characters back from the dead for no other reason than to please fans!

Gameplay is still your traditional 3-on-3 VS. fighter, without the ability to tag out like some crossover titles gave, so basically it’s a “first to three wins” but each time someone is K.O’d the next team member takes his or her place. Also in classic SNK fashion you have a light and heavy punch and kick, and that’s it, no six button combat like CAPCOM fighters, though a lot of the move inputs are your classic quarter-turn then button push, or forward, half-circle turn, two button pushes, that sort of thing. Alongside your self-explanatory health meter and a block gauge so you can’t just crouch block all day you also have the standard Power Gauge which can go up to five levels and are the “currency” that allow you to do Special and Climax moves (the bigger damage-dealing attacks) as well as the return of the Max Mode Gauge, which governs how often you can enter Max Mode (do more damage) or add a little extra on top of regular attacks.

There are also “Shatter Strikes” which allow you to break out of combos being done to you (or just to knock your opponent to the opposite side of the screen) and little other tips and tricks that allow you to combo not only moves but Special and even Climax moves by cancelling them mid-move. It’s the deeper side of the game that I’ll admit I never bothered with, not being a competitive online player or anything, but the depth is there if you’re looking for it. If you’re NOT looking for depth then the “Rush” system from KOFXIV returns, allowing you to just tap square several times in a row and automatically hit a strong combo of moves, though now it’s even more cheaty as if you have slots in your Power Gauge it will end the combo with a Special or Climax move, meaning you don’t even have to learn the inputs for the big special moves now! Obviously facing a human opponent or even some AI characters will mean getting close and starting the combination is easier said than done, at least compared to actually… well, knowing what you’re doing and picking your spots, but still, very helpful if you a beginner or someone who just wants to experience the game with fewer thumb blisters.

While it’s a far cry from the old “SNK Boss Syndrome” the final boss having a move with very little tell before she does it that pretty much covers the entire screen is still rather annoying…

It’s Modes where KOFXV falls short, in my opinion. You have “Story”, which is your bog-standard Arcade mode where you fight a bunch of teams in a row with a few cutscenes before getting a unique ending for each team (plus some special endings for some non-official teams) though sadly the endings aren’t even voiced, they’re just some artwork and subtitles. Beyond that you have exhibition, training and mission mode (basically training but having to do more complex combos, it’s become a bit of a staple itself at this point) along with Online play and that’s your lot. No Time Attack, Survival, or anything else, just a basic Arcade mode / exhibition / training set up. You do unlock not just the cutscenes and artwork but also soundtracks to past KOF games or even other SNK franchises to play during fights, which is at least something a bit different, it feels very Smash Bros. in a good way. Still, overall the game is very barebones, no doubt about it…

Graphics and Sound:

Clark comes up with the best solution he can think of to wake the sleepy Meitenkun up…

The visuals are a major improvement over KOFXIV but do fall short compared to a lot of bigger budget fighters. Still though, they do the job perfectly well and the lighting effects are really good too so you won’t really notice unless you really want to notice, if you know what I mean. The small handful of actual CG cutscenes are better still but also aren’t exactly worth shouting about.

Music and voicework are both great mind you, especially the aforementioned ability to switch out songs with ones from previous games (once you unlock them) so no complaints there. Basically if you go in knowing that SNK aren’t exactly Namco or CAPCOM when it comes to money to splash on their major IPs you’ll be fine.

Story:

Okay it’s not the greatest storyline, but it’s not THAT bad guys…

The story not only ties up the whole Shun’ei / Verse storyline from XIV but also puts a full stop on the end of the Ash Crimson storyline that ran through the three canon entries before that (2003, XI and XIII) Basically Shun’ei has powers connected to an other-dimensional entity known as Verse that appeared at the end of the previous tournament and upon its defeat several dead characters came back to life as a result. One of those characters is Ash Crimson, the protagonist from his own self-titled story arc where he fought with a group of other dimensional enemies and ended their threat by killing his own ancestor and therefore erasing his own existence (long story…) but new character Dolores believes Ash’s return and the paradox he caused will give rise to Verse again or possible worse, so she assembles a team that includes new character Alba, who has similar powers to Shun’ei.

A new King of Fighters tournament is announced and all the key players assemble, including Kyo Kusanagi, his rival Iori Yagami and Chizuru Kagura, the trio that defeated Orochi in the very first story arc of the series, reformed because Orochi’s seal was weakened by the death of Verse, plus his three past servants Yashiro, Chris and Shermie were among those resurrected. Other returning teams like the Fatal Fury Team, Art of Fighting Team, Ikari Warriors, Female Fighters (or “Team Super Heroine” as they’re know here…) and Team K’ all enter for their own reasons too, plus classic Tetsuo from Akira rip-off K9999 finally returns in a legally different-looking new form, but with the same moves and attitude, which was fun to see. In the end Verse returns as “Re Verse” by using the body of Alba, and when defeated it causes the creator of all things Otoma-Raga to appear, when she/it is defeated by Shun’ei and Alba combining their powers (and overcoming their personality differences) everything returns to normal and by the sounds of it, all the damage done by Ash and other dimensional entities are done in general, so King of Fighters XVI will be the start of a new arc, forgoing the standard three-game story pattern (though given how this ties back to Ash, you could say Ash and Shun’ei’s stories are one five-game story arc…) Hopefully the next arc doesn’t feature any more supernatural / sci-fi enemies, give the series a bit of a break…

Downloadable Content:

Until proven otherwise I’m going to assume this is a canon ending.

Alongside a couple of pre-order bonus costumes a Season Pass of new playable teams has been announced, with the first two teams of Team Garou comprised of Rock Howard, B. Janet and Gato, and Team South Town of Geese Howard, Billy Kane and Ryuji Yamazaki already been announced, with two more teams after that.

Thoughts Now:

Iori reads the name of his opponent and begins to laugh uncontrollably… makes sense.

The King of Fighters XV is a really fun VS. Fighter, with a varied cast and gameplay that’s both forgiving for new-comers and deep for those that want it to be. I hear the Online Netcode is top-notch as well, if that’s your thing, so really it’s only the lack of other single player content that knocks it down a peg. Once I’d unlocked all the official endings and got one or two of the bonus ones I started to lose interest and moved on to other things. I’ll be back here and there as it is still a fun game worthy of high praise, but it just doesn’t have enough variety to keep me hooked long-term…

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