Release Date: February 17th, 2022
Series: The King of Fighters
Mode: Multiplayer video game
Engine: Unreal Engine 4
Platforms: PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox Series X and Series S, Microsoft Windows
Publishers: SNK, Koch Media, SNK Playmore USA Corp.
Genres: Fighting game, Action game
"Review Copy Provided By SNK"
The road to The King of Fighters XV has been a very long journey as the game was originally supposed to have released back in 2021 after being teased all the way in 2020 and ended up being delayed until 2022 of which is now upon us. Originally all we saw in 2020 was a now defunct logo for this new entry and in 2021 we started getting trailers from the initial teaser trailer followed by near weekly character trailer reveals that had us constantly guessing who would be the next character to be shown. The game’s tagline was “SHATTER ALL EXPECTATIONS” and for the longest time we very much felt that to be the case as the roster shakeups were some of the wildest we’ve seen since the iconic KOF XI and tons of returning characters that had been killed off in previous entries. After two successful Open Betas and an unfortunate setback with massive leaks, was SNK able to bring us a KOF that exceeds the best selling KOF XIV? We’re about to find out in this review!
The story of KOF XV takes place some time after the events of The King of Fighters XIV with the destruction of Verse and the resurrection of several characters. With the world returning to a relatively peaceful state, life has gone on and the announcement of a new King of Fighters tournament has been made and invitations have been sent out. Chizuru Kagura, one of the Three Sacred Treasures and possessor of the Yata Mirror, has noticed a disturbing force that has began to weaken the seal on Gaia’s Will known as Orochi. Sensing something sinister is happening, Chizuru reaches out to the heirs of the Kusanagi and Yagami clans, Kyo Kusanagi and Iori Yagami, in hopes that they will enter the tournament with her to investigate what forces are at play.
If you’ve played KOF XIV then you will feel right at home in KOF XV as the franchises 3-on-3 team based format is retained with the option to do a traditional 1-on-1 for players that want to just play as one character vs a whole team. There are a lot of mechanics that have carried over from that entry such as Max Mode, EX Moves, and more. One of the most divisive mechanics introduced in KOF XIV was the introduction of the Auto-Combo (aka Rush) which would activate if you could successfully land multiple LP (light punch) hits on an opponent which would result in a rush down combo ending in either a special move or a Desperation Move if you had 1 stocked meter. The problem with this system is that you could easily burn through your stored meters and ruin your chances of frame perfect setups and or Climax Specials which required 3 Meters. That system was in place to make KOF more accessible as the series has a notorious reputation for being extremely hard to get into due to it having some of the most strict input motions to perform special moves and desperation moves and on top of that is the notorious “SNK Boss Syndrome” which meant if you made it to the boss of the games that you were only winning by chance due to their ability to read inputs, a feature that as time went on had been removed to be more streamlined.
Now that we have some history under our belt, we can talk about KOF XV! Gameplaywise, KOF XV feels a bit more grounded than KOF XIV which was a faster more rush down friendly game and seems to favor a more defensive or neutral approach allowing battles to play out much more naturally than they did in XIV. You can utilize EX Moves much more easily in XV than in XIV since you are not forced to use Max Mode to have access to an expanded move list. EX Moves now cost half meter and are executed by doing your special move input along with LP+HP or LK+HK. Max Mode is executed the same way by pressing LP+HP+LK+HK and allows you to access EX Moves while the meter runs down while also increasing the defense and offense of your fighter.
There’s also Max Mode Quick is activated upon landing a special move or a regular attack and allows you to start immediately unleashing a combo that’ll leave your opponent unable to have an opening to retaliate. The offset of this is that you don’t get the buffs to your defense and offense as you would in Max Mode. We spoke earlier about the Rush or Auto-Combo System that carried over from KOF XIV, yet we didn’t talk about how it differs here in KOF XV. Rush doesn’t automatically start unless you are a frame away from your opponent and based on the button inputted on the final Rush combo, you’ll either do a Special Move or Super Special Move that’ll consume meter.
Climax Super Special Moves have been retooled to be easier to pull off with them being quarter circle back then half circle forward followed by HP+HK and will consume 3 stored meters. This may or may not be a point of contention as some purists may not like the ease of access method of input vs the unforgiving input perfect nature of previous entries while some veterans of the franchise and new players will find this an easier way to dive into the fray and pull off cool moves. The balancing act of accessibility and learning curve is a difficult tight rope to walk.
The newest addition is Shatter Strike which is a move that allows you to not only counter but also defend against oncoming attacks at the cost of 1 meter allowing battles to feel more dynamic. A good comparison of what this is like is how 2013’s Killer Instinct had Combo Breaker and Counter Combo Breaker.
The game offers various modes to dive into from the traditional VS mode to play against a friend locally or the CPU, a fully featured Story Mode that has full on in-game cinematics, Online Modes offering you Casual and Ranked Matches along with Room Matches as well as Replay watching and Online training, a Tutorial Mode to lab or learn you characters, a Mission Mode which is this game’s Trials Mode, a DJ Station to listen to the series OST, and finally a Gallery mode to watch the various cinematics.
It's safe to say that KOF XV is packed to the top with content for everyone to enjoy!
The online mode offers RollBack Netcode allowing for near seamless gameplay with others online. For those wanting to up their Ranks or just Casually get into matches; there are modes there for you along with the Room Match. Room Match feels oddly like the biggest downgrade coming off KOF XIV as instead of having a room where multiple matches can be occurring, you’re forced to wait it out as battles play out between two players. Why this was done is a mystery to me as it doesn’t benefit the game at all.
Graphically speaking, this game is lightyears ahead of what we had in KOF XIV with there being substantially more details and layers of animation in comparison. Characters are much more proportionate and the art style that’s carried over from the recent Samurai Shodown that utilizes an ink pastel flavor works beautifully in KOF XV. I would say that the jump from using SNK’s in house engine over to Unreal Engine 4 has been awe-inspiring. While each character has more details, many have returning animations and moves that have been missing since KOF XI such as Terry Bogard’s “Power Dunk”. Levels are all nicely vibrant and detailed with lots going on in the background, unfortunately, background animations seem to run at what looks to be 24-15FPS compared to the smooth 60FPs of the battles.
The OST of KOF XV is outstanding which shouldn’t be surprising given how music has always been a strong forte of SNK and their sound team. You’ll have all new songs for stages and characters along with many special songs that will play for Rival battles such as Iori and Kyo having “Sadistic Eyes” and “Goodbye Esaka” playing when they end up fighting one another. These songs are remixed from the originals and honestly just hearing Sadistic Eyes for the first time since KOF 99 is worth the price of admission for me as that is one of my favorite tracks and is one that has not been remixed.
Outside of everything else mentioned above is the short Animated Special from the legendary Masami Obari who had previously worked on the Fatal Fury OVAs (Original Video Animation) which was a true love letter to fans!
There aren’t really any downsides to this entry as it has a very strong roster of fighters that will appeal to just about any fighting game fan and any long time KOF fan. If there was one complaint, it would be the fact that Geese Howard and Billy Kane are paid DLC when they were base roster fighters in KOF XIV. Outside of that, the lack of Kim Kaphwan and his glorious pants is one of the biggest omissions I’ve seen because He’s never missed a KOF game since the series’ inception. The fact that the roster is 11 characters smaller than XIV is also a bummer along with the newer characters introduced in XIV being absent in XV for some reason.
Is The King of Fighters XV worth it? The answer is a resounding YES! Did it SHATTER ALL EXPECTATIONS? For me it most definitely did for the first time in over a decade. This is honestly one of the best fighting games to come out in years and one of the first times the series has had such mainstream notice that has captured the eyes of not only the hardcore but the causals as well. While the smaller roster can be seen as a bit of a letdown, the fact that the roster is made up of established characters and not the experimental ones found in XIV is an upside. Factor in the slew of modes and unlockable content for DJ Station and Gallery mode and a robust, albeit flawed by its room layout, online mode and you have yourself the true King of Fighting Games to beat for 2022. KOF XV is a true gem and a love letter to long time fans and a welcome starting point for newcomers as well. If you’re looking for a new fighting game to dive into, KOF XV is THE GAME to get.