The response to the change in graphical style for The King of Fighters XIV may not go down with the likes of The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker in terms of controversy, but there was still a fairly significant amount of backlash upon its reveal. The latest entry in SNK’s long-running series upturns 22 years of tradition by moving from two-dimensional sprites to 3D models, and some fans seemed to be miffed at a perceived loss in quality along the way. And sure — in comparison to some of KoF’s genre companions, like Street Fighter V and Tekken 7, these visuals can’t help but feel a bit retrograde by comparison. Like so many other games, though, you get used to them once you start getting lost in the fun of the experience. And luckily, this King of Fighters offers fun for all members of its potential audience: genre diehards, casual fans and outright newcomers can all have a good time.
Perhaps the most notable thing about this fourteenth installment, beyond its change in graphical style, is its massively expanded roster. The whopping 19 first-time fighters in this installment might seem like a bit much, but since King of Fighters is based around teams of three going head-to-head, bringing new teams to the table necessitates many new characters.
This batch is surprisingly consistent in its excellence, too; just to name a few highlights, I thoroughly enjoyed the adorable pillow-wielding antics of perpetually sleepy Meitenkun, the luchador fighting style of Mexico Team’s King of Dinosaurs and the utterly bizarre, eyeball-laden outfit of Sylvie Paula Paula (whose creepy stare and doll-like movements make her the most ludicrously wacky addition by far).
You’ve got quite a few options once you’re ready to get fighting. Story Mode takes your team of three through the tale of the eponymous King of Fighters tournament, and it’s an enjoyable (if goofy and utterly inconsequential) time. I can’t deny how happy I am to see a sense of humor in a game like this, though; tournament champion Antonov is a hilarious highlight every time he shows up. It did seem a bit strange that I had to fight four or five times between story details, but I suppose creating a ton of FMV cutscenes when you’ve got 50 characters is a bit of a tall order.
When you’re ready to take your skills (or lack thereof) online, you’ve got the option of controlling all the characters on your team yourself in the traditional way, or playing the new Party Battle mode where every one of the six characters in a fight is controlled by a different player. I’m not terribly sure this is going to be as fun for everyone as the “Party” moniker would seem to indicate — after all, it necessitates watching more than actually fighting — but it’s always nice to have more options, and it’s definitely cool to see a team-based mode in a genre so heavily defined by one-on-one competition.
There are also a nice set of Mission modes, which can be extremely helpful for newcomers while allowing experts to show off their skills. In addition to a very comprehensive tutorial, there’s a Trial mode that takes you through a bunch of hand-twisting combo challenges, a Time Attack mode that tests your fighting abilities under the pressure of a ticking clock, and a Survival mode that sees how many CPU characters you can put under your boot before you get knocked out.
It’s also nice to see that SNK kept newcomers in mind when it comes to mechanics and difficulty options. There’s now a “Rush” mode that allows you to pull off an easier combo with the light punch button, which makes things a bit more accessible for folks who have trouble wrapping their head around huge multi-part button-and-stick combinations. You can also set the level of CPU-controlled combatants to a number between 1 and 5, although the easiest setting is farcical in its lack of challenge (it’s fine to lower the difficulty, but I’m not sure who benefits from AI that mostly stands still with the occasional thrown punch — it’s not very fun to play against characters at this level).
As previously mentioned, the presentation of King of Fighters XIV isn’t exactly going to set the world on fire when it comes to the technical aspect of the graphics. I don’t think that’s a big problem, though — while they are primitive, the great character design (I mean, have you seen how adorable Meitunkun is?) and cool battle arenas are more than enough to make up for that. The music’s a bit more standard, offering up the same sort of wailing guitars that you expect to hear in a fighting game, although I did particularly enjoy the two cheesy vocal-backed themes that play in the main menu and credits.
The King of Fighters XIV is another solid entry in SNK’s long-running series. The slate of 19 new characters is surprisingly consistent across the board, providing winner after unique winner, and there are plenty of modes for newcomers and experts alike to enjoy. The graphical style may be a bit lacking when it comes to technical prowess, but that’s not such a terrible thing when you consider how much work has gone into making the character and environment designs stand out. Whether you’re a franchise fan or just itching for a fight, this King of Fighters delivers one of the best experiences in the genre on PS4.
This review is based on the PS4 game, which we were provided with.
Don't get thrown off by the new visual style — The King of Fighters XIV still offers solid fighting action for veterans and newcomers alike, and the slate of 19 new characters is a real treat.