There were two spots on the E3 floor that touted a playable teaser of The King of Fighters XIV, aka KOF XIV: the dedicated one at the official ATLUS/SEGA booth, and the other at the PlayStation “experience”. And I had two choices: either get solicited by personnel throwing Persona 5 paraphernalia in my face (not entirely unpleasant…), or wait my turn watching people play the game horribly. Consequently, I chose the Sony booth.
KOF XIV is an important game for SNK. Largely because this is one of the only upcoming titles in their stable that’s supposed to modernized, but also legitimately revive interest in the once venerable dream match series. A harsh assessment from someone who actually remembers playing KOF ’98 in the golden years of arcade fighters, but an advocate of tough love when necessary. After the debacle of ‘modernizing’ that was Capcom’s Street Fighter V, I was due for some good news.
Judging from the brief hands-on time with the game, the effort to bring the game back to its nineties roots is very commendable. A lot of the gameplay is a departure from KOF XIII and removes many of the esoteric tweaks for something more fundamental to the tune of KOF 2000 — and unlike Street Fighter V where promises of simplicity often equaled unbalanced tiers — the pacing of matches is reminiscent of its aggressive tit-for-tat flow of action.
It definitely feels appropriate in replicating that KOF essence, which admittedly compliments a stricter learning curve and understanding any character you select. Desperation Moves make a triumphant return, encouraging proactive players and the ability to manually chain standard special moves, and then cancel into something more far punishable in store. And equally punishable on the giving end for overeager competitors.
Another throwback is the Max mode taken directly from KOF ’98. At the cost of one meter bar and grants unlimited EX moves until depleted. There’s a yin and yang of defensive tactics with pure offense. Button mashers are also taken care of with Rush Combos, with enough meter you can link specific static button pattern into a Desperation Move. This is probably the only element I’m on the fence about, because there no explanation on how it teaches newbies advanced technique.
Of course, it’s not exactly like the classics. Collision detection was more than forgiving to accommodate the fevered action, and stun hits didn’t feel as meaty for setting up stronger combos. Overall though, there remains enough familiarity to the Neo-Geo predecessors.
It’s fair to say that many us either scoffed or raised a concerned eyebrow when The King of Fighters XIV was first announced a year ago. However, SNK reminds us of that their flagship fighter is worth the wait – and worth playing again. We’ll be judge when KOF XIV arrives this fall, no quarters necessary.
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