With the odd exception here or there, fighting games have been doing well for themselves in recent years! Guilty Gear’s modern incarnation is one of the graphical standouts of the modern generation of gaming on top of being a great fighter in its own right, Mortal Kombat X redefined how we think about fighting game story modes and BlazBlue redefined character depth by introducing fighters who play almost completely unlike one another.
Sure, that one exception was a pretty big Shoryuken to the face of fighting fans everywhere, but generally speaking fighters are in a good place. The King of Fighters XIV, the latest iteration of SNK’s hard-hitting classic, continues that tradition with an immense amount of content and plenty of chances to explore it.
Let’s address the elephant in the room first: yes, KOF14 is the first mainline King of Fighters game to use 3D models in an obvious fashion. This means the art style is completely different from the norm when it comes to this series. I’ll fully admit that I found this to be kind of a bummer, especially after the gorgeous KOF12 and 13; while 12 had its problems, it certainly looked great, and 13 is one of the high points of the sprite-based style of fighter altogether. 14 loses some of its charm in the transition, but it’s something players should get used to after some time with the game, especially since it still plays like King of Fighters.
Perhaps the most obvious addition to KOF14 aside from the graphics is the significant number of new characters. These run the gamut or fighting game tropes and should appeal to pretty much any sort of player. For your edgy teens you’ve got Kukri, a dark and mysterious sort who can manipulate sand. Fans of classic KOF are bound to have a good time with Alice, a female homage to the original Fatal Fury trio…who, incidentally, are still around. Grappler fans will like King of Dinosaurs, SNK nuts will be pleased to see Nakoruru as a playable character…really, there’s almost too many options.
It’s fantastic, and each of the characters feels fully fleshed out as a viable option to learn and master. Newcomers will appreciate the presence of Persona 4 Arena-style mash-based autocombos, while vets probably won’t have any need for that sort of thing. Even with the autocombo system, newbies have a lot to learn about how to play KOF and would do well to check around YouTube and other resources for advice. Rather than being obtuse, though, KOF14’s depth is inviting as you’d expect from any good fighter; you can do well knowing the basics, but diving deep into what makes the game tick can feel incredibly rewarding.
Naturally, like pretty much every fighting game released in the past couple of decades with the notable exception of launch-day Street Fighter V, you’ve got a full suite of mods to use all these fighters in. There’s a story mode, for instance, which is the usual goofy SNK plot with a bunch of arcade-style battles slapped on top of it, as well as combo trials and challenges. Online play is present and accounted for as well and generally runs great; I had the odd iffy match here and there so it’s not perfect, but broadly speaking KOF14’s netcode is good enough to work. Long story short you won’t be hurting for things to do.
Look, I know I bring up Street Fighter V’s botched launch constantly these days, but that’s because it feels like a watershed moment in the modern games industry: a beloved publisher with no end of clout overplays their hand and gets burned for it. How often does that happen? It’s clear that SNK learned from Capcom’s gaffe with The King of Fighters XIV, since it comes fully stacked with a suite of options, a much larger cast and mechanics that feel just as solid as SFV’s. Even with the goofy graphics, fighting fans just can’t go wrong.