Publisher: Atlus / Developer: SNK Playmore / Price: $39.99 / Played On : PlayStation 3 / ESRB: Teen [Mild Language, Suggestive Themes, Use of Alcohol, Violence]
The King of Fighters are back for the 13th time sporting more characters, modes, and new gameplay mechanics that would spark the attention of any fighting game fan. The classic 2D, 3-on-3 team based fighter returns with iconic characters such as Terry Bogard and Kyo, as well as beautiful backgrounds. But with several big contenders in the fighting genre released this year such as Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3, Super Street Fighter IV: AE, and Mortal Kombat, King of Fighters XIII has quite a bit to do in order to stand up to this tough competition.
With over 30 fighters to choose from, including your favorite characaters like Terry, Kyo, Kim, and Mai (who was absent from the past installment) you have plenty of options. There are also two unlockable fighters: Billy and Saiki. All characters are equipped with a vibrant move set and fluid animation that continues to give that traditional 2D KOF flavor in this age of 3D graphics.
The King of Fighters XIII continues to use the hand drawn traditional 2D look of the last installment, KOF XII. Stages are bright and vivid, supported with minimal particle and lighting animation that retains that 1990’s fighting genre appeal. Although they are filled with detail and “KING OF FIGHTERS” is stamped somewhere on almost every stage, they lack interaction with the characters. This could be a minor gripe but if you see the amount of effort clearly put into designing the visual look of the stage, you can see how it has overshadowed the “feel” of the environment. In KOF XII, the camera design had a classic SNK feel to it, using a zoom effect, depending on spacing and strikes landed, similar to the Samurai Showdown series. In my opinion this made the fight more dramatic. In turn it also made the fighters look more life size on screen, while sacrificing a higher pixilated look. In King of Fighters XIII the camera is fixed and zoomed out so you see more of the background and get smaller fighters (maybe to decrease pixilation). But the camera does zoom in and out when a Super Special Move or Neo Max move is performed.
The game comes packed with 10 game modes including story, training, mission, online, and customization mode. Here you can customize your fighter‘s costume by changing the color of different parts of the fighter. The color palettes are decent so the five slots available should be enough to make some interesting looks.
Mission mode consists of combo trials. This is a great way to learn the timing of attacks for those new to the series. Mission mode also comes coupled with an input display to see visually if you are executing the command correctly.
In tutorial mode you can go over the basics of the game’s gauge systems. The gauge tutorial is the most important option to visit in order to play at a hardcore level. Learning how to cancel in and out of special moves and how much gauge those maneuvers use are critical elements for high level play. You have to manage four different gauges, so you might find yourself visiting this mode more than once to get the full understanding. One option that is missing here is the input display. It would help dramatically if you were able to see if you are performing the command correctly.
The story of KOF XIII can be a little confusing for newcomers to the franchise, but at least there is a story this time around since it was absent in KOF XII. The story surrounds The King of Fighters Tournament but there’s some shady activity happening behind the scenes (as seems to be the usual when it comes to fighting game plots). From what I can put together from the mishmash of cut scenes, Ash Crimson is trying to open the gates of the immortal realm to release Orochi, which is the mid boss of KOF XIII, to absorb his power and travel back in time. You might remember Orochi as the final character of KOF 97’. The reason I sound confused is because the story doesn’t flow in chronological order. When beginning story mode you select a team of three characters from the KOF universe. As you play with that particular team and win matches, you unlock cut scenes related to that team. This storytelling device therefore forces you to play with all the teams to unlock the full complex story powering KOF XIII.
Speaking of cut scenes, there is no voice over in any of them. KOF has an amazing art style and it should have a decent voice over to support it. Nothing is more frustrating than reading quote after quote of characters and their lips moving with no voice to distinguish them as a person. SNK Playmore made KOF XIII very story heavy and a decent voiceover would’ve made the connection to the fighters a lot easier.
KOF XIII stays true to the franchise’s history with 3-on-3 team-based matches. Rounds proceed with each fighter battling one-on-one in a series of matches to outlast the opposing team. Unlike Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3, KOF doesn’t give you the option to tag in and out with your other teammates. By picking the order of which member fights first, second, and third, this opens another opportunity to strategize on whether you want your main character at the head of the pack or as an anchor.
Kicking ass in KOF XIII is fun. After a couple of hours in training mode, I was able to pull off a four-to-six hit normal attack combo that did a decent amount of damage. New in KOF XIII are the aforementioned gauges that allow for EX moves and NEO MAX moves to enhance your fighter’s abilities. Canceling in and out of these special moves causes a great amount of damage and opens up more strategic opportunities. KOF is very gameplay mechanic-heavy along the lines of Super Street Fighter IV. Spacing, footsies, and frame data are just a few important factors to learn in KOF. These elements are what true fighting fans have wet dreams about.
For online functionality SNK has stuck to its guns and continues to use the GSS net code. As a huge fighting game player I know there’s nothing worse than being in the final round, last fighter, last hit, and getting disconnected from a match due to a synching issue. In several online sessions I experienced dropped matches because of syncing issues. When it did work, though, I didn’t experience lag. All my attacks came out on time with no stutters or delayed animation. But as soon as the last match between characters was about to begin, I was dropped from the match. Maybe using a net code like GGPO, which is used by current Capcom fighting games, would draw more players to play this game online. This is an issue that plagued the last KOF and hopefully can be patched with future updates.
So how does The King of Fighters XIII stack up against the top dogs of the fighting genre? In my opinion it’s not too bad. The in-depth fighting mechanics and awesome animation and visuals give KOF its own space alongside other mainstream fighters. The King of Fighters XIII is definitely an improvement over the last installment, but is still plagued with troubled online play.
KOF proves that it has what it takes to be a worthy adversary to its competition in the fighting community. There are still some improvements to make, and to newcomers the complex mechanics may be a little intimidating, but if you like fighters and haven’t had experience with KOF, give it a shot. King of Fighters XIII will be a part of my fighting game collection with no regrets.