Title: The King of Fighters XV
Release Date: February 17, 2022
Reviewed On: PS5
In 1994 developer and publisher SNK had many established IPs, such as Fatal Fury, Art of Fighting, and Ikari Warriors, among others across both fighting and non-fighting genres. Then, in a stroke of pure genius, SNK brought some of their most popular characters, along with some originals, together into one epic fighting game dream match, with The King of Fighters ’94. All-star cast aside, this pioneering fighting game allowed players to control a team of three characters, duking it out in an elimination-style battle royal.
Several decades later, after numerous sequels and spin-offs, the series now enters its fifteenth mainline installment with The King of Fighters XV. A lot has changed in the fighting genre, and yet the sheer novelty of the ultimate dream match still manages to be just as exciting in 2022. The King of Fighters XV enters the next-gen gaming fray as a top contender, one that feels like a perfect blend of nostalgia and evolution.
The King of Fighters XV offers an enormous selection of 39 characters at launch, plus an epic boss character. SNK has long become notorious for creating some pretty insane final bosses, and this one is right up there as one of the most extravagant final bosses they’ve come up with yet. There are, of course, DLC plans for 12 new characters to join later, but honestly, the base game alone gives you more than enough gameplay variety.
The roster here assembles the very best of the best with some new faces. Fresh newcomers Dolores and Isla are a stark departure from the norm, but this game is a celebration of one hell of a legacy and some of the best fighting game characters ever. Whether it’s Terry Bogard, Kyo Kusanagi, Kula Diamond, or the return of the Orochi team from The King of Fighters ’97, this is a roster that will satisfy fans both old and new alike. Not since The King of Fighters 2002 has a lineup of fighters been so perfectly representative of the series.
It may not be the cutting edge of 2.5D graphics right now, but what the game lacks in graphical prowess more than makes up for in sheer style and artistic substance. On next-gen hardware, it performs with unreal fluidity and smoothness, and it’s just a joy to witness all the particle effects light up the various colorful stages.
While the character models lack strong graphical detail, the character designs have never looked better and carry a strong anime flair with 2.5D finesse. It’s just great to see so many familiar faces return for a new gaming generation, especially when the story mode has moments of random banter between them as an homage to their storied past.
What bolsters the presentation to make the experience memorable is the music. The series has always featured some fantastic music, but the soundtrack of The King of Fighters XV might be the best produced. Sure it has some modern rock tracks, and some of the vocal songs border on cringe, but the best parts are when the big band jazz kicks in to create a vibe and energy we rarely ever see in fighting games anymore. Not since The King of Fighters ’96 has the music stood out on its own as it does here, and you can select from both modern and classic tunes from the digital jukebox.
This will hardly surprise anyone, especially after a successful open beta period before launch. Still, The King of Fighters XV is the best the series has ever felt from a gameplay standpoint. It is as fluid and fast as a modern fighting game should be, yet it has some of the methodical weight of the earlier entries in the franchise. In addition, the characters offer a ton of gameplay variety, everything from grapplers like Shermie and Blue Mary to the stylistic combos of Kyo and Kula and even some of the old-school heavy hitters like Terry and Ryo.
There’s just something here for everyone to enjoy, and while it helps to master the preset teams, the game lets you create your trio of favorites. The trademark three on three fighting is still just as fun as it always was, and honestly, how many fighting games can offer a stacked and varied cast to make the team fighting work as well as it does here.
The King of Fighters XV is surprisingly easy to get into in terms of core mechanics, and veterans will have no trouble getting used to the fighting systems and the largely consistent move sets of their favorite characters. In addition, the intricate canceling mechanic helps with the pace and flow of the fighting action, where players can cancel moves mid-animation and transition into something else.
Mastering this technique goes a long way to control the tide of battle using inventive combos, and thankfully the game has plenty of tutorials to walk you through everything. What’s even cooler is that if you happen to meet your ultimate rival online, there is an online training lobby for you and your rival to practice together.
Although the game has a fun story mode and enough content to be entertaining in single-player, the online multiplayer provides everything you need in terms of facing opponents under various conditions and settings. Furthermore, as already evident during the open beta period, the rollback netcode lives up to its promise, and so there is no doubt fans will be playing this one for a very long time.
The King of Fighters XV is as good as it gets and feels like a complete package even at launch. Sure, it may not reinvent the wheel for the genre, but it perfects its unique gameplay formula and easily offers the best character roster the series has ever seen. With robust online options, deep gameplay systems, and stellar and stylistic presentation featuring unforgettable music, this is one fighting game that will be in regular rotation on any gaming platform. What was once innovative in 1994 succeeds at feeling just as new and exciting in 2022.
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