King of Fighters XV (PS5) Review

Another solid entry in a a series for the fighting game elite

By Alex Orona

Coming out of the world of NeoGeo we have the King of Fighters (KoF) Series: An amalgamation of the SNK shared universe with characters from Fatal Fury and Art of Fighting, plus a bevy of all original characters. This series has been ongoing since it’s initial breakout release in 1994 and boy did it come out swinging, but how does it measure up 18 years later? 

Some of the key foundations of KoF have always been highly detailed sprites and hyper complex combo systems. To get into these games is to get deeper into the fighting game genre as a whole. Not much has changed in this newest iteration as the combos are as complex as ever. What has changed is the look of it. We’ve fully made the transition (albeit iteratively) to 3D. The designs are intricate and everyone is buff as hell. We’re going the Street Fighter V model with costumes painted onto an endless array of biceps and abs. 

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The costume designs are throwbacks to the originals but with new updates to the designs and lots of physics. Coats sway in the breeze and zippers and straps bounce when your character jumps. It’s attention to detail that makes the character models feel fully formed. The costumes are also colorful and always not nearly as functional in a fight, but hey, it’s pretty much anime and it’s fantastic. Plus the roster has 39 characters in teams of 3, so there’s plenty of options to find your main. 

For the combat, it feels as fluid and fast paced as a fighting game should. They did not pull any punches when it came to the fighting itself. This is a fighting game for the dedicated. The characters come in teams of 3 that can be mixed and matched to make your perfect team. Once a team member is defeated, the next round begins with a slight health boost to the victor. This is the King of Fighters basics but is pretty fluid for newcomers as well. There are four attacks in weak and strong punches with the same for kicks. 

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Speaking of newcomers, there’s “rush combos” or what is known within the genre, auto combos that come from hitting the light punch button repeatedly. These are automatic combos that will end in a super attack. They feel good and can lead to flash attacks for those with lesser experience. There’s a meter that builds up throughout the fight that can be spent for special moves, EX Specials, Super Special, Max Specials and even Climax Super Special moves. Each one varies in complexity and meter used. 

While a special move may take a quarter circle forward motion and punch, an EX special may take a quarter circle plus punch and kick at the same time and take up a charge of your meter. By the end, Climax Super Specials take half circle back, then forward circle back both punch and kick plus 3 charges of meter. The move set can be as complex as you want to make them. Especially when you can special moves into other EX specials and so on. The harder the move is to pull off the flashier it gets. 

When pulling off said difficult specials, there’s a mini cut scene that shows off the flourishes and beautiful animations of the moves. They are fun reprieves from the intensity of the back and forth jabs but feel like they don’t go far enough as say a Street Fighter V or Dragonball FighterZ. The effects give off a bombasticness that’s well done but feels safe compared to its predecessors. There needed to be something more to turn that dial up a notch. As of right now, the climax maneuvers feel like they go to a 7, when they could push it to a 9+. The game around it is tight but it needs a little more to stand out from its contemporaries. 

The King of Fighters series has been a staple of the fighting game community for a long time, and now with rollback netcode it’s even easier to find a smooth match online. Unfortunately, the series doesn’t do a lot to bring in the casual player and panders mostly to the die-hards. The skill ceiling and mechanical depth is a well of possibilities but with a lack of flashiness and a shallow tutorial mode, the layman may be left in the dust. This is a successful new entry into the series that’s a solid improvement from KoF XIV, but could use some onboarding in the end. Fans of the series rejoice though, the king is back! 

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