Many who have grown up with fighting games since the 1990s would probably at least have gotten their hands on SNK’s The King of Fighters franchise. What made KOF stand out amongst its fighting game peers over the years was its sheer dedication to the 2D aesthetic, which many 2D fighting game purists would have grown attached to.
The release of The King of Fighters XIV in 2016 represented a step forward for the franchise, being the first 3D iteration of the series. At the same time, it also served as a love letter to the classic SNK games, as it maintained its traditional side-scrolling gameplay.
The Ultimate Edition of KOF XIV, released this year, is a package deal… of sorts. It includes the base game and eight additional characters, which bumps up the already massive roster of fighters to a whopping 58, as well as new alternate costumes. Other than that, it’s still the same game from the one that was released nearly 5 years ago, so this game might be more of a fit for newcomers than those who already have the original KOF XIV.
Regardless, if you’re just getting into the KOF series or fighting games in general, there is plenty of value to be had going into KOF XIV Ultimate Edition. The best part about this version is that you don’t need to spend time unlocking all characters since they’re already included from the get-go. This makes for a great pick-up-and-play experience with your friends locally or online.
That said, there are still a host of unlockables should your interest ever be piqued, such as character win animations, or main story cutscenes. The main issue? That’s just about it. There isn’t really much incentive to pursue the unlockables for KOF XIV Ultimate Edition because they simply aren’t attractive enough. The story mode, already underwhelming as it is, doesn’t provide alternate character/team endings. That’s probably the downside of having all characters unlocked at the beginning, though I doubt your main goal of getting a copy of this game will be for these unlockables anyway.
Regardless, all this side content won’t matter if you’re a huge fan of classic 2D fighting games and want something that looks more up-to-date as the crux of getting this title is the gameplay itself — something that the KOF games have almost always never disappointed in (more on that later).
From a graphics standpoint, KOF XIV Ultimate Edition looks rather outdated for a 2021 title, especially with the fact that it is an updated edition of the 2016 original. There is no graphics update to give the 3D models a much-needed facelift, though the art team has already done a considerable job at transitioning from 2D to 3D. There is just no way to distinguish the Ultimate Edition from the regular KOF XIV at first glance, and there hasn’t been a way to utilise the advanced hardware on the PS4 Pro, which has been around for nearly 4 years already. The saving grace on the visuals, however, is that the character designs remain largely over-the-top from previous KOF games and are chock full of personality, with equally flamboyant and eye-catching attacks and special moves. Of course, having a HD Mode might have made the game that much more visually appealing, which is sort of a wasted opportunity by SNK.
The true meat and bones of KOF XIV of course, has got to be the character roster. From classic KOF characters such as Kyo Kusanagi and his longtime rival Iori Yagami, to DLC fighters from previous/spinoff SNK games such as Rock Howard and Blue Mary, it goes without saying that this game is packed to the brim with variety. Though maybe 2 or 3 characters might look somewhat similar from a new player’s standpoint, what’s most important here is that each character is clearly distinguishable from one other in terms of fighting style and moveset. This makes the game rich in gameplay depth and fun to play, as each character brings something different to the table. This, coupled with the fact that fights are 3v3, makes for some really interesting combinations and potentially game-changing fights if you plan to use your favourite fighter as your trump card.
With such a massive roster of fighters to pick from, each with their own really diverse movepools, it is inevitable that KOF XIV suffers from a steep learning curve, which might hurt its accessibility. Unlike modern iterations of other fighting game giants such as Street Fighter V and Mortal Kombat XI, which have streamlined their beginner’s journey considerably, KOF XIV still requires you to memorise a character’s moveset to excruciating detail in order to pull them off properly.
That said, with any fighting game, practice makes perfect, and once you spend enough time practicing on up to 3 fighters at the very least, you’ll be rewarded with arguably one of the most satisfyingly seamless fighting experiences one could hope for in a fighting game. This is especially the case when you’re playing locally with a friend, or on online multiplayer (though the servers these days are quite sparse as most of the community is gearing up for KOF XV).
Ultimately, what might hurt KOF XIV Ultimate Edition the most is its launch timing. With KOF XV slated to launch sometime later this year, it’s inevitable that more eyes would be on what SNK has planned for that title. Regardless, this game still offers quite a lot, and will be a great introduction to the series for newcomers, or serve as a great collector’s item to veterans alike.
You can purchase a copy of KOF XIV Ultimate Edition in Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand, and the Philippines from Softsource.