Fighting for the Throne
The King of Fighters (KOF) is a well-known franchise that has always been known for its simplistic arcade structure and wild character designs. Having been around since 1994, it is one of the older fighters, and through the years has managed to really stay true to its roots. With The King of Fighters XII, fans of the series can expect a whole lot more of the arcade-friendly fighting that they’ve come to know and love from the franchise. But as the first KOF to debut on a current-gen system, is this enough?
One of the hallmarks of the KOF franchise has been its 3-on-3 structure, and that is very well preserved here. There are three different modes that all use the same format: Arcade, Versus, and Online. The Arcade mode is very basic and allows you to pick one character and then put them through a time trial-style tournament, which ends with them becoming the ubiquitous “King of Fighters.” As this is the main single-player mode, I have to say I was very disappointed. With no story to speak of, and a very rigid time trial system, the mode just didn’t feel complete, and the game would have been served much better by a more flexible arcade offering, or even a collection of single-player modes that allowed you to do more than 3-on-3 time trials.
Although the single-player mode was very disappointing, KOF XII’s multiplayer help bring the title up to standard. While the local versus mode is basically a two-player version of the regular arcade mode, it is the online mode that really shines here. The online mode in KOF XII has several components. You can play single matches against ranked or unranked opponents, or you can take part in six-player tournaments. These tournaments are highly customizable, and you can set up cooperative team matches as well as competitive elimination matches. The competitive elimination modes are the most interesting, as you can set special rules that control how players move on, what happens to the winners and losers of each match, and how many matches constitute a round. Tournaments also have special friend slots for spectators. The game also has a very detailed “true skill” system that keeps track of your online stats and rankings.
The online mode really is the best thing about KOF XII, and if you are planning on picking it up, you should know that it is fairly obvious that the online play was the focus when this game was developed. The experience when playing sort of reminded me of Left 4 Dead, as they are both technically playable offline, but the experience just isn’t very fun. While I certainly had a blast competing in tournaments and trying to raise my True Skill level to qualify for new matches, I know that there are many out there who value the single-player experience in fighters just as much as the multiplayer, and they will be disappointed with the poor arcade mode offering.
The graphics in KOF XII, however, were far from disappointing. The game uses a 2D engine, but all of the characters are animated using hand-drawn pixel art. Each character’s moves are animated beautifully, and the sheer amount of detail in the visuals is just staggering. The look of the game is a lot like this month’s other 2D arcade fighter, BlazBlue (which also uses hand-drawn animations), and comparing these two, I would say they are evenly matched in this respect.
The combat system in KOF XII is very faithful to the series’ roots and features a very simplistic strike system that mainly relies on counterattacks for massive damage. Although I have become somewhat of a button-mashing fiend thanks to franchises like Tekken and Soul Calibur, KOF is all about the strategy and just randomly mashing buttons will get you nowhere fast.
There are only a handful of singular strikes and combos, and success in the game will rely on your ability to use the games critical counterattack system to unleash special attacks. To unleash a critical counterattack, you have to land a certain amount of hits (or take some damage) in order to fill up a damage gauge, and then unleash a strong counterattack to temporarily disable an enemy. You can then use your character’s Super Special Move in the small window of time that the other player is disabled.
There really isn’t much depth to the fighting system, and outside of the Super Special move, there isn’t very much to discover. However, if you like simple, strategy-based combat, then it fits the bill perfectly. The game’s combat really focuses on your ability to read another player’s actions and react rather than just mash buttons on top of your opponent, which is certainly refreshing.
As far as sound is concerned, this is another area where KOF XII excels. There are both English and Japanese voice tracks, and both of these are just dripping with personality. Since the KOF series has such flamboyant characters (like the effeminate Ash Crimson), it is really vital that the voice actors nail the characters without making them sounds cheesy. Fortunately, almost all the characters sound great here.
Overall, your experience with KOF XII will largely depend on how much you value online play in your fighters. If you are a regular on the BlazBlue and Street Fighter leaderboards, then the online experience that KOF XII has is definitely worth the price of the game. The strategic elements of the battle system and gorgeous graphics certainly make the game itself very fun and a pleasure to look at. Just having one single-player offline mode really hampers the overall experience if you aren’t an online aficionado. Still, if you do like playing online, then this King can’t be beat!
RATING OUT OF 5 RATING DESCRIPTION 4.8 Graphics
Hand-drawn characters and environments look amazing in 2D 3.7 Control
Control is a lot simpler than some other fighters. Regardless, executing special moves and counterattacks provide some great strategic elements. 3.9 Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
Background music is great. Both English and Japanese voiceovers sound sincere. 3.3 Play Value
If you like online play, King of Fighters does it extremely well. However, with only one single-player offline mode, this title feels a little empty overall. 3.7 Overall Rating – Good
Not an average. See Rating legend above for a final score breakdown.