Now since August was a while ago, the burn to fight has either fizzed or sustained for our fighters. For me, it’s been a juggling act in gaming, but I wanted to give KOF14 ample time to form my thoughts on it, so let’s jump right into it.
I am, for all intents and purposes, a newbie to King of Fighters. Just as a quick synopsis or recap for those that read my older stuff; my hands-on experience with anything KOF was one hangout day at a friend’s house for KOF 98 on the Dreamcast & a lent Gamecube copy of CVS2 for about 10 days. I grew up as a Capcom fan and, up until a few years ago, I didn’t know much or care for SNK. As a fan of fighters in general, overlooking this franchise couldn’t go on any longer. I’ve done some research about the series and the characters they have, although I’m still learning about it as a whole. What better way than to delve into KOF14 itself?
Fighting game franchises are established pillars in the genre at this juncture in the video game industry. Only a couple of new bloods have been able to leave their mark to show off their fresh takes on the formula. Having said that, unpacking a game with a pedigree like KOF is a hefty task for newcomers. I’ll start with what was promised & delivered. SNK made it a priority to make this KOF game more approachable to newcomers or beginner friendly in general; subject to interpretation, with translations and multiple reports, hearsay etc. Nonetheless, I have found, alongside the community, that KOF14 is way more welcoming than older iterations. For better or worse, the barometer for this game was going to be SF5… but hasn’t that always been the case? You can quote me 100 times that I’m a Capcom fan in addition to holding Capcom to a high standard (that they set themselves), so I have no problem giving & taking constructive criticism on my favorite series. To compare side by side, KOF has SF beat out by a landslide as an out of the box experience.
One thing that stands out for me in a sequel is respect to the pioneering cast; roughly the roster in the first 3 games, depending how lengthy the series is. KOF14 has brought back a lot of fan favorites from their ‘golden’ games in ’98 and 2002. The 50 man roster (maybe more in the future?) is near identical to those games & I commend SNK for it. For in-game features, it’s pretty standard with nothing eye-popping (landslide *cough, cough*) but everything you should expect to be in a fighter. It’s an all-around solid package even before any DLC touches the game. It is for this reason, although aesthetics I don’t care for much, that I wish the graphics for KOF14 were better than they are. Having them would give it that fine polish on a great game and really put the exclamation point on how good it is.
What is exactly great about this game, if you didn’t already know, it’s the robust mechanics that you can take advantage of with these 50 characters. KOF’s been a ‘man’s game’ when it comes to execution and man, I haven’t done so many half circles in my life. Learning how the advanced and max cancels was a different layer to traditional supers and EX moves. The character specific timing on them was something to adjust to as well; a lot of it felt like links the way the cancel window was tight. The input leniency reminds me of 90s fighters… there wasn’t any. This is where Aphro would say something along the lines of “welcome aboard, little brother” just like Morpheus. Glad to be on AD, but why are Angel’s inputs built like this?! I guess I should be thankful that the pretzel motion for Raging Storm is gone, but I digress. The way the meter and super system is in this game leaves you with enough hope to crawl back into any one-sided match.
Personally I’ve struggled to make the transition to 3v3 combat in fighting games. Assist calls and team structure was beyond me back in the Marvel 2 days, UMVC3 was hardly any better and Skullgirls I seldom go with a 2 characters, let alone 3. KOF on the other hand, team composition isn’t as crucial. It is important, though, with the way the meter cap is set up since other characters are better suited for specific roles. You just won’t get so many sideways looks if you put Geese on point as opposed to Doctor Doom. The fundamentals for KOF14 are strong as you can take what you learned, how you should play and apply it anywhere else. The game is still young and SNK has been swift with its patches to address balancing and glitches. I gotta steal this from KPB|Rage when comparing KOF14 to SF5: “It’s similar to a home cooked meal from mom vs. a meal from the restaurant.”
SNK as a company came back to its roots with KOF14, so in a lot of ways it’s a passion project. The attentiveness to its growth, its community, the launch speaks to the care (perhaps even go as far as to say "love") put into KOF14. The characters, despite their last gen appearance, pop a little better in their animations than in SF4 & 5. It’s something that’s been devoid of Street Fighter for a good while now. Without even going into nonsensical SF4 animations, you just know something has heart by the eyeball test. You never hear any gripes about any of the Alpha games or certainly not SF3, quite the contrary. Sure enough well, when was the last time you remember SF’s universe being so vibrant and beloved?
Here’s a quick story that I omitted in my EVO 2016 piece. Passing by the KOF14 demo station in the last hours of Saturday night, I overhear a conversation with a random bunch of guys discussing the contrasts of KOF14 (still a demo at this time) and SF5. What I heard was so dead on I’ll never forget it. “SF5 is a game made by pros, for pros, with a pro mentality.” The rest I have to paraphrase because it was a while ago. “Which is why some good players get bored & average players feel like the game sucks. Vega has a 2 frame Light Kick, (fact check* 3 frame) that’s amazing but for someone who doesn’t understand what that means, it’s useless. The game also has no personality, whereas KOF, you can see is exploding with personality.” Again, I paraphrased, but I’m sure the point was clear.
Alas, let’s not take away from the main focus. I played KOF14 and quite honestly I don’t know exactly where I stand. I definitely am not looking to go competitive with it. I’m still warming up to the roster and gameplay. It’s a general appreciation for the cast that’s been around for as long as my lifespan, but so far no, I have fully clicked with. I’m with the disappointment of no air Venom Strike, but I got used to no cross-up air Hurricane Kick. If you were trying to mentally peg me YES, I have Robert on my team. I main Ryu, gimme a break!
The biggest takeaway from KOF14 for me was the missed opportunity I had back when I had CVS2 at my fingertips. I will put more time into KOF14 when I can spare it and ultimately want SNK back on its feet so that the possibilities can benefit all. More fighting games, especially resurrected ones, are a great look for the FGC and the diverse fighting genre. KOF and other SNK mainstays and their respective fanbases can flourish once more, get these old 90s franchise rivalries boiling again. Oh, and of course open the door for Capcom vs. SNK 3. I am sold and on the bandwagon for better or worse, so make some room.
Thank you for spending some time, now I exit stage left... and right even!