King of Fighters XV Review: "Abandoned Traditions And Embraced Modernity"

King of Fighters XV Review: "Abandoned Traditions And Embraced Modernity"
Images via SNK

Written by 

Dave McAdam

Published 

11th Feb 2022 16:00

The world of fighting games has changed a lot since King of Fighters XIV was released in 2016. What was once a genre completely dominated by its biggest title, Street Fighter, has become a far more open field. Mortal Kombat 11, Tekken 7, Guilty Gear Strive and so many more have staked their claim as huge parts of the fighting game community. Now, King of Fighters XV steps up to the plate. Can SNK establish their classic series on a higher level than ever before?

Return Of The King

King of Fighters XV: Shun'Ei Powering Up
Click to enlarge
SNK

King of Fighters XV is only the second of the main series to be presented in full 3D. That may sound unusual in this day and age, but the KoF series was famous for its stellar 2D sprite-based graphics. The move to full modern 3D graphics at the launch of KoF XIV was not the smoothest transition but thankfully, SNK has made huge strides in this department.

Where the previous game launched looking quite rudimentary and bland, King of Fighters XV has a roster of characters who look amazing. Animations are smooth and impressive. The lighting and shadow effects are up to par with any modern big-budget game.

The backgrounds take the incredible detail of the 2D stages from older KoF games and realise them in stunning 3D renderings. From game 14 to 15, King of Fighters has gone from looking outdated to surpassing its closest comparison, Street Fighter V. It is clear to see that 3D King of Fighters finally has a look and style it can call its own.

Let's Rock

King of Fighters XV: Terry Posing
Click to enlarge
SNK

King of Fighters was never a slouch in the music department and King of Fighters XV continues the form with an absolutely stellar soundtrack. Excellent tunes are pretty much a requirement for a good fighting game, and KoF XV delivers in a big way. The new tracks in the game take inspiration from a broad mix of genres with a well-stirred collection of rock, electronica, jazz and hip hop. It takes the “something for everyone” approach but the soundtrack as a whole is stellar, with a twinge of nostalgia for 90s fighters through its range of influences.

Better still, is the inclusion of the DJ Station. This in-game music player allows you to customise your listening experience, choosing which songs you want to beat up strangers over the internet to. Taking cues from Tekken 7, this game includes the soundtracks of all previous King of Fighters games, as well as other SNK classics like Metal Slug and Fatal Fury.

Get In The Ring

King of Fighters XV: Blue Mary faces off against Ramon
Click to enlarge
SNK

Presentation is important, but for a fighting game, gameplay is king. King of Fighters XV delivers the smooth, impactful combat the series is known for. There are several new mechanics to get to grips with such as the new Rush combos, which are a form of automatic combo, that let players do decent damage without learning complicated inputs. These are often contentious because auto combos can bring the skill requirement down, but Rush combos are well balanced in KoF XV.

They can only be activated at very close range, so new players will still need to learn the fundamentals of range and movement to make use of them. Really they exist to give newer players a more level playing field, allowing them to learn the basics without bogging them down with long and complex combos.

As always, battles are three versus three, and with a roster of 39 fighters at launch you will have plenty to choose your team from. Admittedly, that is a step down from the 50 at the launch of KoF 14, so not everyone made the jump to the new game. If your favourites aren’t here, there are DLC characters on the way, including the series’ classic villain Geese Howard.

Learning The Ropes

King of Fighters XV: Terry kicking Iori in the face
Click to enlarge
SNK

Once you have chosen your team, you have a plethora of choices on how to get started. For totally new players, there is an extensive tutorial that will teach you the moves, the systems and give you an idea of how to play King of Fighters XV. For returning players, the tutorial includes explainers on all the new systems for you to jump right into.

When players new and old are finished with tutorials, there is a feature-rich training mode for practicing your combos and characters. To learn new combos and really challenge yourself, head to the mission section of the main menu for a series of combo challenges for each character. King of Fighters XV goes above and beyond to teach players how to play the game, something many fighting games are way behind on.

Arcade Mode, No Coins Needed

King of Fighters XV: Benimaru using his super
Click to enlarge
SNK

The next port of call should be story mode. Anyone hoping for an extensive story experience, like the ones made popular in Mortal Kombat and Injustice, aren’t going to get that. Story mode in King of Fighters XV is basically a classic arcade mode, you choose your fighters and fight your way through the roster. The final challenge is a boss fight with a boss character that is not playable, so they can be utterly broken if need be.

This is all true for KoF XV, with some interesting additions. The plot of the game involves certain characters and a powerful monster called Reverse who they have to stop. Whoever you play as will have to take down Reverse, but you will get specific interactions depending on your choice of characters.

Characters that have ties and relationships will interact before and after fights as you meet them, so there is a dynamic element to how the story unfolds. There are also different ending cutscenes depending on who you play as, giving you a reason to go back and play through the story multiple times to unlock them all.

King of Fighters XV has plenty of single-player content, but of course the real appeal is online play. The extensive list of features so far extends to the online section which has ranked as well as casual play, and the ability to set up online rooms to play with friends. You can even practice with friends in the online training mod.

Online Warrior

King of Fighters XV: Iori
Click to enlarge
SNK

With that in mind, all the fancy modes in the world mean nothing if your game doesn’t run well online, but thankfully that isn’t the case here. One of the most exciting announcements for fighting game fans regarding this game was the confirmation that a system called "rollback netcode" would be implemented for online matches.

Rollback has become the defacto best system for online play in fighting games, and a shocking number of the biggest fighting games still are yet to use it. So it was a huge announcement that SNK, who are not known for great online experiences, were bringing it to King of Fighters XV.

The result is a much smoother and more reliable experience when playing online. It isn’t perfect because playing high-paced fighting games over the internet never will be - issues may arise especially when playing with other platforms thanks to crossplay - but these hitches are minimal. The addition of rollback puts KoF XV lightyears ahead of its predecessor, and many of its contemporaries. Playing KoF online has never been this good, so there has never been a better time to join the fight.

King of Fighters XV: Kyo delivering a fiery punch
Click to enlarge
SNK

All of this boils down to one of the best King of Fighters games ever made. The series has abandoned many of its traditions and embraced modernity, meaning it has found its look and feel in a 3D space, and will be a solid base for all future entries. This is the KoF game of the future thanks to being flush with features and cutting-edge online technology, so the future looks bright. Right now, King of Fighters XV has absolutely found itself rubbing shoulders with the other giants of the genre.

4/5

Reviewed on PS5. Code provided by publisher.

Dave McAdam
About the author
Dave McAdam
Dave is a Senior Guides Writer at GGRecon, after several years of freelancing across the industry. He covers a wide range of games, with particular focus on shooters like Destiny 2, RPGs like Baldur's Gate 3 and Cyberpunk 2077, and fighting games like Street Fighter 6 and Tekken 8.
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