Fighting games, we all know em, we all love em. And if you are a true fan of fighting games, then you should be no stranger to the KOF series. If you are a stranger, just know that this marks the 11th entry in the series. It’s definitely amazing to see a company stand behind the dying breed of 2-D player vs. player fighters.
What makes this game even more amazing is that there seems to be no signs of it slowing down as SNK Playmore has several entries of the title in the works. One thing to note is that KOF has been the direct competition to Capcom’s Street Fighter series for many years featuring a more technical approach to the 2-D fighting game arena. This has always been one of the biggest turn offs for the more casual gamers out there and this year’s KOF is no different.
KOF XI is in fact the 11th game in the series and has been normally released on a yearly basis starting from KOF 94. This time around they decided on numbering the entries so that they are not locked into this mentality of releasing a game every year in order to polish and distribute more complete titles rather than meet a deadline. And speaking of polish, this year’s KOF has undergone a few new changes both on the offensive and defensive front.
Traditionally, the KOF series has established a foundation that separates it from other fighters. You have the ground rolls, the counters, the super desperation moves, the energy stocks, the 3 man team, so on and so forth. What’s new is the extension of KOF 2003’s “quick shift”. Basically quick shift allows a player to switch a character out mid battle, but what’s new is that you can do this in mid-combo or in mid-super desperation. It truly makes for exciting times when you can take some combo from your favorite character, switch them out with a different character and start another combo, and then enter a command for the desperation move. Tactically it’s intuitive and opens up the dynamic when one of your characters has low health and you simply wanted get a fresh character in there.
In addition to the quick shift is what they call a “Dream Cancel”. This is the stuff that makes the highlight reels!! In games like the Street Fighter Alpha, SF III, or Garou Mark of the Wolves, you can super cancel moves which require a degree of timing to where a special move can be interrupted with the command for the super moves a’la dragon punch into a super move. Essentially a Dream Cancel has the same premise but you are able to cancel from a super move into Super Desperation move. Imagine an Iori combo into his “Maiden Masher” only to cancel into an even bigger super move, PURE PWNAGE !!!
The trick with this though is that KOF XI restricts the player by allowing a selection of just one leader and two additional teammates to fill up your 3-man roster. The leader is the only one that will be allowed to access the super desperation move so teammates are only allowed to just do the regular super moves. I like the idea because it does have a bit of balance as the super moves do not actually damage the opponent as much as they have in the past games. So in short, there’s no spamming of your bread and butter “end-all “reliance of super moves.
That’s not to say that the cheese factor is eliminated though, because like in all 2-d fighters, there’s characters with certain exploits, which is fun to do, but not so fun when it happens to you. Just watch the slew of sick combos on youtube with people using characters like Ash. Rounding out the new features are things like the empty cancels and emergency quick rolls which mean you can interrupt standing punches, kicks, or special moves and go into a roll which throws your opponent off rhythm. But just as you have a cost to pull offensive maneuvers off with “power stocks”, “defensively” they cost you a new thing called “skill stock” which allow players to do the defensive or evasive actions. Both are accumulated over time during a match. Again having a finite count prevents unnecessary spamming of moves and makes for a more tactical chess-like match between players.
Finally there’s a pretty cool new judgment system that allows a player to monitor who’s winning the fight even though both players may still have characters left on their team. Basically if time has expired and there are characters on both sides, the judgment doesn’t reward the one with the most health left over like other games in the past.
Instead there’s a new meter that dictates whether the characters from player one or two have basically been kicking ass throughout the match.This meter is affected by combos and the any of the attacks that a player has engaged in through the match. Now if a character was defeated, it sways the meter in favor of the opponent.
So a player has to really be paying attention to the health meters on the team because the character with lowest health bar could be the savior in a decision. There is a possibility of a draw if the meter stays in the center and both sides lose.
The character selection in KOF XI is varied with familiar faces such as Kyo, Ralf & Clark, K’, and Mai, to the old school like Duck King, Blue Mary (she’s back like the McRib!!!), and King. In addition there are a few newly introduced characters that make a fine addition to the series. Oswald the card shark, Momoko the chibi capoeria girl, and Elisabeth (think of her like as David Copperfield’s magic assistant that got her own ass kicking gig). My favorite of the new characters seems to be Momoko. Damn she’s nice on the combos. There are also hidden characters specifically for the PS2 version such as Mai and Robert Garcia which are absent from the arcade counterpart. With over 40 characters to choose from, there is plenty of variety.
Graphically KOF XI holds up well against its predecessors with 2-D sprites over 3-D backgrounds, various locales, and excellent special effects both on the special moves and background effects. However, in this day and age of high def technology, 2-D sprite-based games start to show their age. As fantastic as the animations are
(SNK takes pride with the most superb 2-D animation) the sprites on a high def tv completely falter. It’s a shame really because the character designs are great.
I feel that if these titles want to succeed and stay equivalent to 3-d based fighters, all they need to do is to just create hi def sprites or an emulation type process that allows for software-made scan-lines. It’s almost unbearable to the point where you are unable to see the characters faces and they appear to look like 8-bit games. Yes it’s that bad! One thing they attempted to do is add in a smoothing feature for the graphics in the options menu. It helps, but causes the characters to look blurry. One thing that is amazing in the game is the cut scene cinemas and character portraits. I just wish they had taken the same approach for the sprites, but at least the 3-D backgrounds are great.
Sound in the KOF series has either been hit or miss for me in the past years. I will say the sound is a definite” hit” for my tastes. I love the music and all the character sounds and effects. I am bothered a little by Blue Mary and Mai’s voice (new voice actors), but they do work (I liked the voices for KOF 97). To some not familiar with the series, you might not have quite the appreciation for it and that is to be expected simply because they are still using the same hardware to create the sounds. Don’t expect some Dolby Digital surround sound from a 2-D fighter. I still think they could at least separate the sound a bit, but hopefully if they decide to carry the series on to the next generation platforms, we may see things change. For the most part, there’s at least CD quality sound.
The story in KOF takes place after the 2003 tournament. In layman’s terms, there was an evil seal known as “Orochi” which is nothing but bad news. It was introduced in the KOF 95, hit its climax in 97, and then ended in 98 before moving onto the other sagas. Essentially they re-introduce the “Orochi” seal which was stolen by a character named “Mukai” and something called the “Yata” mirror which was stolen by a character in KOF 2003 named “Ash”.
Both items cause great turmoil and all the fighters are called upon to enter the tournament each with their own agendas. Some are related to the Orochi seal such as Shermie and Iori, but others are related to the mirror which was part of the KOF 2003 storyline. There’s quite a bit of back story to the KOF series. KOF XI is a fantastic 2-D showcase that proves old school can still survive. Because of the technical gameplay system, KOF XI does not present itself well to the casual gamer. Hell the copy I picked was actually a used copy returned a day after its release. And it’s a shame too because not very many gamers would give it a chance simply because of the familiarity. For a game under $20 bucks it’s definitely a steal.
I think that if this was on PSN or Xbox Live as downloadable content or if they kept the omitted online feature (import version has online play) then I think it would appeal more to the masses. For those who have a great passion for the dying genre or love Japanese artwork and all, there is a lot to like here. I feel if they are able to re-create the sprites for HD monitors, then 2-D fighting may still make its return. So if you are at your local gamestore and you see this in the bargain bin, do yourself a favor and pick this title up because it has to be the most complete 2-D fighter experience that’s on par to the technical gameplay system of the 3-D world’s Virtua Fighter series. Ore no… kachi da!