The King of Fighters XIII Review

By Shawn Collier on November 23, 2011

Starting in the late 1990s the fighting game genre slipped into decline despite an amazing surge in popularity in the years prior. Thankfully it's seemed to regain that footing, thanks to recent hits such as Capcom's Street Fighter IV and the visually stunning sprite-based Arc Systems Works' BlazBlue series. However, one key player in the old guard, SNK Playmore, was left behind and faced with the choice of evolving or dying out entirely. Their answer to this was 2009's The King of Fighters XII. However as you can see in our review it was an utter disappointment.

After years in development and tons of incurred costs the company decided that the game had to be shipped to consumers. Those buyers found a game that was essentially a half-finished beta with a next-gen $60 price tag. Because of this it did little to win the attention of both casual and hardcore fighting game fans who didn't know about the series nor the longtime SNK fans who had kept with the series over the years. Thus, SNK Playmore knew they only had one more shot before the King of Fighters brand would be tarnished forever in the minds of players. Laid with the daunting task of repairing all of the damage KoFXII did to the series they set out to make a new sequel: The King of Fighters XIII. And repair they did.

At its core, The King of Fighters XII wasn't an entirely bad game. It had some of the best sprite-based work at the time and great underlying gameplay mechanics, but the severe lack of content and exclusion of a number of key KoF characters soured the moods of fans. The King of Fighters XIII is the exact opposite of that. The same excellent sprite-based characters and wonderful battle backdrops return alongside a fully-featured story mode, an extensive character color customizer and training mode and even a strenuous mission mode. And that annoying zooming-in of the characters during matches added in KoFXII has been removed this time around.

For most fans, however, the real additions come in the plethora of new characters. Complimenting the somewhat random 22 characters found in KoFXII is 12 new characters (bringing the total up to 34) including some fan-favorites such as Mai Shiranui and K', both of which were sorely missing in the series's previous outing. The series standard of dividing participants into three-person teams is back again as well as could be seen in the number of trailers that Atlus's North American branch supplied leading up to the game's release.These additional 12 characters aren't a simple cash-in either as SNK seem to have put in a lot of effort to make sure all of the details including their design, voice and sprites were held up to the same standards that KoFXII's impressive characters exhibited. And speaking of graphics, that's still one of the key points carried over from KoFXII as it's still as impressive as it was back in 2009. While games like Street Fighter IV and Marvel vs Capcom 3 do push the graphical boundaries in the 3D realm, there's something special about a hand-detailed sprite-based game that still remains even in this HD-driven console generation that can't be duplicated with realism.

For those who haven't played a King of Fighters game before here's a quick rundown. Unlike games such as Street Fighters and Marvel vs. Capcom, KoF focuses on 3-vs-3 super aggressive, in-your-face play as the game allows you to run, hop and roll towards and away from your opponents to keep the offense going. Of course there's also the guard crush meter which forces overly defensive players to get into the action as they'll eat a full damage combo after taking enough hits. New to KoFXIII is the Hyper Drive Meter which allows for Super Cancels, Drive Cancels and HD combos which altogether create one of the most incredibly free-flowing combo system as of yet.

Drive Cancels are similar to Focus Attack Dash Canceling in Capcom's Street Fighter IV in the sense that it allows you to cancel specific special moves into others but only canceling when you hit instead of blocking so one can't burn meter just because they made a bad decision. The Hyper Drive meter can be launched off of normal attacks to enter HD move which allows each character to have access to a custom combo system. The fun doesn't end there as KoFXIII also adds to the mix Desperation Super Moves and the new NEO MAX moves. They're beefed-up supers that do a ton of damage at the cost of having some of the strictest timing of all the moves in the game. That said it is incredibly satisfying once you master them and can pull them off with general ease in a match and get to see (or hear in the case of an online match) your opponent get super salty.

If you aren't a veteran fighting game fanatic it's likely that you probably won't be able to pull off half of these advanced techniques initially. SNK anticipated this and added both a fully-featured tutorial and a mission mode to help players new and old hone their KoF skills. The training mode is your usual fare for the genre but it does have a significant lack of explanation on the intricate offensive and defensive flows of the game so don't expect to do so well if you're a newcomer when you play your first game online till you learn the ropes.The mission mode, on the other hand, provides a great resource for newcomers to the series of those who are trying their hand with a new character. Unlike games such as Marvel vs. Capcom 3 which feature movesets that are either unwieldy to use in multiplayer matches or don't have much of a use outside of the mode, KoFXIII's missions provide players with combinations that are easy to use once learned and are actually usable in real-life situations.

One key issue that most players who played KoFXII encountered was the less-than-desirable netcode. There is an improvement this time around but it still isn't at the level that other games such as Street Fighter III: 3rd Strike's GGPO netcode performs at. Connections range from 1-4 bars. The lower-half should be avoided at all costs as they usually lag noticeably and just serve to cause frustration, while the upper-half provide for a generally excellent experience. There's some minor split-second delay due to the inherent online issues with any fighter this gen with today's current connections but if you can get a 3-bar connection or better you'll have a good experience with KoFXIII's online multiplayer. This was before the game's official release, however, so we'll have to see how the game holds up once a larger pool of players participate but these early signs are promising as long as there's enough people with good enough connections to fight again. One noticeable omission, however, is the lack of a spectator mode, so those looking for that feature will have to hope that SNK patches it in or adds it via DLC at a future date.

Final Thoughts

All things considered The King of Fighters XIII had almost an insurmountable hill to climb after the abysmal failure that was The King of Fighters XII. Thankfully it didn't just surpass it but eclipsed it entirely with its back-to-basics approach that listened to the wishes of their fans and delivered an excellent fighting game. It may have its faults but after KoFXII this is more than a suitable base for the next King of Fighters title. It may not have the initial wow-factor of Marvel vs Capcom 3 and it's not nearly as popular as Street Fighter but hardcore fighting fans would be missing out if they passed on this rebirth of the series. And for those who aren't fighting fans the game has relaxed enough controls that anyone who puts in effort will get something out of it even if the game doesn't do the best job of fully explain the mechanics. Simply put, the king of fighters is back.

Still has the most amazing 2D sprite-based animation in its genre.
One hell of an improvement over The King of Fighters XII.
While not perfect, it does teach the majority of the basics.
Online can be subpar if you don't have or encounter someone with a bad connection.
Some of the finer aspects of the game could be more clearly explained in the tutorial/mission modes.
No spectator mode.
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