When the first trailer for KOF14 was released, there was a strong reaction in the gaming community as most people said it looked like a Playstation 2 game. SNK assured fans that it was still early on and that it would be much better looking in the final build. Trailer after trailer, the ugliness gradually faded, but it still isn’t the most gorgeous game. By switching to polygonal models, SNK left behind the absolutely gorgeous 2D graphics of the previous game. Many fans, myself included, were not expecting much from this game. We’ve seen what happened that last time they attempted to use polygonal models. KoF Maximum Impact, and it’s sequel were not great games. While not terrible, they lacked much of what made the King of Fighters series good. They were slow and sluggish, and the characters felt…bulky, for lack of a better word.
For those who haven’t seen trailers or fear that the trailers aren’t accurate, you’ve got little to fear with this game. The developers seem to have managed to keep the speed and feel of the good old days when KoF was a staple in arcades everywhere. It’s fast-paced and extremely fun. SNK did away with the exceedingly long and difficult combo system from KoF13 and opted for auto combos that work much like those from another fighter, Persona 4 Arena. Simply hitting light punch repeatedly while close to your opponent will initiate the string. If you have at least one full bar of meter, it’ll end with a super move. Advanced players will likely ignore these, but some characters can find use for them as the second or third hit will leave you at a frame advantage. It’s almost never a good idea to do more than the first three hits and you should test out how good it is as a pressure tool for your particular character as there are far to many to list here. I hear that King of Dinosaurs can actually use the second hit of his as a frame trap.
For casual fans, this is very much a traditional fighter complete with Arcade, Story, Versus, Training, and Trial modes as well as an Online mode. The stories are based on the teams in that, each team will get an ending, not each character. The character select screen is broken into groups of 3 horizontally. The three that are close to one another are part of the same team. Some teams have silly reasons for being while others are groupings of characters from the same game like Ralph, Clark, and Leonna who hail from Ikari Warriors. The endings are silly and lighthearted for the most part. To be honest, I’m not entirely sure where this game stands in the KoF continuum as some characters seem to have regressed to much younger versions of themselves. At first, I chalked it up to the not-so-great character models, but then I see that characters like Kensou have their old outfits and moves. It’s baffling, but refreshing at the same time.
SNK has stated that they wanted to focus on releasing a fun and complete game first and worry about balancing it later. I believe I read that there were plans for balance patches once per year with a hope to get the game featured on e-sports. For those of you who aren’t worried about competitive balancing, and just want a fun fighter with a huge roster, your read ends here. It’s fun, fast, and extremely easy to get into while still having a good amount of depth that allows for player growth. It is currently my favorite 2D fighter. Graphically, it’s not a real looker, but it runs at a constant 60fps and looks great in motion. The only time the graphics come up is when the camera zooms in on a character’s face.
For the would-be pro gamers out there, this bit’s for you. Currently, the balance seems to lean heavily toward zoning. I was doing very well with Nakoruru until I ran into a few Athena’s who is simply better at zoning. I hadn’t really realized until that moment that I was using zoning tactics with her since she hurls her entire body at her opponent, but that is exactly what she does. One of the biggest problems I had with Athena was that I couldn’t dash under her fireball like I could with most other characters. KoF14 has extremely situational anti-air moves, meaning that you can’t simply throw out a dragon punch or crouching hard punch to beat whatever jump-in your opponent uses. Some moves come out very fast and reach down extremely low allowing them to either beat or trade hits with your opponent’s anti-air at the cost of not being able to combo off of it. Still, it’s useful if you notice that your opponent tries a particular thing whenever you jump at them. As I stated earlier, I use Nakoruru and her dive trades with dragon punch moves and most other anti-air moves more than it probably should. I think of it as a reverse dragon punch. Her upward version of the dash also gets beat by jump-ins frequently as it has fairly slow startup. Hit boxes and hurt boxes seem to be almost exactly where it looks like they should be. Players trade hits a lot in this game, so knowing what beats what is going to help a lot on the pro scene. There are extremely high damage combos which can turn a match around, leading to very hype moments. This will be a really fun game to stream and I look forward to see what they do with the balance patches in the future.