Publisher: SNK Playmore
With the popularity of big names in the fighting game genre such as “Street Fighter”, “Tekken” and “Mortal Kombat” among Western fans, it could be easy to overlook the “King of Fighters” (or KOF) series.
Developed by Japanese video game company, SNK, the fun, fast-paced, team-based 2D fighting game franchise returned to the fighting game scene with its latest installment “The King of Fighters XIV”, which was released two years ago a few months after “Street Fighter V”. Taking place after the Ash Crimson Saga, KOF XIV introduces new bosses Antonov, a Russian billionaire who has acquired the rights to the KOF tournament, and Verse, the game’s antagonist. In addition, the game presents new protagonist, Shun’ei, a student of Tung Fu Rue who happens to be associated with Verse and shares some of Verse’s powers.
“The King of Fighters XIV” has brought some major changes to the franchise. First and foremost, much like “Street Fighter IV”, this one makes the move towards 2.5D territory with its use of 3D stages.
Several characters such as Kyo Kusanagi, Joe Higashi and Iori Yagami don new outfits and/or are voiced by new voice actors. Despite these changes, however, KOF XIV manages to revert the series back to it origins by bringing back some old faces such as the Fatal Fury antagonist Geese Howard, Geese’s son and Garou: Mark of the Wolves protagonist Rock Howard, Terry Bogard and Geese Howard’s mentor Tung Fu Rue, the psychopathic Ryuji Yamazaki and Terry’s love interest Blue Mary.
Gameplay-wise, KOF XIV replaces EX special moves with Max Mode, which allows characters to perform EX-like moves until the Maximum meter runs out. In addition, the game features a new Time Attack mode, in which players select a character to fight through 10 different opponents in the shortest time frame.
Last, but not least, KOF XIV has taken a beginner-friendly approach such that players can perform rush combos, which end with a special move or super move, by just repeatedly pressing the light punch button. In my opinion, this is an excellent option for those who want to pick up KOF from scratch and fairly quickly become familiar with the game.
Each character has his or her own fighting style, from mainstream martial arts styles like Taekwondo, Karate or Muay Thai to fictionalized disciplines. As heir to the Kusanagi clan, Kyo Kusanagi uses a mixture of Chinese Kenpo and Kusanagi-style martial arts.
Similarly, Kyo’s rival Iori Yagami, who has finally retained his Power of Flames, employs the fictionalized Yasakani-style martial arts, which puts an emphasis on claw-like attacks in addition to purple flames.
The other flame-wielding character of the game, K’, has his style labelled as “Pure Violence”. However, he does employ some Jeet Kune Do techniques such as the One-Inch Punch (as does his partner-in-crime Kula Diamond) and flying kick.
Then we have characters who use a personalized variation of traditional martial arts. For instance, the Art of Fighting team, consisting of Ryo Sakazaki, Robert Garcia and Yuri Sakazaki practice Kyokugenryu Karate, which involves fast and hard attacks, based on Kyokushin Karate. Mai Shiranui, one of KOF’s most well-known female characters, adopts Shiranui-ryū ninjutsu.
On the other half of the KOF XIV roster are our straight-up traditional martial artists that includes the likes of characters such as Kim Kaphwan and Joe Higashi. As the franchise’s staple Korean character, Kim Kaphwan is the epitome of a pure Taekwondo practitioner. Not only is he a champion of justice, but also his arsenal is 95% kicks and contains every kick in the Taekwondo kicktionary alongside Kim’s signature, acrobatic-like moves such as the Hangetsu Zan and Hien Zan (aka the bottle/flask kick).
As a Muay Thai champion, Joe Higashi is arguably SNK’s most recognizable Muay Thai character, and Joe’s style stays true to the Thai martial arts. For the most part, Joe Higashi uses basic punches, kicks, knees and elbows that are essential to Muay Thai, although Joe has some signature moves that are more reflective of other striking arts like Taekwondo and Karate. A good example of this would be Joe’s Slash Kick, which is based on the spinning back/side kick.
Kyo Kusanagi’s teammate, Goro Daimon is primarily a judo practitioner, as the majority of his move-set consists of throws, although Goro does use some striking techniques. SNK’s iconic American character, Terry Bogard, simply has his style classified as “Martial Arts”, but his style consists of techniques from a variety of disciplines including boxing, karate and kickboxing.
As for our newcomers, the new protagonist Shun’ei, as a student of Tung Fu Rue, uses a variant of the style Hakkyokuseiken (or Bajiquan) called Hakkyougen’eiken, which translates as “Eight Extremes Phantom Fist”. However, while Tung Fu Rue’s basic attacks are more kung fu-esque, Shun’ei’s basic attacks are akin to Chinese boxing. Shun’ei’s best friend and fellow Tung Fu Rue disciple Meitenkun also uses a personal style of Hakkyokuseiken called Hakkyokuminminken, which translates as “Eight Extremities Sleepy Fist”.
As Meitenkun is asleep or sleepy half the time, this style allows Meitenkun to conceal his power and equips him with some explosive techniques, giving the character a rather erratic fighting style rather like drunken fist.
Aside from Shun’ei and his team, Nelson of the South American team uses boxing. His style is more technical like Dudley from “Street Fighter” and Steve Fox from “Tekken”. In fact, some of his moves are similar to that of Steve Fox.
For instance, like the British boxing champion, Nelson has a command to move in on his opponent with his footwork, and his grappling move, the Belly Crusher, will remind “Tekken” fans of Steve’s Sonic Fang technique. Although Nelson has very few special moves as compared to other characters, he relies more on hard-hitting combos.
Nelson’s teammate Zarina does Capoeira, although her style is officially identified “Kicking techniques”. Kim Kaphwan’s new teammates, Gang-il and Luong, also use Taekwondo. As Kim’s master, Gang-il shares some of Kim’s special moves, which are slower but more powerful compared to Kim’s. This could even be hinted at due to Gang-il’s beefy frame. Luong, who serves as Gang-il’s companion, resembles Juri from “Street Fighter” in terms of looks, personality, costume color-scheme and moveset.
“King of Fighters XIV” was released around the same time of a then-beta-version, like “Street Fighter V”, which offered very few characters and game modes back then. With fighting game fans dissatisfied at the highly anticipated “Street Fighter V” at the time, they were able to relieve their disappointment with KOF XIV, as the team-based fighting game provided much more than what the franchise was normally expected to offer.
“King of Fighters XIV” has arguably the largest roster of all the KOF games and has brought back some popular characters and introduced some new and interesting faces. Furthermore, the move to 3D models and environments as well as the beginner-friendly ‘Rush combo’ feature represented a huge leap forward for the KOF series. Why the 2016 Game Awards chose “Street Fighter V” over KOF XIV, as the Best Fighting Game, I really don’t know!
- Although the character Meitenkun, has his name written as “明天君” in Chinese, his English name is a pun on the Chinese phrase “每天困”, which means “sleepy every day” and refers to Meitenkun’s sleepy personality as the character is asleep half the time. Meitenkun is also the only character that fluently speaks a language other than Japanese.
- Shun’ei is the first SNK protagonist to be mentored by Tung Fu Rue ever since Terry Bogard in the “Fatal Fury” series.
- “King of Fighters XIV” was directed by Yasuyuki Oda, who was the battle designer for “Street Fighter IV”. Although Oda once worked for SNK R&D Division 1 which was responsible for the “Fatal Fury” and “Art of Fighting” series, this was Oda’s first time working on the “King of Fighters” franchise.