Third Dream Match!? + Tales Of Ash Part 2 (12 - 13)

King of Fighters 13 Promotional Art

The King of Fighters XII

The King of Fighters shocked the world with the surprise announcement of XII, featuring new graphics that deviated from the traditional sprites that existed since ‘94, switching to hand-drawn character sprites, and intense stage designs that took advantage of the game’s new HD capabilities. This was largely due to the Taito Type X2 engine that The King of Fighters XII ran on, which several competitors including Blazblue, Chaos Code, Street Fighter 4, and other anime fighting games at the time also utilized. For the first time, The King of Fighters was on an even playing field with other relevant 2D fighting games at the time, and XII was a warning shot to the discreditors who remained.

As impressive as King of Fighters 12 was, it failed to live up to the hype due to several misconceptions.

Release in 2009 to coincide with the series’ 15th anniversary, The King of Fighters XII was a rarity in the series as it was not only released in the arcades and on consoles that same year, but it also had a worldwide release, allowing players from Japan, Europe, North America, and various parts of the world to be on even footing with each other. Each character was painstakingly recreated, as game producer Masaaki Kukino would state that the process took almost 17 months alone in designing the characters. As the characters were hand-drawn, various trial-and-error quality checks were expected to ensure the animations smoothly matched the impressive art design that the game was going for. 

The insane leap in quality took up most of the development time, meaning that for a “Dream Match” game, and a King of Fighters title, the roster is severely limited capping only at 20 fighters. Two console-exclusive characters, Elizabeth and Mature, bumped the number to 22, the lowest number of fighters in King of Fighters history. The lack of a story, largely due to it being a “Dream Match” title, and the lack of game modes meant that the game felt more like a tech demo for future King of Fighters titles than a complete experience. 

The King of Fighters 12 was nothing more than a tech demo for what was possible in future additions to the series.

This was also reflected in the gameplay itself, returning the game to its roots, eliminating the tag mechanics from 2003 and XI as well as doing very little to break new ground. Fights are traditional 3-on-3 with each KO leading to the beginning of a new round. As the fights progressed, the music would change in accordance with the action in real time while matching the stage ambiance. It was a stunning game to watch and play, as I recall playing it at the arcades while waiting for my turn in other titles. Replaying the arcade version recently, however, I was reminded why I skipped over this one.

There’s simply nothing to do in XII as nothing stands out aside from the game being beautiful to watch. It was obvious that SNK was behind the grill, preparing a delicious full-course meal, and The King of Fighters XII felt more like a sample dish. A rather unsatisfying and bland-tasting dish at that, having no chance at competing directly with its competitors at the time. 

Still, SNK knew this and released the title anyway, despite its barebones content, to whet the appetites of fans who awaited the next game in the series and it was successful in doing so, as the next game in the series would arguably become SNK’s most important title to date.

The King of Fighters XIII

Two years later, in 2011, The King of Fighters XIII was released on consoles after having an early release in the arcades, marking the proper return of The King of Fighters for the first time since 2006’s XI. Compared to the glorified game demo that was XII, XIII is a complete experience in every way, featuring new and returning characters, new gameplay mechanics, and the conclusion of the Ash Crimson saga. For many newer players, this was the title that most have had experience with as it was released not only on all major platforms but also released on Steam a mere few years later.

The King of Fighters 13 as it would appear on Steam.

To put things in perspective on how weak XII was compared to XIII, the base roster for XIII had a 33% increase compared to the game before it, which was considered a “dream match,” whose titles included as many characters as possible from previous games. Nitpicking aside, a base roster of 31 characters, each of who are all hand-drawn with entirely new animations, was more than impressive, and the dedication to the work can be seen in motion. 

As it has been painfully obvious at this point, I’m a King fan and always have been since I first played her in Capcom vs SNK 2, and seeing her in the same style that was proposed in King of Fighters XII was on a different level. It was a no-brainer that my beautiful Muay Thai bar owner would have a spot on my team, especially in high-definition.

Every character had their personalities shine through the new graphic engine, once again powered by the X2 engine, and several details including the ruffles of Takuma’s gi flowing with his movement, Robert fixing his jacket during his super, and other individual character traits, are executed flawlessly. If XII took the series back to its roots, then XIII grabbed the ball and ran with it, even to the roster itself. For the first time since the early 90s titles, many teams return including the classic ‘94 Women Fighters Team, Japan Team, Art of Fighting Team, and many others. The one team that is switched up is the Korea team, featuring Raiden from King of Fighters XII and newcomer Hwa Jai, both originally from the Fatal Fury series.

The King of Fighters 13 remains for some to be one of the best in the series.

Two specific returning characters, who were presumed dead, were Mature and Vice who would join Iori to bring back the ‘96 Yagami Team. While Mature was teased in her console-exclusive appearance in XII, both ladies have appeared for the first time in fifteen years although their relevance to the plot centers around the personifications of Iori’s hidden trauma in losing control of his powers, which led to the death of Mature and Vice, to begin with.

This, in theory, would mean that Iori is once again a single-entry team, but because he’s within the company of vengeful ghosts meant to make Iori’s life a living Hell, Team Yagami returns. The one character who is considered a single entry is Ash Crimson, who acts on his own accord in sealing his fate, leaving his former teammates to stop him and forming a team in itself called Team Elizabeth.

Out of all of the games in the series, XIII is the most creative when it comes to the combo potential that every character has in this game. There is literally not a single character that is unable to pull off a 20-second combo, no exaggeration, as players can take a gander through the game’s infamous Challenge mode to see how deep the combo rabbit hole goes. There are so many cancels, Max cancels, and super cancels that are possible that it’s impossible to list them all, meaning that no two players will have the same character. I remember in this game my King was a very flashy combo queen, yet in contrast, my Shen relied more on simple high-damage combos to get the job done. 

In Story mode, target actions were guidelines to meet certain criteria for bonus fights in-game

Content creators who liked to poke fun at how complex the combos are may have struck fear in players wishing to give the game a try, yet it has been proven time again that large intricate combos aren’t necessary to close out matches. In fact, matches have been lost from dropping clutch combos when a simple combo with minimum effort could be used to deal close to the same amount of damage. The risk-reward payout taught players that there was a time and place to attempt “touch of death” combos and stick with tried and true bread-and-butters to close sets.

The two mid-boss characters, depending on player performance, is either Saiki or Billy Kane, the latter of whom returns to the series for the first time since 2003 on his own accord irrelevant to the plot itself. Mid-boss Saiki is the human form of the penultimate boss that players fight at the end of Arcade mode, containing elements of Ash and his “awakened” form. Defeating one or the other unlocks them for use in play, allowing veterans to enjoy a long-time returning character in Billy and newcomers to enjoy a solid zoner in Saiki. This version of Saiki is surprisingly fair, as he’s a high-risk high-reward character, a rare sight for mid-boss fighters. The boss version of Saiki is a different story.

Awakened Saiki is a very annoying fight if players attempt it like any other fight, including a counter that instantly traps the fighter, allowing Saiki to command grab them for high damage or continue the pressure at will. Teleports, projects which offer the same effect, and an air-tight defense would make Saiki unbearable were it not for cheese tactics. Saiki and Evil Ash, the final boss in the game, are both easily defeated with well-timed crouching sweeps and character-specific cheese strategies that are enough to puncture holes in the most annoying of boss fights.

The King of Fighters 13 will receive a rollback update similar to 2002 and will release on the PS4 and Switch.

The King of Fighters XIII was also the first KOF to include DLC characters, at least in the console version, as these characters were included in the PC version. For the first time, Mr. Karate made a formal appearance in King of Fighters as the alter-ego of Takuma, donning a much more serious persona, not unlike Akuma from Street Fighter. EX versions of Kyo and Iori were also DLC, the latter being the traditional Iori with his powers returned to him and EX Kyo being the same “NESTS era” Kyo from XII.

After this release, King of Fighters would go through another hiatus as another overhaul was currently in the works to bring the game to the PlayStation 4 era. Foregoing the traditional 2D art style, the new King of Fighters would not only don a fresh coat of paint, but a shift to 3D with all new models and graphics. Players would have to wait a while to see where things would lead up, but it would be the start of yet a new era and chapter in The King of Fighters.

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