Following The King of Fighters XIII, SNK was placed in a particular predicament that most Japanese arcade developers were forced to endure during that time. When XIII was in development, during the twilight years of the arcade era in Japan being the climax, the country granted the world such classics as Blazblue, Street Fighter 4, Tekken 6, and many others. While entertainment centers continued to be a source of income as they were in the 90s, the beat-em-up genre no longer became as profitable as it was a few years prior, forcing most developers to adapt to a tried-and-true genre in pachinko to make ends meet.
Pachinko machines and mobile games became an easy method for arcade developers to maintain a steady flow of income amidst a dying era and SNK was no different. There was a period where the company veered away from its roots, yet unbeknownst to many who felt that the company lost its flair, SNK was once again in the kitchen cooking a brand-new King of FIghters, this time with outside help.
The battle director in charge of The King of Fighters 14 was Yasuyuki Oda, known for having an executive role in another SNK title, Garou: Mark of the Wolves. Oda was best known for being the director of a game that was in direct competition with King of Fighters, Street Fighter 4, and responsible for bringing the series back to greatness and birthing a new generation of fighting game fans. If Oda could work his magic for Capcom’s flagship series, expectations were at an all-time high following his return to SNK, bringing his experiences to the company he started with.
Oda’s vision for 14 was to make the game as easily accessible for newcomers as possible, referring to the execution barrier that 13 brought to the series that turned off newer players to King of Fighters. For this statement, I’d have to respectfully disagree as while the game may have seemed overwhelming at first, as I mentioned in the 13 segment, players were given personality due to the possible ways that a certain character can be utilized. The reward in learning a character’s potential stems from my history with Tekken, a series in which learning all 100+ moves from a character is part of the joy of learning the game in itself. That’s not to say 13 is Tekken, but it’s apples and oranges when it comes to the complexity of the game.
The “anime-inspired” hand-drawn graphics were also polarizing enough to switch the art direction of 14, making the switch from 2D to 3D models for the first time in series history. Oda wanted to make the game look realistic in comparison to the older titles of the series in hopes of bringing the veteran players back to familiar territory. The modern gameplay mechanics, which include elements of 2002’s MAX mode and 13’s combo system, made the game much easier to understand as compared to the previous game.
The infamous challenge mode which included what I’d like to call, “20-second combos,” is now limited to almost laughable and very basic combos. The combos featured in the Challenge mode almost prove another point I made in the 13 retrospect in that the simplest combos are usually enough to close out a game while the flashy long combos require execution to commit, depending on the character.
The roster size in 14 boasts quite possibly the largest size in a non-Dream Match King of Fighters to date with a whopping 50-character roster, no duplicates, clones, or anything of the sort. Many returning characters join in on the transition to 3D alongside enough newcomers to complete a standard fighting game roster alone.
For the first time since 2002, fan-favorite Angel returns, joining Ramon whose last appearance was XI, and the heel version of Tizoc---I mean, series newcomer King of Dinosaurs to form this iteration of Team Mexico. Geese and Billy, who was a non-canon mid-boss character in the previous title, join with newcomer Hein to form the South Town team.
Kim would join two newcomers Gang-il and the femme fatal Luong to form the creatively named “Kim team,” while his former delinquent criminals Choi and Chang team up with the eccentric newcomer Xanadu to create the “Villain” team.
Following Takuma’s retirement (seriously how many times had this old man retired already…?), Yuri would once again join the Art of Fighting team, leaving Mai and King to bring in newcomer Alice to form the new Women’s Fighters Team. In many ways, Alice is like Shingo in that if Shingo was a superfan of Kyo, Alice is a superfan of Terry, borrowing several of his moves in her flair.
Like Kyo, K’, and Ash before them, the two main protagonists in this new arc are Shun’ei and Meitenkun, paired with Fatal Fury veteran Tung Fu Rue to form the China Team. Fans who played the PS2 version of 11 will remember Tung Fu Rue as a bonus character, but as the PS2 version isn’t considered “canon,” 14 marks the first time that Tung Fu Rue appears in a King of Fighters tournament.
There are three new teams featuring nothing but newcomers, including the South American team, consisting of Brazilian boxer Nelson, with a metal prosthetic arm that wouldn’t seem out of place in a Megalobox anime, the Brazilian ninja Bandeiras who wishes to open a ninja school and impress the resident series ninja, Mai in the process, and the Columbian capoeirista, Zarina.
The so-called “Rivals” team this time around is the “Official Invitation” team, a trio of fighters personally invited in the King of Fighters tournament by organizer Antov, who also doubles as the antagonist of the game. The team consists of Kukri, a man who controls sand and is cloaked with a hooded jacket, obscuring his face, Mian, a Chinese opera dancer who incorporates traditional dance in her fighting style, and lastly Sylvie Paula Paula. The final character is quite possibly one of the most interesting as, despite her weird childlike demeanor, she’s revealed to be one of the final NESTS projects, directly tying her with the likes of Angel, K’, Kula, and Maxima by default. Savvy fans of Japanese pop music will see the similarities between the likeliness and Paula’s name, bearing a striking resemblance to J-Pop star, Kyary Pamyu Pamyu.
The final “new member” team is the Another World Team consisting of newcomers Nakoruru, Mui Mui, and Love Heart. Fans of Samurai Shodown will immediately recognize Nakoruru as one of the main characters of the long-running series and the first Samurai Shodown representative to appear in a King of Fighters title. Mui Mui and Love Heart are both characters from SNK’s Pachinko Slot Machine era, originating from the titles Dragon Gal and Sky Love respectively. Their inclusion in King of Fighters coincides with the secondary plot involving the major antagonist, Verse, having the capability to bend time and space to bring in fighters from various worlds and timelines.
The game’s launch in 2016 was a rocky one, as while the base gameplay and diverse roster cast were as diverse as ever, many fans criticized the graphics, citing that the new graphics engine made the characters appear “doll-like.” This, of course, was the opposite of the intended effect to make the graphics appear more realistic than its predecessor. A year after its release, SNK released a graphics update that fixed the shading issues as well as made some major changes once the company got a handle on its in-house engine.
SNK also had a DLC model for 14, adding many fighters that were highly requested by fans and staff, including all-new characters to the series. One of the major surprise inclusions was the son of Geese, Rock Howard, a character many wanted in King of Fighters, but assumed would never make it in 14. Other returning characters include Blue Mary, Vanessa, Whip, Oswald, and Heidern. One new character, Najd, was included in the roster as the first Saudi Arabian character in King of Fighters, bumping the roster to 58.
Despite 14 being a complete package on par with 13, a major criticism held during the turn of the pandemic was the lack of fighting games with reliable netcode. Games such as Tekken 7 and Street Fighter 5, two of the most popular fighting games played currently, are often the subject of spotty online play. In an era where online play was a necessity to play with friends during quarantine, a dodgy netcode eventually became a valid reason for fans to reluctantly stop playing.
This was also a major reason why King of Fighters 2002 Ultimate Match was a beautiful comeback as the sheer inclusion of a proper netcode tailor-made for fighting games made the game playable, thus making it enjoyable for players regardless of the distance. In the future, many fans hope that 15 would add a playable netcode so it wouldn’t suffer the same fate as 14 did, considering online play would be of the utmost importance, yet with a confirmation from SNK that the game would have a rollback, this makes a good segue into what people know about 15.
The King of Fighters 15 Preview
So it has finally come to this, after fourteen games, 27 years, and a bankruptcy period later. Considering the wild history the series had over its span, it’s hard to imagine such a franchise has existed for over a quarter of a century and remained relevant, especially when many of the titles that its fighters were taken from, including Art of Fighting and Fatal Fury hasn’t seen a new entry in over two decades.
Despite the revival of Samurai Shodown, it’s very clear that The King of Fighters, which began as a “dream match” with 90% of the roster being characters from existing SNK IPs at the time, is not only SNK’s flagship fighting game series but also its lifeline. So when The King of Fighters 15 was announced, SNK knew that they had to be very particular in what was being said and shared with the public, opting to be as transparent as possible to their audience. One thing that SNK promised its fans was the proposed tagline for 15, “Shatter All Expectations.”
Starting with the first trailer back in January, every week SNK would reveal a new character with many of the core cast and familiar faces returning. The first new returning character began with the Chizuru trailer, a fighter who has not been in a King of Fighters title since 2003, taking players by surprise. This ultimately turned into a treat for long-time fans of the series as her inclusion marked the return of the Three Sacred Treasures team, including Kyo and Iori, with Benimaru now joining Shun’ei and Meitenkun as the new “Hero” team.
Things began to shake as the trailer for Yashiro was released, following one for Shermie and one for Chris, leading to the return of the “Orochi” team for the first time since their only inclusion in ‘97 (not counting dream matches, of course).
While Shermie’s inclusion was teased, following her appearance in SNK Heroines: Tag Team Frenzy, many didn’t think that SNK would not only pull the trigger on her inclusion in 15 but also return her fellow teammates from the dead.
Other team adjustments include King leaving the Women’s Fighters Team to join the Art of Fighting team for the first time since The King of Fighters 2000, leaving Mai and Yuri without a third for the time being. While many speculate that the third will be a new character, others are guessing that Alice may join the two young ladies on the team. Shortly after, another new team was formed with Luong, previously from Kim’s team, teaming up with Blue Mary and Vanessa. Mary and Vanessa are occasional team partners, whose last non-DLC canon appearance was as a group in King of Fighters XI. Former teammate Ramon, who returned in 14 as a third of the Mexican team, was the latest character to be revealed.
While the character announcements are nice, players have noticed that the game’s appearance has been steadily improving with each trailer. From the first announcement trailer to Ramon’s latest trailer, the graphics seemed to have been given an overhaul similar to 14’s graphical improvements. The difference is that characters and environments appear to look different from 14, largely due to 15 running on Unreal Engine.
Initially, the game was scheduled for a 2021 release but likely due to the effects of lockdowns amidst the pandemic, the date has been bumped to “Q1 2022,” with more information about the title coming up in a few weeks. One major question that was answered recently was the platforms that The King of Fighters 15 would release on, confirming that it would release on PC, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, and the Xbox consoles. This would make the first time in almost 10 years that a King of Fighters game was released on the Xbox from King of Fighters 13.
With what little information is shared, it’s exciting to see what happens to the series, even though it’s expected to pick up where 14 left off, as Oda returns as the producer, alongside the majority of the staff from the previous game. There have been a lot of spinoff titles, not counting the 15 in the main series, including the mentioned SNK Heroines and the Maximum Impact 3D titles.
When it comes to the main series, however, there have been a few fighting game franchises that had the consistency to remain on an “inferior” device for over ten years, then make giant strides into the 3D era in the decade following. Maybe one day I’ll cover the Maximum Impact series as that also has a key place in my childhood.
Whatever may happen to the series in the future, it’s safe to say that The King of Fighters will remain in some capacity for the finite future as it has already gone through Hell and back. All that’s left now is the stars and beyond.