King of Fighters 14 Demo Review

SNK Playmore’s long running fighting game series King of Fighters comes back with its long awaited sequel to the popular King of Fighters 13 with King of Fighters 14. 

The King of Fighters series has always seemed to have a general cycle of having a good game then a bad game, then another good game, etc. although there are people who like some of the games more than others, there are some titles in the franchise that are just universally “not great” to say the least, like King of Fighters 12. I do believe that KoF 14 has what it takes to not be a part of that cycle.

Enough of KoF history though, let’s move on to what’s important, numeroi 14.

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Trailing off of the widely accepted abortion of a release that Street Fighter V had, SNK stands in a good position to make a quality, finished product that can impress people, or live up to the buyer’s standards. What have we seen so far towards this? A LARGE roster that puts any new title to shame, boasting 50 characters right out of the gates, you know SNK wants to grab the bull by the horns while the getting is good. From what we can see so far as well, the game will have a full story mode, challenges, arcade, etc. and a revamped online system to boot! Since anyone who played KoF13 knows that the netplay was…. unusable to say the least. It looks like its shaping up to be a full, finished and awesome product that will be well worth the money for the fans of the series, and newcomers alikeii.

It would be unfair of me to neglect mentioning though, that the graphics in this game look a little less-than-stellar, especially with the quality of models and textures we’ve been getting out of games on new-gen consoles recently. Personally though, I would rather play a fun, well-made full game than a shallow promise that focuses mainly on graphicsiiiiv.

Let’s move on to my impressions of the actual game play here, presented to us in demo form.

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The demo features 7 characters to choose from, a small bite of what’s to be available in the full game. A few familiar faces are here, along with some of the new contestants to the series.  The demo give you access to an arcade mode, versus, and training mode (as expected) which includes a quick lesson mode that introduces you to the concepts and systems of the game. With that said, let’s get into those systems quick, and how they’ve melded previous concepts together into something new this time. As always you have your light punch/kick and heavy punch/kick, your usual KoF movement options are here with evasive rolling, short hopping, and guard evasion. Also with the standard KoF fare is guard blowback, guard breaking, EX Moves, supers, and MAX supers; but let’s see how they’ve changed the latter to make this game quite unique compared to the rest of the series. SNK has always used words awkwardly to describe different combo options in the past, like drive and dream cancelling, but we let it go because it’s a Japanese game that just wants to sound hype at the expense of making sense. Luckily in 14, they got rid of all of that and just use the word “MAX” to describe anything that you do that is probably good.

On that note, let’s talk about MAX MODE.

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If you remember in KoF 13 you had your super meter and drive meter, if you did an EX or super it would cost 1 super meter, and if you cancelled a special into another special, it would cost half of your drive meter. Alternatively, if you had full drive meter you could cancel any normal move into Drive mode and cancel specials into one another repeatedly until your drive meter depleted on its own. Entering Drive mode would be akin to roman, or rapid cancelling in Guilty Gear/BlazBlue and would instantly put you at a neutral state so that you could continue combos in a way that you otherwise could not.

KoF 14 has a different approach to its combo system, while still maintaining a couple of those concepts. You only have a super meter, and as per King of Fighters tradition, your first character can have a maximum of 3 meter, second character goes up to 4, and your third has 5. You can spend one of those meters to enter MAX Mode, which much like drive mode, will put you into a neutral state so that you can continue your combo, usually in a better way. Now here’s the kicker, you can only use EX moves while in MAX Mode, and you can repeatedly use them until MAX Mode meter drains. Your MAX Mode meter will either start full if you enter MAX Mode in neutral, or at half if you cancelled a move to go into it.

What does this mean? I believe many people and SNK themselves didn’t like the idea in 13 of saving up all of your drive meter to pop off and roll your opponents character over with one very long and full-life-damage combo, while not getting much reward for hitting your opponent before then. This new system is their answer. The ability to capitalize nicely off of, in theory, any random hit while removing the ability to defeat your opponent in one combo should lead to more variety in game play and strategy, while still keeping that feeling of fulfillment when you get to land those hard combos more often.

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I think there is a lot of potential with this new system that may do a lot of good for the game going further down the road. A big problem of the late-game KoF 13 was that a lot of the competitiveness came down to using characters that could abuse full-life combos in drive mode better, and therefore had a slightly better edge in competitive play. Hopefully KoF 14 has more success in finding a better balance so that a large portion of the 50-character cast finds a competitive home later down the line.

I am excited for this game, and I’m looking forward to experimenting more with the systems and characters, and I feel like it’ll be the first fighting game in over a year that I find hours of fun just playing around in training mode, which is something I like doing in fighting games that I enjoy. I’ll have a follow-up article once the full game comes out, but until then, I advise any fighting game fans to give the demo a shot, and if possible upon release, at least try the full game out at a store, or friend’s house, if you’re wary of spending $60 on it.

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