King of Fighters 15 is a complex fighter with system upon system of moves to take down your opponent. Trying to understand the layers of combos and special attacks is difficult enough but trying to refrain from being punched into next week at the same time requires a high level of skill. The series has always tried to add new mechanics to evolve its approach to combat, as well as refine and balance the intricacies experienced players have learned to master.
While SNK has these kinds of players in mind, it also wants those coming in fresh to find a step on the ladder to ascend from. What’s obvious from the start is just how deep the systems are. It’s relatively easy to get to grips with simple strikes and moves, but even then, there are alternate attacks based on the proximity to your opponent. Familiarising yourself with a character’s combos takes time, but knowing when to use the more powerful attacks is where the bread and butter of KoF 15 comes in. There is also a level of strategy when picking your team of three fighters. Do you mix up your team to have great speed, strength, and power, or do you pick a strong defensive team because your opponents are all strong on the attack?
Thanks to a detailed tutorial, all the various mechanics are explained. MAX Mode returns from the previous entries, giving players the option to do more damage within a certain window as well as improving defence. Rush Mode also returns and is a perfect weapon for newcomers. By simply pressing light punch, it initiates a combo and will differ depending on the final button pressed. While veterans might be frustrated with the ease of Rush Mode, it can only be used at a specific moment. Not only that, but players also must get in close to use it, making themselves vulnerable to knowledgeable maestros. It’s reminiscent of the kata system of Jedi Academy in that it lets players look more knowledgable than they are but novice players trying to use it against more experience fighters will come undone. There’s also the new Shatter Strike system that blends powerful moves with defence against counter attacks. Again, this feeds into the strategical elements of KoF 15.
There are four special moves that can be utilised to overcome adversaries. EX Special Moves are more powerful than normal attacks and can be used outside of MAX Mode unlike in KoF 15, however, half a bar of the power gauge will be lost. Super Special Moves take a whole bar of power but do even more damage to your opponent. MAX Super Special Moves are special attacks that remove two bars, but when used right can be deadly. Finally, Climax Super Special Moves offer the best offence, using three bars of the power gauge in the process. Plenty of options are in any given character’s arsenal and mastering them can turn the tide of battle in an instant.
With 39 characters to choose from, there will be someone for everyone. Hulking fighters like Maxima and Ryo Sakazaki are slow, yet their defence and reach are much better. Mai Shiranui isn’t the strongest, but her speed is unmatched, which helps when making use of Rush Mode. Ángel is fast and has a solid attack rate but will only do sufficient damage when near to an opponent. Each character feels different to play as, making each battle more strategic than a case of who can pull of a combo quicker. Fundamentally, there is a lot to learn. Making use of the power gauge with MAX Mode as well as special moves provides a steep learning curve especially for new players. It all depends on how much time players plan to invest in King of Fighters 15. While it may not offer the same satisfaction of stronger fighting titles like Mortal Kombat 11, there are still plenty of impressive skills to master. There’s no denying this is for hardcore fighters.
What is impressive is how much better it looks than its predecessor. When KoF 14 shifted from 2D visuals to 3D models, there was a distinct lack of polish in both the designs of the fighters and how their attacks played out. King of Fighters 15 is striking in its presentation. Character models are more detailed and look exceptional when engaged in combat. When busting out MAX Super Special Moves, the colours and animations look so much better than they ever have before.
As well as these improved visuals, the soundtrack is once again filled with a variety of genres and styles. Metal, pop, electronic, it has it all. There’s a gallery on the main menu where unlocked cutscenes and music tracks can be listened to. Music can also be customised to feature in your own fights. Many will come into SNK’s newest entry with a fondness for the series. These nostalgic touches will be fine for older players, but newcomers want to be wowed by the variety of modes on offer.
Unfortunately, there is little outside the main story. Speaking of which, it is very much a “blink and you’ll miss it” narrative, featuring seldom cutscenes and a tried and tested formula. Players fight in the KoF Tournament while trying to vanquish an evil threat. It doesn’t last much longer than an hour and it isn’t particularly interesting. The real reward is going through it again with specific teams to unlock new cutscenes, although the likelihood of this happening is relatively slim. Much of what players will be craving is the online mode. Now featuring a rollback netcode, online matches should feel competitive – rollback netcode is now expected in all fighting games for them to be played competitively online, so it’s good that KoF 15 hasn’t dropped the ball here.
King of Fighters 15 offers a much deeper battle system which should appeal to players who have been a fan of the series for some time. For those wanting to play for the first time, there’s a lot to take in. Thankfully, the tutorial makes all the nuances in its systems easy to understand and allows players to practice in the training room before taking the fight online. While the story mode leaves little to be desired, it is the fighting where KoF 15 is at its strongest. It may take hours before players feel confident to step into a fight, but the compound network of attacks can provide plenty of satisfaction for everyone involved.
While King of Fighters 15 might not have the appeal of games like Mortal Kombat 11 or Street Fighter 5, its complex web of systems provide a satisfying time when they are fully mastered. The story is rather generic and there’s a distinct lack of modes, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t a lot to unpack when taking the fight to your opponents.
- Deep combat system
- Improved visuals
- Plenty of variety in character
- Weak story
- Difficult learning curve for newcomers
- Lack of modes