Late Bird Review: KOF XII
After a brief hiatus on the Late Bird Reviews, I return to you with the final review of the fighting games released last year. This will be a shorter review as the game does not give much to talk about other than its unfortunate failures. To be blunt from the start, the game is unfinished.
This game has none. It is unfortunate, however not uncommon in King of Fighters, when one of the games of the franchise is absent of storyline. Yet it is the game many identify as the fighting series with an in-depth story. From the start, the series was a mash-up of many of the fighting games developed by SNK with characters from Fatal Fury or Art of Fighting. But that didn’t stop the developers from making powerful villains and epic stories for the characters to go against. Since the game’s original release in 94 to now, there have been multiple sagas for the characters to fight through with epic bosses like Rugal, Igniz, or Orochi. And occasionally, there will be a game devoid of story, which is just meant to bring characters together and fight when their storylines may have ended. If you know who Mature and Vice were in the series, then you’d know that they wouldn’t be fighting anyone in the NEST saga unless it were a mash-up game. Normally these mash-ups come in between the end of one saga and the beginning of another. However, this title comes right in the middle of the Ash storyline, which leads me to believe that the game was released to show off its new engine, and to buy the developers a little more time before their big finale; a trial run, if you will.
For quite some time, the King of Fighters series has been running on an engine that has definitely outlasted its style. The characters were still extremely pixilated. Despite everything moving quickly on screen, the technology was outdated. But the big thing about the release of XII was the new graphics engine and new hand-drawn sprites. For the most part, everyone looked good; much better than before. There were a few characters that needed a little work like making Clark and Ralph look more different than simply the vest color and head shape. But the movement was really crisp and the view of the characters was up close to really show off the work of drawing all the sprites by hand. The view was so close it made even the smallest fighters seem bigger than Zangief on my screen. It was all really impressive to see the familiar characters who have looked mostly the same the past decade brought into the world of high definition.
But that’s pretty much where the positives of the presentation end. The backgrounds show color, shadow, and flashy movement. But the movement itself is actually very limited. There is one stage where an excited woman is head-banging like she’s at a concert. Her pounding movements repeat over and over until the end of the match, in which her movement speeds up. Nothing ever changes in the background and there is little reaction to the fight that is going on. Blazblue didn’t have this, but most of its movement was of the world itself, not characters in the background. Street Fighter IV had people falling from balconies or barrels falling over due to the intensity of the fight. In KOFXII there is activity in the background, but a little more variety would have been nice. This isn’t Street Fighter II HD Remix where the designers are feeding off the nostalgia of the game and hoping people would appreciate the quirky movements in the background. It’s a new title in the on-going KOF series, which means a little more effort should be put into blowing us away.
That isn’t to say the effects of the stages are ugly. There are fireworks and shadows that shine on the battle stage and character models react accordingly. The sprites gradually darken when going into the shade in a match and the reflection of light dances off the sprites. But the lack of variety in the stage select prevents you from being impressed for long. There are fewer than 8 stages and one is just an alternate “night” version of one. Even worse, there are a few that are so dim or bright that there are really only two stages I’d want to fight in.
Also, an element always exciting in the King of Fighters games was sadly absent in XII. The character interactions at the beginning of a match were a key component to what made KOF so much fun to play, especially as the heroes Iori and Kyo. But
no one so much as growls at each other, losing a lot of flair and personality that made KOF such an exciting fighting game.
In the sound department, I’ll keep it simple. The music is forgettable. The sound effects are good, especially when landing a critical hit. The voices are familiar as ever. Not much else to it.
One thing KOF is known for besides having intense storylines, is constantly renovating the fighting system. From one title to another, the fighting system can change dramatically, which causes most players to change their strategy around constantly. Still fundamentally a KOF game, running, jumping, rolling, and knock away attacks are still present. But XII adds a new element to the combat to give players an edge during the fight. Similar to how Street Fighter III introduced the parry system, or how IV had the focus attack, King of Fighters XII introduced their new Counter System. It’s a rather simple system that adds a lot of excitement to the match.
For each player, a small meter fills up over the course of a match. Once full, that player can release it by simply hitting one of the heavy attack buttons. However, it only works if the attack connects while the other player was attempting an attack. Otherwise it’s just a normal heavy attack. But should the attack connect, the player can then create his or her own combo for the next couple seconds by simply hitting any of the buttons or doing special attacks. Using this counter attack basically reduces the time the player normally has to wait between attacks to the point of making the moves link one after another to form a combo. It’s simple and easy for the beginners to grasp and allows for a great deal of creativity from the masters. Not to mention, the slam effect when the first attack connects is pretty awesome.
This is pretty much where the game fails. There’s one other aspect of the game that was incredibly disappointing, but this is where the game starts to falls apart. Despite the cool new fighting system and impressive new character sprites, the game just doesn’t play all that well.
First, the roster. Normally in a King of Fighters game, the roster is rather large in comparison to so many others. Yet in XII, the number of playable characters is rather slim by KOF standards. This is likely because they wanted to push out a title by 2009 but couldn’t finish all the character models and drawings. This would be okay if it wasn’t for the fact that many of the characters are completely unbalanced. I’m not just talking about character priority either. Certain characters, such as Mature, were obviously not done because they had only 2 special moves to compete with the others that had an arsenal of abilities.
As for the moves themselves, they work about 80% of the time. For some reason I found there to be an issue with getting certain moves to release. Simple ones like a “fireball motion” would be a challenge, especially during the Counter Combos. If you could get the moves to work, some did way too much damage and could consume a player’s health in seconds. It didn’t seem like the developers had balanced even the finished characters.
There really isn’t much more to say than the system is broken. There are a select few characters worth choosing and because of this you’re likely to have a lot of mirror matches; that’s if you can get anyone to play you.
By far the biggest failure of this game is its online multiplayer. I mentioned in my Tekken 6 review that the lag was pretty bad, but there was one game that was even worse. This is it. King of Fighters XII commits the cardinal sin of being a fighting game with inexcusably shitty online play. I think I was able to play two complete matches total in my 30+ attempts at playing. If I was lucky enough to get into a lobby and actually start a match it wouldn’t take long before I was dropped and had to start searching again. Even if I could make it through most of the match before inevitably dropping, the lag would be too much to be able to do anything. There are characters with combos that are dependent on specific timing down to a single frame of movement. There is no way in hell that a player would be able to use those combos online with such poor connections. Even after they “patched” it, the gameplay did not improve and matches that should have only lasted 60 seconds still doubled or tripled in time from the slowdown. Such a disappointment for a game that is normally fast-paced.
King of Fighters XII should never have been released. It couldn’t even pull off the mash-up style of previous releases to make it enjoyable. It was just a desperate attempt for the developers to put out a title with their new engine and turn some heads. But it made me turn mine towards the toilet in disgust. I would have gladly waited for the game it should have been—which is likely to be XIII coming soon. Releasing a game in this state at full price is ridiculous and a scam. It’s as though I charged you $60 for reading this review, then ended it mid—