The King of Fighters XV – yeah, there’s somehow already 15 of these. It was one of my most anticipated fighting games of the year, so let’s go ahead and get right into it.
Let me start with a bit of background. I play a ton of fighting games, but my experience with King of Fighters is limited to just a bit of 13 – nothing too serious. So it’s with that said that I’d probably just consider myself a newcomer. And as such, I got to experience the full brunt of the insane learning curve there is to this series and yes, this game specifically.
King of Fighters XV is by no means an easy fighting game to get into. The attacks, moves, and overall aesthetic may appear on the simplistic side, but there is a mountain of depth beneath it all. For example, my friend and I played for hours and still were unable to figure out the most basic of combos – leading to many fights devolving into poking matches. It was not until we went through all the training missions, a few character challenges, and dabbled in the training mode that the mechanics really unlocked.
I mean, it’s kinda hard to figure things out naturally when you got stuff like climax cancels – which I will quote the tutorial prompt for. “Using Climax Super Special Move command inputs during set Super Special Moves or Max Super Special Moves will activate a Climax Cancel, letting you cancel out of a Super Special Move/Max Super Special Move into a Climax Super Special Move”. I don’t know if the devs were intentionally making it confusing or just having fun naming the mechanics in these ridiculous ways, but yeah that’s pretty much how King of Fighters XV works.
And even then, it’s like a multi-hour thing just to get the hang of the basics of ONE character – and there are 39 total to play around with. Probably also important to note that most fights are not simple 1 on 1s, but 3 on 3s, so you’ll want to know at least three characters before trying to do anything serious – unless if you’re a fan of getting slapped around in ranked, that is. And being a team-based battler, you’ll need to grasp concepts like meter management across characters and which positions to slot each character into. So yeah – basically what I’m trying to say here is that this is not really a beginner-friendly game.
On one hand, yeah this does make the beginning a bit of a struggle, but then again on the other, it is cool to see a fighting game embrace tradition and just have so much cool stuff to learn and master that I can’t not appreciate it. Will I ever get to the point where I can claim to be good at the game? Debatable. But will it be fun along the way? For sure.
But yeah that’s just the difficulty curve – I should probably talk about the actual fighting, which if it was not already obvious, is absolutely solid. Hits with impact, quick and fluid movement, decent buffer size – it’s got pretty much all the basics down. I may not be busting out mega combos yet, but I did quickly grow to appreciate how everything just “flows”. It’s not jittery, it’s not slow, it doesn’t feel like my inputs are being misread – it just plays well and goes to show the experience of the developers here. Having recently played the clunky and slow Phantom Breaker: Omnia – it was a very nice change of pace.
Character-wise, there is a good bit of variety here. I mean, that kinda tends to happen when you have 39 characters, but it’s still worth a mention. Brawlers, zoners, grapplers, rushdown, defensive, mixups – all the archetypes are checked off here multiple times over. I love me a good zoner, so my personal favorite ended up being Athena Asamiya, but given the 3 on 3 nature of the game, I was also able to have a basic brawler and a grappler on my team to cover my other bases and it was a lot of fun to mixup with these different styles within the same match.
Then we get to content – which I personally find to be one of the game’s weaker points. I mean, you get your basic versus mode, multiplayer modes (more on that later), tutorial modes, mission mode, and story – but nothing beyond that. There is no traditional “arcade” mode and the “story” mode takes up that role instead. As usual though with the genre, the story itself is some hot garbage and the cutscenes aren’t all that great so really you’re just playing it for the “arcade mode” gameplay but with extra steps – the whole thing takes maybe 40 minutes to clear.
Training mode is fine, but the mission mode where you get to learn character combos is a bit lacking too. You get just five combos per character, which considering the depth behind this game, feels like a weak offering. The only notable “unique” mode is boss challenge, which simply pits you against a beefed up boss character with rewards given upon completion.
I mean yeah, there’s also a gallery mode and a DJ station to change the game’s music, but compared to what I’ve seen in some other recent fighters, the offering across the board here is nothing special. It really is just the bare minimum to get by and this is definitely NOT a game you would want to pick up if you are not interested in playing it online or competitively offline. Maybe not an issue for some, but worth noting regardless.
And on the topic of that multiplayer – this is another issue that is currently plaguing the community. For some unknown reason, despite there being over 1000 players online at any given moment, finding matches just straight-up does not work for many. It’s not like a home connection issue either – it’s a legitimate bug that the developers themselves have acknowledged but have not appeared to address based on what I’ve seen recently from the community.
I don’t have it so bad that I never find a match, but I have had situations where I would be sitting there for a while waiting for a match. In ranked it’s not too bad (at least, during the peak hours I played at), but during that same time I was only able to find one casual match and one room match despite playing for several hours – so that’s also something to note if you want to play multiplayer outside of ranked.
When I did get into ranked matches though – the rollback connection was fine. I didn’t have any stutters, disconnects, or the like – that part was relatively smooth, it’s just the finding of matches that may prove difficult. Again, I don’t seem to have it as bad as others – but I felt it was important to mention regardless.
Aesthetically, I’d say the game is fine. It’s obviously trying to go for that Street Fighter look and while I kinda miss the style of KoF 13, I’m not opposed to the new style either. Just be sure not to pay close attention to the stage backgrounds – those definitely took a backseat to the character models. The music, on the other hand, is some good stuff all around and par for the course for this series.
On the performance front, the game also does well. When it launched, the 1440p resolution option was missing, but that has since been fixed and I can’t say I have any complaints. Looks good, runs well without any technical hiccups, and has a handful of graphical options to change on top of that. Not the most advanced I have seen, but good enough.
The King of Fighters XV is a fun fighting game all around. Solid gameplay base, complex mechanics, a massive roster – it may take a while to get into, but it’s a fun journey along the way. Still, I was a bit disappointed by the singleplayer content offering and the game could have done a better job with its character missions and overall tutorial options. It might not be a constant on my fighting game rotation, but I’ll likely come back from time to time to mess around with friends.
Quote: The King of Fighters XV is a fun fighting game all around. Solid gameplay base, complex mechanics, a massive roster – it may take a while to get into, but it’s a fun journey along the way.
The King of Fighters XV retails for $60 USD on Steam. It is also available on PS4, PS5, and Xbox Series X|S.
I was provided a review copy of the game in order to write this review. Read more about how I do my game reviews here.