Full disclosure: Publisher Atlus provided me a copy of The King of Fighters 13.
The King of Fighters series may be obscure to folks raised on Street Fighter and Mortal Kombat, but people know when they become fans. They aren't scared by combos that require old-school timing to perform. They don’t care about how developer SNK used the Neo Geo arcade system for the company's brawlers long past the machine's expiration date. They’ve even suffered through The King of Fighters 12, which was a glorified demo in every sense of the word.
Now SNK has rewarded its supporters with The King of Fighters 13, a game with crisp 2D sprites and deep three-against-three gameplay. KOF, however, can be intimidating for new players to get into because it's unfamiliar yet filled with years of tradition. Perhaps players of all skill levels can understand the franchise better by getting to know what longtime aficionados have experienced with KOF13.
You think jumping is a sound strategy
In Street Fighter, using jumps as your primary means of movement is a quick way to give your opponents an easy win. While anti-air attacks are still in force in KOF13, you can alter your air time so that you can leap across the screen or a few feet off the ground. A short jump is harder to react to, can go over projectiles, and offers a mix-up opportunity when you're on offense.
With these hops and a useful roll ability, battles can be a lot more mobile than what Capcom players are used to. I'd advise newcomers to watch this excellent instructional video on the fundamentals of the franchise made around the time KOF12 came out. Just don't flinch when the in-game tutorial asks you to enter Hyperdrive Mode and MAX Cancel Kyo’s Ura 108-Shiki Orochinagi into his Ura 121-Shiki Ama-no-Murakumo.
You can adapt to changing move lists
I’m trying to find a third member for my Kim Kaphwan and Elizabeth team. I’ve been using Fatal Fury legend Terry Bogard, but I have a problem: I keep trying to use Terry’s Power Dunk attack, which isn’t in KOF13. Unlike many developers, SNK adds, subtracts, or alters special moves all the time. I'll miss Power Dunk, but at least all of the the cap-wearing pugilist's projectiles travel more than a few feet in this version.
Also, over the years SNK has altered some warriors so drastically that they are now practically different characters. That includes series stars Kyo and Iori, who will have earlier versions of themselves available as downloadable content. I'm not a fan of buying DLC to get the complete roster, but NESTS Style Kyo from The King of Fighters ’99 is my Kyo, dammit!
You find the Arcade Mode dialog charming
The Story Mode bored me to tears, but I enjoyed the pre-match introductions in Arcade Mode. Each warrior has a personalized conversation with every other contestant in the tournament, even when they face themselves in a mirror match. Sure, all of them are variations of either, “Let’s have a good match,” or, “Go home, loser.” But seeing Kim try to convince villains to turn over a new leaf or Andy Bogard admit that he’s not very interesting is a nice touch for series historians.
The only problem is that much of the dialog references people and events from over a decade ago. Still, it's nothing some Internet research can't help you figure out, and be grateful the translation doesn't include poorly worded gems like, "Another young one bites the dust. Tough break, dweeb!"
You understand the agony of bad netcode all too well
The quality of online play can be good depending on the connection, and I’ll be the first to admit my setup isn’t the best. But it’s disappointing that KOF13’s netcode is still mediocre compared to other 2D titles like BlazBlue: Continuum Shift and Street Fighter 3: Third Strike Online Edition. SNK has done a terrible job in this department, and while KOF13 is better than previous efforts, it always feels like the company is too stubborn to get with the times.
Online play isn’t the best place for competition, but it is good for learning and experimenting with new characters. Atlus has responded to complaints and said they would try to influence SNK to fix the problem. Let's hope that happens — single-player modes like Time Attack or Survival don't mean anything compared to making this feature viable.