King of Fighters XII, released in 2009, was notable for administering a much-needed graphical overhaul, something the 15-year-old series was sorely in need of. While it had the looks, it came up short on content, eschewing any story element whatsoever and, among other things, limping in with a paltry 22 characters, one of the lowest in the franchise’s history. Two years later and King of Fighters XIII is upon us. Has developer SNK learned anything? The answer is a resounding “Yes!”
Expanded roster and gameplay
King of Fighters XIII boasts a serviceable roster of 31 characters, plus a few new console-exclusives over the arcade version. Whereas its predecessor inexplicably eschewed longtime series mainstay Mai Shiranu, this title wisely brings her back along with a number of other welcome, familiar faces. Even with an expanded selection of combatants, it’s likely that one of your favorites may still be missing, as KOFXIII is a far cry from the 66 that were featured in King of Fighters 2002 Unlimited Match. Downloadale content (DLC) has been announced, but so far it seems primarily focused on delivering variations of already included characters.
Regardless, SNK has clearly put a lot of effort into ensuring that fighters have been designed and fine-tuned to provide a broad spectrum of interesting and enjoyable styles. Official teams also make their return, pairing up certain characters in groups of three contextual to the story, but you’re free to mix-and-match as you see fit should one of these not fulfill your needs. Battles play out in a three-on-three match, with each round restricted to one-on-one face-offs. If you were forced to simply choose one character and were stuck with them and them alone, the limited movesets would eventually become a concern. Thankfully, the current setup allows you to create teams of characters that keep the game from getting stale. The ability to switch teammates on the fly has been removed (last seen in King of Fighters XI), and especially compared to games like Marvel vs. Capcom 3 or Street Fighter X Tekken, its presence is definitely missed. Hopefully that’s something SNK considers resurrecting for the next installment.
The Guard Attack, Critical Counter, and Clash system have also been removed since King of Fighters XII. In their place is the EX system. Similar to Mortal Kombat and Street Fighter IV, players can use one bar of the power gauge to boost a special move, increasing its potency. There’s also the ability to cancel out of special and super attacks, which drastically increases combo potential. While this adds some excellent depth to the game, a lot of the bigger combos boil down to repeatedly canceling and spamming one of a character’s few special attacks, then ending it with a NEO MAX desperation move, the final gameplay addition. NEO MAX attacks are essentially ultra powerful super moves that require three bars of the power gauge. These allow players to finish combos and enemies off with impressively flashy and devastating attacks, lending the game some extra visual flair.