King of Fighters XV review (PS5)

King of Fighters XV is yet another high profile release that’s landing this month. It’s out for Xbox, PlayStation and PC in a simultaneous release, and we’re reviewing the PlayStation 5 version.

At iteration number fifteen, King of Fighters is way ahead of Tekken and Street Fighter, for which number six was just revealed this week – though Capcom’s fighting franchise did have a bunch of spin-off titles. It somehow doesn’t have the same kind of mainstream attention of those two franchises though, which we’ve always found somewhat surprising when you consider that King of Fighters consistently delivers excellent gameplay, and gives players a roster that you need a bunch of season passes for in other games.

We reckon that part of it is that Street Fighter got its mainstream success in the SNES/MegaDrive/Genesis days and Tekken rose to prominence during the days of the first PlayStation console, whereas King of Fighters was an SNK game that was only available for the Neo Geo home console outside of arcades – hardly a ‘mainstream’ system.

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King of Fighters XV features gameplay that is easy to learn but offers plenty of depth for those looking to master it – something that’s been an integral part of the series for decades now. The old Neo Geo console scheme of just using four buttons for all basic attacks is a welcome feature for anyone who finds modern fighting game controls just a tad overwhelming, even though King of Fighters XV has its own share of special moves, including Hyper Climax and MAX attacks.

MAX is essentially a boost mode that you can trigger whenever you’ve charged it, but as you get better you’ll learn that its quick-trigger version can also be used to extend combos. You don’t need things like that to win, but mastering them still feels very rewarding. The same can be said for new features like the Shatter Strike, which can temporarily stagger your opponent and thus give you a big opening to deal massive amounts of damage.

You can even button mash your way through King of Fighters XV, especially if you have an arcade-style controller. Other franchises have picked up this system as well, but KOF’s Rush mechanic means that whenever you tap Light Punch three times in a row, you’re triggering a combo. You can keep hammering LP as well, but mix it up with other attack buttons and you’re on your way to triggering (max super) special moves. Where other games have a steep learning curve, the fights here quickly look spectacular and the included tutorial does its job very well.

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The core gameplay mode centers around teams of three fighters, which you once again select from an impressively large roster. There’s something here for everyone, with the only real downside being that the cast only features three newcomers: Isla, Krohnen McDougall and Dolores, whose magical powers also tie into the game’s storyline. Longtime SNK fans will appreciate the new look for returning favorites as well, as no one was simply ported over from XIV and visual changes have been applied to all characters.

King of Fighters isn’t the visual powerhouse that 3D fighters like Injustice 2 are, staying true to the 2D origins of the franchise with 2.5D graphics that provide depth while fighting on a two-dimensional plane. There are animations in the background and the characters themselves look and move well, but it lacks the flair of a Guilty Gear title or the technical wow-factor of 3D fighters. Everything looks extremely sharp though, making for one of the cleanest-looking fighting games around. The soundtrack is excellent and includes tunes from previous games, and as such King of Fighters XV is a title that really taps into the rich history of the franchise.

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Online matchmaking has been implemented extremely well – with an offline “qualifying” sessions of three bouts to measure how skilled you are so you’re matched with people of somewhat equal ability once you venture into the lobbies. It’s a great move, and unless people intentionally hold back during the qualifying rounds it should ensure you have some very fair and closely contested battles ahead, no matter what your skill level is. With busy lobbies and good performance we had a great time with online play, though unfortunately there is no cross-platform play yet – just cross-generation within the same console family.

The biggest “problem” that King of Fighters XV has is that it’s not a huge technical leap forward, especially when you consider this is the debut title on the new console generation. It is, however, an extremely fun and streamlined fighting game. One that’s welcoming towards newcomers, but with the depth that should provide lasting appeal to veterans as well. We wish there were more new characters, but there aren’t a lot of games in the genre that don’t go the DLC route for those anymore.

Score: 8.4/10

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