With the 2009 release of The King of Fighters XII, SNK Playmore reignited its acclaimed series with an all new game engine and beautifully hand-drawn characters. Though the entry succeeded in creating a fresh new art style, it sadly lacked substance in gameplay and presentation, equaling out to little more than an expensive demo of its future successor. Released a couple of years later, The King of Fighters XIII maintains its predecessor’s excellent art design while adding much needed content. While the hand-drawn art style is identical to XII and all of the characters and arenas have been directly carried over (cementing the perception of XII as a demo), this latest entry offers the addition of several new and interesting fighters (including fan-favorite Mai), a handful of beautiful arenas, and many more modes to play with.
The King of Fighters XIII continues the series’ tradition of 3-on-3 team fighting, with a revamped version of XII’s fighting engine. Odd features such as the “critical counter” system have been removed, replaced by more commonplace features such as EX Special Moves (as in Street Fighter III and Street Fighter IV) and the EX Desperation Move (wherein a super move is canceled into a hyper special move). These changes systemize the fighting system and are more welcoming to the beginning player; however, the whole of the game engine is far from simple. A quick look into the trials and online modes reveal an engine that requires time and patience to fully grasp.
As is typical of the series, chain combos are almost non-existent. Links, or combinations of moves that require strict timing patterns, are the key to victory here, just as they are in the most recent Street Fighter outings. Furthering the depth of the engine, players must learn to utilize a series of movement options. These include a number of jumps, from the typical normal jump and super jump, as well as the hop and hyper hop (performed with a quick tap of the directional button or joystick), not to mention the standard dash and evade roll, each serving their own unique functions. In addition to anti-air, ground-based, and mid-range attacks, expect a fair amount of quick planning in heated battles. The sheer number of strategic options available to the player is a major strength in an engine lacking tag-team functionality.
While The King of Fighters XIII boasts an impressively revised combat system, the real crux of this entry’s improvement is in its content. As should have already been included in The King of Fighters XII, XIII now boasts all of the modes that have come to be expected in a fighting game. A classic arcade mode pits the player against a ladder of teams. The inclusion of in-game dialogue that changes depending on the match-up results in first-class presentation value.
A story mode has been included as well, and while the art direction of the cutscenes is satisfying, the story itself is mired with confusing tie-ins to earlier entries in the series. The mode would have been more enjoyable with a fresher take on the saga’s intertwined history that better coincided with the “rebirth” of the series’ gameplay and art direction. This entry is also devoid of voice acting during narrative sequences, although the sound and voice effects that accompany the fighting are well-suited to the game’s personality.
Requisite arcade and story modes aside, there are plenty of other ways to practice the complex fighting system of this latest entry. Survival and time trial offer a more direct way to jump into the fighting action, while tutorial, practice, versus, and trial modes round out the experience, providing plenty of ways to practice before you take your skills to the highly competitive online arena. While the network latency seemed hit or miss at the time of launch, a feature to save and watch replays of online matches is a fun distraction to relive a hard-earned victory or learn from a grueling defeat. One gripe with the online feature, however, is that a similar amount of points are earned in the ranked matches whether one wins or loses, providing an unbalanced ranking system where one will often find themselves outmatched by a player with a noticeably higher win percentage.
The King of Fighters XIII improves upon its predecessor in every way, while still yet leaving room for further improvement. The latest entry in the SNK franchise retains all the style of XII with the substance one should expect in a complete game. But even with all of its improvements, the amount of content still pales in comparison to the finest entries in the series, The King of Fighters XI, for the PlayStation 2. This is forgivable given the amount of detail that’s been given to revamping the art style, but here’s hoping that the next entry will bring the larger rosters and wealth of content the series is known for.