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The King Of Fighters 15 Review

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As someone who’s given every major fighting game a fair shake over the years, I was excited to jump into The King of Fighters 15 and get a look at the series that many call one of the most technical fighters out there.

Dear god they weren’t wrong – The King of Fighters is a traditional, hardcore experience and proud of it. Whether you think that’s a good or bad thing will depend on how much time you’re willing to invest in it, and how willing you are to play a fighter that’s noticeably lacking a few important bells and whistles.

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Even without any extra padding, The King of Fighters 15 has managed to solve one of its biggest issues right out of the gate – its look. KoF14 was notorious for its cheap-looking graphics as it transitioned to 3D models, but none of that is present here and it’s pretty close to Street Fighter 5 or SoulCalibur 6 in terms of visual quality. It’s nothing compared to the sprites featured in older games, but the vibrant colours and animations help give each character a ton of personality and keep the experience upbeat along with the kick-ass electric soundtrack. Special mention has to go to the stages, which are full of fun little details like the Metal Slug POWs in the Sahara level.

Although the graphics discourse is well-known, this is still my first King of Fighters, so the characters and world are completely new to me. Some background research told me that there’s a hell of a lot more going on with its story and characters than you might think. What seems like a simple tournament is actually backed up by characters with powers they can’t control, long-dead names being resurrected, and weird snake demons.

If that sounds interesting, then I’m sorry to say that it’s not very front and centre. One of the biggest issues I had with The King of Fighters 15 is its complete lack of a story mode. The closest thing to it is an arcade mode with a few cutscenes chucked in that culminates in a cheap boss fight that had me wishing I hadn’t bothered. Unique cutscenes can be unlocked by using specific teams, but it feels like something only the most hardcore fans will get the most out of. For casuals like me, it’s a big letdown.


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The King of Fighters 15 is clearly trying to keep things traditional and put all of its eggs into the gameplay basket, but if you’re not interested in becoming a pro or simply want to learn more about its world and characters, you’re out of luck. This is made even more disappointing by the glimpses of character interactions and dialogue that occasionally surface before fights, which showcase how charming some of these fighters are. Even as someone who really only knows Terry Bogard, I instantly found myself wanting to know more about pretty much every character on the roster. It’s a shame you have to go digging for it yourself.


Speaking of characters, that’s one of the areas where KoF15 shines the brightest. With 39 characters at launch, it’s a stacked roster that doesn’t feel loaded with clone characters or ‘this fighter but with wings’. Instead, everyone here feels incredibly distinct from one another and I don’t doubt they’d each take a long time to master.

You’ll have the chance to get used to three characters at once, as each player picks a team of three. Although other games like Marvel vs. Capcom do a similar thing, it’s different here as fighters can’t be tagged out. That means you need to think carefully about the order of your fighters to try to balance their strengths and weaknesses. I was hesitant about it at first, but then I realised I wouldn’t have to deal with twats online swapping their characters every chance they get to avoid being knocked out and I instantly loved it.


I’m incredibly basic so I stuck with Shun’ie, arguably the game’s main character, Kyo, and Terry Bogard (hey, that’s that them there guy from Smash), but I also messed around with most of the roster and found them all to be very different from one another. Characters like Shun’ie and Terry rely on close-range attacks with some specials that can close the distance, while Athena is all about being able to fire out ranged attacks and close the distance with a spin move. All 39 fighters feel distinct, which means you’re guaranteed to find at least a few you vibe with.


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The King of Fighters 15’s biggest strength thankfully lies within its deep mechanics and how it feels to actually play. On a basic level it’s similar to Street Fighter but with increased movement options, like a dodge roll that can be performed at any time, and several hops and jumps. It’s pretty standard fighting fare beyond that, with an auto combo-esque mechanic called Rush, a power-boosting skill called MAX mode, and a new move called Shatter Strike that lets you counter attacks if you’ve got spot-on timing.

Even though I’ve put time into pretty much every fighter that’s released in my lifetime, I’ve never found one to be more demanding than KoF. Inputs are precise and give no quarter, special moves make your hands look like pretzels after you’ve pulled them off, and even fighting the CPU past the default level will make you want to cry. The pure focus on ‘gitting gud’ is charming and works in the game’s favour, but it’s going to be divisive for those who don’t have the time to pour into learning every single move’s frame data.

Although I found playing online comparable to being a wimpy kid running against quarterbacks, major credit has to go towards it including rollback netcode. This should absolutely be the genre standard and even if it’s an obvious move, it’s shocking that more fighters don’t have it.

For a lot of fighting game fans, The King of Fighters 15 is exactly what they’ve been looking for – a no frills fighter that focuses on its mechanics and doesn’t hold the player’s hand. In a generation where most games in the genre have five-hour campaigns from day one, it’s an admirable stance to take. As much as I love how KoF 15 plays and looks, I can’t help but miss the bells and whistles that are expected. If you’re looking for a fighter that shrugs off that expectation, then the King of Fighters 15 is absolutely for you.



The King of Fighters 15 Review Card

The King of Fighters 15 is available on PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Xbox Series, and PC. We tested the PS5 version for this review. Review code was provided by the publisher.

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