Review: King of Fighters XI (PS2)

King of Fighters XI
Publisher: SNK Playmore
Developer: SNK Playmore
Genre: 2-D Fighter
Release Date: 11/14/2007

Well here it is: my 150th review. How crazy is that. That’s a little more than 30 reviews a year since December 2002.

I purposely chose KoF XI to be the 150th game that passes through my fingers. Why? Because I’ve always been a huge SNK fan. I own a Neo Geo and about 50 games for it. I love that thing. I also love all the SNK major titles. Fatal Fury, Art of Fighting, King of Fighters, Metal Slug. They’re all awesome franchises with a lot of history.

Technically this is KoF 2005. There was no 2004, which is a bit alarming as it was the first time in a decade we went without a mainline KoF title. However, the series was renamed with the roman numeration instead of a year because of this. Also, the KoF Maximum Impact line received the 2006 moniker this year, meaning that the year based KoF system will now be 3-D fighting, as can be further proven to be true by the fact KoFXII is a 2-D fighter.

This is the eighth King of Fighters game I have reviewed in the past 5 years as well. Previous games included

King of Fighters 2002 (PS2)
King of Fighters 2003 (PS2)
King of Fighters Neowave (Xbox)
KoF 2002 (Xbox)
KoF 2003 (Xbox)
KoF: Maximum Impact (PS2)
KoF: MI-Maniax (Xbox)

The higher rating I’ve given to a KoF game was to KoF 2002, which received a 7.5, and the lowest was Neowave, which received a 5.5

So where does KoFXI fit in in the scheme of things. The last KoF game released to US fans was Neowave and it was a hair above average. As well, XI is the continuation of the Ash Crimson team storyline, which has not been well received by SNK fans for the most part. Still 2003 was a very well made fighter. So how does the middle part of the trilogy fare? Is it quality or does it make SNK fans thank god there’s only one more year of this KoF arc?

Let’s Review

1. Story/Modes

Okay, this is an SNK game, so most of the story exists outside the game in the SNK KoF bibles. it’s really only for the hardcore KoF fans and as such, 90% of you will never know it. That’s okay, because for once, the KoF games try to give you some sort of plot to go off of besides a massive volume of ass kicking.

There’s a few cut scenes that talk about what the story revolves around – which of course is about yet another major bad guy trying to usurp the power of the Orochi. This has basically been the plot of the series since Kyo and Iori were introduced. Come on guys, ENOUGH with the Orochi. There’s very little substance or explanation to the plot, but at least you get some cut scenes, which are a rarity for the series. It’s a nice touch for people new to the KoF franchise.

The plot is minuscule at best and when you beat the game you get a generic ending along with a ending gallery bonus depending on what your team combination was. The first team I beat the game with was Yuri, Terry and Ryo, so alas I got nothing. Suck.

Sure the story aspect is pretty much non existent, but it is the modes contained with in the game that should make SNK fans everywhere salivate with glee. The main mode is of course Arcade play, where you will guide a team of three fighters through 8 stages of combat. The difference between this mode and team Play is that Arcade play allows you to switch out characters and the game is one large battle. Team play is more akin to Capcom vs SNK for the Dreamcast. Strict one on one battles until one team has been eliminated. Both modes have the positives and negatives. It just depends on what type of gamer you are. trust me when I say Arcade mode is a lot easier to beat the final boss with.

Next up is single play where you go through a KoF Tournament as a single character. This is more like your Street Fighter or Mortal Kombat games.After that is Endless mode where you fight battle after battle for as long as you can. Challenge mode consists of 40 specific battles, each with their own requirement to win along with special handicaps for each content. Ouch. This is for the best of the best KoF gamers, I’ll tell you that.

There’s also a gallery and practice mode if you’re interested.

In all, KoF XI has next to nothing to offer a gamer storywise, but the modes here are enough to keep a fighting game afficiando busy for weeks on end. They are a lot of fun, and if you liked World Tour mode in Street Fighter Alpha 3, challenge mode will be something you’ll spend a good deal of your free time on.

Story/Modes Rating: 7/10

2. Graphics

Man this game is ugly. I mean REALLY ugly. it’s on tap for one of the ugliest KoF’s ever. Thnak god that XII has all new graphics as the series seriously needs it.

Not only is the game using rehashed sprites from about a decade ago for some characters, but many fighters are jaggy and ever blurry around the face. I am sad to say that 2002 and 2003 on the PS2 looked a lot better than this.

There are a few exceptions, like the character portraits when you select a fighter and in the cut scenes, but even then the graphics would be considered mediocre to the PSX/Sega Saturn generation of gaming.

There’s the occasional slow down, all this seems to only occur with the last boss and their insane amount of projectiles that are launched. There’s not much that I can say positive about the game’s appearance, but if you’re a long time KoF fan, you’re used to the graphics by now. Just remember that if you are new to the series, expect a bit of culture shock visually.

Graphics Rating: 3/10

3. Sound

Usually the KoF games have excellent music to go with the game. here? I find it mediocre to okay. The music just isn’t as good as it was in previous years, although a lot of it might be simply because the game isn’t as good as it has been in previous years and so the music doesn’t evoke the same level of emotion or passion as it plays in the background. In the end, you could play the game with the music turned off and it would neither improve nor hinder your experience.

Sound effects and voice acting are the same as always, with a few new sound bites for new characters or ones we haven’t seen in forever like the awesome DUCK KING. Sure the quality is like the graphics, in that it is a bit outdated and bland for 2007, but there’s very few vocal effects in a game guaranteed to bring a smile to my face like Terry Bogard “ARE YOU OKAY?” or “Shingo Kick!”

Like most of the game, KoF Xi has degenerated into only trying to hold on to the ever shrinking long time fanbase instead of increasing its audience. Don’t get me wrong. I’m one of that zealous fanbase, but as a critic, I can see that nostalgia can only go so far, especially as a new generation of gamers take over and they don’t know or cherish the series like we older gamers.

Sound Rating: 6/10

4. Control and Gameplay

This is usually where I do my rant pointing out how much the dual shock 2 controller sucks for KoF games and how only an idiot could stand to play with them. How the MK and SF sSga Saturn style pads for the PS2 are a million times better and how even the giant ass SF arcade stick will improve your game over these pieces of crap. No 2-D fighting fan worth their salt would EVER and I mean EVER recommend playing a fighter on the PS2 over the MVS/AES, Dreamcast, Saturn, or Xbox. The Dual Shock 2 just doesn’t hold up well for hairtight controls and lighting fast reflexes. It’s shit is what it is, and if you’ve been playing KoF or even SF games on these things, please, I beseech you to go out and get a non Sony based controller designed for fighting games and watch yourself get that much better.

There. That was quick. Now on to the game itself.

Here’s the thing. The controls are a huge step down from the 2002/2003 dual pack. They really are. I can’t tell you how many times I lost to the final boss because for some reason one of my moves didn’t pull off. Moves done by characters I have been playing for over a freakin’ decade, I can’t tell you how annoying that is, especially when I have a decent rep for being good at these games. I really suggest spending a minute or two in practice to get down the timing with your preferred characters as no mater how good you are, there are some interesting control detection issues here.

There’s a ton of new controls and options in XI, and to be honest, they’ve superatured the game with options to where it takes away from ther experience, rather than make it enjoyable. There comes a point where if you put too much into a game, the quality actually goes down. We call that the Nippon Ichi syndrome, and SNK Playmore has given it to KoF XI in spades.

There’s SEVEN new things to take under consideration just off the top of my head. First up is the Skill guage. Oh my god, do I hate this. Much like your power gauge that is filled by giving and taking damage, the skill gauge works the same way. When the gauge fills you get a skill point and can maintain up to two points at any given time. These points can be used for the other six new abilities in the game.

Quick Shift is the first one and it allows you to cancel the last part of a normal attack and switch out to your next character. This is a nice addition, but the fact you have to wait for a skill point and that the only way to access the quick shift is by hitting Square + Triangle or X + O while doing a normal move, the ability to actually pull this off is spotty at best. The game really should have assigned this ability to a shoulder button or done it in the same manner as the Capcom vs Marvel games. This was a huge step in the crap direction.

Saving Shift makes the character invulnerable while being hit and allows you to shift to a new character. Problem here is that the invulnerability doesn’t shift to the next character and the second they come in they are vulnerable, even in the milliseconds before you take control of the new character. You will learn this to much frustration in the final fight of Arcade/Team play. Plus 2 skill points? Another big yuck here.

Guard Cancel Shift is the 3rd new addition. It costs 2 skill points and allows you to switch characters while maintaining your guard. This is the ONLY good new addition to the game IMO. It’s also the only one I use with any frequency.

Normal Move Cancel Emergency Evasion takes the prize for long name and it does just what it says. You cancel a move in the middle of doing it and evade an opponent’s attack for 1 skill point. Yawn.

Dream Cancel takes a single skill point and can only be used by your team leader. This cancels your previously inputted special move and lets loose with a Super Special Leader Move – if you have another skill point and TWO power stocks saved up. Way too expensive for what it does, especially when you have to input the the SSLM instead of it instantly occuring, meaning only the best of the best will be able to pull this option off.

Super Cancel isn’t new, but now it takes 1 skill point and 1 power stock instead of just 1 power stock. Lame.

The final new addition to how the game is played is the Judgment Indicator. I still can’t understand why this was put in. It comes into play only after a time limit draw occurs. Instead of judging the winner on who has the most health left like every other fighting game ever made, the Judgment Indicator comes into play. The indicator goes back and forth regarding who has the upper hand in the battle as it goes on. Whoever it is currently showing in favor of when the time stops – wins. Again, this is what I mean about adding too much crap to the game. this is pretty much unneeded and I’ve yet to see a time where it doesn’t agree with who has the most health. utterly pointless.

I’m sorry, but in my opinion, KoF XI is the worst KoF I’ve ever played. There’s too much crap bogging it down and not enough emphasis on the gameplay that MATTERS. The controller input detection is off and there is the occasional collision detection issue as well. The game has gone from being a constant level of quality to, for the first time since the series began, being a below average fighter. Bad move here SNK. I just hope XII gets rid of most of the fluff you’ve put in, but I’m frightened you guys actually added MORE.

Control/Gameplay rating: 4/10

5. Replayability

There are a lot of options provided in the game to keep a long time SNK fan happy. I found myself enjoying Endless and Challenge more far more than the Arcade/Team/Single tournaments modes. It was a nice change of pace and a lot of fun.

What’s more is that there are a great deal of unlockables in the game ranging from art work to hidden characters and movies. There’s 14 unlockable characters I’ve found so far, including by beloved Geese Howard. I’m sure there’s more as I don’t have Orochi Iori yet.

If you’re a huge fighting game fan, there so much here to keep you occupied. Even the best of us will be stymied by a few of the Challenge mode scenarios, and the Endless mode is a lot of fun.

The game might not be appealing or quality except to the biggest SNK fans on the planet, but they’ll be playing this one for a very long time.

Replayability Rating: 7/10

6. Balance

Ha ha ha. This is an SNK game. This is a KoF game. if you don’t know what to expect by now, here is your warning. There is not a harder video game franchise ever made. This series is mean, cheap and will make you look like a chump. And the final boss of the games? They are generally so overpowered and insanely hard to hit, much less inflict damage upon them, that only the best fighting gamers out there will be able to beat them. Even then the first time one beats the boss is by equal parts luck and skill. There is no attempt to have anything resembling balance in there games, and there never will be. it’s half the fun. When you beat a KoF game, you’ve accomplished something pretty cool.

But then there’s KoF XI, which again earns my vote for the worst KoF game ever. See here’s the thing. The game is exceptionally easy. Not just for an SNK game, but for a fighting game is generally. It’s amazingly easy. The very first time I played the game in Arcade mode I used the Real Bout Fatal Fury team of Duck King, Kim, and Terry Bogard. Guess what? I won every single battle I had going into the final boss. And what’s more, almost every battle? WAS A PERFECT. It was insane. I ended up fighting Sho as my mid boss first time through and he was a cake walk. I was horribly disheartened by how damn easy this game was. it wasn’t a KoF game. it was a cruel slap in the face,

Then I faced off against Shion who was the second to last boss. I perfected her with Duck King. What the hell? A boss fight in a KoF game where I got a perfect? More annoyance. I should be fighting for my life here.

Well, be careful what you wish for. Next up was Magaki and I have to say, this wasn’t just the hardest boss fight I have ever had in an SNK game. it was the hardest boss fight I have ever had in any game. Holy crap, he schooled me like I was a six year old who made the mistake of playing against a Geese master with no sense of kindness towards children. Wow it was hard. I died over and over again, swearing loudly and frequently with each ass kicking. It was not just embarrassing, but it was a total disconnect with how insanely easy the rest of the game was. Now I have no problem getting my butt kicked by the computer, but there’s no excuse for that extreme shift in difficulty, no matter what. it’s like the entire game was half assed, with any effort in the AI put solely into the last boss.

I finally switched tactics and went with Ryo, Yuri and Terry to take out the Magaki. I’m best with Yuri out of all the characters in KoF family and I tested a little Yuri cheap ass trick that works on nearly every boss in every SNK game. See, Finals Bosses usually don’t have crouching attacks or blocks in the game. This leaves them incredibly susceptible to Yuri ass attack. She literally shoves her ass into the opponent’s thigh. Sure enough Magaki the cheapest mother fucker I have ever encountered in an SNK game couldn’t block 85% of the time, even if it was the only move I did repeatedly. The bitch went down hard to Yuri Sakazaki and the world was right again. This my friends didn’t cheer me up. if anything it indicated how badly put together this game was and how insane the last boss was to take on.

Utterly depressing to see what a pile KoF XI is. Difficulty is all over the place with most of the game being the easiest fighter I have ever played. Magaki is crazy hard and spends most of the game flinging projectiles that you really can’t dodge or block. Imagine early Sagat and that you couldn’t really defend against the Tiger Fireballs or that if you did damage to him, sometimes you would somehow take damage as well. I remember the first time I thought I had Magaki beat with the Fatal Fury Real Bout Team. We both had next to no health left and I hit him with Terry’s Burning Knuckle and thought I had won. Nope. I was the one that lost health and the match with Magaki having a pin width of life left. Insane. Just…insane.

One of the worst balanced fighting games I’ve ever played. And the sad thing is, I’d have been happier if there had been more of a challenge leading up to the final battle instead of the large disconnect. Bad bad bad. That’s all I can say.

Balance Rating: 2/10

7. Originality

This is the twelfth KoF game and it’s still pretty much the same damn game. Same graphics, same characters, same plot as the majority of the games. The only real originality in this game was the Skill Point Gauge and that did more harm than good.

Like the graphics, SNK fans generally don’t want originality or innovation. They want what they’re used to, which is awesome intense 2-D fighting action. Sadly, they won’t find it here.

Originality Rating: 2/10

8. Appeal Factor

If you’re not already a big fan of King of Fighters games or SNK in general, you probably didn’t even know this game was out, nor will you enjoy it. This isn’t a game that should be anyone’s first 2-D fighter. KoF 2002 or 98 are amazing games that you can still get somewhat easily for systems, so if you want to dip intot he SNK pond, those would be your best bets.

Look, I’m a pretty adamant fan of the series and even I have to say this game was not that good. One of the long running jokes here at Inside Pulse is that if a game has Pikachu, the Vic Viper or Terry Bogard in it, it will more than likely score highly with me. After crap like this and Pokemon Trozei, this adage has been proven false.

ONLY try this game if you love the characters, publisher, and franchise. I can’t see anyone else out there having fun with this. I’m sorry, but it’s true.

Appeal Factor: 2/10

9. Addictiveness

It comes and goes. I got really addicted to trying to beat that damn last boss, and as soon as I switched to my standby team instead of a “real” team, he went down and my desire to play anymore dissipated completely. i finally beat him and I justs topped caring because of the massive difficulty disconnect. The rest of the game wasn’t fun because it was too easy. Magaki wasn’t fun because it was insane. I really didn’t have fun with the main mode of the game at all. Even know this makes me angry and sad because KoF has always been fun in the past. here it was just a chore or boring.

The other modes of the game were pretty good though. I really liked Challenge mode as it was pretty hard, but it was rewarding and not insanely stupid.

If you’re a fighting fan, there’s always something here to suck you in. For most gamers though, this is going to have to be a pass. it’s SNK fan service to their long time customer base. I can’t say that’s a bad thing, but the main reason to play the game was wholly uninteresting to me and I don’t know if I’ll ever pick this particular KoF up again now that the review is done.

Addictiveness Rating: 5/10

10. Miscellaneous

And here’s the crux that makes KoF XI a below average game. it’s easily the worst KoF ever. God I hate saying that. I wanted to like it. You have no idea how excited and optimistic for this game I was, especially after the recent series of really good games I’ve had to play through. Here is a series I love with characters I love in a genre I love. And it was ass.

There’s unlockables, a ton of modes, and all the stuff we normally look for in a KoF fighter. They finally gave me Duck King for crying out loud. DUCK KING! Yet, it’s got nothing I actually care about. The precise controls, the constantly rising difficulty to a final challenge, the ennoyable music, and the intricate back story obtainable only by researching and jabbering with other SNK fans. None of that is here this time.

Nothing about this game calls out to me or makes me want to recommend it. After 2003, I was really looking forward to this trilogy despite the awful new Hero team (but then I thought K’ was awful too). Instead for the first time in KoF history, I am dreading an SNK game in Kof XII. I mean, what if it’s WORSE.

Still, options are here, characters long missed have returned, and I’d rather have SNK alive than dead once again. Call it a thumbs in the middle for this last category.

Miscellaneous Rating: 5/10

The Scores
Story/Modes: 7
Graphics: 3
Sound: 6
Control & Gameplay: 4
Replayability: 7
Balance: 2
Originality: 2
Addictiveness: 5
Appeal Factor: 2
Miscellaneous: 5
Overall Score: 44/100

Final Score: 4.5 (Below Average Game)

The Inside Pulse

KoF has been on a massive downward slope. From 7’s for 2002 and 3 to a 5.5 for Neowave and now a 4.5 for XI. Either this is the beginning of the end of this once great franchise, or my tastes have changed a lot over the past two years. My recommendation here is to simply stay away or hope that Neo Geo Battle Coliseum is awesome.