King of Fighters XII
Developer: SNK Playmore
Publisher: Ignition Games
Release Date: 07/24/09
After months of Alex Lucard assaulting my sanity with awful games, I got to review Shatter. Seriously, I got to review a good game. It was like the sun coming out from behind the clouds. I had a near religious moment. No longer would Charles Howard Platt be the ‘Horrible Wii Ports’ guy! This was my moment to shine. This should be my crowning moment. Then, a copy of King of Fighters XII came in and I requested it. I had to beg and plead and cajole my way into reviewing KoF XII, but I knew it would totally be worth the amount of throwing myself at Alex’s feet. I mean, this is King of Fighters!
My past with King of Fighters goes back to the Sega Saturn and PlayStation era, to a time when I played games in the arcade and got all of my video game information from print magazines. Specifically, I got my data from the original DieHard GameFAN magazine, way back in the early 90’s. I was a pretty hardcore fighting game player, back in those pre-Internet days. I memorized as many combos and special moves as I could, making little cheat sheets for the stuff I could not remember. Of course, the lighting was always so bad that I could not make heads nor tails of the arcane symbols I had drawn on a scrap of college rule, but I tried. Street Fighter 2 and Mortal Kombat II machines were always packed with G.I.s in those days, especially around a hacked, super fast Japanese Street Fighter 2 cabinet. Balrog is actually M. Bison? My mind was blown.
Back on subject, there were a pair of Neo Geo machines that got as little love as the Time Killers and Primal Rage cabinets. At the time, I was deeply into Sengoku, an SNK side scrolling brawler, and Fatal Fury 2. When I first saw King of Fighters ’94 on the marquee, I was too excited to move. I had seen the beautiful layout in GameFAN, but little did I dream of playing it so soon. I blew through all of my quarters, and some of my brother’s, pounding away as Terry and Andy Bogard and Joe Higashi. They were familiar to me from Fatal Fury, so I defaulted to them. From that day forward, my fighting franchise of choice has been King of Fighters.
Eventually, I would get to experience the series at home, in near arcade perfection. Dream Match and Evolution for the Dreamcast were such all encompassing addictions for me that I bought a Japanese Saturn just to play ’95, ’96, and ’97. It was so worth it. At one point, my wife swore I said “C’mon C’mon!” during sex. I plead the fifth.
The point of all this exposition is to let you know how much I have loved this series in the past. How ingrained in my identity as a gamer King of Fighters is. More than any other franchise, I know the roots and the heights of this one. I am a KoF nut. That is why this review pains me so. I am about to tell my first love how ugly she is. I am sorry, King of Fighters. I think this might be the end of the road.
For the most part, KoF XII has no story. None whatsoever. The Arcade mode is set up as a series of 5 time trials that determine the winning team. There are cut scenes between some of the rounds, but these are only generic footage of faux-press coverage of the tournament, and have no plot to advance. That would lead one to consider this game a Dream Match like 1998 and 2002. Those games, however, had rosters that far outnumbered this one, the Ultimate Version of 1998 almost tripling it. Also, since if it truly is a Dream Match, then why the limited versions of Iori and Terry? I’ll get to the crippling of both later, but they are simply endemic of the problems KoF XII suffers from.
The whole time trials premise is shaky, anyway. To make the player sit through a 30-45 minute patch download and then tell them to bust through the game as fast as possible is half-baked, at best. My first trip through Arcade mode, with the aforementioned crippled Terry Bogard and company, took 8 and a half minutes. It only took that long because I am primarily used to the Power Dunk and Buster Wolf using Terry of Fatal Fury: Mark of the Wolves. It took a few more trips through to get the time trophies, but I was so tired of this game by then that it hardly seemed worth the time. Yes, the Arcade Mode is the same as the Arcade game, but I find it hard to accept this being the meat of a $60 game.
The second mode, the one in which players are expected to spend the most time, is Online. Online is about as fun as watching two other people play a game over the Internet from a lobby. Why is that? Because the Online Mode is buggy, laggy, and crashy. The bugs were supposedly solved by the patch, but Raiden online is still nightmarish, as are Ralf and Clark. Wait until you run into a Hard Kick only player, someone with a button taped down trying to get a Trophy. You think I’m kidding? I’ve seen it three times! The lag is tolerable if both players have green bars and avoid the aforementioned characters. Good luck with that one. I have never had a console game crash 6 times in the course of a week before. To be blunt, this thing is never going to be inside my PS3 again, for fear it will do some damage.
The only other mode of note is the Practice Mode, which is stripped down to the point of uselessness. It is probably a better idea to rush through Arcade Mode with a character than to try using the Practice Mode to increase your skills. A waste of a good idea.
Story/ Modes: VERY BAD
The look of KoF XII was supposed to save it. The apologists try to paint this as SNK Playmore’s attempt at Street Fighter III, a beautifully drawn and animated game with near perfect balance. It is not. For every character that looks very good, like Kim Kaphwan, there is a Terry Bogard, who has looked better in previous games. Certain characters stick out like a sore thumb, being so badly rendered as to look like they escaped from another game. I was shocked to discover that Ash Crimson is supposed to be a dude. He looks like a chick, and not an attractive one. He is so out of place in the way he moves and attacks that I thought he escaped from some sort of Hot Topic flash game, along with his teammates Duo Lon and Shen Woo. Shen is almost acceptable, but Duo Lon is a horror story of a character. Too awful to describe properly. Shudder.
Then there is the Sailor Moon escapee Athena. Yes, I am aware she is intended to look like she did in the ancient Psycho Soldier game, but the end result is so alien when compared to the more realistic cast that her inclusion is simply illogical. If I wanted to play as Athena, I would much prefer her appearance in other KoF games. This was just creepy.
As another knock on the whole issue of whether or not this game is a Dream Match debate, KoF XII uses the Fatal Fury version of Terry, which is fine, alongside the ugly new Iori. By placing this outside of the KoF canon to include Terry in his red vest and matching hat, they give no real reason for why I have only the depowered Iori to use. Surely the time spent to include Elisabeth Blanctorche from KoF XI and the long dead Mature from KoF ’96 could have been used to include Iori with flames.
With all of this talk of new sprites and animation, I was disappointed at the lack of moves and taunts. This is a series famous for changing characters’ move sets between editions. This is fine and good, but to cut characters to the bone like this does no one any good. Terry is as basic as he has ever been. The Power Dunk and Buster Wolf were staples of a good Terry player and now they are gone. Another KoF trademark, pre-match taunts, is gone completely and post match, there is only one animation for each character. I loved Terry’s exuberant celebrations and Iori’s insane laugh. I miss Kyo and Iori taunting each other with flame. Why does Ash Crimson not taunt Kyo or Iori pre-match? These touches of character and depth made me fall in love with KoF, and now they are gone.
The backgrounds are ordinary and harmless. The issue with them is the lack of them. There are 5 backgrounds. FIVE! In a fighting game released in 2009, there is no excuse for such a dearth of backdrops. Even worse, they are uninspired and uninteresting. They are non-interactive and do not change over the course of the rounds. Aside from a piggy stampede, there is little to see in the background.
One last thing about the graphics. This game features one of the most inexplicable cases of slowdown I have ever encountered. After selecting the order of your fighters, there is a match up screen with an animated background and a music stab. This screen slows down painfully every time you see it. This is the sort of lack of polish this game is drenched in.
I have a number of King of Fighters soundtracks floating around my iPod. I enjoy the music from ’96 and ’98 quite a lot. This game has music that’s forgotten as soon as the system is turned off. I cannot even hum a track I heard during the hours I pounded on this game. Not a one. I still sing the Chicken Tonight jingle, but this game’s music is elusive and unremarkable. Which is a step up from the voice acting.
Some of my favorite voice acting in games comes from this series. “Hey! C’mon, C’mon!”, “I will paint my walls with your blood!”, and Iori’s trademark laughter after beating his opponent, for example. These are the sorts of game voices that stick with me and make me dig out old games time and time again. Then there is the voice acting in this game. It has none of the trademark flair and enthusiasm I so love about SNK games gone by. This indicates a rushed money grab and not a work of gaming quality.
CONTROL and GAMEPLAY
One of the positives of the DUALSHOCK controller has always been the four face buttons, at least for KoF ports. The diamond layout and rudimentary control pad have always made Sony platforms acceptable, if not great, for KoF style fighting games. The demands of constant and high speed quarter circles might lead you into looking at one of these. I have always been more of a pad guy, myself, but I have a feeling that a stick could make the higher speed of this game more workable.
In Arcade Mode, the controls are tight, though it does require some truly odd movements, like a good KoF game should. Try out Kim Kaphwan and you will see what I mean. Online play is nightmarish, as I noted earlier. It is hard to rate the control when there is so much lag and nastiness when online.
Controls and Gameplay: MEDIOCRE
The strong suit of most games in the King of Fighters canon is the ability to play them for months, if not years, after the initial release. I am still pounding away at some of the Dreamcast editions. The replay in previous games came from composing interesting teams and seeing how they play. The different animations that would open up for different match ups would make it worth playing through with lesser characters. Since this game lacks any story or character, there are only two reasons to plug on: skill and galleries.
On the subject of building skill, I can totally respect this sort of replay. There are few things as satisfying as crushing a skilled foe with a lesser character. Trust that the dude who can beat your ass with Kensuo or Robert Garcia knows his stuff. That is one element of the previous KoF‘s that continues to shine. If the Online Mode is ever patched to mediocrity, this should carry over to beating down total strangers. As it is, the joy of fighting with a character you have invested the time into learning is rewarding enough to keep a hardcore fighter busy.
The Gallery Mode is the other way that Replayability is stretched out. On this count, I wonder how much other people care about this sort of thing. I cannot see much value in unlocking a gallery of stills, but if this is what turns you on, good on you. All the player has to do is complete the game without dropping a round to unlock that character’s gallery. This does add some challenge, as it is hard to sweep other teams with some of the more average characters. An Athena Gallery tells me that you have more resolve and pain tolerance than I. Hats off to you.
Replayability: ABOVE AVERAGE
The balance of a fighting game is much easier to determine than most genres. In a fighting game, balance breaks down to ‘Can Fighter A beat Fighter B, if all things are equal?’ If the answer is No more often than Yes for certain characters, then the balance is off. In the case of most King of Fighters games, balance is achieved through sheer number of characters. Deep within the roster there has to be a solution to Fighter A. Since XII tries to go the small, balanced roster route, it is especially disappointing that so many characters are very weak or excessively strong. Case and point, Benimaru. In most games that star the electric punk, he is a lower tier character. Players new to KoF XII will be surprised at how effective he is in this game, notably so online. The same can be said for Joe Higashi. Most jarring of all, however, is what was done to Iori Yagami.
Usually a top tier character, Iori Yagami is notably crippled in this game. Yes, there is a storyline reason, which is not explained in game. His flame powers were taken by the terminally lame Ash Crimson. This I know. That does not explain his pseudo-Freeman, all rushing attack. The best mid-range fighter in the game is now a one dimensional rusher. Great move, SNK Playmore. I know this was done in the name of the nominal plot, but it does not excuse the complete exclusion of the flame using Iori. This is a Dream Match, the apologists will tell you. Then where the hell is Iori?
This game is a 2-D fighter, released in 2009, with the number TWELVE in the title. What score could I realistically give this game on Originality? Really? Honestly?
If the Online mode is ever straightened out, this game could have legs enough to last into the Winter. In its current state, I have forgotten about it within seconds of quitting. I would rather play Shatter again or Fatal Fury: Mark of the Wolves. Or just about anything.
The name King of Fighters carries, or carried, a great deal of appeal. Sadly, this game squanders 15 years of good will. It is a rough, unfinished mess. It is one of a handful of 2-D fighters released this year, but it is plainly the worst. The cover art even blows.
Appeal Factor: VERY BAD
I really only have one thing to talk about: the install. This game takes up almost a Gig of hard drive with patches. A GIG! That is entirely too much, and it takes too long to install. I was having Metal Gear Solid 4 flashbacks.
Miscellaneous: VERY BAD
Story/ Modes: VERY BAD
Controls and Gameplay: MEDIOCRE
Replayability: ABOVE AVERAGE
Appeal Factor: VERY BAD
Miscellaneous: VERY BAD
Final Score: PRETTY POOR GAME!
Short Attention Span Summary:
What else is left to be said? King of Fighters XII is playable, certainly, and if the online is patched it may even be fun if purchased at a reduced price. As a $60 game? It’s too shallow, bland, uninspired and uninteresting to be worth it. The character redesigns are mostly atrocious in thought and deed, the gameplay is lackluster, and everything about the game screams either “bad idea” or “rush job”. You could buy three SNK compilation games for the PS2 for the same price as KoFXII, and all three together would be significantly better than this game.