King of Fighters XIESRB:
Platform: PlayStation 2
Developer – SNK Playmore
Publisher – SNK Playmore
225KB save memory card
King of Fighters XI (KOF) has finally arrived in North America and it is probably one of the best fighting games of the 2007. Yes, you heard me right. After hitting Japanese arcades in 2005, and a little later on Japanese home consoles, it has been a painfully long wait for KOF fans who don’t own a Japanese or modded PS2. Sony had always said the game would not be released in North America with really no explanation as to why this was the case. After a European release and a year and a half wait the game finally gets its release on our shores. The game, developed and published by SNK Playmore, has been receiving some pretty good accolades. The storyline is nonsensical and sometimes comical, but the series has always been about the gameplay first and story second. And really, who cares about deep storylines in a button mashing punch fest of a game anyway?
The major shortcoming in pretty much all of the KOF games, let alone in most of the 2D sprite based games in this genre released over the past eight years or so, is that the graphics are pretty much the same. This creates a bit of a problem in that the newer characters to the series have elaborate, well-animated sprites while everyone else remains pretty much the same. Sadly SNK fans can’t help but be a little envious of a game like Guilty Gear or the upcoming Super Street Fighter remix HD as they have seemed to pick up the visual style. I believe that it may have been nice to do a few upgrades of some of the old arcade titles just to spice KOF XI up some. The backgrounds, menus, character artwork, and various little flourishes look nice but the character sprites themselves, despite having been reworked a bit, still look stuck in the Neo-Geo era. Perhaps we’ll see more of the old fighters recreated in HD, a la Street Fighter Remix HD, if the trend catches on.
That being said, the presentation in KOF XI is sharp and the various menus load quickly. There are also a number of extra galleries containing character art that are certainly worthy of any hardcore fighters perusal. Overall the 2D graphics system runs great on the old PS2; in fact some levels and characters will still make you gaze with a “how’d they do that” kind of look. Mind you, the look of the low-resolution sprites atop higher-resolution backgrounds can actually be somewhat distracting; particularly on the high definition displays a lot of gamers are using these days. This effect is evident on many of the background screens, but for the fighting nuts out there it really shouldn’t pose any problems. The games artwork is still solid enough, as parallax overlays are abound. The animation quality is really quite good. Although the game rarely slows down during battle it definitely can be noticed during processing hog situations where too much is going on, but this is far and few between.
The sound effects and soundtrack in KOF XI are suitably very old school. The background music is typical solo-riddled Japanese rock. Songs range from catchy guitar driven rock jams to over melodic synthesized music. All of it does its job but some of them are pretty unremarkable. After playing the title for awhile I have to admit that I did find them to get very repetitive and annoying in some cases. There is a bit of voice acting in the game. The voice over work used to be in Japanese but it is now in American English and it can be pretty funny given how some of the content is translated. As for the sound effects in KOF XI, old school gamers will really appreciate them. They offer up the usual array of over the top grunts, groans, screams and taunting. It may not be very modern but it certainly is effective and a flashback to the era of when 2D fighters ruled the arcade scene. The sounds really matches the visuals here and it brought a faint smile to my face as I played on.
KOF XI can best be described as a somewhat refined KOF2003. For those who don’t know, KOF2003 took the series in a very new direction. SNK decided to allow all three characters from each team to fight in a single match together through a tag system that made for huge gaudy combos which managed to inflict massive damage with minimal effort. It took fairly standard KOF gameplay and jammed everything from past games into one super bar. It goes without saying that the bar filled up far too quickly making it a very questionable venture. The game had more problems than a great game should have as it was really unbalanced to be of any fun for the losing side.
Thankfully KOF XI addresses the unbalanced gameplay of KOF2003 and fixes these problems while still maintaining fast-paced fighting and on-the-fly tag teaming. While KOF2003 initially burned one bar (of three) from the super meter to swap in somebody mid-combo, KOF XI introduces the “skill stock” which is separate from the super meter. The various tags draw from one of the two bars here. Offensive attacks like super moves, guard cancels and tag attacks (where a character does a hard attack, which shifts in another team-mate for an easy combo) draw from the super meter. The Skill Stock is drawn upon for the more defensive and finesse moves, like guard evasion where a blocking character can roll after blocking, avoiding almost all pressure and saving shifts, a less-silly version of Combo Breakers a la Killer Instinct. Finally quick Shifts, which allow for chained combos that aren’t all that easy to execute and too damaging.
There are now three types of cancels that any fighting fan can access in KOF XI. Empty cancels return from the past, but are accompanied by super cancels which allow for certain special moves to be cancelled into a super at no cost to the meter (outside of the cost for the super). The concept is nearly identical to the ones found in Street Fighter 3. The other is the dream cancel, which allows supers to be cancelled into a leader move. This is essentially a stronger version of a super that costs two bars, but it is usually quite a bit stronger and can seriously up the characters attributes. All of this is held together by effective damage scaling, which keeps insane 100% damage combos from running rampant.
One other cool combat feature that I appreciated was being able to select a "Service" after you lose a match to give yourself assistance. These services include boosting your power or being able to cut your opponents health in half. These little cheats, if you will, are entirely optional and really exist purely to lessen the challenge of any particular match you may find yourself stuck on, which I did find myself numerous times throughout.
I found that that the computer AI did an admirable job of keeping me on my toes in KOF XI. I have been playing fighting games for a very long time and my appreciation for the KOF series has grown each time I get a chance to review one of the home versions released. This title plays very well and although there were times I wanted to throw my controller I was able to persevere and vanquish my computer opponent. Overall this latest version in the KOF series really does a great job of providing an all around positive experience in the realm of 2D fighting games, which is something special given with how the focus nowadays is on the world of 3D polygons, destructible environments and high definition graphics. I have to give a big thumbs up to SNK for the job they did on bringing KOF XI to the PS2, as it truly is a fun game to play.
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