The King of Fighters XI PS2 Review

The King of Fighters XI (KOF XI) is the latest instalment in The King of Fighters series. The numerical distinction for the series now is based primarily on SNK Playmore wanting to avoid being locked into a rigorous yearly schedule of releases in FIFA Football fashion. With this, it shows that SNK Playmore still have a mind of their own for now. SNK Playmore is also releasing ANOTHER Maximum Impact game which personally, and for a lot of KOF fans out there, is a mistake. You can find the review for KOF MI 2 here shortly. But, enough of the politics, KOF XI stands up to be counted and should be recognised as such along with the other great titles in the franchise.

One thing fighting games try to thrive on is a storyline. Without one, well, you wouldn’t grow much love for characters such as Iroi, Kyo and Ryo (personal favourite team)! Mukai, a member of a mysterious group, stole the Orochi seal. Taking advantage of all the confusion caused by it, Ash stole the Yata Mirror (protected by Chizuru Kagura). Everybody assumed Chizuru’s defeat, and that’s how, in between everything, he pulled the curtains down on the last King of Fighters. Time passes and everything seems to be okay in the world. However, and quite predictably, there will be a KOF Tournament. In the advent of the new tournament, new faces are handed invitations, while old faces, such as Eiji Kisaragi, return to the ring. Among the new KoF participants are Oswald, Duck King (a South Town veteran fighter himself), Momoko and Elisabeth. All these fighters will find themselves in a tournament full of mysteries and secrets started by motives that they’d ignored. Behind this healthy, competitive tournament hides a hidden force called “People from the Past” that has a lot of mixed objectives.

Aside from the already known gameplay manoeuvres that add much depth to the gameplay (Runs, Rolls, Short Jumps, Guard Cancel CDs and Rolls, Empty Cancels and the returning Quick Emergency Roll), the four largest innovations that KOF XI brings to the franchise are the Quick Shift, the Saving Shift, the Skill Bar and the Dream Cancels. The Skill Stocks significantly complicate the gameplay of KOF. The Power Stocks that existed previously are still present and are filled in the usual fashion. However, there are now Skill Stocks as well, which gradually build up over time. Each team begins a match holding the maximum of two Skill Stocks. Offensive manoeuvres, such as Desperation Moves, Guard Cancels, and Tag Attacks, continue to use Power Stocks. However, more defensive or tactical manoeuvres, such as Guard Evasion, Saving Shift, and Quick Shift, use Skill Stocks.

KOF XI utilizes the Tactical Shift System from KOF 2003, but makes very important changes. The Quick Shift allows you to change into another character in the middle of any combo, prolonging it, or in the middle of any attack, no matter if it was blocked or not. This involves cancelling the frames of animation of the attack, if it is needed, much like a lot of 2D fighters that have a tag combo system which just adds more complexity to this brilliant game. The Saving Shift allows the player to take out a character when he is being hit as soon as he is hit, or in any moment, at the cost of both skill bars. This effectively cuts many combos that otherwise would do a lot of damage, eliminates the possibility of infinites by repeating chains of attacks on the ground (excluding aerial juggles) and brings an element of balance to the game. While it is possible to escape from any combination of attacks on the ground, it is not possible to use Saving Shift to get out from a Desperation Move (DM) or Leader Desperation Move (LDM) due to the fact that these are super moves and unblockable. The last new feature of KOF XI is the Dream Cancel. Like the Super Cancel that first appeared in KOF ’99, Dream Cancel allows players to use stocks to interrupt a move in the midst of its execution with a more powerful move, allowing devastating combos. However, the Dream Cancel is more deadly than ever, allowing a DM to be cancelled into an LDM, at the expensive price of two Power Stocks and one Skill Stocks.

With all these different options they have given you to fight with in the game, it seems too overwhelming, especially for a new player to the KOF games. If the player has played something like Marvel vs Capcom or the Capcom vs SNK series, it is as simple as a direction and two button push. So for the Guard Cancels, it is just back or forward, dependant on the attack whether it be low or high and the two punch buttons or two kick buttons, again dependant on weather it’s a punch or kick attack. The best thing to do with any fighting game that involves depth is to play the practice mode and set the CPU to do certain things for different situations! You don’t think someone like Daigo who parries this whole attack learned that in a day? It took months of practice. With a game like this if you have friends that love to play 2D fighters, this game is worth the blood, sweat and tears for the practice!

The changes for KOF XI are not just confined to the moves: should the timer run down in a match, the winner is no longer decided based upon who has the most life remaining. Instead, the judgment bar, a new bar of circular shape composed of two colours, each one representing one player (red or blue, which are the colours displayed in the portraits of the characters of each side) acts as a quantifier of the skill of each player. Whichever player has the judgment bar towards his side will be the victor if none of the teams win in the conventional battle; rarely, if the bar is exactly in the centre, the one whose leader is not defeated is deemed the winner (if both of the leaders have survived or been defeated then it is a draw, making both players lose the match). The bar is affected by each attack that the players get in, combos affect progressively more, and when a character of the opposing team is defeated the bar moves significantly against that player. This makes taking care of keeping one’s characters alive pretty important, giving strategy to the tag system.

The roster for KOF XI will upset some people because it has been shaken up so much it has lost some of the extremely popular characters! These characters are Chang Koehan, Joe Higashi, Mai Shiranui, Leona Heidern & Robert Garcia! These characters were very popular, especially amongst the old school KOF and Art of Fighting (AOF) players. One surprise is that Eiji Kisaragi is back as a playable character! This is exciting due to the fact that he was only playable in KOF 95′ and he was a secret striker in KOF 2000 which is arguably one of the weakest KOF games to date. A couple of other characters make surprise appearances such as Duck King, again a striker in KOF 2000 and was in loads of backgrounds of the other KOF and AOF. Lastly Bonne Janet from Garou: Mark of The Wolves makes a large leap over to KOF XI! Three characters are original to The King of Fighters XI: Oswald, Elisabeth Blanctorche, and Momoko. Elisabeth is the heir of a noble French family; Oswald is a fighter from Ireland who utilizes cards as his weapons; Momoko is a young capoeira fighter from Japan accompanying Athena Asamiya and Sie Kensou on the Neo-Psycho Soldier team. There are also several cameo appearances from characters in endings that haven’t been included and will hopefully appear in the next game and making the roster larger.

The graphics and sound are the usual generic sounds for the KOF games, they have always been ‘futuristic and techno-ish’. The graphics are nicely polished which was arguably a necessity with the improvements in televisions are rival console graphical capabilities. A sharpness option has been added to make characters seem more detailed, but still looking gorgeous without too much pixelation. Alas the backgrounds in KOF XI are nothing special; they feel re-used and re-hashed from previous KOF games. The way they are re-hashed is that it’s the typical desert town, forest, temple and city stages from the previous KOF games. It just felt that they could not be bothered to use new backgrounds, although they are new, they feel very vintage which can be seen in a bad or good light dependant on the KOF fan/player.

Overall this edition of KOF is possibly the best KOF game since KOF98! A lot of people will find that hard to believe, but it has the solid gameplay that 98 had and the variety of KOF2002. This game will go a long way if players can forgive SNK Playmore for messing up the series in the first place.

Take out your arcade sticks, dust them off and prepare to fight once again to be the king!

8.8 out of 10

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