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By Sim Cheng Kai . November 18, 2011 . 2:30pm
I spent about 2 hours with a preview build of The King of Fighters XIII at a Sony Computer Entertainment Hong Kong event. Before we move on I should mention that I’ve never been good at King of Fighters games, having only played them with friends and family. That said, I’ve dabbled with the series enough to know that XIII feels remarkably "comfortable".
So comfortable that when I took on fellow journos at the event, for the first half an hour I – as did they – completely forgot to use any of the new elements added into this game: most notably, EX moves and Drive Cancels. Without the new gameplay systems, XIII played a lot to me like a HD version of KOF2002. When I gave the new elements a chance, I quickly saw how they were a natural evolution of past KOF mechanics and the layers of depth these added to the established formula.
EX Special/Super Moves
EX moves are a real game changer. Some EX special moves are merely stronger versions of the same move – more invincibility, more hits, etc. But a great deal of them actually gives the characters you’ve mastered over the years completely new ways to open up your opponent’s defenses.
A good example is Kyo’s 212 Shiki Kototsuki You – the move where he runs forward and grabs his opponent by the collar. The normal version of 212 Shiki can be blocked, so in past games it was mostly used as a tack-on in combos for more damage, similar to Ryu’s hurricane kick (if I may use Street Fighter terms) or other "Expansion type" moves (Marvel term, I believe). The EX version, however, is unblockable when you’re right next to your opponent, effectively turning this hurricane kick type move into Zangief’s Spinning Pile Driver command grab.
EX moves are the biggest "surprise" in XIII, but they don’t over power what’s "comfortable". You won’t see players spam EX special moves all over the place, as they cost one stock of meter to pull off – the same cost as a regular super move (known in previous KOFs as "Desperation Moves"). Meter is not exactly easy to come by. During my hands-on I found myself consciously making snap decisions regarding meter management. As Terry Bogard, for instance, do I save my stocks for the Power Geyser super move, which is a great anti-air (but there are other anti-air moves I could use), or should I burn them on EX Power Wave, a three-hit projectile that stuns opponents for so long you pretty much get a free combo (even if they block the EX Power Wave they’re trapped in block-stun for so long that you get a free jump-in).
One other interesting thing to note about EX moves is that they may make you re-think your control scheme if you’re playing on a joystick. Initially I played with the traditional KOF control scheme where A, B, and C are located on my first row of buttons, and D on the second. But over time I noticed that whenever I tried to execute an EX move, I would accidentally hit A+B instead of A+C for punch moves, and C+D instead of B+D for kick ones. (For those of you who’re not familiar with KOF notations, A is light punch, B is light kick, C is heavy punch, and D heavy kick.)This was such a big problem for me that I eventually decided to change my control scheme to A and C on the first row, B and D on the second – Capcom vs. SNK style.
The other major addition in XIII are Drive Cancels (DC), which let you cancel a special move mid-way into another special or a super – but only on hit so this is really mostly used for combos.
If your anti-air special is blocked, you can’t Drive Cancel that into a projectile to make it "safe" on block – the equivalent of the Shoryuken-FADC (Focus Attack Dash Cancel). This might be a disappointment to some, but such defensive-minded tactics is not suited to KOF’s offensive-oriented style of play. Going back to the whole comfort/surprise quotient, allowing DCs on block might just change the game too much and take away that trademark KOF feel.
You also won’t be able to spam Drive Cancels non-stop, as each one will cost 50% of your Hyper Drive (HD) meter – this is the green bar you see on the super meter in screenshots. That said, since the HD meter fills up automatically as you take and give damage, if you’re good with DCs you’ll get to use them pretty often, a lot more than EX moves for sure.
Getting good with DCs will take quite a bit of practice. Unlike in Street Fighter IV, where you can FADC right after any hit of your choice – the first, second, or third hit of Akuma’s Shoryuken, for instance in KOF XIII every special move has a specific "cancel point", which may happen early or late in the move. In many cases you will have plenty of lead time to cancel one special move into another. But in some, like Kyo’s 100 Shiki Oniyaki uppercut move, you will have to input the command for the next special move quickly, as its cancel point right after the very first hit of the move.
Initially, it had seemed to me like you wouldn’t be able to input a motion like QCF+K (the 75 Shiki Kai double-kicks) right after the 100 Shiki Oniyaki fast enough for it to be cancelled out of. Well, you might be able to; I couldn’t. Eventually I discovered that you could do forward, down, down-forward, forward and hit punch for the 100 Shiki Oniyaki, then mash on the kick button to cancel right away into the 75 Shiki Kai.
This will require more experiment on players’ part – I’m not too sure about this technique myself. It was something I discovered while playing as Saiki. I was trying to performing the teleport follow-up to his Flash Kick-esque special move (dragon-punch motion + kick, then a punch button). Instead of the teleport follow-up, however, I got a fireball. This might not be universal – could be a Saiki glitch.
Next time we’ll check out the Saiki and Billy Zane, two of the new characters in the console version and the game’s different modes.