The King of Fighters XIII Playtest: Newcomers welcome

By Kris . November 29, 2011 . 4:35pm

We have already covered a decent chunk of the final build of the King of Fighters XIII on Siliconera, so to avoid retreading old ground, I’m going to be writing about approaching the game from a novice perspective.

However, if you are already a King of Fighters fan and you can find an explanation of both the gameplay mechanics and some of the console-exclusive content here.

 

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To me, the King of Fighters series has always seemed somewhat impenetrable. The series has seventeen years of history behind it, tons of characters (both original and taken from SNK’s other franchises), and new, bizarrely-named game mechanics introduced and cut every year (at least until the four-year gap between KOF XI and XII). On top of it all, there’s a labyrinthine story that it seems only the die-hard fans know about that only applies to certain games in the series. Even KOF XII‘s attempts to return to the series’ roots felt intimidating, with its very demanding input requirements and lack of frills (there wasn’t much to the game outside of time attack) creating even more barriers to entry.

 

I’m happy to say that the King of Fighters XIII seems to be about opening up the series to a wider audience.

 

I think that it’s telling that (after the sparingly-animated Neo-Geo-style intro) the game opens on the option for “Tutorial” mode (it’s even assigned the number one). While generally, tutorials in fighters are somewhat hidden away, putting Arcade mode at the forefront, the fact that the tutorial was the first thing I saw meant that (unlike other fighters), I actually used it.

 

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The tutorial essentially was a cursory introduction to movement (including dodge rolls and hops), special attacks, attack cancelling, and the use of the various onscreen gauges (see our article here for more information). While it wasn’t nearly as comprehensive as “The Beginner’s Incomplete Guide to KOF” (which I highly recommend if you’re just starting out), by the end of the two tutorials, I felt as though I was ready for battle. It’s one thing to simply know how to perform a two-super-bar (while in Hyperdrive mode) consuming Neo Max attack, but it’s another to be able to know how to cancel a Desperation Move (think Street Fighter‘s super attacks) into one reliably. Having the basic mechanics laid out in front of me before I engaged the game proper helped ease me into combat, despite my lack of KOF experience.

 

As I started arcade mode, I discovered even more mechanics designed to make KOF XIII more accessible to new players. For one thing, before each fight, the two opposing characters will exchange a little bit of (unspoken) dialogue. While it’s pretty typical “Grr, let’s fight!” stuff, these help establish your characters’ personalities. If nothing else, it makes it easier to care about characters who might otherwise remain somewhat mysterious.

 

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While you’re fighting in either Arcade or Story mode, a message containing a “Target Action,” (generally something like “perform three backwards or forward dodge rolls” or “hit the enemy with a Desperation Move”) will appear onscreen just above the player’s health bar. Each successful completion fills 50-100% of the Hyperdrive and Super meters. While purists may cringe at the idea that arbitrary tasks can result in a speedy increase of the super meter, as a fledgling player, I found myself grateful that using a couple of dodge rolls and jumps could get me out of a jam by allowing me the opportunity to use a Desperation Move. While you aren’t given Target Actions on boss (and miniboss) fights, they’re certainly helpful in getting to them without seeing the continue screen.

 

Speaking of the continue screen, if you are defeated in arcade mode, you have the option to retry the battle with one of three advantages. You can start with maxed out Hyperdrive and Super gauges, fight with improved attack and defense, or even have the enemy start the match with 75% of their health gone. Needless to say, this is very helpful against the boss characters, who, while not as cheap as some of the other bosses in the series, will not hesitate to kill you in incredibly frustrating ways. Drop them down to 25% health, and your problems will melt away.

 

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After a few runs through Arcade mode, I decided to approach the Story mode, a first for the series. While I appreciated the fact that SNK made some effort toward making the series’ narrative a bit more accessible, it’s kind of frustrating. The King of Fighters XIII’s plot arc started in 2003, and the game seems to expect that you know what happened and who the previous boss characters were. Also, a number of scenes in story mode are technically cutscenes despite their visual-novel-style presentation, so if you try to advance the slow-moving dialogue, you’ll skip them entirely. While this isn’t a huge problem because you can go back to the skipped scenes afterwards, it’s just an example of how arbitrarily frustrating that the story mode can be.

 

Speaking of arbitrary, as far as I’ve seen, there isn’t much difference between the different teams you choose outside of some pre-fight dialogue (much like the stuff in arcade mode), the branching paths don’t seem incredibly varied, and if you lose a fight, it’s game over. Again, I appreciate the effort, but it feels like a KOF story mode could have done much more in terms of narrative, variety, and coherency (for newcomers, at least).

 

After I’d played around with the Arcade and Story modes, I decided to try out the online play. King of Fighters XIII’s online play is something special. Ranked matches simply don’t bother with traditional lobbies. Either you progress through arcade mode or play around in practice mode until someone arrives (which, in my experience is only about long enough to choose a character). When the opponent arrives, you’re taken to a screen where you have a brief time to examine the opponent’s gamercard or PSN profile, win/loss record, and a bunch of arbitrary numbers that tell you about the opponent’s skill level, their preset team, and their best character. However, there’s not much time to examine  all of this data, because you only have about 10 seconds to get ready for battle. Win or lose (mostly lose, for me), at the end of a fight, you’re given the option to continue your single player endeavors, and by extension, keep the room open for another foe to join you. Strangely, you can only use practice mode if you’re doing player matches.

 

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For the most part, the matches I played we’re smooth. Although I never played over a  perfect “level 4″ connection, levels 3 and 2 (represented by green and yellow respectively) felt pretty great. On occasion, level 2 matches would freeze and a text box would appear telling me that the game was synchronizing us, but this rarely happened mid-bout, generally between rounds or before the character select. Worst-case scenario, the game would freeze without the text box, but this generally resolved itself. Level 1 connections  on the other hand could get pretty bad, with frequent freezes, and a delay of up to a second between my input and the game performing it. While these issues would generally correct themselves by the end of a match, level 1 connections weren’t exactly fun. However, when you’re searching for a match, you have the option to filter out opponents by connection speed (or disconnect percentage).

 

While I didn’t play many people from other countries, each match I played with people in Mexico was just as smooth as the matches I played in the US, generally resulting in a level 2 or 3 connection, even with my use of Wi-Fi. I can’t personally speak for how playing against someone overseas would be, but from my conversations with my California-based friend (we had a level 2 connection when we played together), there was some pretty rough lag against Taiwanese players. Overall, the online experience is distinctly improved from KOF XII‘s. While there are occasionally disconnects (I had two in my first 30 matches), and some sudden lag spikes, for me, it’s been behaving better across the nation than Ultimate Marvel vs Capcom 3 has been with friends across the state.

 

Food for Thought

1. While I was initially skeptical about the character color customization, it’s actually a lot of fun. Aside from the fact that you can do more than simple palette swaps (you can change the colors of different segments of each sprite, which helped me realize how detailed the things are), winning with a custom character feels more personal than just winning with a default color.

 

2. Mission mode allows you to watch demonstrations of the links they want you to perform. It makes me wish that Super Street Fighter IV and Ultimate MvC3 would let you do that.

 

3. Spencer’s note: I tested out Xbox Live online play for The King of Fighters XIII too. I wanted to see how choppy online play could be so I tried to join games where my opponent and I had a level one collection. The two times I found someone with a red connection the other player wouldn’t start the game, so I left. Understandable, since I’d prefer to play with someone with a *better* connection too, but I was trying to experiment! I was not able to find another player with a level four connection (that’s the best) in all of my matches.

 

Most of the people I fought against had a level three connection and the match was smooth. I didn’t have the synchronization issue Kris had with level two bouts, maybe that’s because all of my consoles are wired into my router(?). When I played KOF XIII online, I didn’t use a set team and changed characters after each match. Since the game doesn’t have double blind character selection, in one of my matches the other player waited for me to pick my characters before s/he chose theirs. I’m not even close to a skilled fighter so I was just deciding who would be fun to use (I picked Athena), but I think a patch with a double blind option would be a nice feature for tournament tier fighters.


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