If a fighting game doesn’t do certain things right, it could be knocked out in the first round. They need to have a good roster, systems that fit in well, online multiplayer that functions, and ideally something to do when you don’t want to play against others. KOF XV covers pretty much everyone one of those bases, given its large collection of characters, rollback netcode, and multiple online options. So much so that even though it could offer more to do alone, it is still exactly what people would need and expect.
There’s a whole new King of Fighters tournament! And… well, that’s basically what you get going into the KOF XV story mode. No matter who you choose from the massive 39-fighter roster, there will only be a few shared story segments during the story. However, there is very little exposition or explanation in most cases. I would even call it ironic that SNK asked people not to share spoilers. Yes, there are some interesting details here. Specifically regarding certain KOF XV characters or endings. But for the most part, it’s anticlimactic.
For a series with the potential to have so much personality, there’s also a little less than I expected. Part of this is due to the aforementioned story issues. Most people only get their moments in their endings. In general, the fighters themselves are pretty great. Their animations, appearances, and movesets all tie into who they are. I’m a big fan of their idle and win animations. But I would have appreciated more unique conversations between characters ahead of matches. Especially since otherwise, the only characterizations and cameos you might get are in the unique endings for each team.
This is only one element of the single-player affairs in KOF XV. There is an offline Versus that allows for local 1v1 and 3v3 multiplayer or matches against an AI opponent. You have a Mission mode as well. Everything is serviceable enough. But in a way, these might feel more like a way to find your footing than offer extensive solo activities. Because while they are fun and offer something to do, I found they aren’t as exciting as a match against an actual opponent.
Speaking of learning how to play, I also have to applaud how KOF XV attempts to welcome in players. Its Tutorial offers both Basic Moves and Attack Moves sections to help people better understand. People can also play around in the Training mode both offline and online. It is really like SNK wants to encourage people to experiment and find how the game best works for them. Especially since the Rush mode easily lets someone new to the game create combos.
I’d even say some of the new systems feel as friendly for newcomers as they could be tactical for experienced players. Shatter Strike is a good example. This is a way to counter an opponent. Timing is critical to perfectly use it to flip a situation to your advantage, both because you need to use it when an enemy is attacking and you have enough of your power gauge filled to use it. But, it also only requires someone to go through a forward quarter circle and press two buttons to pull off. Because it is so easy to use, it can trigger a muscle memory sort of response.
I’d even say Max Mode is executed in such a way that anyone can understand it. (And then take advantage of it.) Again, as long as your power gauges are full enough, you can press heavy punch and light kick for a power boost that can help turn the tide. Again, you do need to learn how to properly use them. (Which is simple enough with all the practice options.) But once you do, they can help you out. Also, not requiring someone to be in Max Mode to use EX Special Moves is helpful too.
All of this is a bonus because, well, it feels like KOF XV is a game built for playing online! What you’re doing alone? That’s to get you set for the Casual and Ranked matches. Which, by the way, work quite well. If making sure its Rollback netcode was good to go at launch was one of the reasons it was delayed, it was well worth it. I didn’t notice any lag whatsoever. When you head in, you can choose to limit the region and connection speed. Ahead of a match, you’ll see the “level” of the ping and their predicted delay next to their name. It also displays data like rollback frames while you play. The information is very transparent, it works well, and I never had trouble finding a match.
KOF XV is pretty great, especially at launch. It is responsive, it looks great, and it offers a large roster of characters. I would have liked more to do on my own. Especially since I’m a big fan of the characters and would like the Story mode to have more… well, story to it. But SNK clearly put a lot of work into getting it right, and it shows.
The King of Fighters XV is available for the PS4, PS5, Xbox Series X, and PC.