SNK has been turning out new iterations of King Of Fighters since 1994, and King Of Fighters XIII is a fan service for players with fond memories of buying matches with pockets full of quarters. While it’s sure to be embraced by hardcore fighting-game fans, anyone else will find it holds little appeal.
After King Of Fighters XII took a break from any semblance of plot, the saga of Ash Crimson begins anew in KOF XIII’s story-mode. Unfortunately, the plot is so convoluted, even loyalists might have a hard time following what’s going on. The presentation is awful, too, eschewing cutscenes in favor of big blocks of text floating over static, pretty anime images, which makes story-mode like reading a series of bad short stories between battles.
KOF XIII does deliver impressively detailed, challenging fights. While you can play one-on-one matches, most battles follow the series’ traditional three-on-three style, where you move on to the next character in your lineup when the one you’re controlling is knocked out; there’s no tag-out mechanic. Button-mashing won’t get you past even the easiest opponents—you’ll have to get comfortable with each character’s long list of special moves. While the tutorial is anemic, you can warm up by beating up on an AI you can program to respond in a variety of ways, or by learning to string together moves for your favorite characters in mission mode. Novices may find the necessary devotion frustrating, while more serious players will find satisfaction in mastering the punishing timing and thumb-cramping stick movements. The newest iteration has significant changes to the system, including a way to convert each character’s special moves into more powerful versions, offering more nuance for veterans and more confusion for newcomers.
The game is packed with options, including all the characters from KOF XII, and balance between the characters is decent, but not perfect. A few characters’ basic moves are so powerful that they can beat your character to a pulp before you can start getting your combos on, while others have nearly unavoidable combos that will drop your health fast. King Of Fighters XIII has always had a nichier market than Street Fighter, Tekken, or Mortal Kombat, and this iteration just shows that SDK is comfortable keeping it that way.