'The King of Fighters XV' Review

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Terry Bogard. Kyo Kusanagi. Leona. King. Those names immediately ring off warm memories from fighting game fans who've poured countless hours into SNK's premiere franchise, The King of Fighters. The 14th installment in the long-running 2D fighter started off on a rough note, but it eventually got the extra care and attention it needed from the talented developers at SNK in order to become a more viable product. Now that The King of Fighter XV is finally here, it's become quite evident that the lessons learned from the previous game's life cycle were carefully applied here for the better.

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While The King of Fighters XV's roster is smaller than the massive lineup that came with the last series installment, it still manages to be beneficial for longtime players. Series regulars are back for another round of hyperactive fights, while some shocking returns offer a nice variety of unorthodox characters to master. The game's two newest combatants (Isla and Dolores) fit right in with the rest of the game's roster thanks to their cool character designs and differing approaches to combat. Isla is pretty much a faster rendition of Shunei that uses demonic hands and spraypaint cans to get the upper hand, while Dolores fights best at range via her mud-based trap setups. There are several disappointing omissions from the game's launch roster that must be mentioned, however - where are fan favorites like Kim, Mature, and Vice? And why were likable KOF XIV newbies like Zarina, Mian, and Hein left by the wayside? Those nonexistent faces and the fact that this fighter only has two new characters to speak of are a huge letdown that simply can't be ignored. Here's hoping that future DLC roster additions remedy this issue.

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From a gameplay standpoint, The King of Fighters XV feels so much better to play over XIV. The simple act of no longer locking EX Special Moves behind a mode change mid-battle allows for more exciting combo opportunities at any point. The Shatter Strike also sticks out as a great gameplay mechanic that stuns opponents and leaves them wide open for Super Special Moves, MAX Special Super Moves, and Climax Super Special Moves. Of course, you still have the ability to chain Special Moves and Super Special Moves into Climax Super Special Moves to truly do some big damage. And finally, the new MAX Mode and Max Mode Quick add even more fun dynamics to each match. I got such a kick out of experimenting with Max Mode Quick combos that froze time for a split second and let me pull them off thanks to a more lenient time frame. There's just so much fun and player creativity in place here for veterans and first-timers to bask in.

The King of Fighters XV is a strong contender for one of the very best installments in SNK's franchise crossover brawler. It's visually appealing, "shatters all expectations" with some shocking character reappearances, and streamlines its battle mechanics for the better. There are some troubling launch roster character exclusions that will certainly disappoint many, of course. But the inclusion of proper working rollback netcode and the promise of incoming DLC teams is enough to offset that one lingering issue. SNK truly outdid itself with this 15th foray into The King of Fighters series.

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