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The King of Fighters XIII

The King of Fighters XII, which was released in 2009, looked beautiful and had a solid fighting system, but its dearth of single-player content and busted online functionally killed it for many players.

Now, The King of Fighters XIII is here, and it addresses all of the issues the previous installment faced. KoF XIII is an immensely robust game that adds a lot a new content to XII’s solid mechanics, and it easily earns this series the right to stand alongside other fighting giants in the genre’s spotlight. Now on it’s latest update – KoF XIII: Climax, it features new stages and as well as new fighters in the form of the powerful classics like Nests Style Kyo Kusanagi (EX Kyo Kusanagi), Iori Yagami with the Power of the Sacred Flame, Mr. Karate, Billy Kane and even the game’s final boss (in his human form) Saiki – albeit a more balanced, playable one.

As with its predecessors, The King of Fighters XIII features one-on-one fighting between two three-person teams. When one fighter goes down, the next is subbed in–after a brief but frequent loading screen — until one side’s team is exhausted. In the ring, gameplay feels similar to Street Fighter III: Third Strike Online Edition. Though quicker than Third Strike, XIII shares the same fundamentals of smart positioning and timing. Positioning comes from proficiency with the game’s movement options. With four types of jumps and a roll that can pass through anything but throws, it takes practice to navigate the battlefield quickly and efficiently.

When used well, these movement techniques make you feel nimble and keep the action focused on offense. You always want to be building momentum with fancy footwork and calculated strikes. But even at its most chaotic, the game still allows you time to think. There’s a satisfying tension in planning your next strike or in deciding how to break the enemy’s stride. XIII has its own rules of engagement, and understanding these rules — and when to break them — lets the game’s personality shine. As with any strong fighter, the ebb and flow of advanced play is as much about strategy as it is about execution.

Real-time fight begins – Japan Team vs Saiki (final boss)

There are three main gauges to manage in the game: Power, Hyper Drive, and Guard. In broad strokes, the power gauge focuses on offense; it is used for enhancing special attacks and desperation moves. Next, the hyper drive gauge is for being stylish. You can burn this meter to cancel or even connect certain special attacks into others or activate the new Hyper Drive Mode. In this mode, your character can link together moves and build combos that aren’t otherwise possible – therefore resulting in a more devastating gameplay. Finally, the guard gauge depletes as you block attacks. If you let it run out, your character enters a vulnerable crumple state — so be careful.

Screen-filling, devastating Neo Max from EX Kyo Kusanagi dubbed as “Saishuu Kessen Hiougi: Totsuka (Final Profound Battle Hidden Secret Technique: Ten Fists)”. How’s this for a super technique?

Last but not the least is the introduction of the new Neo Max – this is essentially your fighter’s super technique – similar to the Leader Desperation Move of the past KoF titles but with more power and effects added into it. You can use this (based on certain character’s commands) upon filling the hyper drive gauge/entering hyper drive mode and at least 2 stocks of your power bar filled in. You can also connect this with your Hyper Drive Mode dubbed as the new Max Cancel – essentially allowing players to finish their opponents with style en masse.

The entire system feels very flexible. Each character has the tools for building devastating combos and quickly navigating the field. This uniform character design also carries over to vitality. Unlike in many fighting games, characters in XIII have the same amount of health, which means an attack will deal the same amount of damage no matter whom it hits. Each character’s health gauge is broken down into sections for additional clarity. Once you learn how many sections a certain combo shaves off, it’s easy to see when to cash it in and finish the match.

You can test your skills in Story mode, though if you’re not familiar with Elisabeth Blanctorche or Ash Crimson then you’re going to feel a little lost. This mode lasts only a few hours, but it has multiple routes and endings. Once “completed,” a massive storyboard becomes available. From there, you can revisit different points in the tale and select alternate routes through it. There’s also an Arcade mode that’s heavier on the action and is where you can unlock the game’s two secret characters.

Character selection screen – Ash Crimson vs Dark Ash

For new players, the game has various teaching tools designed to introduce the basics. The tutorial and mission modes do a fine job of this, but they don’t explain why these moves are important. Knowing the tactical merits of a hop versus a hyper jump is just as vital as their execution. This problem not only exists in XIII, but also in fighting games in general. For combo training, XIII’s combo trials are well implemented. They display their inputs clearly, as well as feature demonstrations to aid execution and timing. In addition, characters have their own Time Trial and Survival modes to further hone your skills.

Mai Shiranui, an old time favorite. Funbags never cease to amaze us. 😉
What I do like about the latest installment is that SNK Playmore returned back fan’s favorites (lots of them). Do I hear Mai Shiranui guys? 😉

The old dynamic (panning/zooming) screen viewing was removed and replaced with a steady one focusing on the larger scheme of the fight.

All of this preparation would be for naught if it didn’t support a solid online offering. Thankfully, XIII does not repeat XII’s mistakes. It offers an online experience that’s smooth and stable, provided you find an opponent in the three-to-four green-bar range. If you fall below that, you’ll encounter noticeable (though not unplayable) performance dips. When you finish, you can choose to save that match’s replay for future viewing. While it’s a nice touch, there is not a system in place for sharing or viewing other’s replays. Sadly, Spectator mode is also absent in online play, which leads to a lot of bored players during group games.

Whether you’re online or off, the game’s presentation is simply gorgeous. The 2D character sprites fill up the screen with astonishing detail, such as the way their clothing flutters. The numerous stages are equally impressive — and infinitely more detailed — featuring hordes of overly excited spectators or a pack of elephants encircling the ring. There’s even a color edit mode where you can alter your fighter’s color scheme to your liking. All of these features, combined with the tightly balanced fighting mechanics, make The King of Fighters XIII a fantastic game that can easily go toe-to-toe with the heavy hitters in the fighting game genre. Afterall, it wouldn’t win the “Best Fighting Game of the Year” 2011 award by GameSpot. 😉

That’s it! Here is my personal verdict for the game:

Graphics – 10
Excellent for a 2D game – super detailed animation sprites, effects and background.

Sound – 10
Features new, original soundtracks which are very compelling and stylish.

Fighting Gameplay – 9
A new, revolutionary fighting game engine system which rivals even those from 3D ones.

Replayability Value – 7
You are just here to finish and unlock each team’s endings not unless you’re playing it on online-fighting/pitting against other players)

Price – 9
Originally, it comes from a prepackage scheme where players can pre-order it alongside free poster materials and even a collection of the game’s soundtracks).