King of Fighters XII Review

By Brian Leahy - Posted Jul 28, 2009

The console port of The King of Fighters XII finally arrives, bringing two new characters to the Xbox 360 and PS3, but there aren't many bells and whistles coming along for the ride. What we have here is a good fighting engine wrapped in a thin shell.

The Pros
  • Good fighting engine
  • High-quality hand-drawn art
  • Twenty-two playable characters
The Cons
  • Sparse collection of gameplay modes
  • No story or character context
  • CPU opponent AI is poor

King of Fighters XIIThe King of Fighters XII is the third major fighting game retail release in 2009 (following Street Fighter IV and BlazBlue) and finally brings The King of Fighters series to HD-era consoles. The good news is: the actual fighting engine in KoF12 is deep and rewarding. There’s a nicely placed skill ceiling and the new additions like the “Critical Counter” bring some new excitement to the KoF system.

Who are all of these people?!

King of Fighters XIIBut if you’re new to The King of Fighters, prepare to be confused. Like The King of Fighters ’98 and The King of Fighters 2002, there is no story mode to be found in KoF12. This game does not take place in the franchise’s canon. That does two things: it allows certain characters that might be dead or otherwise unavailable to reappear and it causes series newcomers to find themselves wondering who these characters are. Some simple written backstory would have alleviated this issue. If you’re somebody that already knows who Kyo, Terry, Iori, and Benimaru are, you’ll be able to jump right in and play.

First timers might be a bit lost when they hit the character select screen and find 22 characters to choose from, but will find an enjoyable fighting game awaiting them after picking their team of 3 characters. Veterans and newcomers alike, however, will be able to enjoy the beautifully hand-drawn characters, backgrounds, and effects. The amount of detail on these sprites is incredible and the animations are fluid. It’s definitely a unique-looking game and will grow on you the more you play.

This is an advertisement - This story continues below

Let’s talk modes!

King of Fighters XIIThe King of Fighters XII features an Arcade Mode, putting the player in five 3-on-3 fights then grading based on the total time it takes to finish those bouts. Three quick anime cutscenes explain that another King of Fighters tournament is happening, but that’s all you’ll get between the battles.
Versus mode supports player vs. CPU and player vs. player for 3-on-3 and 1-on-1 fights and a practice mode will let you try out combos and moves while delivering attack data. Beyond that, there’s the replay theater, which allows the player to replay fights saved from the online mode or downloaded from the online leaderboards. Unfortunately, the replay theater is minimally featured and will only playback the fight. Extras like seeing the controller inputs of the players or attack data are not included.

The online mode itself is where most players will end up spending their time. The PlayStation 3 version will feature clan support, while the Xbox 360 release gets TrueSkill support for matchmaking. Players can track their stats and gain Battle Points in the online Arcade Mode. Player matches support lobbies and spectators, which is a nice bonus. The actual netcode is hit or miss. I had fights that worked perfectly and some fights that were hit with some lag. Thankfully, Ignition Entertainment is already working on a patch to improve online connectivity, which will be available at release on the PS3 and shortly thereafter on the Xbox 360.

The King of Fighters XIIAnd that’s where the modes end. There’s no time attack beyond the Arcade Mode. No survival mode. No challenge mode. There’s nothing to keep you occupied if you aren’t taking the game online or fighting it out with friends on the same console.

Deep, but still simple?

The fight system itself has been simplified since The King of Fighters XI, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. There’s still a lot of depth to be found and the emphasis on utilizing the many jumps available to the player is as strong as ever. Longtime fans, however, might be put off by this as it is a simplification of the traditional fighting system. Newcomers will find this an easier introduction to the world of KoF than the previous games.

The new “Critical Counter” is a nice addition, allowing you to start up a devastating combo if you land a counter-hit with the correct attack when the meter is full. It is during these moments that the most exciting combos will occur as the enemy can be juggled for as long as the player has meter. For less skilled players and the CPU AI, it leads to spamming heavy punch to try and land the counter hit that begins the sequence.

In addition to that meter, players will also build up a standard meter toward super specials, which can even be unleashed during Critical Counter combos. These moves feature flashy hand-drawn effects and deal some major damage, but leave the player vulnerable to counterattack if missed.

Not quite Skynet…

King of Fighters XIIIf you’re planning on playing this game solo, you might want to pay special attention to this section. The AI in this game is simple and doesn’t even offer much of a challenge when set to “hard”. With only three levels of difficulty, solo players won’t find themselves being pushed to get better at the game. On hard, the AI will use combos more effectively, but is still easily dispatched without breaking much of a sweat.

As mentioned, the AI will also spam heavy punches to try and start a Critical Counter when its meter is full. There were even instances where I was standing across the entire screen throwing projectiles at the AI, which was content to stand there throwing out random kicks. This AI will not prepare players for the online competition.

If you’ve really gotta have KoF!

King of Fighters XIIAt the end of the day, King of Fighters XII is a release for gamers that are already fans of the series, even if some of it has been simplified compared to past games. There isn’t much to generate crossover appeal here. Unfortunately, those fans might find a sparse experience after purchasing. As a $60 retail release, this title is just hard to justify. It would have been perfectly suited as a $20 downloadable game, however. It just doesn’t feel like a complete game.