There are a few King of Fighters fans here in SA, and a few who I know will buy every KoF title as it is released – and the sad thing is, I probably know half of them personally. Let’s be honest, 2D fighters haven’t really had a huge market here since the days of the original Mortal Kombat trilogy. Luckily, I ended up living in an area populated by well-travelled gamers, the kinds of guys who imported Sega Saturns to play games like Fatal Fury: Real Bout Special and Waku Waku 7, making my sustained interest in 2D fighters worthwhile.
One of our favourites was The King of Fighters series. Unlike its rival, Street Fighter, KoF received a lot of love when it came to releases, with a new game released like clockwork every year until around 2003. A few jarring experimental releases followed as the developers experimented with different hardware, and then it went quiet again… until now.
The King of Fighters XII is probably the first really big jump the series has made since its, and is the first game in the series to feature HD widescreen graphics. Unlike Street Fighter IV, however, KoF XII hasn’t been modelled in cell-shaded 2D, but rather hand-drawn, just like it always has been. I won’t try to squeeze too much undue credit out of this fact, but rest assured, it will endear the game to some more ardent 2D lovers. And it is beautiful. Not only have the characters and backgrounds been redrawn in glorious high-resolution 2D, but some of them have been slightly, or even completely, redesigned. Iori Yagami, for instance, arguably the most popular character in the series, whose design was considered untouchable, now sports some naff new threads – and even some new moves.
But after gawking at the fantastic graphics for a time, even the most devoted KoF lover is sure to feel a measure of disappointment when they get down to actually playing it. Why? Well, apart from the smallest character roster ever in a KoF game, the characters are also seriously lacking in moves. Some characters are missing entire sub-sets of trademark special moves, and most of them have only one super move to use. After the complexity of KoF XI on the PS2, this really takes some getting used to. It’s not all bad though: some characters, like Kensou, have received new and interesting techniques to mess around with – albeit in limited quantity. It also doesn’t help that there are only five stages to fight in and only one win-pose per character, which detracts heavily from the game’s personality.
I’ll say this. I love what’s there, but it isn’t enough, not by a long shot. The reasons given for this, which include the cost and time involved in creating authentic 2D animation from scratch, do leave me with a bit of sympathy, so I’ll bite my tongue – but I expect better next time.