The King of Fighters XV Review

Richard Walker

With a history spanning almost 30 years, few series are as storied as SNK's The King of Fighters. And fewer still are quite so prolific, KOF spinning off from the Neo Geo Art of Fighting and Fatal Fury titles, before evolving into its own thing, spanning fifteen mainline entries and a slew of its own spin-offs – you'd be forgiven for thinking it might be growing rather stale at this point, but, on the strength of KOF XV, that couldn't be further from the truth.

New girl Isla is a bit ‘handy’.

The core nuts and bolts of KOF XV's fighting mechanics are exemplary – like previous recent entries, it's a fighting game that's accessible, but ludicrously deep and technical, demanding you get to know its various intricacies via the tutorial, before you even think about diving in. Like most fighting games, you can mash buttons and eke out a win, but to really master The King of Fighters XV, you'll need to practice and hone your skills – the mark of any really good versus fighter.

Picking up the basics is simple enough, even if you've never touched a KOF game before. There's a light and heavy punch, and a light and heavy kick, assigned to each of the face buttons, and pushing the light punch and kick buttons together with forward or back held down enables you to execute a handy evasive manoeuvre. Push the same buttons together as you're about to hit the floor during a fall animation, and you'll immediately spring right back up to your feet. Hold both heavy strike buttons and you can perform a handy Blowback attack, knocking your opponent to the other side of the screen, giving you some breathing room when you're cornered. Cancels and other advanced moves are also present for the more seasoned player to master, and they're covered in the tutorials, if you're eager to learn.

Quarter-circle inputs with the d-pad (or analogue stick, if you must) unleash special moves (much as you'd expect), but combined with a Blowback input busts out a new Shatter Strike - a risk/reward move that eats part of your super meter, but grants some of it back if you successfully land it. Super Special moves and Climax Super Special Finishers (with more powerful EX versions available by activating the new MAX Mode gauge) also enable you to turn the tables on a rival or polish them off in spectacular style, while KOF XIV's Rush Combos return, enabling anyone to pull off an impressive flurry of strikes and a finisher with jabs of a single button. And while that might sound like some sort of cheap 'get out of jail free' card to pull, it isn't always – you can't simply spam Rush moves and expect to get away with it.

If you're already familiar with the KOF series, then you'll know what to expect from the fifteenth mainline entry – a glut of characters, mostly old favourites, some completely new; robust fighting systems; and, usually, a slew of modes. It's this latter point where KOF XV falls short, however, missing fundamental modes you'd normally expect to not only find in KOF, but in any fighting game worth its salt. Core Story, Versus, Training, and Online modes are all accounted for, but head into the 'Mission' menu, and you may be taken aback by the absence of Time Attack and Survival (perhaps SNK decided player numbers in previous games didn't warrant their inclusion). Versus covers local 3v3 team battles as well as Single 1v1 bouts, each with normal or tournament options, so you've a more than adequate selection of offline stuff to enjoy with friends.

Outside of Story and Versus, Mission mode is now reserved solely for character Trials, presenting you with a series of challenging combos to string together. For anyone (like me) who likes to dabble with Survival and Time Attack upon dispensing with the story, their omission is both disappointing and baffling. Of course, most fighting game aficionados will be drawn to playing online, and on that front, KOF XV has all of the usual bases covered, the presence of Casual Match, Ranked Match, Room Match, Online Training, and Replays making for an extensive suite of online options, albeit options that were unavailable at time of writing. SNK touts 'rollback netcode' for reduced lag, and with the studio conducting several betas on PlayStation, we'd expect online play to be robust once it’s switched on.

The King of Fighters XV feels like a culmination of SNK's decades of experience within the fighting genre, building upon its move into 3D character models incepted in 2016 with KOF XIV on PS4 and PC. Combat is fluid and deeply gratifying, more than fit to rub shoulders with stablemates like Street Fighter V and Tekken 7, while the wealth of abilities and mechanics you have at your disposal during a showdown gives you an array of strategies to use on the fly – it's great.

As for the roster, 39 characters is enormously generous – thirteen teams comprising three fighters each to choose from – although only three newbies might seem a little miserly to some. They're pretty good new characters, though, graffiti punk Isla reminiscent of KOF XIV boss Verse with her floating spectral fists; Dolores wielding telekinetic powers to crush rivals with rocks or teleport via puddles of supernatural sludge; and there’s Krohnen, a blue-haired fella draped in biker gear, boasting a shapeshifting appendage that can transform into a spike, cannon, or a lacerating snake-like tendril with a spinning drill thing on the end of it. He also happens to really hate Kyo Kusanagi, for some reason, too.

Honestly, Krohnen REALLY hates Kyo Kusanagi.

If you buy a fighting game to primarily play solo, and you're not particularly invested in KOF's overarching narrative, then you're likely to find Story mode a load of entirely disposable old bobbins. Like most fighting games, the final boss also likes to egregiously bend the rules, knocking you around with ridiculous moves that can cover the entire screen. Again, this is ultimately where KOF XV falls down: there's very little on offer for solitary players with a dearth of extra modes to explore, and only the most dedicated KOF fans will persevere long enough to complete the story with every team to view all of the static illustrated ending sequences.

Lacking in some departments it might be, but KOF XV is nonetheless a superlative fighting game, which only makes it all the more upsetting that it's missing features that have been a series staple for ages. Should you not care about such things, then SNK's latest King of Fighters outing will undoubtedly scratch any face-pounding itch, its various systems proving deep yet intuitive, resulting in bouts that are almost invariably close-fought and thrilling.

The King of Fighters XV

Despite a couple of absent modes, KOF XV delivers robust and exciting fight mechanics, great for newcomers and veterans alike. If you're well-versed in Tekken, Street Fighter, DoA, and the like, but fancy something new, then you could do a hell of a lot worse than The King of Fighters XV.

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Clemence Bellamy is back as the excitable (or annoying, depending on your take) announcer, although there is an option in the audio menu to tone it down. Music is typical rock guitar fighting game fare (there are 300 tracks from all KOF titles), and fits the bill nicely.


More visually appealing than the previous game's transition into 3D, KOF XV's stylised characters and vibrant backdrops look lovely – the most attractive KOF since SNK ditched 2D sprites.


The PlayStation controller's squishy d-pad is fairly well-suited to fighting games, and KOF XV works fine with a standard controller. King of Fighters XV is a sensational fighter – perhaps one of the best entries to date, in raw gameplay terms. But you might want to invest in a joystick (or something similar).


Story has relatively short-term appeal and character Trials rapidly become tiresome. The crux of KOF XV is to be found in local Versus and Online modes, because once you're done with the story, there's little else to do as far as solo content is concerned. What's here is highly polished, though.


This is a list that has more than an air of the familiar about it. It's not only a fairly standard KOF list, but it's one you might find in any fighting game. Perform 10 of these, execute 10 of that, win X number of matches, and so on. Standard.

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