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Mini-Review: The King of Fighters XII

Terry BogardAfter taking a few years to regroup, The King of Fighters franchise is back for a new entry for the Sony PlayStation 3 and Microsoft Xbox 360 from SNK Playmore and Ignition Entertainment.  As a complete newcomer to the King franchise, I went into The King of Fighters XII with low expectations not because I expected the game to disappoint, but because I really did not know what to expect and had nothing riding on the experience.  When I say that I'm a newcomer, I mean it.  Up until tackling XII, I had never played anything from the SNK family of fighters.  No Fatal Fury.  No Art of Fighting.  So, consider this mini-review from the perspective of someone stepping into XII with a completely clean slate and no preconditions on what to expect.  It's Tabula Rasa for the high definition age of fighting.

The first thing about The King of Fighters XII that shocked me was that there's already a patch out for the game.  It's not uncommon for a game to be patched just prior to launch day with a few additional megabytes of material (XII officially releases in North America today, but the promotional team behind the game offered me an early PS3 review copy), but this version 1.01 patch clocks in at an astounding 772 MB.  Ignition has stated that the update enhances the online multiplayer experience, but the size of the patch just blows my mind.  How broken was the online portion of the game as it appears on the disc that it needed nearly a gigabyte of revised or new material?  Still, at least whatever problems were there have been supposedly fixed by this mammoth patch.

The King of Fighters XII Enough about large downloadable patches though.  Let's get to the heart of the XII experience.  The King of Fighters differs slightly from the Street Fighter model of beating people to mushy pulps.  XII organizes the fighting tournament into three-on-three time trial attacks, meaning that it's not enough to simply win a match, but the idea is to win the match in the least amount of time.  Players choose three characters from a roster of twenty-two combatants, then fight a series of five matches against groups of three opposing characters.  If one character is defeated, the next one in line steps up for the following round.  After the three opposing characters have been knocked out, the total cumulative time is updated and the next match begins.  The sum of all five match times becomes one's final score which is then added to local and online leaderboards.  Simple enough?  The game's other modes play off of this mechanic, offering local multiplayer against a human or CPU-controlled opponent, online multiplayer against friends or random players, and a practice mode similar to Street Fighter IV's training option. 

XII is a visual feast, offering smoothly animated high definition 2D characters and bright backgrounds.  In a genre that is increasingly turning to 3D visuals, XII's 2D animation is a vibrant treat and easily blows Super Street Fighter II Turbo HD Remix's impressive graphics away.  I came away impressed by XII's animation style, and of all of the game's high points, this one stands the highest.  It looks much better in motion than any screenshot of the game ever will.  Being a joy to watch, players have the option of saving replays of matches for later reviewing.  These replays can be uploaded to the online network, although I did not find a option for viewing random replays from the world at large.

Speaking of the network, the online multiplayer experience is about what you'd expect.  Players line up in a lobby and wait their turn to fight a match.  Winning offers up battle points and ups one's ranking.  It's standard stuff for anyone who has played a fighting game online this generation, but it works.  Anyone looking to win PS3 trophies should get to know the online portion of the game, as that's what the bulk of the trophies seem to involve (most are ???'ed out, keeping their exact nature a secret for now).  I did notice some lag at times during online play, but nothing that impacted the gameplay too much.  Here's hoping things don't completely bog down now that the game is actually out in stores. 

The King of Fighters XIII make it a point not to read reviews of a game I am slated to evaluate before I can write my own review, but in this case I wanted to know how fans of the series were responding to the available pre-release information.  As a newcomer I am satisfied with the game, but from what I've browsed online, the King community is not happy with the limited character roster and lack of available stages & background music compared to previous games in the series, plus some fans are disappointed with the exclusion of additional gameplay modes and the total absence of a character-intensive storyline.  I'm not prepared to gather my torch and pitchfork over these issues, but I can understand the community reaction.  If Street Fighter V cut the character roster down to eight characters and dropped the challenge mode, I would not be happy either.

The one thing that did disappoint me during the experience is the poor voice work.  A Japanese voice actress provides the sound of the announcer, and although she says her lines in English, I have the feeling based on listening to her performance that doesn't actually speak English and was instead coached to sound out her lines phonetically.  This sounds very awkward.  I've had quite enough of hearing calls for "Lound Won!  Leady?  GOH!" and "Conglatyourayshuns!" for one lifetime.  We're supposed to be beyond this sort of questionable gaming Engrish by now.  The days of sketchy localization in big releases from publishers who should know better need to be behind us, and XII isn't helping.

The King of Fighters XIIThere are a few extra aspects of XII worth mentioning.  Unlockable concept artwork is available to discover, plus there is some extra downloadable content coming in the future if the PlayStation Store option on the main menu is to be believed.  As of this writing, however, selecting that option just kicks the player back out to the PS3's media bar and then calls up the Store before giving an error message.  As far as console exclusives go, there's also a PS3 theme available on the disc for those who want to immerse themselves in The King of Fighters, plus the online multiplayer offers an option to join clans and take on the world as a group.  The Xbox 360 version a TrueSkill system, but as I haven't tried that for myself, I'll leave that for you to discover.

In the end, I'm recommending The King of Fighters XII, although those of you coming into the series fresh may have a better time with this one than longtime fans based on the community reaction.  I found it very easy to pick up and figure out, and despite the fact that I'm only adequately proficient with three of the game's characters at this point, I'm enjoying my time with it and plan to keep it in rotation with my set of PS3 standards for a while.  However, once I learn how to control each character successfully and set a few personal Arcade time trial records, I'd imagine that online multiplayer will be where I spend the bulk of my XII time.