Monday, May 27, 2013

King of Fighters Retrospective: 13

King of Fighters 13: the real King of Fighters 12!

After years of anticipation, the sequel to the phenomenal King of Fighters 11 finally came out, and as if a sign from god, the game came out on my birthday, November 22nd following some delays.  I didn’t get it until a year later though.

Ordinarily I would assume that the delays for the game were so that it could be fine-tuned, but that doesn't make any sense.  They didn’t seem to give two shits about taking their time when they were making a certain game before this one that may or may not exist!

But that’s beside the point.  King of Fighters 13 is tied with 11 as my favorite installment in the franchise, which is the big reason the Tales of Ash is my favorite storyline thus far.

It takes place after the tournament in King of Fighters 11.  At the conclusion of that tournament, Ash Crimson stole Iori’s Yasakani Magatama along with his flame powers, and Magaki, another higher-up of Those from the Distant Land, was killed by the weapon of his subordinate, Shion, who is now missing.

In The King of Fighters 13, there’s a new KOF tournament on the horizon, this time sponsored by (a Botan-controlled) Rose Bernstein, who is sparing no expense to make it one the most grandiose ever.

There’s one thing about this scenario I don’t understand, and it’s a pretty glaring plot hole.  The Bernstein family are wanted criminals!  They’re illegal arms dealers!  They’re on the run!  Now Rose is appearing on TV and nobody is doing anything!

Rose and Adelheid did appear on TV in the KOF 2003 comic, but in that, they didn’t give their last names because the Bernsteins are known for being criminals!  Here, she specifically says it’s courtesy of the Bernstein family!  No one I’ve ever talked to and nothing I have ever read has explained this!  My only assumption is that they made good with the government, seeing as how Adelheid is now “friends” with Heidern and they don’t seem to be doing anything illegal (intentionally).  Still, wouldn’t the money from their criminal activities be confiscated?  I just don’t get this.

Adelheid is sitting this one out, at least on the stage.

Maybe they're so powerful they control the police.  That always seems to be the convenient reason with crime lords in fiction.

The entrants in this tournament are all nostalgic, as the majority of them are teams from the first game, KOF 94, and the first good game, KOF 96.

Kyo, Benimaru, and Goro form the classic team Japan.  Though he was going to go anyway, Kyo was personally invited by two of Those from the Distant Land, one of whom Kyo gave a flaming punch to.  Shingo would have loved to join too, but is sadly left out due to injuries sustained in the last tournament protecting Kyo.

Why is it Benimaru only lets his hair down outside of battle?
Yuri, Mai, and King reform the original women’s fighting team, which hasn’t been officially formed since ‘95.  Returning from an extended absence, Takuma joins the Art of Fighting team with Ryo and Robert, and despite the forces involved that got her barred last time, Leona leads the Ikari Warriors team with Ralf and Clark.  Like everyone else, Terry, using his original look, joins with his classic teammates Andy and Joe, and Athena reunites with Kensou and Chin.
Even after losing his Yasakani Magatama and his powers with it, Iori is also an active participant, out to get his powers back and take revenge on the one who stole them.  With his flame gone, Iori now only utilizes the purely physical art of Nanto Suichoken!

You'd think Iori would have run out of teammates by this point, and in a wy, he has.  Joining Iori are his old partners Mature and Vice…. Wait, what?!

I didn’t want to spoil a character ending, but I'm cutting out the ambiguity this time.  You’ve had enough time to play it!  At the end of King of Fighters 96, in Iori's ending, Vice and Mature died!




How are they back?  How is this possible?  The most we get is that they want to protect the Orochi power from falling into the wrong hands, but if that’s the case, where were they in the last game?!  My only guess is that Iori losing his powers indicated that their intervention was necessary, but that still doesn’t explain how they resurrected themselves!

In the story supplements outside the games, Mature and Vice have occasionally haunted Iori as ghosts, so I guess you could say they never truly left.  The only explanation I have is a fan theory that believes the Orochi can never truly die and can enter the world of the living in emergencies or because the Orochi seal is broken or something.  If that were the case, why can’t they just get Goenitz or one of the other Orochi cult members to kick those Distant Land jerk’s asses?  Let’s face it, SNK Playmore just wanted to get Mature and Vice back, plot be damned.  What a load.

Many of the old characters got significant makeovers for 13.  KOF-original characters from the Orochi saga got several new outfits, like a black tank top for Leona and black suits for Mature and Vice.  The only character introduced in the Tales of Ash to get an outfit upgrade is Elizabeth, and thank god for that.
I have no problem with those changes.  I have problems with the other ones.

Some of the characters that appeared in SNK games before KOF were redesigned with their original style in mind.  For example, Kensou wears his green outfit from Psycho Soldier and Athena now has long pink hair and a moe-like face.  King and Yuri both have the unfortunate effect of having the front of their shirts destroyed when finished by a special attack, like they did back in KOF 94 & 95 and the Art of Fighting games.
Ralf and Clark probably got hit the hardest in the art shift, because they’re now both obscenely buff to the point that you have to wonder how their bones work.
I understand what they were trying to do with these changes, but long-time fans got accustomed to their KOF designs.  To suddenly change that makes it taxing to recognize them as the fighters from previous games.

The only characters not from the Orochi saga are the important ones (even if in another story) and Kim’s new teammates.  K’ enters with Maxima and Kula only because Chin Gentsai bribed Kula with ice cream to sign their team up for the tournament, even though K’ wanted nothing to do with it (something that becomes very apparent).

Rather than Chang or Choi, Kim instead has two new participants in his reformation program.  Chang and Choi convinced Kim that Fatal Fury characters Raiden and Hwa Jai were more in need of reformation than they were after seeing the two in a magazine.  In reality, Hwa and Raiden were still not exactly nice people, but weren’t working for anyone evil like Geese.  Hell, Raiden isn't exactly a bad guy himself.  It's just an evil identity he has with his good identity, Big Bear.  Still, they went along with Kim’s program so that their reputation could get a boost from fighting in the KOF tournament.
Raiden and Hwa Jai are two of only three new characters introduced in 13.  Hwa is a muy tai fighter like Joe, but has a far different set of attacks.  Raiden is a wrestler with many grapples and heavy moves that hit slow, but hard.  He's also Australian, so I guess you could say his opponents will face Australian justice.

Ash Crimson is apparently now working with Those from the Distant Land and has promised to gather all 3 of the sacred treasures for them, two of which he already has.
Keep in mind that Ash couldn’t have killed any members of the Distant Land in the previous games.  In 2003, Mukai gets away, and in 11, Magaki is killed by Shion’s spear.  Ash fought against them, but only because it's expressed that he doesn't like them.  There’s also another rather good reason they keep him around and why they believe he'll ultimately do as they say, but I’ll get to that.
The Distant Land folks gave Ash his own invitation, but he doesn’t have a team, so he doesn’t participate per se.  After viciously betraying Shen Woo and pitting him against Oswald in KOF 11, the Shanghai street fighter instead joins Elizabeth’s team with Duo Lon for revenge.  Ash merely watches from the sidelines for most of the game's events though.

Truly Ash is the hero of this story.  Only a hero would join the villains, betray his friends, steal artifacts needed to seal off an evil power, and have every protagonist want his head.

The console version added two more unlockable playable characters: the returning Billy Kane (who has gone back to his original outfit like everyone else) and the leader of Those from the Distant Land, whom Ash bears an uncanny resemblance to.
Billy Kane rules!

While KOF 13’s character selection is substantial, I can’t help but feel disappointed in the characters they chose.  Almost none of the characters premiering in KOF 11 come back, making 11 the only game to have them.  I would have loved to fight with Oswald, B. Jenet, Duck King, or Tizoc again.  There aren’t any new characters important to the plot aside from the main villain either, something that most games before this have done to keep things interesting.  The characters from the Tales of Ash aren’t forgotten, thankfully.  As something of a compensation, just about all of them get cameos somewhere in the game.  You have to look carefully to see some of them in the backgrounds.

This is just one screen.  One screen and there are 7 different characters from previous games!

The characters that are playable got significant changes to their moves in the move to HD systems, and some of them are for the worse.  There are a few special moves Kyo can no longer use, Duo Lon plays completely differently, and King’s Double Strike and Surprise Rose, once special attacks, are now super special attacks.  Not to mention Ralf lost his backbreaker move and his Galactica Phantom has far less range and damage output even though Ralf is BUFFED TO THE MAX IN MUSCLE MASS!  All these changes do is take away character strength, and they're not the only things that had a big change.

In an unexpected move, King of Fighters 13 goes back to a fighting system much like that of King of Fighters 97 & 98.  There’s no more swapping characters on the fly and no more leader selection.  Presumably this is because of the loading times required for each round, which takes all of two seconds.  I suppose that two seconds of waiting would have badly broken the flow had they gone with the free-tagging KOF 11 system.
The only new mechanic introduced is the drive gauge, which is similar the one from KOF 11.  By using up half the meter, you can perform a drive cancel.  When the meter is full, you can press all 4 buttons at once (both triggers or R2+L2 in the console versions) to enter overdrive mode, in which you can use as many cancels as you need and your most powerful attack: the Neo Max for only 2 super stocks instead of 3.  Neo Maxes are basically the replacements of the leader super moves from previous games, because like the leader moves, they require a control stick command and two buttons instead of one.  They’re explosive, flashy, and take humongous gashes out of your opponent’s health.  Pulling one off is oh so satisfying with the game’s graphical leap.

That's kanji, in case your're slow.
The combat in 13 is one of the best yet.  It should be immediately familiar to any King of Fighters player.  It keeps up a speed similar to KOF 11, but feels unique and weightier than any other KOF game, due in no small part to its presentation.  The first (it’s the first, dammit!) HD King of Fighters game looks absolutely revolutionary.  All the character sprites and stages are incredibly detailed and sharp, and backgrounds change with each round, showing off different lighting effects and cameos.  You need only look at it to see how much of a spectacle King of Fighters 13 is.  The finale’s cinematics are also for the first time completely animated, though the endings are still mostly a slideshow of SNK’s trademarked artwork and none of the cutscenes have voice acting.  That’s just sticking true to KOF’s style though.  It is without a doubt the very best looking 2D game I have ever seen.  Not even Arc System Works has yet been able to top The King of Fighters 13.

See, I held on to my powers.  Nyah nyah.

Blending in perfectly with the perfect graphics is the perfect music.  In past King of Fighters games, the best music tracks have been the final boss tracks.  The boss tracks have always seemed to have that extra amount of effort and grandiose detail befitting of a grand finale.  In  The King of Fighters 13, almost every track feels like a boss track!  Combined with the much meatier sound effects and voice acting, the audio for the game can make any fight a memorable one that will have you physically clenching your fist in the air out of either triumph or anger!

But wait, there's more!  Not content with having just one badass soundtrack, SNK Playmore gave the console version two!  If you look in the game's audio options, you’ll notice there is a choice of two tracks: A & B.  Switch to track B, and the game uses an alternative soundtrack using new arranged music from previous King of Fighters games.  Most of the teams get their themes from King of Fighters 11, like Ash’s “Joker” and Elizabeth’s “Queen”, but the teams not present in 11 take alternative measures.  Billy Kane gets Geese’s theme, the women’s team gets their KOF 2003 theme, and Kim’s team gets the Korean theme from KOF 96.

But it's not just the thrills of battle the game brings to life.  King of Fighters 13 also excels in characterization and story.  Character introduction animations from previous games were all taken out and instead, what they used to say at the beginning of a round (or as a taunt) in the past is spoken when you select them on the character select screen.  It would have been nice to have intro animations, but the tradeoff is a better alternative.
In arcade and story mode, in place of intro animations are pre-fight character conversations.  Literally every single character has a specific conversation specific to every single character, including themselves.

These dialogue bits range from trash talking, arguments, discussions about certain aspects of characters, and even the usual “let’s make this a good one” remark.  There are several references to past King of Fighters games, which makes them especially entertaining for the longtime fans.
For characters that fight themselves, there are several variations of reactions.  Leona says she’s fighting her inner evil, Athena says she’s fighting a cosplaying fan, and Kyo believes he’s fighting another one of his clones from 99.  The conversations can be drawn out or short and snappy, and they always fit each character to a T.  I get the feeling we have Atlus to thank for properly translating the script, which I doubt Ignition would have been able to do.

There are also several character-specific win quotes as well; far far more than there were in 11.  In fact, I find it harder to find generic win quotes that apply to any character than specific ones.

Against Terry

All of this action and excitement builds up to the explosive and downright cosmic finale of the Tales of Ash.  I feel like I shouldn’t give it away, since I practically wrote these articles for people who got this game, but even knowing the previous games, it can be pretty hard to understand, so I will take the finale to spell things out as best I can.  You can read it here, but please do not do so until you’ve beaten the game, because there is a gigantic spoiler in there.  I know there isn't much to spoil in KOF, but this game has an exception.

For even more detail on the plot, the console version of King of Fighters 13 has a story mode!  For the first time, a King of Fighters game elaborates more on the plot in the game itself outside of the endings!  In story mode, you fight much less often and watch several scenes that show what different characters are doing as the tournament happens.  These scenes, however, are mostly still images with text over them; quite a lot of text, actually.  If you’ve played Persona 4 Arena or have read all my articles up to this point, that shouldn’t be a problem, right?
To be specific, story mode has 3 different perspective storylines: Heidern’s investigation, Adelheid’s investigation, and Ash’s actions.
Once story mode actually gets to the fighting, you can only select the pre-made teams, and once in battle, there is only one sequence of pre-fight dialogue between every member of both teams.  It all makes the story feel more complete and is the best feature ever in any King of Fighters game.

Hey look!  More characters from previous games!
But wait!  King of Fighters 13 has even more to offer!  In the console version, each character has 10 customizable color slots in which you can adjust the colors of their appearance.  But you may not need to, because every character has 10 alternate colors by default.  Some even have 20 due to alternate outfits you can select by pressing the select button at the color select screen.  These alternate outfits range from new styles to past wardrobes, so if you thought Elizabeth didn’t look incredibly stupid in KOF 11, 13 has you covered.

Additionally, there are several modes to keep players occupied.  Tutorial, time trial, survival, online mode, and (finally!) versus mode are all in the package along with the story and arcade modes.

Beating story mode with different teams and beating arcade mode with a specific combination of characters also nets you many different special pieces of artwork, and completing different goals goes toward revealing a giant picture with chibi forms of every single character from the Tales of Ash, including the PS2-exclusive ones from 11.  The ultimate cameo piece!
My personal favorite is the arcade ending artwork you get for winning with Kyo, Terry, and Ryo, which I won't show because you can unlock it yourself.

If you’re too lazy to unlock everything, there are DLC options to help you along the way in the console versions.  You can pay to unlock everything in the game’s gallery or unlock all the colors for every character, because normally you have to play as a character several times to get more colors for them.
Inevitably, DLC characters are also offered, of which there are 3: Mr. Karate, Iori with his flame powers back, and NESTS Kyo, with his old moveset.  Since they don’t have any impact on the story and technically they’re all in the game already (just in a different form), I don’t find them to be worth it, unlike the game as a whole.  Especially not at $15 total.

King of Fighters 13 is worth every single dollar you can scrounge up.  It is a glorious, feature-packed, celebratory masterpiece with all the bells and whistles!  If you don’t have it by now, you must get it!  Now!  The King of Fighters 13 is available on the Xbox 360, PS3…. And iOS devices.  Yes, really.

The iPhone version of 13, titled King of Fightersi, is just what you’d expect: a compressed and portable recreation.  It’s actually rather impressive just how much it recreates, especially with King of Fightersi 2012 having almost all the characters.

Like most iOS games of its kind, rather than controlling the game with a real control stick and buttons, they’re on the touch screen.

There are also several additions and omissions.  For example, the iPhone version doesn’t have the arcade mode (per se) or story mode, though it does have 13's pre-fight dialogue.  The backgrounds are also completely static, though characters still animate decently enough.  The iOS version has only 2-3 colors for each character, and you fight Ash as a boss instead of experiencing the finale.
Additions include a wi-fi mode that lets you play online anywhere (unlike the console versions needing a router), the ability to share accomplishments on Facebook & Twitter (mandatory for an iOS game), and the “Rose Shop,” where you can buy unlockables like iPhone-exclusive artwork and movies.

Now I know it isn't canon.  Rose can't even manage a piano number.
If you don’t have one of the HD systems, I suggest you check out the portable version.  It keeps the core of the experience, at the very least.  One way or another, you must get this game!

In this stage you can see Shingo and Hinako in the background.
The King of Fighters 13 is the perfect way to end such a out-of-the-norm storyline.  The Tales of Ash truly went out with a bang.  I hope with this retrospective convinced some of you to try this wonderful series, or at least cleared things up for the 13 players out there, but even with this retrospective over, I will never be finished talking about The King of Fighters.

[Update: since my original posting of this article, The King of Fighters 13 has also come out on Steam for the PC!  The Steam edition includes the DLC characters and Steam community bonuses like achievements and Steam trading cards.  I've already got my KOF Steam badge.]

1 comment:

  1. The best kof to date
    The iOs KOF-i 2012 even got a 5 star from touch arcade