The King of Fighters XV Review: Style and Substance

A whole roster of supermodels. And a weird sand guy. Also a dinosaur
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Fighters have been a thing for me for a super long time, ever since I saw pro-level players face off for the first time. I don’t really have time to dive in and play 400 hours of Street Fighter IV anymore, but that burning spirit is still in me, somewhere. Because of that, I still like to try new games even if I can’t spend all day in the lab and live in ranked lobbies. The King of Fighters XV is my first serious foray into that series, and I’ve had a blast over the past few days. This game aims for a sweet spot between classic KOF complexity and Capcom-style ease of use, and I believe it hit the target.

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The King of Fighters XV Review

The story here is… not incomprehensible, but not very forthcoming with information, either. It’s a direct sequel to the previous game which is neat, but really this whole series is just a massive SNK crossover that became its own thing, and the story just exists to reinforce that inherent madness. And that’s fine! KOF has historically struggled with its visuals since leaving the 2D realm, but it looks slick, colorful and polished right out of the gate this time. So really, the story mode is a bunch of weirdos vaguely chasing macguffins around another tournament, and why not?

The real appeal in King of Fighters XV is taking its big-ass roster and picking out a team of three. Each set of characters has its own designated canon team, and the select screen groups them up for some lore flavoring. But you can pick whoever you want, so the possibilities are nigh endless. And personally, I’m a big fan of this 3 v 3 style, because you go down your list of fighters without needing things like tags and big multiperson combos. Those Versus games are fun, but it’s nice to have a middle ground between getting to play with more than one character per match, without having to juggle a billion interacting mechanics. It’s part of what gives KOF a distinct vibe.

Distinct is a great way to describe not just KOF, but particularly KOF XV. I wasn’t sure what to expect jumping in to learn things, because moving from 2D to 3D often comes with tons of differences. But considering how hardcore the older KOF games could be, I was prepared to struggle. And I am struggling some, but not in the ways I expected to. KOF XV does a fine job explaining itself (although some supplemental YouTube doesn’t hurt), which is a fashionable fighter standing somewhere between Street Fighter and Mortal Kombat in terms of how it feels to play and how execution is structured.

In Street Fighter, there’s almost a direct 1:1 physicality to whatever you’re doing. There are more “links” than “cancels,” meaning while there is room for forgiveness, combos are often smaller and require more real time execution. On the opposite end in Mortal Kombat you find “dial a combo” systems, meaning once you land a hit you just hammer out your inputs in a steady sequence and watch your character catch up. I generally prefer Street Fighter, because there’s less memory and more reaction involved.

KOF XV, again, sits in the middle. There is a physicality to your movements and techniques, but there are also lots of “cancels,” which allows you to string moves together in various but deliberate ways. It’s not like a Versus or anime fighter in which you can basically do whatever you want, but there’s leeway to find different routes to big damage. You can chain supers together which looks amazing! But can be difficult, since you do have to figure out where each input is supposed to live during each animation.

So there is a learning curve, with right and wrong answers. But the timing isn’t as manic as “dial a combo” games, nor is it as strict as a Street Fighter-like experience. You often have a second to think about what to do next, while also being slightly ahead of the animations on-screen. That’s really difficult to explain in words, but hopefully we got there, readers. It’s certainly as much of an uphill crawl as any fighting game is, but the way it carves out an identity for itself is fascinating.

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Content volume is our next concern, right? That’s how these usually go. And for better or worse, there’s a line of empty spaces on the roster reserved for DLC. It be like that. But there are plenty of different options to choose on the main menu, including some that I didn’t expect. The usual and expected modes are here, including online lobbies and the ever-helpful mission mode. There’s some unusual stuff too such as “DJ Mode” that lets you listen to music from throughout the series’ history. There’s online training as well, which I don’t recall seeing elsewhere (although I’m sure it is). Being able to lab with a friend online while shooting the shit or whatever sounds really cool.

Online play seems great, by the way. Obviously the userbase ahead of launch date is smaller, but I never had any issues whatsoever. It’s amazing the difference Rollback makes even from a relative layman’s perspective. And the UI offers lots of information, such as the health of players’ connections down to a delay calculation. Lobbies provide plenty of options but before and during play. And as a family-having person, I was even able to play the game online while using Remote Play, and was able to hang in there for the most part. That last part is mostly a testament to my ISP, but KOF XV being totally smooth online helps a lot!

I remember when KOF XIV came out, it stumbled out the gate a little bit. But The King of Fighters XV hits the ground running and doesn’t let up. It isn’t as flashy as a Guilty Gear or other “anime fighter,” nor is it as (relatively) grounded as a Street Fighter. KOF XV has its own vibe and feel, with its distinct features and gameplay flow, execution demands and weirdly fashionable character designs. With a totally solid (ostensibly) online structure and a few little extras, nobody will be accusing KOF XV of being incomplete at launch, that’s for sure. This is definitely the best KOF has ever been in 3D, and as a newcomer to actually learning how to play well, I’ve had a blast.


  • Feels solid and polished on day one, a rare contemporary feat
  • DJ Mode and online training are neat
  • Big roster with good learning tools


  • It’s hard to digest the roster/lore/etc without research (not a con if you’re a longtime fan, natch)
  • Default AI is pretty nasty, even in story mode
  • Player profiles don’t have the flavor other fighters have

Score: 8.5

A copy of this game was provided by the publisher for review. Reviewed on PS4.

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Lucas White
Lucas plays a lot of videogames. Sometimes he enjoys one. His favs include Dragon Quest, SaGa and Mystery Dungeon. You can find him on Twitter @HokutoNoLucas. Wanna send an email? Shoot it to [email protected].