Fighting Review

The King of Fighters XV – Review

The King of Fighters is a franchise that was once considered a worthy rival to the goliath that was Street Fighter. While output on the franchise has slowed, the flame of a fighter burns bright. Ladies and gentlemen, it’s time for King Of Fighters XV.

The Path of the Warrior

The King of Fighters XV is, funnily enough, the 15th installment of the main franchise. Naturally, this excludes handheld titles, spin-offs, and standalone titles like KoF NeoWave and Maximum Impact. 

Set after the events of the 14th tournament where a being called Verse appeared and leaked souls, invites have been sent around the world for the 15th tournament by a mysterious new sponsor. 

The previous game’s hero Shun’ei teams up with Benimaru and Meitenkun to enter the tournament. Their mission: to find answers about Verse and the mysterious backer.

Previous protagonists Iori and Kyo are teamed up with Chizuru to also investigate this. The leader of the Ikari Warriors has bundled in with newcomers Dolores and Isla, the latter of which has a similar power to the protagonist of this saga.

To further complicate matters, fighters who were presumed dead or taken out of time like Ash Crimson have reappeared. This only furthers the mystery of what is going on in King of Fighters.

The King of Fighters XV - Beatdown

Dominated Mind

While the story premise is quite an interesting one and should see fans of the lore invested, the actual presentation and story content is quite thin in what’s presented to you in-game.

You’ll get character interactions in well animated but brief cutscenes and the game has the longest character endings in the series history. Aside from that, anyone expecting a more cinematic experience similar to NetherRealm Studios’ output will feel a little short-changed.

There is a special breed of gamers that goes into fighting games for the lore. I’m one of them, but I’m well aware they are mostly window dressing so I won’t judge the title too much on the lack of story content. With that said, after it was promoted so prominently, I expected a little more from it.

The King of Fighters XV - Special Attack

Road to the Final Victory

Gameplay is King when it comes to The King of Fighters XV. In this resurgence of the “Fighting Game” genre we have to ask, does it offer enough of an alternative to getting people off of Street Fighter V, Tekken 7, or whatever anime fighter is the flavor of the week?

The King of Fighters XV is a traditional 2D fighting game that has the hook of it being team-based. 3 Vs 3 in fact, though it’s possible to just do 1 Vs 1.

Now while the game is focused on teams, there isn’t a tag element like other team-based fighters. Instead, you choose your character order and stick with them until your health bar is depleted. Then you move on to the next character until one team is defeated.

Traditional fighting game controls apply. This means that you’ll have to be handy with the quarter circle, full 360 directional input, and holding directions for a few sections to perform special attacks. Standard attacks are mapped to the face buttons on your pad and are light and heavy punch and light and heavy kick. There’s no pesky “medium” to tackle within this one.

You can roll past your opponent or dodge projectiles by pressing both ‘Light’ buttons together. Depending on how long you press “up” to jump depends on how far you jump. It’s business as usual in the factory of fighter dreams.

New to this title is the Shatter Strike; this is a quarter circle and both heavy buttons will take 1 bar of your special meter and give you an attack which if lands completely stun a foe. It’s ideal for setting up devastating combos or just getting some breathing room.

There are other tweaks to the game systems such as a reintroduced Max Mode from KoF XIV, but anyone familiar with any 2D Fighter from the age of Street Fighter II should feel right at home here. 

The King of Fighters XV - Character Select

The New Generation

With a cast of 39 characters, there is a character for anyone to enjoy. Each team has an ending and there are several “secret team” endings that are unlocked by mixing characters up in unique ways.

In terms of new additions, you have the previously mentioned Isla and Delores filling out the new spots. Krohnen is the legendary K9999 returning under a redesign; presumably, this is to avoid comparisons to Tetsuo from Akira. There are also several characters making their 3D character model debut such as Ash Crimson and the Orochi Team who haven’t been seen since King of Fighters 2002: Ultimate Match. 

Giant Attack!

In terms of gameplay modes, The King of Fighters XV initially seems a little thin on single-player content. You’re greeted with the genre standard training mode, story mode which acts like the games arcade mode, mission mode which gives you certain combos to perform, and a tutorial mode to learn the game systems in and out.

If you are into unlocking character endings, filling out your Gallery, and unlocking the many, many game OSTs in the “D.J Station” then you’ll spend a lot of time in the Story mode.

The story sees you fighting the A.I. until you meet the game’s final boss. It’s nothing original but gets the job done and in typical SNK fashion, you’ll be sweating fighting your final battle.

The training mode has all the options to get the most of your timef Frame data is available and you can even switch characters without having to return to the character select screen. It really values your time in training, rather than having you spend it looking at loading screens.

World Warrior

The online options have seen a dramatic boost for the franchise. Thanks to Rollback Netcode, it marks the first time in SNK history that a game has launched with buttery smooth netplay.

You have Casual and Ranked modes. Alongside these, you can find battle lobbies where you can casually face off against many players and spectate battles that you are not in.

Party mode from KoF XIV returns too and allows you and 2 friends to each pick 1 character to make up your team. It’s ideal if you have 2 other like-minded players and want to throw down against actual teams across the world.

Setting up your online profile is brilliant in that it allows you to pre-register teams, favorite stages, and choose music so you don’t have to fiddle with menus before the battle.

When you initially jump into the online mode you’re presented with 3 A.I. matches. These determine what “Rank” you are and as such what level of skill matchmaking will pit you against.

To keep people coming back, Ranked has seen the addition of stars. You win these when you emerge victorious in a ranked battle; have enough stars and you’ll get promoted to the next rank.

Daily bonuses such as your first win being worth double should keep Ranked fairly well stocked with players. The inclusion of a “Fair Play” meter should help too; this gauges disconnects and means you should only experience people who want to play.

The King of Fighters XV - Posing Walk

Savage Reign

The presentation in The King of Fighters XV is frankly top-notch. From the menus to the character designs, there is so much charm here. It feels like SNK have made that final leap into the current generation!

Matches have an overly enthusiastic narrator giving it a more “tournament” feel in line with the game’s narrative. The U.I is easy to navigate while looking fresh and modern too. 

The cast has never looked better; it’s a far cry from the often lambasted character models of KoF XIV. Clever use of the Unreal Engine and Cel Shading bring the anime style of the series to life without leaning on it too heavily like Guilty Gear -Strive-.

The stages are full of fun animations and throwbacks in the background. A special mention goes to the Metal Slug stage which looks like it could have been ripped out of an upcoming Metal Slug game! They are full of life and extremely vibrant; again this is a stark comparison to the stages from KoF XIV.

The first match of every set features a small cinematic where the commentator introduces you to who you’ll be fighting. Slight bits of lore drop aside, it’s a brilliant addition that just furthers the title and brought a smile to my face.

As mentioned earlier there is a D.J Station that lets you listen to and craft a custom playlist of music. This not only includes music from this title but previous King of Fighters titles and even classic SNK and NeoGeo titles! The legacy love is so strong here and makes unlocking the playlists feel so rewarding.

The sound effects are clear as day and allow you to make out when an opponent is blocking and what move is to come out. Voice acting is also great within the cutscenes, with many voice actors reprising their roles. This even includes King’s voice actor who originally performed the role way back in 1992!


The King of Fighters XV is one of the highest points of the franchise. It plays like classic KoF and looks just as good as it plays.

It feels like SNK have taken all the criticism from King of Fighters XIV and Samurai Shodown and successfully created a game worthy of their legacy. Not only that but one but interesting and charming enough to tempt players over to the series again.

Despite being a little thin on content for single players, the meat of the genre lies within its multiplayer. With the sterling netcode, it’s never been easier and smoother to throw down with fighters all over the world.

Move over Street Fighter and shove off Tekken, The King of Fighters is back and long may it reign.


Platforms: Steam (PC), PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5

If you enjoy Fighting games, then perhaps you’d like our review of Demon Slayer: The Hinokami Chronicles or Guilty Gear -Strive-.

Many thanks go to Koch Media for a PlayStation 5 review code for this title.

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