E3 2016: King of Fighters XIV’s Roster Is a Fantastic Start

I spent something like 45 minutes basically standing in one spot to get to play the game at E3 2016… and I was not disappointed. I tend to joke that I'm one of the twelve people left in this hemisphere that still adores King of Fighters. While it's had a stable following over the years, the past few games haven't really brought it to that next level of popularity and respect that it had in the '90s and early 2000s. The KoF development team has been trying to regain that certain something that was loved so much back then with the newest incarnation: KoF XIV.

With over 50 characters available (which is less impressive than it once was, but still damn fine) across multiple classic SNK properties, it feels so far back to great form from the turn of the century. The character models are detailed and clean, unique not only from one another but not repeated from their previous incarnations—they feel like they've been fully and properly rebooted, but with the same charm they had before.

There's a new box we don't know much about, named Antonov, who hosts the tournament, while Geese is just a part of one team (coupled with Billy and Hein) and Rugal hasn't yet made an appearance. Likewise, Ash Crimson is nowhere to be found… which makes me a sad panda.

Luckily, the controls are on point. Players of the series will be able to jump in and start running the table once again, with only some minor adjustments—for example, my favorite pick, King, still has her Double Venom Strike, but now it requires her charged meter to be full to pull it off (presumably to prevent too much spamming). But beyond certain touches like those, this incarnation appears to be a sort of presentation upgrade and playability throwback to the level of KoF XI, which is fantastic as it was arguably the best of the series.

And as I mentioned with the characters, everything here looks pretty. The one thing KoF always had going for it was the visual details, especially in the backgrounds, and these backdrops are the most attractive yet. Fighting through a damaged church in front of rattling pews, an industrial rooftop that could be from an oil refinery, various arenas and boxing/wrestling ring locales, there isn't a "standard" locale in the bunch, which is wonderful. And they're all teeming with life of their own, which helps make this game just as fun to watch as it is to play yourself.

With many returning and revamped characters—King is finally back, and now Nakoruru from Samurai Showdown is in the mix, along with others I'm sure I missed in the 50+ current roster—this could be the best King of Fighters yet. And with a release date of August 23 for PS4, nobody will have to wait too long to see if the final product holds up to true scrutiny.