Monday, 27 February 2017

The King of Fighters XIV vs Street Fighter V


So I've been promising to talk about The King of Fighters XIV for a long while now (especially given how I wouldn't shut up about it in the run up to the game's release) and since I've also recently (as in just after Christmas) finally picked up a copy of Street Fighter V, I thought I'd do them BOTH at once in a sort-of face off. It's probably better that I discuss them now anyway given how both games have been majorly updated since their initial release(s); KOF now has the v.1.10 patch which has given it a serious graphical boost and Street Fighter has...er, actual content? We'll see about that. Anyway, I'm here with an awful photoshopped intro image and some random ramblings presented as "discussion" so without further ado...FIGHT!

I'm going to begin with Capcom's offering because a) it's the most recent of the two to occupy my PS4's disc drive and b) I'm actually pretty underwhelmed by it despite expecting a botched product beforehand. I waited for this game to come down in price given how barren it was at launch and so I ended up paying £17 for a brand-new copy from Amazon. As a big fan of fighting games, I had naturally been following the amusing disaster that was SFV's first year on sale so I had COMPLETELY expected a disappointing product but even so, I surprised myself with just how pissed-off I was with my heavily discounted game. This is an F2P or Freemium game disguised as a retail release as far as I'm concerned. You get a bare-bones product on a Blu-Ray disc with all of the extra characters, costumes, stages and even colours closed off unless you buy them with real money or SFV's in-game currency. This means that all of the extra stuff added since release (which should make for a more complete product) is just DLC. Not impressed, especially after waiting on a 10GB+ update that took three days for my slooooooow internet to deal with. Now if this game had been sold as a F2P release (like Tekken Revolution) then nobody would have had a right to complain but Capcom chose to release a £50 disc, tell us that it was a "game" then sell us the rest later when they'd finished it.


A frustrating game for sure but Mika makes it worthwhile (mostly)

What they should have done is sell the disc at a budget price, say £20-£25 tops and be straight with gamers: just tell us that SFV would follow a F2P or DLC structure. Updating a game down the line with a few bits of DLC is fine but having a steady flow of the stuff already planned out from the beginning and then charging us £50 for a disc which will ultimately contain much less content than the total of the add-ons is just a massive piss-take. I feel bad for supporting this with my £17 let alone the original RRP which I flat-out refused to hand over. Capcom's answer for people like me is that there is an in-game currency earned through winning fights or completing certain challenges and we can use this to buy things instead of actual money. Let's push aside the fact that a single costume costs 50,000 units of in-game currency and how it took me forever to get that. I'll also put aside the fact that it seems you can only purchase alternate costumes from the game's story mode with the in-game currency and that all of the others have to be paid for with cash.

No, the real problem is that it's virtually impossible to earn this in-game currency offline and that's a real problem for somebody like me who never really bothers with online play and doesn't care about it. I have dabbled in it with the likes of Tekken Tag Tournament 2 and Soul Calibur IV in the past and never really enjoyed it since I'm a fairly capable player but not somebody who does very well online against opponents who have much more free time than me to master a fighting game and memorise the best combos. For that reason, there's no way I will be paying for PS+ to use online play in PS4 games and as such, I won't be using SFV online.

Akuma returns with a questionable new 'Lion King' hairdo...

This brings me to my other big issue with the game: the severe lack of single-player content. Now I know what some people will be thinking right now as they read this...something along the lines of "What is this fool talking about? Fighting games are all about the online; nobody plays the SP side of things anymore". Well, I say "Bollox" to that. Even if the focus of this game was the online play, there's no reason why Capcom couldn't have included some more SP stuff such as an arcade mode with an actual boss. They simply didn't bother and have clearly aimed this game at the online community, tournament types or those that will give them stacks of money for the DLC. I'm not stupid: I know that the online side of fighting games is more important these days but surely it wouldn't have caused Capcom too many headaches to chuck a few more offline modes in? As it is, the Survival mode is all I play and to be fair, it does a reasonable job of emulating a classic arcade mode and has some fairly competent CPU to spar with on higher difficulties.

I just can't help but fondly recall the likes of Soul Calibur III and all its modes or Street Fighter Alpha 3 which came with a ton of modes plus the epic 'World Tour'. When did fighting games suddenly stop offering anything to do outside of thrashing a stranger online? Soul Calibur V is exactly the same with a piss-poor six-stage arcade mode and barely anything else to do while offline but that's a story for another post. I hear that Mortal Kombat XL has a load of stuff to do so I may have to bust the seal open on my copy soon.

And you know what the real crying shame is? The actual game itself is bloody awesome. I never really fully embraced the chunky 2.5D visuals of Street Fighter IV (because 90's sprites ftw) so I was quite surprised to find that I quite enjoy the evolution of said visual style here in SFV. Sure, it's a little more comical than I would perhaps like but the game looks stunning and the characters fantastic with their mild re-designs mostly agreeing with me given how they look more detailed than ever before. I'm loving the return of some older favourites such as Rainbow Mika (yay!), Karin and Birdie that haven't been in the spotlight for some years now plus the recent additions of Urien and Kolin, showing that Capcom are also looking back at the near-peerless Street Fighter III series.

A conservatively dressed female character? What is this madness?

What's more, the actual fighting system itself is really enjoyable with the new V-Trigger system offering different things depending on which character you use. Characters in general have lots of new moves and changes to their classic fighting styles so there are a lot of small nuances to learn if you want to get good at the game. I've personally enjoyed extracting some cool combos from Cammy's updated moveset and also having some real fun with Mika which is a pleasant surprise since - as much as I love her character - I didn't use her too much in Alpha 3 because of my crappiness with grapple-based characters and the thumb-destroying 360 motions that I simply couldn't pull off. Things have been simplified a bit here so that her grapples need only (much more manageable) half-circle inputs and while purists may complain about "dumbing down", I've always believed that learning the game itself and how to get the best from a character is more important than also fighting to input the moves themselves at the same time. Not all of us are tourney types with expensive arcade stick set-ups after all and despite the fact that I've been a devoted fighting game player for many, many years, there are some inputs that I've never been able to deal with.

The music is a bit "meh" and only has any redeeming quality to it due to a few Alpha-esque tracks but then again, most of the music consists of remixes of classic BGMs so it was probably difficult to bugger it up completely. It would be nice to have some brand new themes though (as they did in SFIII for example) because SFIV also remixed old tracks and I just think it's a bit poor to still be relying on so-so mixes of Street Fighter II tracks in 2016.

Overall, my feelings towards SFV are so mixed it's unreal. To sum it up, I would have to say that it's a fantastic fighting game cursed with the most cynical, crappy execution that I have seen in a long time. The game is a joy to play - it really is - but it's impossible to escape having positive vibes being dragged down by all the DLC, lack of single-player and sensation of playing an F2P game. Street Fighter doesn't deserve this treatment but unfortunately Capcom will continue down this path I fear because a) they already pissed people off with the whole Street Fighter X Tekken DLC-on-disc saga + the endless updates to SFIV (despite stating that they weren't going to do it!) and b) the fact that tourney types will simply lap all of this up and make the game a "success".

In comparison, SNK's The King of Fighters XIV is completely the opposite...

LOOK AT ALL OF THE CHARACTERS! All on the disc at launch!

I can't lie: even with the graphical update patch applied, KOF XIV still doesn't come close to the prettiness of SFV. A lot of the characters simply aren't as enjoyable to use as those in Street Fighter and the general quality is not quite on par with Capcom's offering. BUT - and this is a huge but - SNK's attitude towards its fans and the amount of content that you get on the basic game disc absolutely trounces SFV. Consider that KOFXIV launched with 50 fully playable characters on the basic disc AND actual single-player modes. Also consider that SNK is a far smaller company just coming out of a buyout after years of being on the ropes yet they managed to announce and turn this around far faster than Capcom managed to "gift" us a semi-completed Street Fighter. The game works as well. There are no horrible glitches or nasty presentation to hint at a rushed product - just a great fighting game. The obvious achilles' heel were the horribly outdated 3D character models that would have looked poor even on the PS3/360...at a distance they were just about acceptable but up close for super move animations, they looked very bad indeed.

That said, given what we we received in terms of content and gameplay from a developer with much less resources at their disposal, it was wrong to bellyache too much over poor graphics. But EVEN SO...SNK still listened to what their fans were saying and issued a completely free update patch that really boosted up the graphics with better textures, shading and detail. Now, I'm seriously not a fan of games that require such major updates post-release but given how there were genuine reasons for this game having poor visuals to begin with, SNK didn't HAVE to get to work on revamping them and releasing the fruits of their hard work as a pretty hefty patch and yet they did. They have also been releasing lots of new Playstation themes for free and some of these have some absolutely awesome artwork/designs to them (I was using the beautiful K' and Kula theme until just recently when I switched to the superb Team Mexico theme). They've also done a few DLC costumes which are free for a set period (before costing a reasonable £1.19 apiece) and two new colours per character came for FREE with the v.1.10 graphics update. By contrast, Capcom want you to PAY for something as simple as alternate colours.

And this is why I have so much more respect for SNK and KOF XIV; the consumer has simply been treated a lot better. Ironically, if either of the two developers need the extra cash generated from DLC and content drip-feed shenanigans, it would arguably be SNK but they didn't take that route and I applaud them for it. If they come out with some DLC characters for a few quid down the line then I will be far more inclined to give them my money than I would with Capcom. Street Fighter V tempts you with cool character and costume DLC but I just don't feel good about giving them my money and letting them "win".

Some of the new characters are a bit "out there"...

The game itself is just really fun to play. Take away the new 3D character models and KOF is still playing like KOF so veterans will immediately be able to 'feel' how KOF XIV wants you to play. Characters have a lot of new moves and tricks to learn while newcomers will be pleased to see the appearance of easy, auto combos that culminate in a super move should there be sufficient meter available. That last bit probably won't be music to the ears of seasoned players but you don't have to use the auto combos.

The large roster is especially impressive when you consider that there are a hell of a lot of brand-new characters. Some of these are a bit wacky and clearly inspired by current Japanese or South Korean pop culture trends i.e. idols while others have been pulled from SNK's various Pachislot games to make their first appearances as playable fighters. Of the newcomers, my favourite is easily Alice, a Terry Bogard fan-girl with moves derived from the famous Fatal Fury stalwart. She has special moves inspired by Mr Bogard's own reportoire and is very fun to play with, especially given how easy it is to cancel out of her specials into supers. The other sort-of newcomer I'm really liking is King of Dinosaurs who is a very thinly disguised Tizoc (Garou: MOTW and KOF XI). Usually I don't play as grappler characters but since the inputs for moves have been greatly simplified (no more thumb-destroying 360 inputs...), I find that I can actually play as somebody like King of Dinosaurs now. I'm also happy to see the return of Angel at long last (spoiler: she's hotter than Mai) but her moveset is a lot more intricate and harder to memorise than most other characters so she's a bit of a work in progress right now. My main team usually consists of Robert/Kula/Tizoc though I regularly switch out for Alice, Mai, Ryo and Geese as I enjoy using those a lot too.

Newcomer Alice is a lot of fun.

There are also more things to do for the solo player than in SFV. The story mode essentially doubles up as an arcade mode with a generous number of stages and generic cutscenes/ending unless you play as one of the pre-set teams of three (so the same as previous KOF games then). There's also the usual Survival and Time Trial modes on offer as well as a pretty comprehensive tutorial/training thing which even I found useful after not having played a KOF game for such a long while. The only downside for me (now that the visuals have been updated of course) is that the final boss - Verse - is quite disappointing. In the usual SNK fashion, he has some cheap combos/supers but unusually, he is also quite easy to take down and I rarely get beat or need to use one of the continue services. He is an extremely generic aztec/alien design however with no personality and no proper roots or involvement in the plot. He simply shows up right at the end and the official storyline says that he is some sort of supernatural being that absorbs the souls/energy of defeated warriors. At least he has a cool theme to fight to...

So overall, who is the ultimate winner here? Well I'm going to have to say that for enjoyable gameplay, plenty of content and much better attitude towards the fans, The King of Fighters XIV edges it. Street Fighter V is without doubt a seriously accomplished game with fantastic visuals and (in my opinion) more endearing characters but I simply cannot look past the non-existent offline and cynical marketing structure which relies on DLC, season passes and an F2P ethos. At the end of the day, I have been returning to SNK's game more often and it's as simple as that. If Capcom ever go back on their word (because they've never done that, right? Right?) and release some form of 'complete' edition on a disc at the end of SFV's life then perhaps I will be able to review the game again but for now, it is simply a fantastic fighter ruined by awful execution.

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