By far, the biggest and most dramatic change to King of Fighters XII is the astounding hand drawn characters. Screen shots and youtube videos have sort of spoiled everyone on how good this game was going to look. There is a little pixelation to be seen in those sprites, but that's what happens when you make a game with sprites. This game still looks astonishing and easily trumps anything previously released in the KoF series. From the characters to the locales they fight in, you're going to be amazed at how much is going on in the heat of battle with no unintentional slowdown. The crowds are especially interesting, from a French dockside filled with women suspiciously shaped like pigs, to the South American Aztec looking ceremony with countless worshipers swaying to the sounds of battle. This really is a game you have to see in motion to appreciate how good it looks.
Audio on the other hand seems to be a bit of a mixed bag. The audio levels are all over the map in terms of volume. The crowd sound effects drown out pretty much everything, and then when you turn that down, everything else is too quiet to even hear it without turning the television volume up, and the music is completely forgettable and bland. The decision to include both English and Japanese voice acting is appreciated, but I'm not really sure if it was even necessary.
Here is where the game loses a ton of steam. The presentation is simply atrocious. From the get-go everything about this experience screams bare-bones. The menus are a bland shade of blue with plain text font. Navigating these things is nothing short of tedious, especially when trying to put up with the hit or miss online play. Your options for game play are extremely limited as well. You've got Time Attack mode, which offers you five matches, with the option to replay your last match to attempt to get a better time for the stage. Then there is the versus mode which offers three on three or one on one matches against local players or the computer. There is the bland training mode that just puts you in to a fight and lets you try to explore the move set for a character. That's about all this game has to offer, there is no story, which is the most damning aspect of how this game fails.
The King of Fighters universe feels devoid of life and energy that you would see in the previous games. There are no special character intros, there are no stories. There isn't even the (I guess previously requisite) insanely hard SNK boss that requires continue after continue to try and master. It feels like a really half-assed effort on the part of SNK and it is really disappointing, especially after the very strong single player efforts from Capcom and Arc Systems earlier this year. This just strikes me as odd because this is something that has always been present in the King of Fighters universe, and to have it absent just makes this game feel like a phony.
King of Fighters XII is up against stiff competition this year and Tekken 6 is on the horizon as well. Unfortunately it's not looking good for SNK thanks to the failure in presentation. The fighting is solid, and the graphics are hot stuff, but that's about it, and considering how much you're expected to put down for this game, it's a little insulting to pay so much and get such a disappointing experience, especially when you consider that there is nothing to unlock, what you see is what you get. Online play is nothing special and is loaded with lag, even post patch. King of Fighters fans are going to have to a hard time choking down this game. I know I am, after hoping this game would save me from the deluge of Street Fighter 4 crap I have to put up with being an Abel player. But no, SNK decided not to invite the KOF world to this game, and that's a damn shame because it would have made a huge difference. If you're a King of Fighters fan, you're better of trying to track down one of the old PS2 titles, you'll get a graphically inferior game, but at this point, I'd take that over what King of Fighters XII has to offer.
If you were jazzed on the hype that King of Fighters XII initially had, calm down. This game has a pretty face, and that's about it. A competent fighting system with nothing else to offer makes for a pretty short and shallow experience.
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