Many people don’t realize this, but fighting games have made their way to computers for years. From Karate Champ, to Street Fighter, tournament fighters have been around on computers almost as long as consoles. There have even been some exclusives, like Body Blows, One Must Fall, and FX Fighter. Some of these were wonderful games, while others were pretty bad. In terms of arcade ports, there were highs, and lows. There was a period of course where the genre almost completely disappeared from personal computers.
That changed when Capcom’s Street Fighter IV made its way to computers. Not only was it an excellent version that took advantage of beefy hardware, it opened the floodgates bringing the genre back to a level on PCs unseen since the late 1990’s. SNK has been one of the major fighting game developers to follow Capcom’s lead. In some ways the Steam Edition of King Of Fighters XIII goes above, and beyond.
PROS: Everything from the console editions of the game. Performance options.
CONS: Buying it now means there isn’t a lot of online competition for you.
RUGAL: Is reduced to a cameo. But the game’s final boss also has SNK Boss Syndrome.
KOF 13 was in arcades back in 2010, and was ported to the Xbox 360, and PlayStation 3 a year later. The series goes all the way back to 1994, when SNK combined several of its fighting game franchises including Fatal Fury, and Art Of Fighting. Over the years it has added other SNK characters from a multitude of games spanning genres. Even the Ikari Warriors have found their way onto the roster.
As is the case with Capcom’s Street Fighter, and Warner Bros’ Mortal Kombat the KOF games have a storyline. In most of them, there is an annual tournament in which the world’s greatest fighters come together to fight for supremacy. Usually as this is going on, there is an evil plot of sorts set in motion by a boss character. In the earlier games Rugal Bernstein was that boss character. In recent games he’s been replaced. Rugal was a character who was notoriously brutal. Players could easily spend ten dollars in quarters in arcade versions trying to beat him. On home editions over the years they could spend hours. Rugal’s insane difficulty led to the phrase “SNK Boss Syndrome”. To this day it’s parroted around whenever a boss in a game seems impossible to defeat.
Anyway, in this game a character named Ash takes Rugal’s spot, and continues the trend of SNK Boss Syndrome. But before you get to Ash you’ll go through several battles through either a traditional arcade ladder, or a story driven mode. Either one will have similar dialogue bubbles between fights, and cut scenes. The difference is that story mode ends the moment you lose a fight. So you’ll find yourself going back through the list of movies, finding the last one you watched, and restarting at that point. Arcade mode lets you continue on the spot. Story mode also opens up different paths through the short films depending on your character selection, and generated choices.
What sets KOF apart from other fighting games is that you aren’t only choosing one character or a tag team. You choose a three member team. In Arcade mode you can choose any three people on the roster. In Story mode you’ll choose a predetermined team based on one of SNK’s many games. Most of them have a pretty healthy mix of styles, though some go more for grappling, ranged attacks, or speed. Instead of going 2 out of 3 rounds every fight you pick the order you will use your team mates. You go until either you defeat all of the opposing team, or until all of your characters are knocked out. KOF XIII has a pretty deep fighting system as well. There are ways to have 1v1 fights too if so inclined, but really 3v3 is the standard in King Of Fighters.
You can set up all kinds of links, and combos in the game, and even use EX moves. This works similarly to Street Fighter, where you can do more powerful versions of special moves with your gauge. But beyond that is a robust cancel system, where advanced players can easily stop out of one move to combo into another, also at the cost of a meter. There is a Hyper Drive mode of this that has unlimited cancelling. Ironically within a time limit. Besides all of that, KOF XIII has finishers called Neo Max desperation moves. You can pull these off when you’ve completely maxed out your meters. Much like Street Fighter’s Supers, these will display quite the spectacle if you knock out all of an opponent’s energy when using one. The game also takes a page from Street Fighter III, and has a blocking meter. If you block too much, eventually it will deplete, and cause you to become stunned.
KOF XIII also gives players a lot of content for their money. Besides the arcade mode, and its story mode variant you can play online or offline Vs. mode. Playing online gives you some nice filters. You can choose ranked or player matches. In the player matches you can choose regions, and preferred experience of opponents. You can also set up games with your friends, or allow people to challenge you in the middle of playing one of the single player modes. Ranked play lets you select a region for the game to pool opponents from. You can also choose quick matches where it will just pair you with the first available player.
The game generally feels lag free online, and fairly smooth. At this point though, you might find it takes a while to find an opponent. That’s because the game is a couple of years old, and didn’t put up the numbers more popular fighting games had. That said, it isn’t a completely barren wasteland either, as a considerable number of people are still playing it. Most of them are going to be very formidable, since the bulk of the players are going to be made up of the core audience. Still, if you have a few friends with a copy you can enjoy the low latency in private matches.
Obviously offline play will give you the best performance. KOF XIII supports multiple controllers, and is pretty accepting of most of the mainline ones. Fight sticks, 360 pads, and the Steam Controller all seem to work without a hitch. The game has a decent options menu where you can rebind keys, and choose a resolution. But it still doesn’t give you the performance options PC gamers expect. You can’t really tweak the level of AA, or texture quality, or sharpness of the sprites. You’re getting the minimum in those terms. Which is a bit disappointing considering how good the underlying gameplay is.
But there are still plenty of things the game does right. You get the typical art galleries, where you can look at concept art, game assets, and movies. But beyond that you’ll get a pretty nice color customization option. Much like the one in Capcom Vs. SNK 2, you can change the palettes, and colors of every character in the game to make your own custom look. This is pretty cool because if you main a certain character, you can add a flair of personality to them. It would have been nice to see a full blown creator like the ones in pro wrestling games. But considering the large roster of hand drawn sprite characters, this is still pretty good.
SNK also gets credit here for a pretty nice tutorial mode. One that almost forces you to learn the different nuances of the cancels, combos, and EX moves. It will keep re testing you until you get it right. Even during the main game it will throw little challenges at you. “Roll dodge three times” “Cancel a move” “Land a three hit combo using normal moves.” KOF XIII feels like it wants you to be good. Even if it does sometimes also feel like you should pick up the complexity fairly quickly. You’ll need to be at least competent to complete the arcade ladder or story mode, even on easy. You don’t have to be a tournament level player. But you’ll need to be competent at the basics. Because the final boss once again brings the SNK Boss Syndrome as I mentioned before. Knowing some of the advanced tactics helps a lot in this battle, because the game throws everything at you. Seemingly instantly.
If you have trouble even after the tutorial, you are given a nice practice mode. In it you can select behaviors for the A.I. practice dummy, and spend time trying to make sure you’ve mastered a special move. Or experiment with trying to discover new combos. Or trying to practice how to perform many of the game’s cancels, and other advanced maneuvers. Beyond that, if you really want more practice you can try your hand at Mission mode. This mode lets you either take on the roster with one character until you beat them all or lose. You can play it timed, or not timed. Aside from that, you can also take a single character through a number of challenge lessons. Some of them are for learning certain combos. Others are different feats. Mastering some of them will be pretty frustrating for beginners since they’re very dependent on exact timing. But if you have the patience, you’ll find that learning a lot of the stuff here can be handy when playing with other people.
Getting back to the boss fight a moment, you can’t really mash your way to victory during it. Because you can’t jump in, and mount an offense. Even if you are pretty good at the game, this fight is going to give you a lot of trouble. But whether you can win on your 3rd attempt or 475th attempt beating the boss will feel like an accomplishment. If you find yourself invested in the characters, and lore, you’ll want to at least play enough to see the different character paths, and scenes. Of which there are many. KOF XIII has 36 characters in it when all is said, and done. Some of these you’ll have to unlock, while the others are DLC characters that are hidden behind others. You select the DLC characters by pressing Select when choosing Iori, Kyo, or Takuma.
Most importantly though the game manages to be engaging enough for both the devoted series’ veterans, and the casual player who may only break it out when friends come over. Even if some of the advanced stuff may be intimidating to a newcomer. Plus the game gives you more content than a lot of other fighting games. Some late comers may even want to pick it up now to practice up for the upcoming KOF XIV, though there will undoubtedly be changes to the fighting system. This special Steam edition not only gives you everything from the console releases, but incorporates Steam cards as well. Not something that screams “BUY ME” but they are there for the Steam card fans out there.
Overall, KOF XIII is a great game to pick up if you want a really good fighter you may have missed. If you already have it on a console, I don’t know that you need to double dip for this re-release. But if you’re new to the series, lapsed, or never got around to it on your game system of choice, picking up the definitive version on your computer is a great way to go. Especially with its low system requirements. One final caveat is that despite the similarity with some of Street Fighter’s features over the years, you should not try to play it like Street Fighter. King Of Fighters is a different beast altogether. Which is why it is a series that has endured for nearly as long. Some of its biggest fans may not rate it as high as some of the earlier games in the series. But it’s also one of the nicer fighting games you can play on your personal computer in recent years.
Final Score: 8 out of 10