Publisher: SNK Playmore
Developer: SNK Playmore
Release Date: November 13, 2007
When you realize that the years have become irrelevant in the titles of King of Fighters games, it's time to develop a new naming system. SNK has dropped the years from the titles and decided to go with numbers, starting with King of Fighters XI, a new tournament using a soft-colored animation style and quite a different premise than the last. King of Fighters XI has been ported directly from arcade systems to the PS2, which allows features such as Survival Mode, Challenges, and Edit Color options to make the game your own personalized fight fest.
King of Fighters XI continues where King of Fighters 2003 left off, although it's not a continuation of the last PS2 offering, King of Fighters: Maximum Impact II. Since KoF 11 is a different series, it's only understandable that the teams change once again to suit the series, but when none of the original teams exist, one realizes this game is changing to quite a degree. Long-standing regulars to the series — such as the fire-breathing drunkard Chin, kickboxing expert Joe Higurashi and Ikari Warrior Leona — are not part of this game, except as well-placed background audiences on certain stages. New characters, including ones from the original Fatal Fury games like Duck King, and new outfits, such as when Terry Bogard removes his signature hat and coat for his Mark of the Wolves outfit, join alongside whole new teams like the "New Heroes" team, which is comprised of Ash Crimson, Oswald and Shen Woo.
After choosing a team of three based on the pre-set conditions or your own preferences, the new game mechanics show themselves; this time, a leader is chosen out of the three and has access to an incredibly powerful "Leader Special Move" that will cause major damage, cause the opponent to sail across the field, or even seal the techniques of the opposing fighter. Another new feature is the "Skill Stock" system, where two skill points are used instead of consistent button combinations for canceling moves and shifting a character quickly out of combat with an attacking replacement. This balances the game even further; whereas Capcom players could easily switch in and out of attacks and finish their opponents with shift attacks or parrying infinitely, King of Fighters attempts to make the playing field fair for all levels of play, from beginner to expert.
The game is split up into eight matches, consisting of five team matches, Sub-Boss Shion and Boss Megaki, and a three-on-one battle against hidden characters from other SNK games, to celebrate the future release of SNK Battle Coliseum: Sho Hayate from Savage Reign, Tung Fu Rue from the original Fatal Fury and Mr. Big from Art of Fighting. Replay value is through the roof with this title, since versus play extends to all modes: Arcade for the new switching system, Team for the original fight-for-fight system where your characters were stocks, and pure one-on-one single play.
The most intriguing aspect of balance, however, exists in the "Eye of Judgment." Once your time is up, life is no longer factored as the deciding factor in a match, but is rather a calculation of a player's ability and control of a match in terms of remaining characters and successive hits. Since wins are no longer derived from simple life loss, blocking until time runs out is no longer an option, and also quite a disappointment as the player refuses to fight back in versus mode after getting backed into a corner. In the fighting itself, you'll realize the move sets are a lot faster than usual, and the controls are more fluid than before.
For a game that prides itself on its look as well as its play, KoF 11 really turns it up in both areas. With cameos of former team members and an active background with moving cars and teeming wildlife, it's hard not to stare when your face is getting pummeled in ... which is why the characters look rather astonishing. It should be noted that a great deal of sprite work was placed in the sub-boss Shion, a new character revealed in this game. It goes far beyond the simple difference between the original characters and herself; at least several hours of programming are obviously viewed just in the waving of her arms. She is also the first character to use multiple stances with discernible animation changes and individual sprite mapping.
Shion may very well be the start of advanced sprite use and gameplay development for the series, although it seems that the developers spent a lot more time on this single character than they did on the background. Sure, there are 3D effects and beautiful landscapes, but there was a lot more detail before, and you didn't have to stare at an unappealing black screen during Super Moves. In each character's anime-like face and body designs, you get a sense of personality, although the models sometimes lack in originality.
Unlike other games, the King of Fighters series has never been much about the music or sound. Of course, the music has pretty good ambience for a fighting game and something would be missing without it, but paying specific attention and focus on the tunes is likely to get your character's head smashed in. Although it isn't the upbeat, intense battle mixes and remixes one hears from games like Street Fighter, Virtua Fighter, and Super Smash Bros., it sets the tone of the game and the arena one battles on, which is good enough for the average fighting fan. The same thing can be said for sound and the Japanese voice acting, which is certainly a bonus, but not exactly awe-inspiring or special. However, I will say that the voices fit the personality of each character very well, almost as if they were hired and tailored specifically for each KoF character.
Balanced, a little hasty, and enjoyable, King of Fighters XI is what people were expecting: an enjoyable game with new features and a stylish look that keeps in line with the rest of the series. Although some of the changes were unexpected — some would say unwelcome — in terms of team changes, I doubt many people will be disappointed. It's a very solid game and a welcome part of the series, which also helps its expected sibling, SNK Battle Coliseum, to emerge with necessary hype to get some purchases through its hidden characters with those new designs. Either played alone or with a friend, this game can be enjoyed by new players and veterans alike.