Under other circumstances, what would follow here would be a long recounting of the King of Fighters series of video games, explaining its origins, how it rose to be a true rival to Capcom's Street Fighter II in the early 90's in ways the Mortal Kombat series never managed to be, a brief recounting of parent company SNK's financial troubles at the turn of the century which very nearly buried the company, culminating with a few more hundred thousand words about how the latest now-reimagined-for-High-Definition King of Fighters XII related to the series as a whole and hopefully pointed the way to a new a promising future.
The problem is, having played KOFXII for a few days now and experienced its full measure, the only review I feel like bothering with is: "Shit sandwich."
Because it's awful. I was initially hopeful that it was simply mediocre or maybe rather disappointing, but SNK lived down to my expectations and failed with a commitment and determination usually only seen in successes.
The only redeeming features I can enumerate for you are the following: The new HD sprites look beautiful and the animation is gorgeous, the fighting engine is serviceable if a little backward-looking for the series and it doesn't blow up your game system when the disc is inserted (though it tries . . .because you are forced, thanks to a ridiculously enormous software patch to install the game on your hard drive, not that it does any good as the load times are still present and the whole thing is woefully pokey even installed on the HD) That's all can come up with.
The rest is bullshit. Even for a "dream match" (occasionally KOF does a story-light installment, wherein continuity is tossed out the window for a bit to have fun) the game lacks any character specific endings. Worse still, all the character specific bits of business, like Kyo Kusanagi and Iori Yagami or Ralf and Clark's special dialogue before a fight (which, for some of us, was the little extra attention to detail that gave the series its quality) are gone, as is any attempt at a musical score with any personality (another KOF hallmark, formerly--it's also pretty much inaudible), the game lacks a final boss challenge (those who hate "SNK Boss Syndrome" will be elated) robbing the game of any feeling of closure (it's five matches and done) and the online play (apparently the crucible of the new fighting game race is "who has the best netcode?") can best be described as just about as tragic as watching an old bag lady freeze to death watching a family that's eating Christmas dinner being beheaded by the Taliban.
Incompetence and half-assedness leaks from nearly every bit & byte of the game--it seems, short of the graphic overhaul and making sure the character balance wasn't completely broken, not much work went into anything else in the FOUR YEAR lead time between the previous entry than this. It compels me to ask--was everyone working on the new sprites? Could they not spare someone for a few days to draw up character stills or compose a new theme or something like that, some little extra thing that would justify the wait for and expense of this game? (that this game runs for full prise MSRP is a gigantic middle finger to the consumer in an experience with no shortage of them) Street Fighter IV had fully animated endings, new sprites, a new game engine and felt completely fresh. Blazblue had all new sprites, a propulsive musical score, a story mode that makes DC's pre-Crisis continuity seem easily explicable by comparison and netcode that actually made it possible to play on the Internet. With people!
With all this going on, releasing something this undercooked and expecting people to pay full price for it is utterly ridiculous. Especially when, given it's competition, it's going to be (justly) looked on as the runt of the litter and walked on as such, which, if they're trying to justify the expensive of the graphic overhaul and re-launch the series to a wider audience, they failed utterly. As a celebration of KOF's 15th anniversary, they've failed too, because if this is the best they can do now, then they might as well retire the damn series before we get any more diminishing returns. Because the hardcore audience of SNK cultist is all they pretty much have, and even they think this is utterly chronic.
If it sounds like I'm being incredibly harsh, it's because I expect more from people who Should Know Better. I expect Jeph Loeb to write stupid comics because he's a stupid writer, who coasts solely on people's faulty memories of allegedly "better" comic work he's done in the past and his career in Hollywood. I expect a company that has been doing a series of games for the past 15 years, with many examples to point to of what works and what doesn't, and a company that even for a game that seem pitched at two people (plus the immediate families of its programmers, I guess) SNK had always tried to put a lot of care and attention into, and for some reason to abandon that . . .yeah, that earns you more than a little extra scorn.
So, as a longtime SNK and KOF fan, I urge--nay--I beg you--please, under no circumstances buy this game. Don't let people give it to you as a gift, don't rent it, borrow it from a friend, don't shoplift it, don't win it in a contest. In fact, do a service for your community by smashing every copy in the game store with a three pound sledgehammer. They'll thank you, believe me--one less piece of crap to mark down to $20 in a month's time.
The apologists will say "well, in not buying it you're consigning SNK to financial ruin again," and if that happens, too damn bad. However, I am under no obligation (especially in this economy) to throw down substantial amounts of cash on crap today in the hopes that I might be buying a jewel a few years from now. That anyone thinks that's the way economics work is high. On dope.
In short, I do not like this game, it is very disappointing, and its mere existence is despairing.