Well, I thought we'd commemorate the end of 2011 (a year I will be exceedingly happy to throw in the bin, because God DAMN it sucked) and post #400 of our little miracle we call Witless Prattle by completing the circle on a somewhat infamous feature.
If you remember, back in the Prattle's first year of issue, I looked at The King of Fighters XII, which was the most recent--and the first HD-ready--installment in the now nearly twenty year old series.
It was a disaster, and I was not kind about saying so.
Essentially, what we got was a half-baked game that had some great-looking character animation, but had no storyline, no end boss, and half the moveset gone. My litany against this awful, awful, game was only one of many--pretty much everyone panned it, and it was such a failure, in fact, that talk was afoot that SNK would probably be finished.
Well, since today we're looking at the 13th installment, the answer is "obviously, they weren't." The even better news is this: The King of Fighters XIII is the return to form that XII should have been, and features pretty much everything that was missing from that misbegotten mess.
This is good and bad, but we'll get to that in a little bit. The storyline picks up from XI again as effete antihero Ash Crimson finally pays off his ongoing master plan, which, I'm not going to lie, started out being overly baroque and ends in the most "wait, what?" way possible and a lot of things get explained and yet don't. I'm being intentionally vague, but even if I explained it in detail it would still make your head explode.
If this seems like an awful lot of tortured plot for a game which involves people beating the crap out of other people, let me remind you that previous storylines involved clones and satellites blowing up cities and millennia-old Japanese mythology. This is just about par for the course.
Gameplay-wise, things are back where they should be, featuring the usual teams of 3 vs. teams of 3 combat and an insanely cheap boss at the end, as is the custom with SNK games. To round out the package, there is a massively increased roster with a substantial increase in moveset (supplemented by 3 DLC characters who act as enhanced alternate versions of three of the cast members) two unlockable characters, and several different play modes.
It's not all sunshine and roses, however. The online is god-awful, despite the legion of killjoys online who will try to make it out to be your fault for not having a wired connection and playing with a joystick The Way God Intended. Fortunately, Atlus is on the case and an online patch is on the way to deal with the crippling lag which is a problem because . . .
KOF XIII has the strictest damn inputs for special moves I have ever seen. And given the depth of the combat system this time and how dependent it is on cancelling moves into other moves and all that, and since online is such a major part of the fighting game scene nowadays, it's kind of a major flaw.
(Then again, one might say that overly byzantine combo and combat systems, coupled with strict inputs and a rather unforgiving learning curve is what ensures your fighting game falls more on the Street Fighter 3 Third Strike--which demands a certain investment of time and is not for everyone--end of the scale, rather than the more accessible Street Fighter II, which pretty much anyone could pick up and play. I'm not saying that one or the other is good or bad, I'm just saying this is what the split between depth and accessibility looks like)
But the general underpinnings of it are sound (and they are making some headway to working on the problems, which is more than we ever got for KOF XII) and I've had more fun with this game than I have an game in a few months (though Dynasty Warriors Gundam 3 was still the winner of the year) and over and above all that it's great to be able to have one of these end on a high note, so let me bottom line this by saying that the sins of the past are put to rest, and I have plenty of hope for King of Fighters XIV. This game is well worth your time.