King of Fighters XV review: Burn to fight

SNK has come back with another 2.5D chapter of King of Fighters, but does it step up its game and give us a match to remember?


There’s something absolutely phenomenal about when a King of Fighters game comes out. We’re up to 15 games in this series not including the myriad of spinoffs. King of Fighters XIV marked a move for the mainline series from 2D sprites up to a 2.5D style like Street Fighter 5 and Guilty Gear Xrd. Now, King of Fighters XV continues to refine that effort with expanded mechanics, improved online features, and a much more refreshed art style. All of it together makes for quite the buffet of SNK fighting fun.

Same fights, different engine

Let’s address the elephant in the room. King of Fighters XIV was functional (offline), but it also looked dated and didn’t do the characters justice after the impeccable sprite work that was in 2010’s KOFXIII. King of Fighters XV marks the series’ move to Unreal Engine 4, and the upgrade to the game’s visual style is immediately noticeable. Compared to KOFXIV, this game’s colors are bright and rich, its characters look alive and not so doll-like, and their moves look more vibrant and beautiful. Plus, they got rid of Terry Bogard’s sleeve again. I can’t abide a Terry in sleeves unless he’s rocking his Garou: Mark of the Wolves look. The point is, this game looks altogether gorgeous when stacked up against the drab previous entry.

The roster is decent for the game's launch as well. Most of everyone’s favorite characters are making a return in this game, although many will find one or two of their favorites missing. For me, not seeing Kim Kaphwan and a Korea team or Chin and Kensou as part of the Psycho Soldiers is bonkers, but SNK has already confirmed there will be DLC teams. Still not ideal, but I’ll hold out hope against not having them at all. Nonetheless, a lot of our faves are back and they’ve mostly all benefitted from the game’s style redesign.

Speaking of what’s back, King of Fighters XV is a dream come true if you’re a fan of the music in this series. Not only does it have its own good original soundtrack, but it also has soundtracks from nearly every other mainline King of Fighters game, and also Metal Slug. You have to do special things to unlock them, but then you can utilize them as regular background music as you see fit, which is just plain awesome. I kind of wish you didn’t have to unlock the soundtracks though. It’s such a fantastic library and I just want to peruse it without having to suffer through beating the game with characters I don’t necessarily want to play.

As for the gameplay, everything felt like it was in working order. KOFXV brings back mechanics from around the series to flesh out the technicalities of its fighting formula. For one, there’s a Shatter Strike system similar to parries. By spending a bar, you can armor through an opponent’s attack and hit them with a hefty strike of your own, stunning them before they fall to the ground. You can use this on an overly aggressive foe to open them up to a counter combo. I think it’s a bit overpowered and likely to be abused, but it’s undoubtedly a fun defensive and offensive tool and sets up some fantastic reversal play.

There’s also the improved MAX gauge. Once you have a couple bars, you can activate it in a neutral state or after a successful attack. In the former condition, it powers up your character’s attack and guard crush, allowing you to do more damage and pressure your foe’s defense into breaking. After an attack, you’ll be able to use it rush your opponent and link together moves that you otherwise wouldn’t be able to in order to extend combos. Both states offer unique advantages and a fun risk/reward functionality when you want to go all-out.

Learning to be king

One thing I’ve noticed as we’ve gotten into a new era of fighting games is how much designers are trying to invite newcomers in while also appealing to long-time fans. A part of this is in simplifying controls and giving players the tools to grow their understanding of the game. King of Fighters XV has taken on some of this methodology too. There’s a good tutorial for learning the basic mechanics, a training mode to practice various combos and situations, and a mission mode full of combos to learn for every character.

I think one of the standout stars of KOFXV’s learning tools, however, is Online Training. No longer relegated to only playing matches online, you can actually make a room and invite online players to practice with all of the tools of the regular training mode. I think this is an excellent addition in a time where it’s harder to get together with friends face to face and really stretches out the opportunities of a practice mode. Honestly, looking at it, I don’t understand why other modern fighting games haven’t made this feature a regular staple.

I also feel like SNK has done a good job of simplifying inputs. The hardest input I saw was a double half-circle for some supers, but even those weren’t terribly hard to nail down and every single character has the same input for their end-all-be-all Climax super move, which is nice and easy to understand. Plus rush combos have been expanded, This is a returning feature from KOFXIV where you can tap one button when in range to do an auto combo. The fun part is that now you can change the final input to end with a special move, super move, strengthened super, or your character’s best move based on their bar situation. It’s a good expansion for beginners while technical players will still likely find better damage in discovering their own, non-mashing combo inputs.

With that said, I won’t say that King of Fighters XV is the easiest game to learn. It’s still got a lot of technical quirks to it that will take some effort to understand. The grind to be the best in KOF is still no cakewalk. For all it offers, I still think games like Dragon Ball FighterZ or Guilty Gear Strive are more newcomer-friendly in their overall accessibility and learning curve. Nonetheless, I enjoy how much they offer players to be able to learn the game on their own or with friends, online or off.

King of Rollback

King of Fighters XV was delayed for some time, and part of that was implementing GGPO rollback netcode. Thank goodness, because a part of this game’s grind is the absolute tightness of timing in some of its combos and lag is devastating to that kind of gameplay. What’s more, you can see what kind of connection quality you’re working with before you get into a match, which is good for avoiding a bad time.

King of Fighters XV has a five-bar rating of connection quality and I found that when I was at 3 or higher (which was fairly common), it handled with little issue. It could occasionally get fuzzy when the game was busy with opening animations or highly cinematic supers, but I found often that I could play well on the game’s netcode with most opponents while appreciating that it offers the means to avoid poor connections.

This match is about to explode

King of Fighters XV feels like a solid refinement of a lot of its predecessors, learning from their mistakes to become something altogether better here. It’s not perfect, it’s not easy to learn, and there are some characters missing that I feel are must-haves. However, a solid visual redesign, good netcode, original and returning music, a great collection of fighting mechanics, and a wide offering of tutorial and training tools make KOFXV feel like one of the strongest entries in the franchise yet. Where they go from here is anyone’s guess, but this feels like the standard for 2.5D KOF that King of Fighters XIV couldn’t quite reach and I’m glad SNK has finally cleared that bar.

This review is based on a PS5 digital version of the game supplied by the publisher. King of Fighters XV is set to release on PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X/S, and PC on February 17, 2022.

Senior News Editor

TJ Denzer is a player and writer with a passion for games that has dominated a lifetime. He found his way to the Shacknews roster in late 2019 and has worked his way to Senior News Editor since. Between news coverage, he also aides notably in livestream projects like the indie game-focused Indie-licious, the Shacknews Stimulus Games, and the Shacknews Dump. You can reach him at and also find him on Twitter @JohnnyChugs.

  • A great and much-needed visual redesign
  • Solid netcode
  • Excellent array of training tools and modes
  • Good new and returning gameplay mechanics
  • Huge collection of franchise music
  • Solid starting cast of characters
  • Sleeveless Terry Bogard
  • Some major characters missing from roster
  • Not as accessible as other recent fighters
  • Some gameplay mechanics feel a bit overpowered
  • You have to unlock a lot of soundtracks for use
From The Chatty
  • reply
    February 11, 2022 8:00 AM

    TJ Denzer posted a new article, King of Fighters XV review: Burn to fight

    • reply
      February 11, 2022 11:15 AM awesome, thanks for the review!!!!! I can't express how hyped I am for THE KING OF FIGHTERS XV and that it's out on February 17th!!!!!! Loved the last entry and thought it was over looked, been a long time fan KOF and this looks like the best one yet even if I still love the 2D games. Seems like XV is finally at that threshold where I can not be mad it's 3D anymore, sort how I felt when Mortal Kombat hit number 10 and then it blew My mind at 11!.

      Anyways can't wait to get it next week -> , also I heard the DLC character packs on the road map are incredible so I am sure they are going to milk Me dry LOL :) .

      • reply
        February 11, 2022 12:42 PM

        I agree they've got a great start to the DLC teams. Really, REALLY hoping both Kim Kaphwan (or his sons) and Raiden make a return. That'd be rad.

        But yeah, they really finally nailed the visuals. The game is gorgeous.

        • reply
          February 11, 2022 12:46 PM

          For sure, I saw the DLC packs and I was like "yup, I need them all" :) , they look so good!!!!! The core roster is really solid it's just that the DLC packs are also solid which is not a bad thing. Man Kim owns I enjoy playing Him, He is like Flash Kick Man on steroids hahaha, that combo would be great and hoenstly I think they will add a lot of people in the coming months/years this is not a year term and then EO life type of game. I hope the sales are really good and it get more support so We get more content.

          Exactly, the last one looks really good but I still was like eh 2D would of been better now it really has that threshold it's really cool to see!

          Good times + Jesus... it's really next week!!!!!

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