While brief, King of Fighters XIV’s story weaves through the possibilities of Japan’s salaryman comedies. The film genre, headed by the country’s post-WWII economic boom, features white collar underlings besting their rather moronic bosses. Here too, with the insanely muscular Antonov proclaiming he wants 20 billion eyes on the King of Fighters tournament. His assistant notes only seven billion people exist on Earth.
It’s clever, brief, and it’s a shame there isn’t more of this story. For King of Fighters though it’s hefty, a series typically fitted with static dialog and interstitial pixel art, never explaining the indecipherable methods of the yearly tournament.
SNK’s series focuses elsewhere, anyway. Of the tournament fighters, few consider the bombast and spectacle of such a thing. If a few billion people watch, why then are the fighters collecting inside of an aquarium with sleepy spectators seated behind them?
Elsewhere, the atmosphere blossoms. Colossal filled-to-capacity stadiums and parades line the backgrounds, capturing the charms from an eclectic mix of brawlers. Although this genre ran out of kung-fu cinema, sci-fi, and anime tropes to use sometimes in the late ’90s, the KOF roster stays distinctive.
Now in 3D, characters have a sheen of anime action figures and apparel grows ever more complex for potential cosplayers. Moving (disappointingly) away from sprite art and into 3D, personalities remain. Yuri’s spunk, Terry’s cockiness, Ryo’s seriousness, and Iori’s seething anger fit into polygonal shells. Newcomers and oldcomers make have presence, ever varied and clever in their design.
Bass-heavy brawling sits under a soundtrack flushed with chiptune charms, uninterested in genre progression so much as preservation. In that sense, King of Fighters stands out. Not an evolution, but a stable, brisk, and refined three-on-three battle.