King of Fighters XIII PC improves online play, doesn’t improve casual racism, sexism
The King of Fighters XIII Steam Edition
Fighting games have enjoyed and suffered from many different reputations over the past twenty years, and The King of Fighters XIII is all of those reputations. Good and bad at the same time. Wrapped up into one single game.
It is a game that is at once deeply fun, engaging, complex, and beautiful. Yet at the same time all of that is balanced out by a worrisome amount of casual sexism and cringe-inducing racial imagery.
Fighting games have always had a complex relationship with female characters. On one hand, they're often some of the only games which include female characters that are every bit as capable as their male counterparts. On the other hand they're also routinely exploited for sexual titillation.
Even given the long history of sexual imagery in fighting games, King of Fighters XIII still manages to occasionally take it too far. The character Mai Shiranui has long been a blatant example of fighting game sexism gone too far, and her appearance in this game is positively defiant. She bends over farther so you can see farther down her barely-existent dress, and more care than ever has been taken in animating the movement of her breasts.
In another example, the female character King's shirt gets blasted off to reveal her bra if she's KOed with a special move like a fireball. The male characters in King of Fighters XIII are also quite often blatantly disrespectful of their female opponents. Which may not necessarily be unrealistic, but it's still uncomfortable and unnecessary. There's pre-match dialog between characters and there's many, “ugh, a WOMAN!?” types of exchanges. Despite the fact that women make up 30% of the game's cast and are clearly just as capable.
Despite its problems, King of Fighters XIII is the most beautiful fighting game I've ever seen. It doesn't boast the 3D models of Street Fighter IV or the hand-drawn animation of Persona 4 Arena, but King of Fighters XIII's pixel art still manages to put them both to shame. The backgrounds in this game are so intricately animated and detailed that I literally mumbled, “oh my god…” a few times while playing simply marveling at their beauty.
You almost don't notice them at first, but when you actually pay even a moment of attention you start to see just how much care has gone into every one of them. This is the best reason to buy King of Fighters XIII on PC above all other versions. Seeing them up-close on a PC monitor is like nothing else unless you have an amazing TV.
Unfortunately, the beauty of those backgrounds is often canceled out by the grossness of their contents. King of Fighters XIII features the usual globetrotting set of levels around the world. The problem is that SNK has seemingly seen fit to attempt to mock each race when they go to a new location.
The level in India, for instance, features dozens of people riding elephants in the background looking more like 10th century royalty than anything you might actually find in India. The Chinese stage is full of snaggle-toothed fish mongers slurping noodles with chickens running loose. The French stage shows dozens of highly overweight caucasian women with bad haircuts and big noses eating and cheering you on. The most cringe-inducing stage shows brown and green-skinned, toothless “people” in the jungle waving tiki masks and banging wood drums.
To be fair, there's also a self-referential Japan stage which is full of sumo wrestlers, kabuki masks, and all manner of cliche “Japanese” things. It at least shows that they attempted these stages from a place of all-inclusive humor, yet obviously missed the mark.
These aren't the only stages, but they are the most common in the arcade and story modes. Each of them is so lovingly crafted and gorgeous that you almost don't want to acknowledge how problematic they are.
All of this is such an unnecessary shame too, because the rest of the game is really quite good. I had a great time experimenting with the many different characters, and studying the deep fighting system in this game. At times it's far too deep for the average fighting game player to grasp though.
That said, I had a great deal of fun just playing the game at the beginner level. It's fluid, fast, strategic, and since each match is played with three characters, it helps you continue to experiment with new characters constantly.
Beyond that, the online system in the PC version seems to have been improved. King of Fighters XIII was specifically called out by experts as a game with poor online service in our feature on how lag kills fighting games, but things seem to be going better now.
While King of Fighters XIII carries the torch for the fighting game genre's worst reputations, it also carries on its finest traditions. This is a game that has thousands of hours of gameplay locked inside its complex systems if you care to dedicate yourself to finding it.
Whether you can get past the game's rampant insensitivity to find the wonderful game inside depends entirely on your own values.