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SNK's silence on King of Fighters 15 may be a sign that development has shifted to next generation consoles

With both PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X out on the market, SNK's flagship may have needed some modernization before being officially shown

Posted by Nicholas 'MajinTenshinhan' Taylor • December 1, 2020 at 6:36 p.m. PST • Comments: 49

Although 2020 has been a year with more than its fair share of challenges for all of us, one area which has been seeing consistent content releases and updates is fighting games. While we haven't been able to have offline events as we'd like to, the games have been bustling with new content, balance patches and entirely new releases as well, so the genre has definitely been popping even during quarantine times.

One game which people have been looking forward to for a very long time, though, and everyone seemed to be feeling very sure would release sometime this year is the newest installment in SNK's massive fighting game flagship, King of Fighters, namely King of Fighters 15. Now the year is almost over, and not only is the game not out, but we haven't even seen a glimpse of it beyond its logo (and even that may be subject to change). So what's going on with King of Fighters 15, anyway? Well, nobody who doesn't work at SNK themselves can really say for sure, but let's look at past SNK projects as well as the little informatipn drip we have had for the upcoming fighter to try and discern what the situation is.

The fairly hushed journey we've been on with King of Fighters 15 and its lack of tangible information has actually been going on much longer than many of you may remember. Our first official confirmation that King of Fighters 15 was indeed coming was way back in December of 2018 — two years ago at this point.

Granted, this wasn't a grand unveiling at a trade show or anything like that it was presented by SNK themselves, thereby not being any form of leak, at a press conference in Seoul, South Korea. Since we only received verbal confirmation that King of Fighters 15 was indeed planned at the time, most people resigned themselves to having to wait longer than usual, but at this point it's safe to say that most of us have gotten a longer wait than we'd bargained for.

The next time we heard anything official on King of Fighters 15 was at EVO 2019. SNK placed most of their focus on promoting Samurai Shodown here, which isn't surprising given it was their brand-new title which had only been out two months at that point, but also went out of their way to show us the logo for King of Fighters 15. This instance is now about a year and four months ago.

I wrote a piece back during the summer where I speculated that since we hadn't seen any footage of King of Fighters 15 yet, it seemed quite unlikely to be a 2020 title despite originally being billed as such when we first heard about it back in 2018. While 2020 isn't quite over yet, I'd say it's safe to say that I was right on the money on that one.

We did receive word the other week that news on King of Fighters 15 would be presented to us as the beginning of 2021 via a Chinese-language interview with King of Fighters 14 director Yasuyuki Oda which hopefully means that the gameplay reveal isn't that far away now.

This two-year wait from original unveiling to ... well, nothing more than before, really ... is not something that's customary to SNK, and in fact if we look at their reveal-to-release schedules for past titles you'll quickly see what I mean.

The briefest window we've had from a reveal to a release from SNK in recent memory is SNK Heroines: Tag Team Frenzy, which by their own admission was a much smaller-scale game than their other titles. This was first shown in January of 2018 and eventually released in September of that same year, making it quite the short window.

When looking at SNK's bigger titles, we first have series predecessor King of Fighters 14 to look at for patterns. The former was first announced in September of 2015 and the game itself came out in August of 2016, making it just a bit shy of a year between the gameplay debut and the release. It should be noted that King of Fighters 14 received ample improvements after release to touch up its graphics, one of the main areas of complaint about the game, and enjoyed a healthy two years of post-launch content as well.

Their next bigger title was the grandiose revival of the sword-drawing Samurai Shodown series. This grand return was first unveiled in September of 2018 before seeing its release in June of 2019, meaning the window between showing the game off and its eventual release was even shorter than it had been for King of Fighters 14. Samurai Shodown has also seen a healthy dose of post-launch content with two Season Passes of new characters and a third one on the way.

The big difference between King of Fighters 15 and these previous titles is that while we've known about it for quite some time, we still haven't seen even the slightest glimpse of the game outside of its logo. Even if we were to use these other SNK titles as a baseline — which would likely mean somewhere between 6 and 12 months from gameplay reveal until release — it doesn't actually mean anything until we get to see some gameplay from the new title.

What this comes off as is basically SNK playing their hand too soon and letting us know about the game earlier than they probably should have. But they're quite experienced developers and did no such follies with their previous games, which leads me to believe that it's not just a simple mistake but rather a shift in resources for the game itself.

With the confirmation that we'll be getting some news for the game next year coupled with the fact that we actually don't know anything about it yet save for the fact that it's King of Fighters 15 I've grown increasingly suspect that King of Fighters 15 may be our very first next-generation fighting game.

While Guilty Gear Strive is set to release for PlayStation 5 on April 9th of next year, it's a cross-generation game that's also available for PlayStation 4 while King of Fighters 15 may very well not be, which is why I'm saying it may be the first next-generation title for the genre rather than a cross-generation one.

There has to be a reason why they let us know about this game early but never showed us any footage — and I'm betting that it's because they revamped it for entirely new hardware partway through development. We already know that SNK are eyeing the new hardware since Samurai Shodown is being ported to Xbox Series X this winter.

SNK have continuously been improving their presence in the public mind of fighting games and even the general gaming public ever since they were purchased by Chiense company Leyou Millenium back in 2015 with a multitude of crossover appearances across gaming franchises both bigger and smaller than their own.

We've seen Terry Bogard guesting in Arika's Fighting EX Layer, Iori Yagami showing up in Square-Enix's Million Arthur: Arcana Blood, Mai Shiranui and Kula Diamond palling it out with the lovely ladies of Koei Tecmo's Dead or Alive series, Geese Howard coming to bring the pain to Namco Bandai's Tekken 7 cast and Samurai Shodown's Haohmaru entering the stage of history in that same company's Soul Calibur 6.

The biggest crossover appearance, though, has obviously been that very same Terry Bogard showing up in Nintendo's gigantic inter-company video game crossover festival Super Smash Bros. Ultimate where he joins only two other non-Nintendo fighting game characters in the roster, namely Street Fighter's Ryu and Ken.

Of course, they've been making their presence known on the mobile market as well. Their flagship franchise-focused King of Fighters Allstar has been brining in vast revenue from King of Fighters fans all over the world and also made a big effort of expanding to other audiences while still maintaing its core focusing on the King of Fighters games and retelling the storylines from their numbered entries.

They've done crossovers with their own Samurai Shodown series, Bandai Namco's Tekken franchise, the highly popular Shonen Jump anime and manga Gin Tama and even shockingly enough with the WWE which had the game include famous celebrities like Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson and John Cena in their roster.

Their most recent collaboration is with a Korean mobile game called Seven Knights, showing that they're clearly spreading their net far and wide to grab people from as many different areas as possible with everything from fighting games and real-life U.S.-based fighting sports to Japanese animation and Korean mobile gaming.

In short, SNK have been making very sure these last few years that if you have even a passing intrest in fighting games you're going to know about them and their characters, which to be fair has been their main selling point for basically the entirety of SNK's existence.

While the business side hasn't always been SNK's strongest suit (they do have a few bankruptcies to their name) it's clear that this new management is working wonders for them and having them able to continue supporting their main titles for years after release and up the polish on them on demand.

With this in mind, it seems almost like a guarantee that King of Fighters 15 would've shifted its development to newer consoles in hopes to enjoy the greener pastures of a market where competition hasn't gained a foothold yet. There's also the fact that a reveal would be fairly anticlimactic if it's centered on older hardware several months, or even half a year, after the new consoles have been out on the market.

In the end, what we actually know for sure about King of Fighters 15 right now can be summarized in just one word — nothing.

But SNK's approach to previous titles coupled with how they've handled the buildup to the new installment in their most major franchise does give us these few hints which may point towards a more modern release than we were all expecting and that's what I'm hoping for.

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