Guest Post: King of Fighters 13 is heading in the right direction

[Raelcun is the nerdy younger brother of wundergeek and sticks mostly to PC Gaming but delves into consoles now and then. He does high level Starcraft 2 commentary under the same name and some technical work on the production end for Starcraft 2 Team FXOpen E-sports. You can find some videos of his work here, but he hasn’t been as active recently.

In general he tends to agree with wundergeek on her rantings about video games and even sends her examples of the terrible works now and then for laughs and while looking over some KoF13 footage was inspired to write up a bit more of a positive outlook on some of the same issues wundergeek goes over on her blog.]

Okay, the key point in the title here would be: “is heading in the right direction”. This is extremely important, because in no way is KOF13 perfectly designed and without flaw. There are definite problems, but one of the things that has impressed me the most about this game is how much it has artistically improved from earlier entries in the series. To clarify, female characters who have been badly portrayed in previous iterations have been almost universally more positively portrayed in this game. I find this to be the focal point and the reason why I say they’re heading in the correct direction, even if there are still more improvements they could make.

First of all, I will divide the characters I’m going to be discussing specifically into a few categories: the awesome, the not-as-awesome-but-still-improved, and problematic. These classifications are by my standards and opinions; you might disagree with them, but I’m the one writing this post.

So let’s start with a mashup of all of the characters from the newest installation of the King of Fighters series:

CLICK FOR LARGER VIEW

These are all taken from the official website and are the official artwork for the newest KoF. As a whole this is pretty badass; the designs are pretty decent, there aren’t too many glaring anatomy issues, and the quality of the artwork is high overall. Mai down there on the bottom is a problem, but frankly my sister has gone over the problems with Mai many, many times in the past so I’m not going to go too in depth with her.

A side note regarding atypical male characters

One of the most encouraging things about the cast of characters I found is that there’s a specific group of characters that are a little different from the others. The men have a pretty good variety in body types but there’s also these four fellows:

Now if I were to tell you that these were all female characters, there might not be any immediate disagreements as they are designed and portrayed in a rather feminine manner. K is probably the most masculine of them all but he could probably still pass for a woman if you didn’t know any better. I find that characters like this are awesome in light of the fact that most fighting games tend to go too far into the extremes of gender stereotyping. Characters are either VERY MANLY or EXTREMELY FEMININE.
(Furthermore, it tends to be extremely apparent that a woman is a woman because her bewbs are thrust into our faces.) So it’s great that these four characters create a little bit of question in their sex. I knew that Benimaru, Duolon, and K were male, but I legitimately thought that Ash was female for quite a long time. I like the fact that this is true and the next thing to come hopefully would be more diversity in the females… (Hint hint hint)

But that’s enough about that. On to the women of King of Fighters 13, because that’s where the real controversy is. So first up:

The Awesome

This is Elisabeth, she is obviously an equestrian character and her original design was… well pretty bad, what with the unnecessary heels and the random boobage. In her next appearance the cleavage disappeared, and in her current iteration the heels are smaller a little bit more reasonable but still a mite too large. (Riding boots do have a little bit of heel to them, just not quite that much.) Overall though, her design is pretty badass, which is why she’s under the awesome instead of the “improved.” Her riding crop is reasonable and not too BDSMish and her outfit is pretty accurate for an equestrian character, and stylish to boot.

If I had to score Elisabeth out of 10, I’d give her an 8. That might be a little bit harsh considering that her anatomy is pretty good, but her waist is on the small end for an athlete. (If you don’t think Equestrians are athletes try riding horses for hours on end. Seriously, ouch.) Also, her heels (again) are just a little bit too big and narrow for real riding boots, especially since she has to fight in them too. Still she’s pretty effing sweet and if you look up footage of her on youtube she kicks some major ass as with style and grace as well.

This is King, and I have to say she is probably my favorite female from this series. She is completely awesome, as are her previous incarnations. I especially like 2003 version with the nice jacket, and her expression as to say she might deign to give you the rose, instead of the other way around. There’s not much I can nitpick on here, except maybe again her waist size for an athlete. However, not only does she wear a tuxedo, but it’s a badass tuxedo – which rocks since tuxes are usually reserved for men in most designs. On top of this usually when you see one on a woman it’s been “modified” to “fit the female form” (code for showing lots of skin) so it’s nice to see a pretty sweet female character in a real
tux in a fighting game.

Bonus points go to her for wearing the gloves as well; too many people in fighting games fight bare fisted. Hell, even professional fighters don’t do that. (Really, watch UFC.) Also, look at her shoes! Her shoes are actually pretty flat no heels. Since heels in fighting games are one of my BIGGEST pet peeves, she passes on that one as well. Overall I’d give her a 9 out of 10 when it comes to character design, the only problem here being her waist being far too small for a serious athlete who kicks some serious ass.

The not-as-awesome-but-still-improved

Next up we have the “improved”. These are the ones that still have their issues but have improved so much compared to previous designs that I wouldn’t call them terrible or a straight up “problem.”

Admittedly, Athena is VERY close to being dropped in the “Problematic” pile, but her saving graces here are two specific things: 1) her skirt length has increased significantly in the newest game and 2) her job as a character is “pop star” a job in which if you’re not being sexualized you’re doing it wrong (in Japan at least.) One of the other things in her favor is the fact that you can see there has been quite a bit of redesign going on with Athena, there are some ups and down in the previous iterations but her most recent one is not terrible.

She is portrayed a little bit on the young end but she’s supposed to be around the 18 marker, so she barely gets by on that aspect. Also, the fact that she’s wearing flats instead of heels is also in her favor. In the current design her skirt would almost fit the dress code of the high school I went to, so when it comes to skimpy Japanese school girl outfits this is pretty tame. None the less, she’s just barely in the “improved” pile and is a few design changes away from being thrown right into “problematic.” I’d give her about a 5 out of 10 on the design scale, mostly due to the fact that her breast size isn’t over the top her skirt is almost reasonable, and the lack of heels and exposed midriff.

This is Leona, and again she’s close to being thrown into the problematic pile because of the tank top.

She’s obviously a military character, and for some reason game designers seem to think that they all like to expose a lot of skin. (Like Cammy.) This is somewhat of a pet peeve in that generally when you’re getting shot at, most people tend to think that having your skin covered is a good idea.

However, there are two reasons why she’s in the less-awesome-but-still-improved pile and not in the “problematic” pile. First is the fact that she HAS PANTS now instead of ridiculous butt shorts that make her boots look just plain silly. Secondly is the fact that her outfit is close to identical to the male counterparts on her team:

They’re not 100% the same but it’s pretty damn close. (Obviously, if she’s going to have a bullet belt she can’t have the same over the top caliber that her male counterparts have or she’d look a little silly.) She does suffer from the one recurring theme of King of Fighters, though – giving pretty extreme athletes tiny waists. So I guess I’m going to stop harping on this because it happens with pretty much every female in this game. But the reason I keep bringing this up is that they are supposedly the top fighters in the world. They’re going to have muscle down there. Come on. Seriously.

Still, I’d say that she’s better than Athena at least because she has pants – which is a pretty big deal in a fighting game. Her tank top is a little bit on the silly end; I’d like to see it be a little bit more covering to match her male counterparts a bit more. But as is, I will mark is as passable. Overall this translates into about a 6 out of 10, her bewbs are a little bit on the silly end but I’ll be nice and chalk that up to the fact that if you’re going to be fighting you’re going to want some damn support and not have them be flopping all over the place painfully.

I’m going to do these two at the same time as they’re almost the same design-wise. Also, they’re on the same fighting team and therefore have almost identical fighting styles. In two most recent games, they both have had the same costume (with a color swap).

The blonde is “Mature” and the Redhead is “Vice”. (Yes their names are rather suggestive and that part makes me facedesk a little bit. But I will try not to harp on the names as it’s tough for a company to change a character name without dealing with angry nerds.) Their current outfits are both pretty badass and while the cleavage shown there is a bit more than necessary for a business suit; to be fair in game you basically can’t see it as they both spend most of the time with their backs turned to the viewer. So while I’d like to see those shirts maybe have a few more buttons done up, it’s not actually too bad in game.

Both of these characters had pretty ridiculous outfits in the past. Like, seriously, what kind of dress is that? I’ve heard of having a slit down the side but a dress that’s just open in the front? I’m glad they dropped that design and of course when the new character designs (actually their original design) were revealed, almost all of the comments were about how they missed the dresses. When it comes to the score on these two I’d give them both 7 out of 10 in design. You can’t see it in these pictures but neither of these ladies are sporting high heels, which again is good seeing as they’re jumping around and doing kicks constantly.

The problematic

The last three characters I have here are just problems. They are problems for different reasons, to be fair, but each of them are to the point where I just facedesk in reaction.

This is Kula. Now, your first reaction is probably something like, “But Raelcun! She has pants and no exposed skin!” And, yes, that is true but the problem here is that she’s fourteen and that outfit is rather sexualized for a fourteen year old. The anatomy in her 2001 outfit is frankly disturbing, and in maximum impact she’s holding a lollipop? Seriously? Her design would be fine if she was older, or maybe if her top didn’t have that nice little “BOOBS!” golden outline. There’s not much else to discuss here and this is
probably where I’ll get the most detractors. I‘m just not a big fan of the sexualization of minors and for that reason Kula bothers me.

She does get a slight begrudging nod in yet again resisting the urge to put her into heels against the efforts of seemingly the rest of the industry. And for this I’ll give her a 4; her boobs are a little large for a fourteen year old, but you know sometimes that happens. However, she suffers from the same waist problem as the other female characters, and the golden BOOBS outline is, frankly, ridiculous.

This is Mai. She is a problem. We don’t really need to discuss why as you can figure this out basically just by looking at her. But surprisingly I actually have a few positive things to say here. When looking over the gallery of official artwork for Mai I realized that this current iteration is actually a slight improvement. (We’re talking very slight here.) I mean look at the anatomy on the 2001 one, and her posture is very slightly better than 2000, though she still suffers from some serious sphere boobage. Surprisingly, though, compare this to the other pictures present here, and the Mai in KOF 13 the current one is actually somewhat preferable. See included picture below for more reference.

I could easily have included this with the first group and most people wouldn’t have known the difference, but I’m striving to have some integrity here. So the difference between this one is that it was actually rejected by the company for the 2001 game. So the designers had enough sense to realize that when the artist turned this in for Mai it was just going way too far. I don’t need to discuss why. I mean, just look at it.

She’s got some serious problems with her boobs there, pretty classic horribly uncomfortable back arch and her torso is pretty damn elongated. Anatomy wise, the current Mai – gigantic unrealistically shaped breasts aside – her anatomy isn’t actually too terrible in comparison. So I’ll give the current Mai a generous 3 in design. There’s no possible way she can fight in that outfit and have her top stay on the upper portion of her body. There’s pretty much no amount of body glue that will make that stay on while punching kicking, as well as getting punched kicked and thrown vigorously. In design terms this is what we would classify as “You’re doing it wrong.”

This is Yuri… Yuri is at first glance pretty well designed, but she is a major problem because of the fact that she has problems keeping her clothes on. The worst part is that her design is actually pretty good despite this one major factor. I’ll leave the details of this particular problem up to the fine folks over at the SNK Wiki:

• In some games, when Yuri is knocked out with a special move, the top of her costume flies off. This happens in Art of Fighting 2, The King of Fighters ’94, The King of Fighters ’95, The King of Fighters XIII.
• In Capcom vs. SNK 2, when Yuri finishes a fight with a “Dramatic KO” (finish with a super move as a counter to an opponent’s special or super move), she will attempt to tie her gi tighter. However, the belt becomes completely undone and her top opens, revealing a semi sheer undershirt. Yuri will then blush in total embarrassment and immediately cover herself. This victory pose first appeared in Art of Fighting 2 when Yuri scores a Perfect victory.

And this is where I move beyond the facedesk and have to work very hard to not smash my head into a wall. According to the game story she is in fact 18 so she’s not technically a minor but she’s drawn to look like one so I’m going to count this as “sexualization of minors, with a very thin excuse to get away from that on a mere technicality.” I mean first guesses looking at her current picture at least I would put her at 16 or 17; oddly enough the older ones look more mature 2002 and 2000 especially. But she definitely looks much younger in the current iteration and this really annoys me.

IF we assume that she learns how to keep her outfit on at this point after 10+ years of fighting then I’d give her character design a 7 in any upcoming game that features her current design plus her clothes staying on. Her breasts are reasonably done, she’s decently covered, wearing sensible shoes, and has her hair under control in a pretty reasonable manner for a fighter. I’m sorry but if you have long hair you’re going to tie it up or back somehow before you get into an organized fight. (Yet another pet peeve when it comes to fighting games.) But since she has once again shown a tendency to not tie her top tight enough I am forced to give her a generous 2 because it annoys me that much. Seriously learn to keep your clothes on it really isn’t that hard. I put this as worse than Mai because while Mai has serious issues at least she’s employing copious amounts of I assume arcane power to keep her clothes still technically in the “on” position.

Overall King of Fighters 13 is moving in the right direction and it seems to me at least that the good aspects are outweighing the bad. King of Fighters as an actual game is traditionally made very well and to see the artwork starting to match that is encouraging. The artwork for Street Fighter (I’m looking at you Cammy) is still a pretty large problem but hopefully some other games will take a gander over at King of Fighter 13 and will copy some of the positive aspects and not… Mai.