A large, ubiquitous concern that is impairing newer KOF players comes in the form of fretting over team composition. Character selection and ordering is an essential aspect of KOF as in all team fighting games, but in reality team selection plays a lesser role in KOF XIII than in CvS2 and undoubtedly less so than MvC3. However, I’ve witnessed plenty of fighting game players that spend more time fixated on their team rather than playing the game and improving, so I shall go into further depth on this subject to clarify how a player decide upon a team.
Marvel vs Capcom 3, Skullgirls, and Street Fighter X Tekken utilize character assists and DHCs which allow a player to greatly magnify or supplement characters’ damage output and spacial tools: to overcome character weaknesses or to augment strengths in simultaneous conjunction with other team members. Indeed, plenty of characters in MvC3 are heavily outclassed in one on one situations against omnidirectional characters like Wesker, which invokes the need for creative team synergy to even the playing field. These dynamics and complexities are absent in KOF XIII’s individual 1v1 rounds, so there’s less emphasis and thus stress associated with compiling a team of three characters. Even the traditional train of thought where a player uses a meter-dependent heavy-hitter as the anchor is somewhat variable due to the flow of meter in XIII, so what then should a player consider when selecting characters?
Most players gain interest in a character either by way of aesthetics or by analyzing or seeing their tools in action, so selecting an initial team is usually an uncomplicated process. Eventually, players will feel indecisive or realize certain characters may not fit their playstyle and that they need to incorporate new characters into their roster (as unlike in Street Fighter and traditional one on one fighting games, KOF requires a minimum understanding of three characters, so learning new characters is a common and less overwhelming experience). This is when newer players turn to others for help and ask for vague suggestions which makes it difficult for others to offer more apt solutions to supplement their needs. If a newer player asks me for a team suggestion with no given criteria, I’ll autopilot into my response of choosing Iori/Kyo, a grappler, and a zoning character just so that they start off learning a variety of different playstyles.
Character selection all comes down to game knowledge: judging hitboxes and attack properties, ways to control space and limit options, being familiar with damage output and the practicality of scoring damage, evaluating character risks and rewards, and then making a decision of if a character’s options and tactics resonate with the player. These are factors that players should consider when switching to other characters in any fighting game, so this is nothing new (these factors are generally what also decide tiers, but since this iteration of XIII is so new there’s plenty of tier debate going on). If you’re not familiar with each character’s options, then at least try narrowing down your search by deciding what type of character you seek. Perhaps your first two characters lack a projectile or long-range aspect so a zoner may contribute more tactical variety that could counter certain (impatient) types of opponents in ways that the other two characters you’re using can’t. You may decide to add a character with a command grab to your team in order to use KOF’s grappler okizeme or to have access to an instant throw in order to punish and thus limit certain characters’ options (for instance, Terry and Hwa Jai can’t reckless use their qcb+K moves in blockstrings against grapplers and so they’re forced to use other tools for their close and mid-range strategies). Even a simple criterion such as having high midscreen HD combo damage or an easy j.CD counterhit combo will narrow down the spectrum of choices and limit frustration on both parts.
There are plenty of schools of thought to subscribe to when devising a team lineup. The basic pattern of putting a battery character first to build meter and saving a meter-dependent damaging character last works, though because getting hit and blocking rapidly builds meter it’s likely that both players could end the first round with 3 super stocks and a full HD bar assuming little was used in the first round. Assuming that the point character survives the first round, they may be in a position to burn all their meter in the next round in a HD combo. Any character can use meter and get about 50% from a HD loop without supers, or reach 70% with a Neo Max finisher. The point here is that it’s easy and often necessary to burn meter to get more damage from a combo, and if a player already is fully stocked then there isn’t much use saving it for other characters if it’s enough to kill a character. Because of the new tug of war with meter in the console edition of XIII (more on meter management and strategies is coming in a future article), it’s certain that sometimes the secondary or tertiary character will start a round with little to no meter, so following the traditional method and placing Maxima last in hopes to land a quick 90% combo is a weak strategy unless a player is very comfortable with the idea of playing Maxima with little meter.
This plays in to my biggest point in this article: being comfortable with playing all of your characters with and without meter. It’s possible to save meter to make sure a later character will have access to it, but doing so entails reducing the damage that the former characters can do just to make sure that the final character can haphazardously spend meter for combos and resources. To me, this strategy type feels flawed since it requires sacrificing damage and options available to the other two characters just so that the final character can land quick damage or so that a player can use an EX move or utility DM as a crutch instead of dealing with having no meter and running basics. When I choose an anchor, I tend to look for a character that can play the neutral game exceptionally well without meter while also being capable of going wild with damage when meter is earned. For instance, either Iori has all the normals needed for offense and defense and both have very complete blockstrings, BnBs and burst damage so he can fit any needed role to close out a game, and most KOF players are really familiar with how to play a fundamental Iori. This makes him a great character for staying level-headed even when in a bad situation.
Don’t be limited with your character order, instead go for what works best for you. Some characters are generally known for being popular in one position (i.e. Shen or Daimon as an anchor, K’ or Kula on point) but there isn’t an established ‘best’. Daimon can easily tack on damage if he has a surplus of stocks and drives, but then again so can the majority of the cast. If Daimon isn’t the heavy spender, then Elizabeth or Mr. Karate or Yuri or any other character of choice could always fill the position of meter burner. Using what you know a character can do and with their strengths and weakness in mind, place them in to your team accordingly: if blocking cross ups or dealing with projectiles is a frustrating matter, than putting Daimon last would be a bad choice since the player can’t work around two of his primary weaknesses. Similarly, a player could put K’ second or last if really feeling his options and knowing how to circumvent bad situations. Some may favor placing a defensive/zoning character like Athena first in order to test the opponent’s reactions, tendencies, and patience while dealing with less abare EX moves or guard rolls, though plenty of others prefer their secondary character to be the defensive unit that plays more cautiously while possibly building meter for the anchor. Instead of putting a ‘battery’ character on point just to build meter, a different approach is to place a dominator on the line whose goal is to go for a clean OCV. I slightly alter my team or order to avoid matchups I’m uncomfortable with or to more counterpick a player’s style, such as using King against an impetuous player in order to bait or force mistakes and then make my damage from punishes while playing conservatively. Form your team however bests suits your interests.
As one’s understanding of the game increases, one be able to make wiser judgments in in their character and team strategies. Don’t be discouraged if you doubt your team isn’t the initially optimized based on common placements or tier listings. Even if you cycles through multiple characters when playing, the basic knowledge of enacting KOF fundamentals, working offense and defense, gathering a feel for how combos work, learning how to judge and when to use normal attacks will transfer over when learning a new character in KOF (and truthfully, this applied information is transferable into other fighting games). I used King in KOF ’98 for a long time before finally coming to terms with how terrible she is in that iteration and realizing I could be doing so much better with a stronger character like Iori. Although I don’t use her in that game anymore, all the time I invested with her paid off since even she is a lackluster character, I was still able to learn how to play KOF from using her so it’s not a big loss on my part. Likewise, don’t be afraid to jump in to KOF XIII without having your team formally approved; the takeaway is that playing and learning will instinctively improve any player and the rest of the ordeal will naturally sort itself out.