The twelfth main installment of the King of Fighters series, King of Fighters XII features a complete graphical overhaul, introducing brand new high-definition 2D graphics for both backgrounds and character sprites (which were hand-drawn over renders of 3D models) and new graphical effects (such as the camera zoom, similar to the Samurai Shodown series). It also reverts the "Tactical Shift System" from The King of Fighters 2003 and The King of Fighters XI back to the series' traditional 3-on-3 round-based system while adding new gameplay mechanics (such as the "critical counter" system, which allows players to combo off counter-attacks after their Critical Counter bar is filled).
Similar to The King of Fighters '98: The Slugfest and The King of Fighters 2002: Challenge to Ultimate Battle, the game does not continue the events of the main storyline and is considered a "dream match" installment. Players attempt to get the fastest time completion of five matches and are ranked among others. The game later received a sequel in 2010, titled The King of Fighters XIII, that concludes the third story arc of the series (the "Ash Saga").
Along with a limited arcade release in North America, it was ported to the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 in North America on July 24, 2009 (published by Ignition), in Japan on July 30, 2009, and in Europe on September 25, 2009.
Unlike The King of Fighters 2003 and The King of Fighters XI, the game drops the "Tactical Shift System" and its relating mechanics in favor of the series' traditional 3-on-3 round-based system. It also drops the "Skill Gauge" system of King of Fighters XI, as well as the fifth Special Attack button.
The game, however, includes two new main gameplay mechanics:
- Critical Counters - Players are given their own Critical Counter bar underneath their character's lifebar, which fills both by damage given and damage taken. When the bar is filled, that player has a limited amount of time to perform a Critical Counter Initiator (either Heavy Punch or Heavy Kick, which must be done standing and as a Counter Hit). Once it hits successfully, that player can perform a free-form series of cancellable attacks (known as the Counter Combo).
- Deadlock - When both fighters connect with certain attacks (as indicated with a red spark), they both take a fraction of the damage and automatically hop back (which can be cancelled to another action, such as another attack).
Unlike previous games in the King of Fighters series, characters are not organized into official teams. The game also includes no bosses or hidden characters. Only one character, Raiden, is a new addition to the series.
- Ash Crimson
- Duo Lon
- Shen Woo
- Kyo Kusanagi
- Benimaru Nikaido
- Goro Daimon
- Iori Yagami
- Athena Asamiya
- Sie Kensou
- Chin Gentsai
- Terry Bogard
- Andy Bogard
- Joe Higashi
- Kim Kaphwan
- Raiden (new addition, from the Fatal Fury series)
- Ryo Sakazaki
- Robert Garcia
- Ralf Jones
- Clark Still
- Mature (exclusive to the 360 and PS3 versions)
- Elisabeth Blanctorche (exclusive to the 360 and PS3 versions)