Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Game Review: Arcana Heart 3 Love Max!!!!!

2D Fighter; EXAMU/Arc System Works; PS3, Steam
Well I said I was going to review either Senran Kagura Shinovi Versus or Arcana Heart 3 Love Max!!!!! (Yes the exclamation marks are still necessary), but I've already covered the Senran Kagura series at length already, so let's cover a series that also features a bunch of girls beating each other up. Here is Arcana Heart 3 Love Max!!!!! for PS3 and Steam.

There exists two planes of existence: The Material Plane we all live on, and the Ethereal Plane. Normally these two planes remain separate, but at times they cross over each other allowing beings and objects from both dimensions to slip between the two. Now a bunch of Celestial Stones have appeared in the Material Plane, and with rumors that collecting them will allow any wish to be granted several individuals with the power of Arcana (spirit like beings) have begun searching for them for their own reasons. Little do these people know, that the fate of Japan rests in their hands.

The Story is, well, average for a Fighting game, which is to say a simple premise that is made confusing as hell given the different motivations and backgrounds of all the characters all running around finding any reason to fight each other. This is doubly confusing to people who have never played an Arcana Heart game before in their life (like me). Love Max!!!!! (being an enhanced version of the original AH3) also comes with an "After Story" which centers around the characters trying to find a Hot Spring. Basically the video game equivalent of an OVA bonus episode. Anyway, If you can get into the story there is quite a bit here, but let's face it, when was the last time you played a Fighting game for it's story. Other than Persona 4 Arena.

Visually, the game uses a LOT of blue, and I mean a LOT. The menus, the Fighting Display, everything. And I'm not saying it's a bad thing, it's bright and colorful and is rather easy on the eyes. Graphically it's not the most impressive 2D Sprite based Fighter. While the Fighter's portraits and cut-ins for super attacks look nice and are very detailed, the Sprites for the actual fighters are rather low-res, putting it at odds with Next Gen Fighters like BlazBlue and Skull Girls which use HD Sprites for all of their fighters. However, even through the characters look pixalated (especially at higher resolutions) they are all well animated with a bunch of devastating looking attacks. Unfortunately the fights are fixed at a 4:3 aspect ratio, with animated portraits of the fighters occupying the side bars and there is no option to turn this off (probably because it would have screwed with things like Wall-Bounces).

On the sound side of things the music is quite nice, there are no real stand out tracks, but there are also no tracks that make you want to jam screwdrivers into your ears (well, maybe ONE track during Story mode but that's because it plays a LOT during everyone's final few fights). Overall, the soundtrack is quirky and a little fun, but that fits with the mood the game is trying to go for. Voice acting wise there is English voice track, meaning everyone is speaking in their original Japanese and while everyone fits with the character they are playing, the cast of characters on display does mean there is a lot of high-pitch shrills going on.

AND now we get to the Elephant in the Room. The entire Aracana Heart series is rather infamous in both the fighting game community and in gaming culture at large for one reason only: It's cast of characters. It's not just because it's an all girl fighter, but rather it's an all girl fighter where the average age of the characters seem to fall around 12 year old. Sure there are several teenage characters and a few adults in the roster, but when you have a fight between a preschooler animating her crayon drawings against an elementary school student in a school swimsuit and a sentient blob of water, it's hard to argue the legitimacy of artistic expression. Which is a shame because as we move on to Gameplay, Arcana Heart 3 is a DAMN good Fighting Game.

Arcana Heart is a traditional 2D Fighter, even if it has a slightly untraditional cast of characters. You play one of 23 Fighters each with their own attacks and properties and fight against human or CPU opponents where victory is determined by who runs out of life first. At first glance the game seems nothing special, you have your Light, Medium, and Heavy attacks, and you have Quarter circle and Shoryuken movements to unleash each character's unique moves. However, it is with AH3's other two buttons where things get REALLY interesting. First is your "Homing" button. Press that button and your character will fly directly towards your opponent, no matter where they are, on the ground, in the air, even on the other side of the stage. You can even change the angle and the speed of your movement by pressing in any direction or by pressing the Homing button again. You can even cancel out of a super into homing to continue the combo at the cost of one charge on your Arcana gauge.

Speaking of the Arcana Gauge, this game uses the universal "Super Meter" found in other fighting games a little differently as well. Instead of completely expending on Supers and Cancels like other games, the Arcana Gauge will drop for supers and cancels but a red area will mark out how much was used. This red area recharges rather quickly overtime, but during that period you can't gain any more on the Gauge until it's completely recharged.

Now while the Homing Button and the Arcana Gauge is interesting and all, what really makes Arcana Heart stand out is the Arcana system. Arcanas are used by pressing the Arcana Button, and they have their own special attacks, super moves, and unique properties. One Arcana allow their character to teleport instead of dashing and another allows for a second mid-air jump, and each character has their own default Arcana; however, where the game gets REALLY interesting is that you can mix and match different Arcanas to different characters, giving each character 23 DIFFERENT VARIANTS. This GREATLY expands combat variety as even if you are playing the same character, your strategies can become polar opposites if you select different Arcanas.

Unfortunately, despite the fact the game has all of these incredible and unique mechanics working underneath the hood, the game's biggest flaw is that it doesn't tell you about ANY OF THEM! AH3 has absolutely no Tutorial mode, which means learning about each of the different mechanics is largely an exercise in trial and error. Or you just go online and find a guide to explain it to you. This is the most frustrating part of the game because without a Tutorial, you will be lost as to what a Burst is, what the Arcanas do, or what the hell is a Critical Heart. Hopefully, EXAMU learns their lesson an employs a comprehensive tutorial in Arcana Heart 4, because otherwise they will be draining their already tiny fanbase of new blood.

Arcana Heart 3 Love Max!!!!! is a fun Fighting game. The ease of stringing together proper combos and how unique the game systems work make for a one-of-a-kind experience that I have never felt in other Fighting games. It has it's own unique identity and if more people can being turned off by some of the character designs, I'm sure more people will play this series. Although, the lack of a Tutorial does make the bar for entry rather high. That needs to be fixed.

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