Girl on girl all the way.
Arc System Works, the Japanese publishers best known for the Guilty Gear and BlazBlue series of fighting games, remained on form with Arcana Heart 3, a 2D fighting game from Examu. After a 2009 release in Japan, the game rather quickly found its way to North America earlier this year via Aksys Games and has now finally been released in Europe by Zen United and PQube. The pre-release hype managed to embed two facts in my head. Firstly, the game features an all-female cast of 23 young ladies. Secondly, the collector’s edition came with a 3D booby mousemat. Isn’t it amazing what you remember…
The style of Arcana Heart 3 is relatively pleasing to the eye, if not especially modern. The 23 young lady fighters are your standard anime fare, with everything from the shockingly normal bat-winged Nun and cat-eared schoolgirl, to the far more bizarre scuba girl in a bubble of water and the little girl whose drawing comes to life. The 23 different fighters are all quite distinctive and offer a nice variety of different powers and abilities. But what makes them even more interesting are the Arcana.
To add further variety, there are 23 different celestial beings, known as Arcana, which can be combined with the fighters for stat boosts and special abilities. This adds up to a massive 529 different combinations, which is nothing to be sniffed at.
Gameplay revolves around a five button system, which can be picked up relatively quickly. Weak, medium and strong attacks each have their own button, along with guard and the all-important Arcana button. There are two gauges, one for the Arcana and a Force gauge which gives the player access to the most powerful Arcana attacks, while at the same time increasing the power of all other attacks.
The different modes within the game are where things fall a little flat. The story mode, with its selection of easy battles and a damn-near impossible boss battle, may well entertain for a short time. But the somewhat confusing story leaves the mode feeling flat and uninspiring. It should most certainly be played through at least once, if only to provide practice, but there is not much else to be gained from story mode. The rest of the single player modes – versus, score attack and gallery – are equally uninspiring, offering nothing more than practice for the main event which is online multiplayer. As with Blazblue, the online mode is solid and a lot of fun, promising to keep fighting game experts busy for hours, whilst repeatedly showing novices why practice is necessary. For those that need to brush up on their fighting skills, the game offers training whilst waiting for an opponent, which is a nice touch.
The result is a 2D fighting game that is competent, if uninspiring, in single player and accomplished in multiplayer. But where the game really excels is in the visual and audio side of things. The sprites used in the game may not look particularly cutting-edge, but they are impressive nonetheless. They move across the screen well and pull of some seriously impressive moves with some incredible animations. The soundwork is equally noteworthy, with high tempo music, Japanese voices and some hilarious sound effects.
There is a lot about Arcana Heart 3 to be impressed with, such as the visuals and audio work, the surprisingly deep combat system and no-nonsense online modes. But the game also falls short on the single-player side of things, which is a real shame. If you are a massive fighting fan, who enjoys fighting real life opponents, then Arcana Heart 3 will be worth picking up. For everyone else, Arcana Heart 3 is competent and at times very impressive, but really caters only to the hardcore fan, making it difficult to recommend.