I would call myself a long-time Saint Seiya fan – I’ve read the manga and watched nearly every episode obsessively while squealing to fellow fans how meaningful this scene was here or that line there. I honestly never thought about an actual video game being made (even though there were plenty) until Saint Seiya: Brave Soldiers was announced for PS3.
When I found out I would have the opportunity to play this cool looking brawler packed with my favorite heroes from the series, it was an exciting prospect. Along with that, however, came some deep seeded suspicion that this latest Saint Seiya title would end up as a middling anime game with oppressively average gameplay that’s strictly for the fans. So, how did Brave Soldiers fair? It’s not quite middling but it’s very close to it.
The game plays similarly to the Naruto Ultimate Ninja Storm series, which–if you’ve ever played it–makes Brave Soldiers feel a little more familiar. And I certainly did love the prospect of playing a game that covers the last two story arcs–Poseidon and Hades–and features the very awesome Gold Saints as playable characters.
The character models are very well done, with each Saint rendered lovingly down to every last pixel. The fighting styles are faithfully reproduced and are distinctive looking. The special attacks are also beautifully animated; one of my favorites being Phoenix Ikki’s “Phoenix’s Wings Rise,” which actually has the flame phoenix fly across the arena and even into the sky. I also liked how parts of the environment can be destroyed when special attacks hit them (like when Ikki’s “Phoenix’s Wings Rise” collided with some pillars and caused them to collapse while I was playing).
However, the game comes with several drawbacks and these aren’t minor ones either. For one, combat is sluggish and imprecise with no way to instantly recover when your character is knocked down. Because of this, battles often end when time is up instead of an actual KO.
Another issue I have with the game is that while each fighter has their unique fighting style, there aren’t enough differences between them. For example, in Dissidia: Final Fantasy, every fighter is completely distinct–if you played as Firion, it was very different from playing as Squall or Terra. No character could be substituted with another because their speed, controls, moves and damage output were so vastly unique to them.
In Brave Soldiers, every Saint can literally be swapped for another. If I play as Shun, then I can play as Ikki, Shiryu, Seiya and Hyoga just as effectively. The worst part is that each Saint possesses very unique abilities that could potentially lend as much diversity to Brave Soldiers as to Dissidia. Andromeda Shun, for instance, is a defense-oriented character in the series with few offensive attacks. Instead of having Shun use his full moveset of unique defensive moves, the game has him simply attack a lot with Nebula Chain. Every other character comes off just as generic once you actually play them.
One last pet peeve was the damage balance in the game. Normally in a fighting game, the special attacks should do more damage than the regular combos. That’s the trade-off: harder to input but more punishing. Apparently, Brave Soldiers missed the memo since specials deal as much damage as normal attacks. When I played as Dragon Shiryu, my opponent’s AI kept using their flashy special attacks and after trying out Shiryu’s own specials a few times, I reverted back to simple combos and beat them pretty easily.
Overall, Saint Seiya: Brave Soldiers isn’t a bad game and it’s very faithful to the source material. The visuals are excellent and each fighter looks like their series counterpart, in both the models and fighting style. The actual fighting mechanics are where the game starts to falter. Slow controls, lack of distinctiveness between characters and poorly balanced damage output hold this game back from becoming a truly great brawler. Hopefully, most of the issues I had will be fixed by the game’s worldwide November release. I’m keeping my fingers crossed.