Some games use variety as a selling point. There’s a little of this and a little of that and altogether they form a solid package; a jack of all trades, master of none approach. Of course some games pull this off better than others. A.W.:Phoenix Fiesta is billed as an action game with RPG and dating sim components strewn throughout. But are the various components polished enough to combine into a rewarding experience?
A.W.: Phoenix Fiesta puts players into the shoes of a new student at Seidoukan Academy, which itself is just one of many academies in the game world. Following a tragedy years ago, kids are now trained en masse in the use of special weapons. Superiority is determined in big cross-school tournaments known as fiestas and essentially that is what your character will spend the majority of the game preparing for.
The game is based on a light novel series that has been accumulating narrative depth since 2012 and I ultimately came away feeling rather uninformed. The story isn’t conveyed in a very meaningful or memorable way and the gist of it revealed yet another highschooler-with-super-powers story, but fans of the overall series are likely to find more to appreciate.
Gameplay is broken up into a few distinct (if bland) segments. From the beginning of the game you have to start meeting and greeting students, trying to woo them into going on dates or sparring with you, all in the hopes of finding a partner for the impending Fiesta. As you play the game you’ll encounter the different characters in scenes that seem to pop up randomly. Each activity consumes some amount of time — even the act of inviting someone on a date that they ultimately reject apparently takes up half a day.
You can also challenge students to duels, but they seem just as likely to reject these invitations. During the dates, you get to enjoy a spot of dialogue featuring the girl you convinced to go out with you, though these are typically pretty brief. Weirdly enough, I saw the same dialogue on at least three different occasions asking out the same girl, so there didn’t seem to be a ton of variety here. Also, the ability to select a dialogue option to get a different outcome seemed very few and far between.
Graphically the game isn’t very impressive. The UI is clean, bright and snappy. The artwork is very nice, used for character dialogue and some events. Specifically, the sharp anime look and bright colors are sure to please genre fans. The character models used in the actual combat fall flatter in comparison.
Speaking of the combat, it also lacks variety. You can choose from multiple characters at different points in the game but the differences between them are minimal. All characters generally control the same way, with a light attack, a heavier attack and some sort of flashy super. Camera control is surprisingly simple, with a lock-on button doing a great job of keeping the action in view. Unfortunately the combat seems to lack any sort of depth regardless of which character you pick and it quickly begins to feel like a stiff button masher.
You can use different super attacks depending on which weapon you have equipped and an upgrade system lets you change the look of your weapons and increase its power. However, even with all that it didn’t feel necessary or very rewarding to interact with these systems. Also, a lack of overall challenge made the utility seem useless. Very early in the game I got a weapon that could one or two shot some characters with the super attack and leaned on it almost for the full duration.
If you cannot get a date or a duel, you can always spend free time training or doing odd jobs for money. The training happens instantly after you pick a category such as speed or strength and then your character is rewarded with a bonus. After a while you can see the fruits of strengthening certain parameters, but I felt that it definitely took a while.
This system is also less lucrative than it could have been thanks to a lack of dependent skills or abilities. For example, if increasing my speed enough times would later unlock some passive boost that could be triggered during battle, I would have been more proactive about training and managing skill point distribution. Lacking any depth component, I only trained out of fear of becoming too weak at some point of the game.
The jobs you can take on initially don’t earn you nearly enough money to enhance your equipment. The idea here seems to be to get you to grind for long spells until you can strengthen your weapon just a bit, but the combat is bland enough and the challenge mild enough that I couldn’t see myself partaking. You can also spend money on gifts to give the characters and the game thankfully tells you right out which kinds of items the characters like.
Unfortunately, you can only give the gift to the characters if they randomly approach you on some fine day. This is true even if the character is your Fiesta partner or if you go on a date with them. That means you can buy a gift for a girl and go on a date with her and never see an option to give her the gift.
The format of the game consumes days as you choose between activities. Major events are often many days apart, meaning you must wait weeks just for a chance to see something significant. When your invitations to date are repeatedly declined, the game becomes extremely repetitive and unfulfilling, with you mashing out training or jobs just to make time go by. It’s like the Persona series, just a lot less fun and engaging.
The inclusion of the original Japanese character voices is appreciated and there is quite a bit of variety in that department. My favorite part of the game was easily the character interactions and dialogue and — thankfully — there seems to be quite a bit of that to uncover here. There are multiple endings and dating sim elements that will mandate multiple plays for anyone who wants to see everything. The game also has a distinct sense of humor and at times can feel very similar to an anime, making it relaxing and easy to play.
In the end, A.W.: Phoenix Fiesta doesn’t do much to hide its extremely niche appeal, and the “variety” winds up a smokescreen to hide the gruesome lack of depth. The lovely artwork and entertaining visual novel and dating sim elements are frequently broken up by boring combat, repetitive training and dating segments and strings of identical weekdays where nothing fun or interesting occurs. If I had to summarize this complaint, it would be a significant lack of depth on nearly every front.
If you are someone who loves the source material or just generally can dig the quirky, light, and very Japanese appeal of this kind of title, Phoenix Fiesta is worth a shot. If, however, you came for a deep JRPG or a sophisticated action game or a thrilling, edge of your seat visual novel, be aware that you will most likely come away feeling disappointed.