Review: Arcana Heart 3
Arcana Heart 3 is the third installment in the very popular Japanese fighting series Arcana Heart. It is the second AH game to see an American release, after the original. Arcana Heart 2 never hit the States, presumably due to poor sales on the first game’s part. Thankfully, digital distribution has allowed Aksys to release the game to our territory with much less risk. Fighting game fans everywhere should be glad that they did.
Don’t let its low quality sprites and pedobait all girl cast fool you; Arcana Heart 3 is a beast of a fighter. The first thing I’d like to address is the game’s rather short list of modes and features. I know it seems weird that I talk about this first, but the game just doesn’t seem full to me. The game modes included are: Story, Versus, Online, Training, Survival and Gallery. While these do well to suffice and I don’t think there’s a vital genre staple missing or anything like that, six modes just seems a little…scant. I mean just like how many game modes BlazBlue: Continuum Shift and Super Street Fighter IV have and then you’ll understand why six seems a little light.
Everything is solid, but I have to point out that the ‘Story’ mode is something of a joke. Why, you ask? Well, since it is called story, I expected it to fill me in on all the characters and their motives. What they’re trying to achieve, why, and so on and so forth. It does this a very tiny bit. You will have a small amount of understanding of each of the characters when you complete their branch of the mode. There is no spoken English, so prepare to wonder what the girls are saying to one another during pre and post game taunt chatter.
The problem is that there doesn’t seem to be anything to delineate between AH3’s Story mode and the standard Arcade mode in any other fighter. All you get is a short dialogue after each fight, a static opening for everyone, and a cute picture for the gallery at the end. Doesn’t this sound like an Arcade mode to you? It really isn’t a big deal since a relevant story in a fighting game isn’t common, but I just don’t see the point of calling it Story mode when it’s clearly nothing more than an Arcade mode. That’s all.
The story itself is pretty silly. Powerful rocks have appeared in Japan and are causing various disasters. Each girl wants the stones for one reason or the other. I won’t spoil the ending for you, but it isn’t very interesting or important at all. The story in the game is utterly and truly an afterthought that barely deserves a mention, but because this is important to some gamers, I have to be honest.
The huge cast of 20+ characters is all female – there isn’t a dude in the game. One character is carried around by what looks like a monster drawn from crayons and that monster is a male. The witch character also has a living staff which is a male, but that’s it. The all girl dynamic gives you a strange feeling off the bat; as though the game isn’t serious or is a kind of joke. You might even get the impression that the game is for girls, which can be an issue depending on your stance. Fans of the muscle-head, brawny guys in games like Street Fighter IV may be turned off by the girls, but I could honestly care less about that macho, he-man group of individuals.
In terms of game play, all of the fighting staples are here. The glass cannon, the tank, the zoner, there is a chick to suit every play-style. The diverse cast makes the game very fun to explore and learn. The fighting system in Arcana Heart 3 is rather deep. The game is very offense based, bringing fighters like BlazBlue to mind. There is a five button layout: Light, medium and heavy blows make up three of the face buttons. The other two buttons are really quite unique. One is the Arcana button, which also functions as a strong attack button. I’ll go in-depth on WTF an Arcana actually is in a little while. The last button is the homing button, a button that makes your character chase after and home-in o your opponent. This tool is invaluable because the screen in the game is very, very tall. You can use the homing button to follow your opponent into the air after a launcher and follow up the assault for quite a ways.
This design allows for a menagerie of offensive options, but defensive options aren’t as varied. Aside from the standard guard, you can activate a burst technique which will knock your opponent across the screen. This is for those situations where you’re really being pressured and need to create space between you and your opponent. This burst attack will empty a blue gauge which is located near the character portraits and health bar at the top of the screen. This gauge also has a pretty important application for the Arcana, which I promise I’ll explain later. The fighting system is easy to grasp, but you’ll realize just how deep it is when you see a single combo take half of your health bar. Yes, this game has the OMGWTFBBQ combos. The massive screen makes the progression of a fight pretty interesting.
I believe that the fighting system is solid and the balancing isn’t garbage, which thereby makes the game, at the very least, a good fighter and I haven’t even explained one of its biggest draws yet: the Arcana. Each character has an accompanying spirit which gives them new abilities and properties. While the Arcana are assigned to each of the characters, you can choose to use any of them in battle. The one assigned to them is usually recommended though. After you choose your character, you are taken to a second character select screen where you choose the Arcana you want. Each one is different and finding one that compliments you style of play will be absolutely essential if you wish to compete in the fierce online mode, which we’ll talk about later.
The Arcana of holy gives you a super fast projectile and a powerful burst attack, the Arcana of light gives you three different projectiles and the Arcana of time gives you a teleport, a projectile which slows your opponent down and it can even stop time altogether, though the startup for that particular move is remarkably slow. These are just a few of the Arcana and remember there are as many of them as there are playable characters. In addition to the basic abilities they grant, the Arcana also give you new super attacks and a mega powerful Arcana attack. The supers vary and are usually just really strong versions of the standard abilities the Arcana grant. For example, the Arcana of holy allows you to launch a pretty fast projectile at your opponent. One of the same Arcanas super launches several of these projectiles at the opponent at once.
The Arcana attack is a very flashy attack in which the Arcana is summoned to decimate the opponent. While they are usually pretty tricky to land, the Arcana attacks are extremely powerful and can take upwards of 50% of a health bar. This attack completely exhausts the blue meter we talked about earlier. The meter fills slowly and can be filled multiple times during a fight, which means that you have multiple opportunities to launch the Arcana attack. It should also be noted that you have to activate an Arcana ‘mode’ before you can pull of the AA. During this mode, your character if faster and stronger, in addition to whichever Arcana specific bonuses are granted at this time. The blue meter quickly begins to empty during Arcana mode, and if you don’t quickly use the AA, the meter will reach zero, Arcana mode will end and the meter will quickly begin to refill. The Arcana make a good game great. Arcana Heart 3 would have easily been playable and fun if it didn’t have the Arcana, so they’re pretty much the icing on the cake.
For the console version of Arcana Heart 3, the game’s native 4:3 screen alone wouldn’t cut it. So, in order to fill the screen, they’ve added anime side-bars. The side-bars basically illustrate your girl fighting, taking damage, and winning or losing. They’re pretty interesting I think, and you reserve the option to disable them and or stretch the screen to full size, but this does cut the already questionable resolution so I wouldn’t recommend it. Also, when a girl loses, her anime counterpart will fall to the ground in a dramatic and usually pretty suggestive way. Necessary? No. Awesome? Yes.
From a technical standpoint, AH3 isn’t very impressive at all. The sprites are really quite grainy, a real shame considering how many of them there are. They don’t really hamper enjoyment of the title (because visuals are somewhat less important in fighters than other games), but don’t come expecting a visual feast like (yes, again) BlazBlue. The stages are butt ugly. Static and uninspired, the arenas in which the fights take place are just kind of…there. They aren’t eye catching or attractive, there is barely ever any motion in them and they refuse to serve any kind of purpose other than to sit there. They change up a bit whenever Arcana mode is activated, but other than that, they suck.
The music in the game is equally unremarkable. The metal and rock sound absolutely cacophonous, but it doesn’t matter at all since they seem to have it (the volume) turned down quite a lot compared to the voices of the characters. The online mode is the game’s bread and butter and is undoubtedly solid. Ranked matches and player matches are available, and all the amenities are here. Training while matchmaking, lobbies, spectating (cough MVC3 cough), player profiles and leader boards are all intact.
In addition to having all the requisite features, AH3 does something revolutionary with its RP system. RP stands for relationship points, and it works alongside your PSR (player skill rating), which is basically a score that increases as you win (or more generally, play in) online matches. Your RP with a character is increased as you use the character online. The higher your RP becomes, the deeper your relationship with the character becomes and she’ll begin to smile and express happiness. Or at least her portrait will when you’re online.
The revolutionary part is that you unlock colors by raising your RP with a character. This is the first time I’ve ever known excessive online play to be rewarded with something this relevant. The girls all start with five colors and the higher your RP, the more colors you can unlock. Other fighters usually use some kind of title as a reward for playing online, but not here. I think this is totally awesome, especially considering that additional colors must be purchased as DLC in some fighting games. It’s refreshing to get something we can actually use as a reward for playing online.
Furthermore, the net code seems pretty tight because I rarely encounter lag. It’s very fluid; more so than even the big budget fighting titles. The survival mode is very challenging and a good use of time, even if the boss seems unbelievably cheap. The gallery is awesome and has a lot more content than just photos. You can also view the anime side-bars and listen to all the sounds, though I can’t imagine why you would want to do that last thing.
In summary, Arcana Heart 3 is a phenomenal fighting game. It has a huge roster of diverse characters, an awesome and unique game play element, anime and a flawless online system. Its super fun game play is rich enough to look past its glaring lack of features and modes. The less-than-stellar visuals and music combined still don’t hamper the game enough to keep it from being a smashing good time.
Because there are fighting games that offer so much more from a technical and content perspective, I have to dock Arcana Heart 3. At the same time though, you’re certainly getting much more than your money’s worth since AH isn’t fully priced. It costs half the price of a new retail title: $30. Price point considered, fighting and action fans should definitely snag Arcana Heart 3 while PSN is still up. It’s a glorious and unique showcase of fast paced fighting action, powerful magic spirits and big boobs. It’s great.
- Game: Arcana Heart 3
- Platform Reviewed: PS3
- Developer: Examu
- Publisher: Aksys Games
- Release Date: April 19, 2011
- MSRP: $29.99
- Review Copy Info: A download code for this title was provided to DualShockers, Inc. by the publisher for the purpose of this review.