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Saturday, May 31, 2008

Arcana Heart - Review

This is a fighter published by Atlus. Featuring only girl characters, it may trouble those that are "machismotically" challenged (Derivation: see Machismo). It seems like a typical fighter where one takes Melty Blood, and a key character from every fighter and combines it into one game. So what makes this special?

For one thing, the art is beautiful. It looks to be more sprites with higher quality rendering which always works well. Initiating "canceling" maneuvers requires a single button press (really. There's a specific button designated for canceling). No more pushing 2-3 buttons at the same time or moving your thumb or fore finger in an awkward position to hit that special combo that allows canceling. It's not just "super canceling" (special moves that allow hypercombo/desparation/super moves to be used during the middle of an animation) it's canceling for everything, including supers. Meaning, you not only have a delay cutting button, but that button can be used to fake out your opponent.

The character system is unique. There are 11 characters and 11 arcana. Arcana are magical beings that lend powers to the characters, so most "elemental" attacks are the arcana's doing. Now generally, the game itself is set so that [story wise and beginner gameplay wise] one arcana works well in conjunction with its respective character. However, you can choose a character and then choose ANY of the other 10 arcana if you wish. Meaning: There are technically 121 different combinations to choose from in terms of characters. Do some characters not work well with an arcana? Of COURSE. Arcana suited for close range, speed boosts won't work for long-mid range fighters who have few combos that allow decent chaining. Like wise, long range boost arcana don't work well with short range characters. But characters and arcana have separate move sets meaning that the character that you choose has her own abilities and then has the arcana's move list added on. It's truly and interesting way to play and gives you more choice or freedom to fight the way you like.

Stages are HUGE! When I was reading the back of the box, I thought, oh higher ceilings probably means a somewhat larger stage for air fighting. I was wrong. If you knock your opponent into the air well enough, the camera ZOOMS OUT to accommodate the fighting spiraling into the air, just to show you exactly how large the distance is from your character to the opponent's. Yes, there is a top of the screen, but by then you're still gaping at how small your character is in comparison to the backdrop...

Note to self: Edit this post and add screenshots...

There's AIR FIGHTING! No wall fighting yet, but it'll come soon in some game. Some characters can double jump and all can air dash. Some can even jump-dash then double jump, and then certain arcana give the characters the ability to triple jump and double air dash (I've pulled off a triple air dash but that took some time. Take that Chun-Li and Millia Rage). The cancel button also serves as a homing ability for your character so that it actually hurls your character towards the enemy. What does this mean? If you have two experts playing, and one has the chance to knock the other up into the air, and the other recovers... You can get up to a good 20 seconds of just pure air fighting if they home in on each other correctly and exploit the correct arcana. When I started air fighting the CPU, I stopped caring that I was losing.

Complex cancel moves and incredible chaining for combos. Max combo can go over 99 hits and the game will follow (101...102...104...110). If you haven't played Melty Blood, I don't really blame you, but Melty Blood is a game well known among hardcore fans as being one of the cheapest (yet most fun) game in fighter history. Melty Blood was especially known for being able to air combo your opponent to death. Think I'm lying? Just search any videos of it and record your jaw dropping as that reaction is always fun to watch. If Melty Blood was bad, then Arcana Heart must be the devil. There's so much potential that I have yet to unlock that it may take me a while to fully understand every character...

Complicated damage system allows longer battles and more precise damage measurements. Unless you're a hardcore fighter, it's possible to never notice this, but to those that are here are some stats to giggle like a girl at:
1. Max Hp is somewhere in the ten thousands. (I'm guessing around 24k)
2. Damage is dealt from the hundreds to the then thousands. (It's not just 100, 120. I'm talking about 524...628)
3. Damage penalties give a chance for the other guy to recover from near death. Like some fighters, the more hits you deal the less you deal in terms of % of the damage you dealt that hit. Meaning, it'll start from 100 and slowly drop. I believe they call those diminishing returns but I'm not sure.
4. Some arcana have stat boosters which change up the stats of the fighters and can counter instakill combos. There are some arcana that increase atk and some increase def. Then there are passive abilities that each arcana has which could change up how the damage is dealt.

There are some bad things about it. First off, the AI. It's too hard. I"m having issues beating the story mode with one character on the easiest difficulty setting. No joke. I'm not some newbie either, I'd like to consider myself a fairly decent player of fighter games that know a decent amount of the tricks of the trade. The AI is brutal, I think the only thing the difficulty setting changes is the damage you deal and receive, and a FEW AI tweaks (as in, the AI doesn't bash your head in once the round starts, it waits for you to try to attack, then bashes your head in). Not only is it a defense freak, but it's skilled in countering everything. Button mashers will be hit hardest since the game seems to recognize when a button masher is playing. The algorithms suddenly change and the CPU goes on the offensive avoiding random attacks and successfully wrapping around your character, knocking you into the air from behind and then finishing you off with a super move. I got to the final boss before I realized she was tougher than Onslaught from Marvel VS. Capcom.

There are sound issues... or rather volume control issues in the sound. The codec for voices seems to have been really shoddy as I can hear a bit of that fuzziness due to a poor codec and certain sound effects are just much too loud. There's this skater who makes really loud "clashing" sounds as her wheels hit the ground and it's just about 3 to 4 times louder than the rest of the game. There's another girl who drags a really large sword around and the "clank" from her dropping the sword on the ground (every time she jumps or finishes an attack) is ear shattering. What's more is that it seems that it's the sounds that seem to be used most often that are amplified to the point of annoyance (hint: Dash-jump-air dashing has ALWAYS been faster than running...). I don't really have an issue with the music, but I would've preferred a bit more variety and the opening for the PS2 version deserves to have not been recorded. Honestly, I don't mind the opening song, but when you add a semi-poor, nasally J-pop singer into the mix, it leaves a bad aftertaste.

I don't know if it's necessarily bad or not, but some characters are more or less direct rips from other games. There's this one girl whose move list has the ridiculous 360 spin things that Zangief has. Interestingly enough, she does a similar [the same] move leaving me, not using her that often. Heart fights like Sakura from Street Fighter and Yuri from KoF combined.

I'm a fan of fighters and this game is still high on my list. The sound does get annoying to some level, but considering the amount of work in a very clean gameplay, sometimes, it's hard to be angry. Air fighting will always be cool. Considering that you can also switch modes from the first to the second revision and fight from either one, it's a good buy. Maybe someone can tell me how to beat that final boss. Forcing it to block only works partially before she uses a super that doesn't use up the gauge....or maybe it does, but then it's an all screen attack...

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