Why you need to care about Arcana Heart. Part 1: The franchise
- ZEN United
- Arcana Heart 3
- Arc System Works
Arcana Heart 3 is released in Europe this month on Xbox 360 and PS3 and chances are you have no idea what an Arcana Heart is, let alone what number three what entails. That’s because this Japanese 2D fighter has never officially made its way to Europe before. This isn't because Arcana Heart is a bad game - quite the contrary, in fact - it's just that no publisher has had the stones to release it over here until now, and the first Arcana Heart only got a quiet PS2 launch in America.
So let Made2Game soothe your confusion by giving you a swift history lesson on the world of Arcana Heart, and why its belated appearance in Europe is a great thing for fighting game fans.
Arcana Heart is a one-on-one fighting franchise that features an all female cast. No, don’t run away! Just because the combatants are all of the fairer sex doesn’t mean this reaches the same degrading levels as Dead Or Alive (which was most recently seen bouncing its way onto Nintendo 3DS). Most of them are at least moderately clothed. Most of them…Yes the game is cute and yes the game wears a silly face, but it’s always had these things to help it stand out. An element of the ridiculous is never a bad thing for a fighter, Smash Bros embraces it and Mortal Kombat practically built its reputation on unique ultra violence alone. Cute anime girls is just the ‘thing’ Arcana Heart does alongside being a great fighter.
Let’s put that point to one side shall we?
The Arcana Heart franchise focuses on the ‘maidens’, being basically any girl graced with the ability to kick ass but who can also tap into a linked ‘spirit world’ and use its mystic powers to enhance their own abilities.
These maidens then use their incredible powers to fight for good and save the world or fight for evil and try to destroy everything, as you’d naturally expect. They achieve this by abusing the powers of the spirits and beating each other around the face with flaming dragons and great massive spikes. No handbags in sight.
Arcana Heart burst into life in 2006 with the release of the game in arcades and entered Japanese homes a year later on the PS2. Since the game’s release the series has seen five major titles, two of which were upgrades to the first and second entries, and one spin-off game that turned the fighter into a card game and was recently released for mobile phones in Japan.
Examu are the developers of the Arcana Heart games; Examu are a small Japanese development studio that produces licensed titles alongside the Arcana Heart franchise and another fighting series, Aquapazza, which is a joint design between Examu and another Japanese company, Aquaplus.
But we’re not interested in Aquapazza, for starters it sounds like a soggy pizza, but also because it’s just not relevant. That series still isn’t heading this way.
Perhaps most interestingly, the console version of Arcana Heart 3 is actually the first entry in the series to be produced by Arc System Works, the developers of critically acclaimed brawler BlazBlue, and it’s not hard to see why they offered to perform the port job. Arcana Heart has a cast easily as eclectic as Arc’s own designs. From a small girl with massive swords and one madam playing keep-away with twin laser pistols to a lady piloting a giant bunny mech, the game’s breadth of design and true character individuality is second only to Arc’s personal works.
In Japan Arcana Heart is big, having its own Manga series and even audio Drama’s have been produced to depict the franchise. The announcement of the third game was comparable to something like Call of Duty here in the West, being accompanied by a huge partnership with gaming bible Famitsu that saw several months worth of features talking about the game’s characters right up until release to help fuel the hype fire.
All that furore in the East and until recently we’d only heard the name muttered quietly by creepy otaku types on niche forums…
At first Arcana Heart was an interesting fighting game. The unique ‘Arcana’ system, the idea of choosing a spiritual power to go alongside your character (we’ll explain the extent of that in the next article), was an appealing hook and helped the franchise find its feet in the genre.
It was Arcana Heart 2 that evolved the franchise into the truly unique system it uses today. The alteration of the first game’s limited homing attack, the ability to instantly propel oneself towards your opponent, into an unlimited ability completely changed the dynamic of the game, for the better.
Arcana Heart 3 evolved the combat even further, adding the ‘Force Gauge’ that became the monitor for your defensive burst move and also determines when you can activate ‘Extend Force’, an ability that momentarily powers up your character.
Of all the fighting franchises on the market Arcana Heart’s evolution from entry to entry has been both subtle yet massive, with each entry studying and modifying what has come before to help the system shine brighter every time.
Why you should care
Arcana Heart 3 is the effort of four years of trial, testing, development, and innovation, and this is Europe’s chance to show its support.
Zen United, the European arm of Arc System Works, didn’t have to release Arcana Heart 3 over here - indeed it’s a risky proposition to bring it over after we’ve ignored two titles already. But this is our chance to celebrate this unique slice of Japanese brawling genius, and this is our chance to show that we’re not agnostic to trying a fighter without a known pedigree. Even if we might have to explain to friends and family why we’re playing a game full of young girls.
If you’re still unconvinced, the second part of our Arcana Heart 3 preview feature will give you the full lowdown on the game’s unique combat system, and perhaps more importanly, the Arcana system.
The Arcana Heart 3 release date is 19 August.
Words: James Bowden
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- Arcana Heart 3
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