Arcana Heart 3 review
- ZEN United
- Arcana Heart 3
- Arc System Works
Formats: PS3, Xbox 360
Format reviewed: PS3
Publisher: Zen United
Developer: Arc System Works
Made2Game Arcana Heart 3 review score: 8/10
When a fighting game is in development there’s always one big question on everybody’s lips – What is its ‘thing’?
With FPS games we’re content if the guns all shoot forward, with driving games the cars all have to steer in an understood and respectable fashion. But in a fighter, we’re always more interested in what’s different.
Be it mechanical or aesthetical, fighters take pride in what makes them unique. Street Fighter IV has Focus Attacks and the Revenge Meter, BlazBlue has its hugely diverse characters with their individual traits, Soul Calibur is a fluid 3D combat ballet, Smash Bros is silly, and Mortal Kombat is all about the violence. Heck, Street Fighter 3 has gone down in history almost on its parry alone.
So what does Arcana Heart 3 have to set itself apart? Quite a lot actually. A homing attack, an all female cast, and it’s inconceivably deep Arcana system are the clear high points. And there, you thought it was just some cute moe moneymaker. This is one game for which assumptions do you no good.
Indeed many people will be instantly put off Arcana Heart 3 on account of its cast coming exclusively from Venus. Don’t you do it, don’t be one of those people. There’s a brilliant fighter in here if you can get over the fact that every combatant present has the ability to bear children. Or would, were they not 2D drawings.
It’s not as degrading as the idea insinuates either; it’s used more for comedy than for arousing those less than savoury ideas you may be imagining. Then, once you get over that hump, you’ll realise that the fighting on offer in Arcana Heart 3 is absolutely brilliant. Brilliant on account of its controls, and brilliant due to the unique Arcana system.
Arcana Heart 3’s combat is built around a five-button set-up. Light, medium and heavy attacks take up three while another is used for Arcana-specific abilities. The fifth and final button activates the unique homing ‘attack’ but don’t worry if this seems confusing, a ‘simple’ control set up is there to help anyone and everyone jump in.
Back to that homing ability. This move is key to understanding Arcana Heart 3’s combat; just poking the button once will send your little lady hurtling towards her foe. You can stop it of course, or temper it with directional inputs, but the presence of the homing button helps infuse every player with a mentality to fight hard and fast.
Homing attacks can be used to trick and beguile, or to chase a launched foe in order to continue combos, either way the practise of homing empowers players with all the tenacity and ferocity of a superhero. Namco Bandai are probably already bitter they didn’t invent this system for their Dragon Ball fighters, as it would have been perfect.
Who do you think you are?
However, homing is only one of Arcana Heart 3’s completely unique features; the other is its Arcana system. This is the idea of choosing an elemental power to go alongside your character, an elemental power that gives you unique attacks and even alters the statistics of both fighters in play.
The Sin Arcana adds tricky mines and boosts your offence, the Earth Arcana increases defence but has your character dropping from the sky like a rock, and the fire Arcana adds a projectile you can use to cover assaults and boost your offensive abilities. It’s up to you to choose an Arcana that will boost a strength or plug up those holes in your strategy.
Yet to discuss the Arcana abilities with such prominence does a disservice to Arcana Heart 3’s character roster, which features 23 surprisingly unique girls. From a little witch girl who summons creepy fish, to standard rush down karate experts, to a zoning special agent with dual pistols, to a lass in a gigantic-robotic-bunny-mech. There’s a clear reason Arc System Works have shown developers Examu and their game the ultimate respect in performing its console port, Arcana Heart 3’s roster features a line up that is almost as unique as those in their own titles Guilty Gear and BlazBlue. Almost.
Discovering the synergy of character and Arcana that matches your own personal play style is a compelling exercise in the rarely seen art of still-playing-at-3am-with-bloodshot-eyes-examining-spreadsheets-whilst-in-practise-mode-tinkering-in-pursuit-of-perfection-you’ll-likely-never-find. And you’ll love every part of the headache that brings.
Indeed what I’m about to say feels slightly churlish as Arcana Heart 3’s ideas are so much fun, and its fisticuffs so fast, brutal, and compelling, that it seems like an (unfortunately necessary) disservice to say that the package as a whole does not feel like a complete modern fighter.
Don’t worry about internet play as that’s present and oh so correct, complete with all the features of BlazBlue such as character rankings and replay downloading. Most importantly it’s using Arc System Works’ incredible netcode, which means the bouts run so buttery smooth, no matter the conditions, that we’re sure human sacrifice and voodoo rituals must be involved.
It is with the single player where the issues lie, and in its Everest-embarrassing learning curve specifically. Arcana Heart 3 lacks any form of challenge mode or tutorial that, considering the quality of these portions in BlazBlue’s console releases, will create a substantial hurdle for many less motivated players.
We can understand the lack of challenges. The developers don’t want to fool players into tying one character to one Arcana permanently, but a lack of in-game tutorial will leave some in the dark, especially considering the depth of the game’s systems. If you’re unprepared to seek outside resources, of which there are plenty by the way, then prepare for an uphill struggle getting to grips with the nuances of Arcana Heart 3.
As for the single player modes, Arcana Heart 3 features Arcade mode, complete with preposterous stories, a Score Attack mode, complete with preposterous and impossible final boss, and the standard training mode. It’s a minimal spread but perhaps telling of the game’s quality that we wanted to play more and more regardless.
Spice up your life
But when you play with friends… oh boy, when you play with friends Arcana Heart 3 becomes something else entirely. Sharing ideas and strategies while enjoying the tactical, brutal, and slightly insane combat, all the while working out your own character and Arcana combos while simultaneously attempting to analyse the weakness’ of your friend’s choices is fantastic. Yes, in multiplayer Arcana Heart 3’s already compelling systems become infinitely deep, and all it takes to get up to speed is a little outside reading.
So that’s Arcana Heart 3’s ‘thing’, a stunningly deep combination system tied to a wonderfully accomplished 2D fighting game, capped off by the aggression-promoting homing attack. It’s different in so many ways, and brilliant in every one of them. Give it some time and a little considered attention and Arcana Heart 3 will surpass its initial quirks and absorb you in its wonderful and deep intricacies.
Words: James Bowden
For more about Arcana Heart 3’s legacy, read this Arcana Heart feature.
And for more about the Arcana Heart 3 combat system, read our second Arcana Heart feature here.
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