Review – Arcana Heart 3

Review Arcana Heart 3
Button-mashing has come a long way. Over the years I’ve button-mashed my way through the best of them; why just two weeks ago I button-mashed my way to several near victories on a Marvel Super Heroes Vs. Street Fighter cabinet at a local arcade. I’ve also recently purchased the HD version of Marvel Vs. Capcom 2 for my PS3, and still occasionally pick it up and aimlessly thrash at the controller until my wrists get tired.

Being a casual veteran of the Arcana Heart series (Atlus’ PlayStation 2 port, anyway) I somewhat knew what to expect coming into the recently released 3rd entry in the fighting series; lots of cute anime girls based on a vast array of moe archetypes, all wearing skimpy and/or adorable outfits, and devastating each other with seizure inducing color bursts, which ignite the screen like cotton candy fireworks.

Is this what I got when I sat down to play Arcana Heart 3? Yes.

Is that a bad thing? Well, it is and it isn’t.


Review Arcana Heart 3
There is a story shoe-horned in amongst the high-pitched yelling and rainbow smeared chaos, but I’ll be damned if I even cared. Some of the selectable characters are good-natured, some are less so, and an evil corporation called The Drexler Institution is threatening to destroy Japan in 6 days, so it’s up to blah blah blah. The story is just a few weak excuses that lead to a whole lot of otaku-fantasy girls (referred to officially as ‘Maidens”) beating the crap out of each other.

But given that judging a fighting game based on its story is the antithesis of fighting games, what else does Arcana Heart 3 attempt in the hope of outshining it’s contemporaries?

For one, there is the Arcana system, for which the series is named. The game offers players 23 separate Arcana (derived from a Tarot deck) that drastically influence how each Maiden handles in battle. The Arcanas, when paired with a Maiden, influence the type of attacks and special moves that each Maiden can perform in battle. For instance, some Arcanas grant an array of status boosts such as increased attack and defense, while others may change the style of your attacks (i.e. adding melee or projectiles). With all 23 Maidens unlocked from the beginning, and 23 Arcana to choose from, the sheer number of combinations is absolutely overwhelming at first. Once I found my preferred combo I stuck with it pretty much through the entire game and into the online mode, although I did a fair amount of experimentation as well.

Review Arcana Heart 3
Arcana Heart 3 has several gameplay modes; Story mode, Score Attack and Online mode. The story mode is the main meat-and-potatoes of the game. You play through a selection of foes and view character specific cut scenes through-out, culminating in a final battle versus Ragnaork. Score attack pits you against a barrage of foes with the end goal being to top the leaderboard with a highscore. The online component, interestingly, is the only way to win alternative costume colors for your characters – story mode only unlocks trophies and in-game goodies in the gallery.

Arcana Heart 3 also introduces a feature called Simple mode, in which all the attacks and abilities are mapped to a single button. This is especially attractive to non-hardcore fighting game fans, and gives the game a means of easing players into the fray.

There are a few unique battle mechanics that make the Arcana Heart series stand-out from other fighting series’. Among them, the Homing Dash, which replaces the standard run/dash ability in most fighting games. The Homing Dash allows you to move directly to your opponent regardless of whether they are across the screen, or in the air above you. If you are accustomed to using a standard run/dash from other fighters, this mechanic takes a little bit of getting used to, but overall it works pretty well once you adjust to its overt rigidness.

Review Arcana Heart 3
Along with your standard life-bar, you have a secondary gauge called your Force Gauge, which fills as you take and deal-out damage. Once fully charged, the Force Gauge allows you to perform an Extend Force attack that is unique to your character and their chosen arcana.

The graphics in the Story Mode cut scenes, and character selection art is jaw-dropping, vibrant, and colorful, but the in-game 2D sprites are disappointing in comparison. The actual gameplay segments are direct ports of the title’s arcade release, and as such suffer greatly from HD up-scaling. On my 42″ plasma, the sprites were blurry or pixalated depending on what I had the in-game graphics filter set to. This was especially bad when set in motion. The arcade engine on which the game is built is clearly starting to show its age, but the graphics issue is only really a problem if you play on a large display. It does little to negatively effect the gameplay, or enjoyment there of, but it is an important note to mention.

Arcana Heart 3 may not boast the depth or popularity of other franchises, most notably the BlazBlu series, but with its cornerstone philosophy of “a minute to learn, a life time to master,” there is enough game here to attract the casual and hardcore fighting fan alike. If future entries are built on a new engine that allows for actual high definition 2D in-game sprites, than future Arcana Heart games could make the series more than a fringe attraction.


Developer
Examu, Arc System Works

Publisher
Aksys Games

System
PlayStation 3 (PSN)

Modes
1-2 Players

Release Date
April 19, 2011

Price
$29.99

*A copy of this title was provided by the publisher for review

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  • Ujn Hunter

    I don’t know… I much prefer the pixel sprites of KOF XI as opposed to the “HD” sprites of KOF XII. Something about 2D HD that always feels off to me. It’s like everything looks like a cheesy “Flash” game.

    I’m still waiting for the European release of this as I’ve imported the (PS3 version much to my dismay) Limited Edition disc. (Yes I’ll gladly pay $60 for a disc as opposed to $30 for worthless digital bits & bytes…) I only wish the Xbox 360 version wasn’t region locked.

    • EdEN

      What’s wrong with the PS3 version?

      • http://www.gamesugar.net Jamie Love

        I won’t pretend to speak for all Ujn’s reasons for preferring 360, but I often buy cross platform releases on the 360 because of this one really neat feature Microsoft has implemented – the ability to put games into the drive and start playing them immediately without a one hour install and 18 updates.

  • Ujn Hunter

    Well as soon as my darn bank fixes the problem of my favorite import shops not being able to charge my credit card… I should have a lovely Arcana Heart 3 Limited Edition package on its way to me! As for my disappointment over having to play the PS3 version, Jamie hits the main reason right on the nose. Other reasons include my preference of Xbox Live over PSN and my preference of the Xbox 360 wireless controller as opposed to the cramp inducing Dualshock 3. The Xbox 360 is just better designed to actually play “games” to me, and I will always buy the Xbox 360 version of a multiplatform game (given the opportunity… thanks Aksys!).