"And that is a shame, because Arcana Hearts 3 is actually a strong, deep fighting title that likely won’t get the attention it might otherwise garner."
As I was playing Arcana Hearts 3 for review, my girlfriend casually asked me what sort of game that I was working on. When I told her it was a 2D Japanese fighting game where all of the main characters are women, she exclaimed, “Oh, that’s great!” And while I completely agree that it is great to see strong female characters explored in any medium, I had to wonder whether or not this sort of portrayal was exactly what she might have had in mind. All female casts in fighting games are nothing new. Love Max!!!!! is the third in its series, after all, and Skullgirls explored a similar concept on the Vita earlier this year. But something about the frequently scantily-clad characters, as well as the several very young, pre-preteen characters, makes the concept seem borderline exploitative, and might turn off some gamers to the title. And that is a shame, because Arcana Hearts 3 is actually a strong, deep fighting title that likely won’t get the attention it might otherwise garner.
The story of the game is as contrived as any fighting game story; an evil, demon worshipping corporation known as the Drexler Institute has collected a series of stones in order to resurrect a massive being that will obliterate Japan, and for whatever reason, your character must beat a number of opponents into a bloody pulp in order to stop them. Each fight in the Story Mode includes a brief (and often benign) cut scene prior to the bout which provides a glimpse of background to your character.
"The Arcanas seem something like a cross between a true tag-team fighting game and the summons of the Final Fantasy series."
Arcana Hearts 3 will seem immediately familiar to 2D fighting enthusiasts. You have your charge characters, air recoveries, and holding back to block. Each character also a series of special moves that deplete a bar at the bottom of the screen, all which cause the screen to go dark as your colorful sprite performs elaborate combos or sends walls of projectiles streaking across the screen. All of these mechanics are lynchpins of the genre, and thankfully Arcana Hearts adds in a few other little touches, including a homing button that causes your character to fly towards your opponent. It’s a useful touch that makes following your enemy into the sky for a midair combo, but just as frequently caused me to fall right in line for a brutal counter attack.
The feature that sets this game apart the most is the Arcana system. After choosing one of the 23 characters, you also choose one of 23 Arcanas, something of an elemental guardian angel, which assists you during combat. The Arcanas seem something like a cross between a true tag-team fighting game and the summons of the Final Fantasy series. It effectively doubles the number of special moves your character has, and if used correctly, can unleash the most devastating special moves in the game, with a grainy, two-dimensional visage of your selected Arcana in the background.
"One character pilots a mech that takes up half of the screen, another is a is a magician inspired by Frank L. Baum’s Wizard of Oz and goes by the name Dorothy."
The Arcana system is a great way to round out your chosen character’s skill set. Having trouble pulling off your chosen heroin’s anti-air moves? Supplement her with Fenrir’s quick-to-pull-off machine gun. Taking a lot of damage? Use Kayatsuhime’s blossom shields to soak up damage for you during drawn out bouts. It’s an interesting mechanic that adds plenty of reasons to experiment with your set-up, and gives you excuses to use characters that you might not otherwise find as useful.
The broad selection of sprites on display here provides plenty of diversity. One character pilots a mech that takes up half of the screen, another is a is a magician inspired by Frank L. Baum’s Wizard of Oz and goes by the name Dorothy, and yet another fights while being held the arms of a massive chalk drawing that she brings to life. Not all of the characters in the game are this instantly recognizable, but there is enough variation that most players should find someone that suits their style—especially considering the flexibility the Arcana system provides.
"It may not earn all five exclamation points in its title, but is a worthy fighting game that fans of the genre will be glad they looked into."
Arcana Hearts 3 is a port to the Vita, and there are times when it shows up ungracefully. The screen during combat is not optimized for the Vita’s wide ratio, and as a result, has two banners on the far right and left screen that portrays a portrait of your character; useless at best and distracting at worst. Another example is in the use of your Arcana special abilities, which frequently require the player to press the square, triangle, and circle buttons simultaneously—far from an easy maneuver with the Vita’s small buttons, and something that could have easily been mapped to a touch screen, which are not utilized at all.
While its odd premise is largely lost in translation, and some of the mechanics and presentation are skewed during its port to the Vita, I very much enjoyed my time with Arcana Hearts 3: Love Max!!!!! It may not earn all five exclamation points in its title, but is a worthy fighting game that fans of the genre will be glad they looked into.
Review by: Nick Walge | Reviewed on: Playstation Vita