Arcana Heart 3

While Arcades are little more than a fond memory for gamers in the West, in the East they still enjoy a presence and relevance, if not the ubiquity they once did.  Arcana Heart is an example of a genre of games synonymous with arcades and, although they have been thin on the ground of late, they have been enjoying a renaissance of sorts over the past few years: fighting games. With the dwindling popularity of the arcade, a downwards economic powerslide and an industry wide emphasis on 3D, 2D fighters come along less frequently than perhaps one would like.  Undeterred by all this, companies such as Examu and Arc System Works have continued to create and build upon a rich legacy of classic games, and while some of these games never make it out of Japan those times are changing.

With Arcana Heart 3, Examu have concentrated on making the visuals unlike any other fighting game whilst keeping the actual fighting mechanics familiar. They have shunned the more sober themes popular in modern games (fighting or otherwise) in favour of colourful visual stimuli. Pastel lilacs, playful pinks and diverse ensembles are in this season and ashtray colour palettes and smelly boys are OUT. An all female cast is a rarity in games, probably because it is incredibly difficult to do, however this has forced Examu to get really creative.

Examu have clearly gone for equilibrium between familiarity and diversity for the character move sets.  One of the ways they have done this is by creating a general fighting mechanic that is consistent throughout the game, then giving each character their own unique moves and play systems. The general mechanics are two-fold: the Homing Button (D Button), and the combo system.

Angelia with her chosen Arcana, Mildred: The Halo

Understanding and using the Homing Button is central to playing the game.  One press of this button will send your character hurtling towards the opponent (even if they are airborne) which underlines the emphasis on exchanging blows and getting up close and personal (which, in turn, is necessary to build the meter for special moves). It also acts as a button to be pressed during a combo so you can increase the combo length with ‘Homing Cancels’

The combos are made simple by the implementation of a system allowing stronger moves to follow weaker ones.  You start with the weakest A button attack then progress to B, then C. So going from weak to strong/A to C is how you will start every attack. This system is used no matter which character you choose which will be welcomed by newcomers who can learn a 3 button combo by pressing A, B then C, and then use that combo for every character in the game. Combining the homing button and mixing up directions with button presses in that standard combo is the order of the day here.

The game’s depth comes from the titular Arcana. For every character there is a corresponding Arcana which is chosen before a fight, however you are not stuck with one, you can pick between them all to find one that suits your own play style. An Arcana is basically like a Summon from Final Fantasy that, while mostly inactive during a fight, provides the character with different properties (like health regeneration or increased meter refill speeds) and different move sets used by the fifth button: E.

What stood out most in my time with the game was the centrality of choice, not just in choosing an Arcana to compliment a character, but the choice for players to approach the game in different ways. In most fighting games you choose a character and then play that character the way they are meant to be played, however in Arcana Heart 3 it seems you are free to choose how you want to play them.

Screen filling super moves, a joy to behold.

When it comes to choosing characters I was taken aback by how spectacularly unique they all were. The game has a strong and obvious influence, but it came as such a relief to me that Examu have actively avoided the tropes that plague Anime. With an all female cast in a Japanese game it would be all too easy to create a gang of cookie cutter, irksome cliché girls but they have not only avoided this, but actually created some unique and genuinely endearing characters. There is a good deal of humour too – a game of this kind that took itself too seriously could end up being an uncomfortable experience. It won’t be uncommon when playing this with friends to find them asking you to repeat a  move just because it was funny. Characters tripping over themselves on a fluffed move? Yup, got that. Tiny angelic girl dropping the Westminster Clock Tower on your head, check. A girl’s crayon drawn man come-to-life turning into a castle and smashing you into the sky then shooting fireworks at you, you get the picture.

It is clear that Examu are intending to do the seemingly impossible with Arcana Heart 3: to create a fighting game that is visually unique, genuinely humorous, fun for beginners and that has enough variation and depth to make even the most hardcore of fighting game veterans giddy.  Together with full online play, rewards for playing well online, training mode and a fully translated story mode this is threatening to be something very special indeed.

Arcana Heart 3 will be released in the UK by Zen United on Playstation 3 and Xbox 360 on the 30th of June 2011 for £29.99, with a Limited Edition for £34.99.

Now this is how you do a limited edition!







3 responses to “Arcana Heart 3”

  1. @Recarm avatar

    More interested now that you mentioned it wasn’t entirely developed by Arc System Works. That was my assumption, and they primarily helped Examu with their netcode (I think). Initially, I assumed this game was too much like BlazBlue, but the homing button and Arcana, among few, highlight otherwise. Great preview, and I look forward to snatching this once PSN is up. Unfortunately, the EU Limited Edition is too expensive, or I would seriously import.

  2. Tu101uk avatar

    EXAMU’s Arcana Heart as a series predates BlazBlue (the original Calamity Trigger) by a good two years, and has had a meteoric rise to popularity in the East, leading to two sequels and regular showings at SBO Tougeki, Japan’s premier fighting game tournament along with the likes of Street Fighter, Tekken and Guilty Gear. Unfortunately, its poor showing on consoles (the first one was all right, though only got a US localisation, while the second one suffered from lag and glitches and never saw the light of day outside of Japan) meant that its has a niche (but dedicated) following in the West. Hopefully, with the advent of disk release on both consoles in Europe and the PSN release for the US means that this little-known series will get that bit more recognition. ^_^ Really, it’s quite a unique title compared to this generation’s other fighting games, and a solid game to boot.

  3. Paul Rooney avatar
    Paul Rooney

    Recarm and Tu101, absolutely. It really is one of the best fighting games Ive ever played and I would actually say its the best because there are just so many awesome things about it. I really cant get on with BlazBlu at all, its sometimes good fun but AH3 is just utterly spot on.
    Really Glad you liked my preview guys, thanks for commenting.

Leave a Reply