Arcana Heart 3: Love Max Review

2014-09-18-013039

 

Title: Arcana Heart 3: Love Max!!!!!
Developer: Examu, Arc System Works, Aksys Games (Localization/Pubisher)
Game Type: PlayStation Vita
Download: 2.0 GB
NA Availability: 
Digital Download | Retail

EU Availability: Digital Download | Retail
PSTV Support: Yes

Fighting games are nothing new to the PlayStation Vita, and the system is quickly becoming home to a lengthy library of the genre.  From PlayStation All-Stars to BlazBlue to Dragon Ball Z, there is a lot for a fighting fan to find on the Vita.  With the year going strong and Tokyo Game Show passing through, a new fighting game has launched on the PlayStation Vita, thanks to Arc System Works and Aksys Games, the two developers responsible for bringing the BlazBlue games over to the West.

Among fighting game developers, Arc System Works is mostly known for the Guilty Gear and BlazBlue franchises.  If you have played any of these games before, you also know that these are not for gamers new to fighting games.  Freestyle Mode aside, BlazBlue and Guilty Gear are very hardcore fighting games, offering very intense difficulty settings, even against AI opponents.  The same was known with the Arcana Heart series.

That series is what we have for you today.  Arcana Heart 3 was an Arcade fighting game that released on the PS3 in North America and Europe back in 2011, two years after the original version came out.  After 3 years, the series is making a return.  Releasing on September 23, not far away from now, Arcana Heart 3 is being remade with new content for both the PS3 and the PS Vita.  Here is our official review of Arcana Heart 3: Love Max!

Story

2014-09-18-013210

The story of Arcana Heart 3: Love Max is probably the hardest part of this game to understand.  The Arcana Heart series are not simple, standalone games.  The series has an ongoing story and most of the characters in Love Max are from previous games.  If you are new to the series, prepare for a lot of confusion about the world you’re in as well as what is going on in the actual storyline until you’ve played through several different characters’ Story Mode sections.

The game takes place in a futuristic version of Japan.  At the start of the game, there are several incidents that are called “Planar Rifts”, or space-time distortions that are causing various effects on the world as well as marking the appearance of energy-filled crystals called Celestial Stones.  Many people in Japan begin searching for these Celestial Stones, for various reasons.  For some, it is from an organization called the Drexler Institute that plans a nefarious plot against Japan, and for others, they heard rumors that Celestial Stones can grant any wish.

The story of the game is decent and anime-like once you know what’s going on.  However, the game doesn’t do a very good job at explaining it to you.  You will need to play through several characters’ story modes to be able to get an understanding of it and, even with that, there is a lot of backstory for who the characters are that isn’t explained.  It is highly recommended that you research the first two games or have played them before tackling this game for its story.

Gameplay

2014-09-18-013125

Arcana Heart 3: Love Max is a 2D fighting game set in an arcade style of fighting.  The game sports 2D sprites and effects as you go through stages of fighting 1-on-1 fights against an opponent.  The way these fights play out is very similar to how they do in other Arc System Works games, like BlazBlue: Chrono Phantasma.  Whether you’re in Story Mode or another game mode, you will be doing these 1-on-1 fights throughout the entire game.

The game has several game modes for you to play through as well as 23 playable characters.  Some of these were in the original version of Arcana Heart 3, but many of them are new.  The game features the following game modes, all of which are available from the beginning of the game:  Story, After Story, Versus, Survival Score Attack, Trial, Time Attack, Training, PSN, Replay Theater, Gallery, and Options.

Story and After Story are where you go if you want to play through each character’s Story Mode.  The normal Story Mode features the story from the original Arcana Heart 3.  In this mode, you choose a character and play through their own, personal story.  In each one of these, you see their own reason for hunting the Celestial Stones, leading up to a What-If scenario of them taking down the Final Boss of the game.  Since there is only one Main Character, only one of these scenarios is canon to the series’ storyline.

After Story is a different game mode.  This mode is new to the Love Max version of the game.  In this mode, you have different chapters, each surrounding a different character.  Unlike the original Story Mode, this isn’t full of What-If scenarios.  Every character’s chapter ties into another and the entire thing is a lengthy new storyline that involves all of the characters of the game, adding several more hours of plot to the game.

Versus Mode is where you can practice against AI opponents in customized 1-on-1 matches.  You can also do this in Trial, Time Attack, and Training.  Though, Trial has you performing specific tasks and Time Attack is with you rushing against the clock to win matches.  Training is a little more casual, allowing you to fight an AI that can fight or just stand still while you practice combo attacks.  The final fighting mode is PSN, which lets you go online and take part in Ranked or Player matches.  The other game modes are for changing options like the difficulty or for looking at artwork or hidden scenes that you can unlock while playing through game modes as certain characters.

Actual battles take place on a 2D plane with aerial and ground attacks you can use.  They are also set in a cropped manner, much like fighters look in arcades, with the fight in the middle with banners on the side to show each character.  The game uses a combo system much like the kind that BlazBlue uses.  You have light, medium, and heavy attacks to perform combos with.  You can also gather energy and use more powerful attacks known as “Arcana” attacks, which involve a mythical monster that you can equip to your character before going into a fight.

2014-09-19-035304

How each battle plays out can be very easy or very hard.  By default, the game provides a pretty decent challenge, even for fighting game veterans.  However, the game does offer two settings to help gamers get used to the system: Options and Simple Mode.  In the options menu, you can adjust the AI strength, ranging from 1 to 10.  You can also use Simple Mode in Story Mode, which enables you to perform combo attacks by button-mashing buttons as well as using simple button movements to use the powerful Arcana attacks.  Simple can only be used in Story Mode, though.  It cannot be used in any other mode.

As far as content goes, Love Max is packed with it.  You will be able to unlock new content each time you play through as a new character.  These unlockables can include artwork, new story scenes, animated renders of the characters, and more.  There is a lot of content to be unlocked.  Regarding length, the game can either be long or short.  Each character’s Story Mode consists of 7 fights, so it shouldn’t take you much more than 20-40 minutes or so to clear it with each character.  Given that you unlock more story content from each, unlocking and seeing all of the content in Story and After Story will likely take you at least 12-15 hours.

Controls

Controls are pretty simple to get used to in the game.  The touch screen, surprisingly enough, isn’t used at all in this game.  It seems the game was optimized for the Vita just as it was on PS3.  You will be using nothing but button controls to play through the game, whether you’re moving through the menus or engaging an opponent in a fight.

When you’re in the middle of a fight, you can move your character with the D-Pad or Left Analog Stick.  This includes dashing, running, jumping, and moving positions for certain abilities.  The L and R buttons are used as well, mostly for using Arcana attacks and performing grabs and throws on your opponent.  The majority of the fighting will be done with the Face Buttons, though.

Regarding the face buttons, these will mostly be used for various attacks.  The Square button handles light attacks, Triangle handles medium attacks, and Circle handles heavy attacks.  The X button is used in gameplay, but it doesn’t initiate attacks.  Instead, the X button lets you use energy to begin flying around the battlefield to begin aerial combat.

The control scheme is pretty easy to get into, once you start playing for a bit.  While there is no tutorial to speak of, veterans of other fighters from Arc System Works should be able to get the hand of the system after 20 minutes of fighting.  You can also redirect any command to any button on the system, which makes it a little easier to customize your experience.

Presentation

2014-09-19-225456

The in-game graphics for Arcana Heart 3: Love Max are good, but not great.  When you’re in the middle of a fight, you will see nicely-drawn 2D visuals for everything, from environments to special effects.  While you are fighting on your own, the game looks quite good and flows very well.  However, the visual quality degrades a bit when you summon your Arcana.  For some reason, the Arcana character sprites are less well-drawn than the normal characters.  Each time you see one, you will see a sprite that is riddled with jagged edges and imperfections.  It’s not enough to completely turn you off, but it is very noticeable.

The sound quality is another thing to mention.  Much like how Xblaze Code: Embryo turned out, Arcana Heart 3 doesn’t have any English voice-actors.  The audio options in the game are limited to English text with Japanese voices.

The load times are one final piece to address.  When you’re playing the game, you will have to wait a decent amount of time to start a match.  Once the game begins to load a battle, you will be waiting around 10-15 seconds each time you go into a new stage.  This isn’t the worst I’ve seen on the Vita, but it isn’t pleasant and doesn’t make a lot of sense for a 2D fighter.  It takes some getting used to.

Overall

Arcana Heart 3: Love Max is a game with ups and downs.  The game’s presentation isn’t perfect nor are the load times, the story is very confusing if you’re new to the series, and the game doesn’t go out of its way to explain how the mechanics work.  But with several new game modes and unlockable content, a fun and customizable fighting system, and a large cast of characters to choose from, it’s hard not to recommend this game.  It’s not perfect, but is worth a look for fighting and anime fans alike.

The PlayStation Vita Review Network Rates Arcana Heart 3: Love Max a 8/10