AquaPazza: Aquaplus Dream Match – Fighters Generation doesn’t just have an impossible to remember subtitle, it’s also an awesome 2D fighter. The PS3 has become a haven for them – especially with PSN making so many PS1-era fighters available, and this one continues the work of Arcana Heart’s devs by giving fans a female-focused fighter without an emphasis on fanservice. This is especially impressive since the game brings together three adult-themed franchises from Japan – To Heart, Tears to Tiara, and Utawarerumono. Partner characters are brought in from other franchises like Comic Party, Routes, and White Album – with one playable character from Kizuato. Given that the game vies to be taken seriously as a tournament-level game, it was definitely a wise move to make it more T-rated with the skin shown. The roster is fairly diverse, with only a few schoolgirls amid its 13 characters and a few males to make it a bit more appealing to folks who don’t like playing as female fighters.
AquaPazza has a lot more polish than one might expect from a company that isn’t affiliated with SNK, Capcom, or Arc System. The dev team’s work on Arcana Heart showed they could craft a really good fighter, but AP feels like the natural progression of AH, and retains its super meter bar and assists, but puts them on-screen at all times ala the KoF games and their striker characters. Like Street Fighter, you’ve got light, medium, and heavy attacks – with one partner available that can do either a simple move with the press of one button, or something more elaborate with a special move motion. If you’ve ever wanted to end a final boss battle by having a girl run him over with a bike, this is the game for you.
The fighting action is fast and the roster’s fighting tactics differ quite a bit from person-to-person. The fierce warrior Morgan is great for people who love long-range combat, as her bow and arrow allows her to attack from afar, while her agility gives her Vega or Chun-Li style attacks off of walls. In theory, a girl wielding books would be odd – but not in a game starring Multi. She’s a green-haired little Pixie who attacks with a pushbroom and can summon AN ARMY OF SCHOOLGIRL JANITORS to sweep you up. Short-range fighting fans will want to check out Howkulo’s fan-based offense and fans of gigantic swords should try out Karulau.
Emotions play a part in battle, and actually work out a bit better here than in Super Princess Peach. When you’ve got some momentum rolling, you’ll be happy and do more damage with each attack. However, if you’ve been having your ass handed to you, you’ll lose confidence and then take more damage per hit until you turn things around and get momentum back on your side. The assist characters allow you to get a taste of another character without having to devote time to play as them, and you can use them to help strengthen an area the fighter you’re playing as is weak at. For example, Riannon is an oracle and tends to float with her jumps and use lower-powered base attacks. She might be someone an advanced player would love, but fans looking for more action will want a zanier assist – like the bike-riding schoolgirl Konomi.
No matter which character you choose, you’ll be treated to responsive controls. If you don’t like the default layout, you can change it on the fly via the pause menu. This is a fantastic feature that more games should use since sometimes, you don’t wind up noticing how a control change will affect gameplay until you try it out in real-time. It’s also perfect if you want to switch to a USB Saturn pad since you can tweak the layout for that setup. Both the default DS3′s left stick and d-pad work for movement, but I prefer the d-pad to the stick, which never feels like an accurate replacement for an arcade’s joystick despite it in theory being better-suited to the task than a d-pad.
The core single-player features are a training mode and two story modes – one available at the start for any character, and a second that unlocks with each character that you’ve beaten. Bosses can vary depending on the character, and the storylines are completely different for each character in each storyline, but none of them are very compelling. Every one of them starts off with a basic introduction before each battle. Then you get more little bits of dialogue before and after major fights. Everything concludes with a boss battle that thankfully isn’t too difficult. If nightmares of fighting SNK bosses have left you hesitant to try a new fighter out, you don’t need to worry about that here – AP is a very user-friendly game and its easiest difficulties can give even novices a fighting chance no matter which character you choose.
Multi-player can be both local and online. Local play is silky-smooth as expected, and can be a great way to introduce friends to the game since just seeing it isn’t enough to fully enjoy it. Online play is limited to unranked and ranked matches, and brings back less than fond memories of SNK fighters on the original Xbox with how spotty it can be. With a wireless setup, you may wind up with an unbelievable amount of lag that renders the game all but unplayable. If things click in place wirelessly, you can play it reasonably well, but definitely try to only play this online with a wired connection. Realistically, you should always do that for fighters given how timing-sensitive they are, but it rarely feels required. Here, given how choppy gameplay is without a perfect connection, you’ll want to play with a wired setup in order to stand a chance against your opponents.
Visually, AquaPazza is a beautiful game with character models on par with KOF XIII. It’s astonishing in still form, but falls apart a bit in motion. While the character models are incredibly sharp, their attack animations can be a bit skimpy at times. Another more immediately noticeable, although less gameplay-impacting issue comes from the character select screen being very choppy. You can imagine how it should look in theory, but you always wind up with choppy animation and sometimes-laggy menu controls as well. It’s a real shame too since it seems like an issue that could have been fixed up before release and is now something that will need to be patched up to fix.
The few visual downsides are made up with things like lush backgrounds that actually feel lived in as opposed to just bland fighting environments – I especially love the outdoor area with villagers cooking a giant crab. Attack animations are fairly smooth, but aren’t up there with SF III where you look at them and are blown away by how slick they are. Some of the most impressive animations are from the little things – like Sasara hopping like a frog after a victory or Manaka falling back from carrying too many books, add some comedy to things, and the smoothness of hair flowing in the wind.
AquaPazza’s soundtrack is pretty good, but not memorable. Songs are generally cheery, with some heavier fare thrown in too. Still, you can play the game without the audio and not feel like you’re losing much. The Engrish voiceovers are humorous, while the largely Japanese audio with subtitles gets the job done nicely. Using the Japanese dub does make this seem a bit more authentic and the acting seems decent enough – although as someone whose Japanese experience is limited to anime and pro wrestling, I’m not an expert on the actual acting quality. The sound effect work is fantastic for attacks and is quite different for serious attacks with weapons when compared to sillier things like a falling bookshelf.
As far as 2D fighters go, this is a very good one. I actually enjoyed it more than KOF XIII due in large part to the varied cast and silly sense of humor. It plays great with a fairly in-depth battle system that is easy to learn, and the addition of partner assists brings about more strategy as well. Onine play is spotty, but enjoyable when it works as it should. It’s a visual stunner that lacks a bit audio-wise, but remains fun to play with each character more than most fighters. At $30, it’s a great value and a fine example of a high-quality game being released late in a system’s lifespan.
Reviewed By: Jeremy Peeples
This review is based on a digital copy of AquaPazza for the PlayStation 3 provided by Atlus.