Arcana Heart 3: LOVE MAX!!!!
The Arcana Heart series first hit consoles on the PS2, where it stood out at the time of its 2008 release by not only featuring an all-female cast, but also Japanese-only voice acting. In a world where English voice acting was the norm, this move reminded many of the subtitle-only days of anime, and was a bit of a surprise in gaming. The original release got reasonable marks, but its sequel didn’t get a U.S. release. Similarly, the PS3 version of Arcana Heart 3 was passed over in the U.S., but did hit Canada. Now, all of North America can enjoy the definitive version of Arcana Heart 3 as LOVE MAX!!!! has been released. Love Max has both all-caps and exclamation points, so you know this is the best version available.
The original game was a perfectly respectable 2D fighter, but it didn’t quite stand tall at the time with the genre full of Street Fighter II, King of Fighters, and Guilty Gear games. Even with a fairly unique gimmick and well-made gameplay, it didn’t garner much attention. Now, with 2D fighters being more of a rarity, Akysis has taken a chance on this by giving it two physical releases – one on the Vita and one on the PS3.
Gameplay-wise, Arcana Heart 3 plays like a smoother, improved version of past entries. It’s a standard 2D fighter, but with some unique features added in by the inclusion of the Final Fantasy summon-style characters. The biggest difference between most fighters and this is the use of the Arcana characters. These large demon-like characters have their own stats, and give each character specific attacks. The Arcana bar has three levels and lets you do super attacks, arcana-aided supers, and critical attacks that take up all three units of the bar. All of these attacks are flashy and tough to use, but they’re worthwhile once you learn the timing of things.
Beyond the arcana bar, you’ve got the force bar. This meter is in the top left and right-hand corners and allows you to cancel attacks or execute a knockback. You’re also able to do a special attack while canceling an attack, and you’re even able to do supers in that state as well. Recoveries are available either on the ground and mid-air, and can take some time to learn, but are well-worth it.
Along with the game’s unique elements, the core gameplay works really well too. The controls are nice and smooth on both the PS3 and Vita. The former has worked just fine for 2D fighters for ages, and gives you the option to play the game with a USB Saturn pad if you so desire. The Vita’s d-pad remains far better than the PS3’s, and is a breeze to use with this game. No matter which system you buy the game on, you’ll have a trouble-free time with the controls.
Mode selection includes a silly story mode with a roving reporter being a bit weird, and finding herself in amusing locales. You also get small character bits and can unlocked “after story” sections that are transferred over from a mobile game to add some backstory. The end result is really just some minor fanservicey stuff, but it is a bit more content. There are a couple of training modes and online play for both versions.
Online play is a bit of a throwback to the PS2/Xbox era in terms of limitations. You’ve got ranked and unranked matches, and can wait in line for a match to end. It’s very simplistic, but also well-executed. Lag was never an issue during a play session at any time in the day – whether it was early in the morning, in the afternoon, or during peak usage hours, online play was perfect and just as smooth online as off.
Visually, Arcana Heart 3 retains the 4:3 aspect ratio of the original game, which is a little bit odd. However, it doesn’t affect things in a major way and since this is a 2D fighter, it seems fairly fitting to retain that aspect ratio. The game’s art style is vibrant and very eye-catching. The all-female cast is very diverse visually, and includes buxom babes if you want, or witches – you’ve even got a schoolgirl creating a drawing that comes to life to kick ass and do her bidding.
Musically, the soundtrack is full of cheery music that both fit the light-hearted tone, but there’s more intense fare to enjoy as well. Every song is enjoyable to listen to, but none are all that iconic or memorable. The sound effects are a bit lighter-hearted than most games, but the core combat sounds are satisfying. The sound design is good overall, but not spectacular.
Arcana Heart 3 improves on prior games with tighter gameplay. The roster has also been expanded, and is even sillier than before. Playing the game reveals an experience with a fair amount of depth to it that will be thoroughly enjoyed by those who grew up loving 2D fighters and want something a bit different than the usual fare. This isn’t quite as polished as something from Capcom or SNK Playmore, but it’s still a really fun fighter that fans of the genre will enjoy.
Reviewed By: Jeremy Peeples
Publisher: Aksys Games
This review is based on a digital copy of Arcana Heart 3: LOVE MAX!!!! for the PlayStation 3 provided by Aksys Games.