Let me begin this with a huge disclaimer: I feel very sorry for my friends in the fighting game community who only own an Xbox 360 as rumored stipulations are barring the release of Arcana Heart 3 to North America. There are rumors and speculation on the web saying that Aksys Games decision not to push for a retail disc release is the reason for why Arcana Heart 3 will not be available on the Xbox 360. While the game may eventually receive a US release for the Xbox 360, for now Arcana Heart 3 is a Playstation 3 exclusive game – at least here in the States.
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In the realm of fighting games, there are your mainstream franchises like the Street Fighter and Tekken series that just about everyone knows about. Those mainstream mainstays aside, you have other fighting games that range anywhere from being competitors (King of Fighters), bad clones (Primal Rage), weapon-based fighters (Soul Caliber), or hyper-fighters (BlazBlue: Continuum Shift). After that there are a lot of niche fighting games that cater to very select hardcore audiences and that is where the Arcana Heart series find its fans. The incredibly unique series features an all female cast and its fighting mechanics are incredibly complex and on-par with game franchises such as the Guilty Gear and BlazBlue series. America got a taste of Arcana Heart on the PlayStation 2 courtesy of Atlus Games, but the port was a little rough around the edges and pretty tough to find after its initial release. Unfortunately the home console version of Suggoi! Arcana Heart 2, in which a lot of the series mechanics were finely tuned, was never brought over to North America. Eventually we arrive at the newest installment in the series: Arcana Heart 3. While the franchise has come a long way and the third installment is far more polished than previous entrees, does Arcana Heart 3 make itself worthy of the attention of hardcore fighting game fans everywhere?
For those not acquainted to the Arcana Heart series, it’s time to receive a crash course in insane fighting games. In the Arcana Heart series, for every character there is an Arcana (a deity) associated with them which can be assigned to any other playable character. While one fighter can be normally associated with a deity which governs wind, the player can always pick a different deity in order to gain new special moves. To give the reader an idea of the possible combinations in Arcana Heart 3, there are 23 characters and 23 Arcanas giving players the possibility of 529 combinations that can be made. If a player chooses to use a Time Arcana, they could see a reduction on their attack and defense; yet a player choosing a Plant Arcana could see a slight reduction on attack and an increase on defense statistics. Selecting an Arcana also gives the player the ability to use any of the special moves associated with that particular deity no matter which character he chooses. The overall effect is easy to see: each player will find their preferred character and Arcana combo and each battle will play out drastically different from any that proceeds it.
The online multiplayer is something that I didn’t get much of a chance to playing with due to the PlayStation Network being down, but I can say the experience is pretty smooth in the few matches I played before things at Sony hit the fan. Some players may have problems picking out their preferred character from the roster during online games as names don’t appear next to portraits. For those who are not quite familiar with the game’s dense roster of fighters, it can be a little frustrating to try to locate their chosen character. The only real option in multiplayer is the choice between using either animated or static borders on your screen. There isn’t an option for widescreen (like you can in local single player and multiplayer), but that isn’t much of a deal breaker.
The story is pretty basic as far as fighting games stories go. Months after an incident (that was detailed in Arcana Heart 2‘s story), there have been dimensional distortions as well as the sudden appearance of “Maidens” wielding great power and celestial stones. With all of these events happening, there is an order for the destruction of Japan within 6 days. Will the fate of Japan lies in its destruction or salvation? The player’s chosen character will ultimately decide how the story progresses. All of the voice acting in Arcana Heart 3 is kept in its original Japanese audio with English subtitles accompanying it. I will warn players that the majority of the fights are pretty easy until reaching the final bosses. As it tends to be in most fighting games, the boss characters are employ incredibly cheap tactics that will test even the most hardened players.
For the fighting game fanatic out there, Arcana Heart 3 also has a score attack mode where the difficulty is ramped up progressively. To make things even harder, there are a number of difficult battles where the Maidens will possess insane attack, defense, and speed stats in addition to an insane Arcana. In this mode, enemy characters are not paired with their typical Arcanas and the player will have to understand the nuances of possible pairings.
The biggest issue for most hardened fighting game fans is how the mechanics are balanced. Arcana Heart 3 is not manically fast as BlazBlue: Continuum Shift, yet it is not as slow and methodical as say Super Street Fighter IV. The speed of the fights is right in-between both of these aforementioned games – and that’s certainly not a bad thing. There are various characters for various play styles and everyone will find someone who fits their type. Every Arcana will mix play styles and give players many defensive and offensive option. The best part of this is, due to the possible combination of characters and Arcanas, it is very rare that matched-up players will play the same way. Concepts like the Extended Force, Arcana Burst, homing, air/wall recoveries are very similar mechanics found in BlazBlue… yet there are technical details in some characters that mirror some of Super Street Fighter IV‘s mechanics such as Hyper Armor. Despite its simple visuals, Arcana Heart 3 is an incredibly deep and rewarding game. Fortunately the game contains a “Simple Mode” which helps orients players in getting used to the game’s basic mechanics before plunging them into the full breadth of options available.
Overall, Arcana Heart 3 is a great value for the fighting game fan who craves a title that is a good challenge as well as plenty of fun to play. The myriad of combinations between characters and Arcanas will keep an enthusiast on the lookout for players with odd combinations as well as considering new combinations too. The game may have a cute aesthetic style, but the technical details makes Arcana Heart 3 a blast to play. I would like to thank my good friends Mikey K. and Mike L. for providing me a number of matches that were tons of fun as well as helping me branch out with different tactics. The Simple Mode and welcoming design of the characters makes it fun to get new players into matches as well as getting a taste for the combat mechanics. Arcana Heart 3 is priced at $29.99 and is only available as a downloadable title.