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Arcana Heart 3: LOVE MAX!!!! – Review

Arcana-Heart-3-LOVE-MAX-Cover-Image-01Oh I love me some fighting games! I’m not that good at them but, for some reason, I continuously find myself attracted to them. I stop to look at the case of the latest “Street Fighter” and “Tekken” games even though I know I wont play them nearly as much as I think will. I also happen to love incredibly niche and semi-unheard of Japanese games that only I, three other Western gamers, and a hundred thousand Japanese arcade-goers know of.

Good or bad, I love tackling these games. If they’re bad I can just blame the development crew, if they’re good I can pretend I “discovered” the game and I’ll talk about it until my friends kick me out of what will probably be a moving car. “Arcana Heart 3: LOVE MAX!!!!” was released originally as an arcade game in Japan and then subsequently on home consoles.

Well, it’s now reached the West despite the previous titles in the series ever doing the same and, thanks to our wonderful contacts, I’ve been given the chance to review it, something that made me excited but also a little nervous as I first started the game.

It has been two months since the Kantou Incident—the name given to Angelia Avalon’s failed attempt to punch through the walls between dimensions in the Kantou region of Japan. During the Incident, the Drexler Institute—an organization with ties to demons—began to stir, re-activating various projects in different parts of the world. The Japanese branch of the Drexler Institute was annihilated by the European Celestial Union, but found new life as the Rosenberg Branch of the European Celestial Union.

Soon after the Kantou Incident, large-scale dimensional rifts began to open all across Japan. This sudden uptick in celestial phenomena was seen as exceptionally odd by many, and some even whispered that it could be the result of secret research by the Drexler Institute. The Japanese branch of the Celestial Union was dispatched to investigate the phenomena, and they called on several angels from the National Academy of Metaphysics. Several angels from the Rosenberg Branch of the Celestial Union were also dispatched, but they were soon intercepted by the Aesir. Only six days remain until the destruction of Japan. – Aksys Games

Arcana-Heart-3-LOVE-MAX-Screenshot-01If a convoluted story that goes absolutely nowhere is something that you’re into as a fighting game fan than “Arcana Heart 3: LOVE MAX!!!!” is just the title for you. No matter which fighter of the extensive playable character list you chose from, you’ll be forced into completing the same story over and over again. The only time you’ll see some change is when playing as the main antagonist of the game who is readily available to chose as soon as you begin and, even then, you still end up having to fight the same final boss as any other character making the work this antagonist has done throughout the entire “Story Mode”…entirely obsolete. There’s a second mode called “After Story” mode which continues on from the main “Story” mode while at the same time not continuing on at all.

It tells a different tale but one that isn’t all that interesting and, thanks to the past two games never being released in the West, isn’t entirely understandable…much like the main story. In fact, I think that’s the main problem with the story of this game; Western players have no context. The previous titles were never released outside of Japan and each featured a storyline that continues from title to title, unlike games like “Street Fighter” where the story is simply “fight in a tournament”, obviously backed up by the conflict with Shadaloo and whatnot. None of the “Arcana Heart” backstory is told in “LOVE MAX!!!!” so most of what is spoken about and most of the relationships shown are simply confusing.

Arcana-Heart-3-LOVE-MAX-Screenshot-02Thank the Lords above that the game featured some interesting characters to keep me interested even though I didn’t really know who they were. You’re quick to find your favorite character and I think that’s because each one has such a unique fighting style. For the most part, “LOVE MAX!!!!” is your typical 2D fighting game and reminds me a great deal of “BlazBlue” and similar titles. It’s held up by it’s varied character cast and its accessibility with the command system being playable in both the standard and “simple” mode making it much easier for newer fans of the genre to take on.

“LOVE MAX!!!!” has an interesting little gameplay feature that pairs your chosen character up with a celestial beast known as an “Arcana” that adds to your moveset, unfortunately I had to find this out on my own because the game doesn’t feature any kind of tutorial whatsoever or any explanation as to what does what, leaving players mostly in the dark. Honestly, I didn’t even know who the main character was until I read it online. My assumption was the character named Heart…I was very much wrong.

Arcana-Heart-3-LOVE-MAX-Screenshot-03Visually, “LOVE MAX!!!!” looked very good for a game developed and released all the way back in 2009. Something that bugged me while playing though is just how cramped the battle screen is. On either side of the screen is a small panel that features the character you’re playing as, and your opponent, somewhat reacting to what is happening in the battle. While this can be seen as a nice touch, it evidently isn’t thanks to how it shrinks the rectangle screen down to a square and gives the player less of a level to move around on. It’s also a huge eyesore.

The game features an  industry standard in fighting game visuals and that’s sprite-based character models, each of which would look absolutely stunning had the game not been scaled down for the sake of the PlayStation Vita. The models were in low resolution and it didn’t take someone with a magnifying glass to spot it. Making up for what the character models lack are the environmental images of each of the stages. I’m not sure just how they related to the story but they were pretty good to look at let alone fight on. Despite the low resolution, the fluid animation is still noticeable and appreciated.

Arcana-Heart-3-LOVE-MAX-Screenshot-04Not much can really be said about the game’s soundtrack. I didn’t like it that much because I felt every track had been recycled from other titles of its type but I have absolutely no way to prove it so it just remained as something that sat at the back of my mind rather than something that impeded my gameplay experience. The soundtrack is made up by mostly electronic tracks and some that I thought I’d sooner hear in a dating simulator rather than a fighting game. Despite my dislike towards the songs, I still think they fit the game pretty well.

I won’t be rushing to find a copy of it to put on my music player anytime soon though. “LOVE MAX!!!!” is also entirely voice acted which came as a huge surprise to me. Thankfully Japanese voice actors and actresses know exactly what they’re doing when it comes to this type of stuff so, as you can imagine, each of the characters were masterfully portrayed and it made for enjoyable listening. Obviously you still have to read the text, unless you can understand Japanese, which is only bad because the dialogue spoken by these young fighting girls is mostly cringe-worthy stuff.

Arcana-Heart-3-LOVE-MAX-Screenshot-05“Arcana Heart 3: LOVE MAX!!!!” is a game that, honestly, I’ll probably keep playing long after this review goes live. I can see that there is so much wrong with it but, as a simple fighting game, there’s not much wrong with it. You just have to put aside everything that makes it a terrible game and focus on the one thing that makes it good. In saying that though, this is a review and I am a critic so I can’t exactly say “just enjoy the game”.

That doesn’t get us anywhere. I would not pay full price for “LOVE MAX!!!!” because I feel as though it’s not good for somebody craving a “full game” experience. I can imagine it’d be an absolutely brilliant arcade machine: It has a varied cast of characters each featuring their own fighting style, it has fairly good visuals that I assume would look even better on a huge screen and it doesn’t feature that interesting of a storyline which is usually skipped over quite heavily in arcades so it doesn’t matter anyway. As a console game though…that’s a whole other story. A terrible, boring story.

Grade: D+

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