Sometimes wonderful, refreshing originality can be found in the strangest of places. Something on the surface can seem like an entirely different thing to what it actually is at its heart. This is Arcana Heart 3: LOVE MAX!!!!! in a nutshell—an incredibly unique and impressive 2d fighter developed by Examu that I wouldn't blame anyone for overlooking. It seems just like another excuse for pantie shots and to see anime girls pose. While this is certainly part of the experience, Arcana Heart 3: LOVE MAX!!!!! is a fantastic fighting game.
The first clue that attests the games quality comes from its publisher, Arc System Works. Arc System Works are responsible for publishing some of the greatest Japanese fighters ever released on consoles. Arcana Heart 3: LOVE MAX!!!!! stands proud alongside such series as BlazBlue and Guilty Gear. Its just a shame that PC port also comes with the trappings of many Japanese fighters. While this is technically an updated version of the base game Arcana Heart 3 I will still be addressing things, such as basic mechanics as I feel like this may be a large amount of people's, including myself, first experience with the game and the series in general.
The basic setup and story for the game is suitably ridiculous, in the vain of something like Blazblue. The plot centers around 7 celestial stones of incredible power and every different cast member’s reasons to go and obtain them. It’s pretty generic and like many fighters exists just really to barely contextualize the fights. Each character has their own story mode to play through and dialogue with thread bare narrator characters holding it all together and giving exposition. To be honest, being originally an arcade title, expecting anything else would be rather ridiculous. While I guess some people would appreciate 30 minute cutscenes between fights ala Blazblue: Continuum Shift, I don't think that lacking story content is something many people interested in this title will be worried about. The real meat of Arcana Heart 3 comes from the gameplay.
[embed width="660" height="330" ]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bJyyo8CusTY[/embed]
First off, this game is in no way friendly to new players. There is a complete lack of any tutorial so unless you are somewhat versed in fighting games, more specifically similarly styled combo heavy anime ones, you might feel yourself completely overwhelmed. With titles like Skullgirls showing us that fighting games can in fact boast a fantastic tutorial that covers basically every aspect of the game in a very in depth way without alienating new players, an at least some what comprehensive tutorial should be included in games like this. Arcana Heart 3 manages to make time for a time attack mode and a load of after story cutscenes set in a hot springs, but asking for basic move tutorials would be too much, of course.
At its core, Arcana Heart is a typical anime fighter. You have light, medium and heavy attacks, air dashes, combo breakers etc. All pretty standard fair. However, There are 2 unique mechanics that really make this game stand out. Firstly, you have a homing attack button that allows you to dash or fly to the opponent from any part of the stage, ground or air. I have never really seen anything like this in a fighter before and, while it takes some adjusting to use effectively, its a wonderful inclusion. The homing attack can be used after launching opponents in the air to continue a combo, baiting attacks and homing in to punish and is mainly used to close space in the large stages. I don’t know whether the mechanic was built to accommodate the sheer size of the stages and the massive juggle potential or the other way round but either way it’s a very welcome mechanic that introduces a whole lot of refreshing originality to the game.
The next mechanic is that of arcanas. Arcanas give you handful of new moves to your character, as well as attack and defense buffs. This allows for an insane amount of variety in the character roster. There are 23 arcana, meaning that every character has 23 various movesets. I didn’t get the time to try out every single one of the 529 different combinations, but I did play with a fair amount of them and the differences they yield is rather substantial. This is an amazing way of varying up gameplay after having already chosen the characters you feel most comfortable with. Having not played this game that long, I can not really speak on how they effect the balance of the game, but it didn't seem to me that there were any arcanas that felt substantially more powerful than any other.
The characters themselves are an amazingly diverse and unique bunch. With a fairly large roster of 23 characters, all of which have their own gimmicks or something noticeable that sets them apart in both visual design and gameplay from everyone else in the roster. While it is easy to draw comparisons between Arcana Heart 3's characters move sets and designs from other fighting games, it doesn’t really feel derivative. This may be the case with a few members of the cast, there are just as many, if not more, interesting characters that I can't really draw any comparisons with. You have characters with reverse charge motions, equippable projectiles that are placed, launched, and fired using a variety of commands; characters that can only do certain moves depending how many items they’ve placed on the screen; etc. This makes it a joy to go through and play each character and discovering every one of their weird and wonderful playstyles.
Aesthetically, Arcana Heart 3 is obviously not for everyone. All the characters are girls of "japan legal I swear" age, and all happen to end up in situations where they are in incredibly revealing poses. This all culminates in the previously mentioned after story mode based entirely in a hotspring. I mean if that’s your thing, then that’s cool, but I can imagine that this will turn a lot of people off the game, which is rather a shame. That is not to say that the art is bad, on the contrary, the stages and sprites are wonderfully charming. While not boasting the extreme fluidity and detail of something like King of Fighters 13, Arcana Heart 3 is still a very appealing game to look at despite the low resolution sprites.
On a less positive note, the PC Port is a typical Arc System Works effort—extremely barebones and just about serviceable. There are no graphical settings at all; the only major display option is the ability to change the resolution. As it is a sprite based game, the sprites can't necessarily be upscaled, so the only things to change are the HUD and menu elements. The game is locked to a pillarboxed 4:3 aspect ratio. As this is an arcade title based around 4:3 cabinets, it is somewhat excusable and is at least better than the alternative of stretching sprites.
As the PC port is relatively new, one would assume that this is one of the most active periods of the online play. However, it seems like the online community on Steam is already dead and for good reason. There was no more than about 4 games going on at once, and on the few times I tried to jump on, the performance wasn’t exactly smooth. The first few seconds of every match I played were spent glitching round at around 1 fps before the match started and sometimes wouldn’t even stop then, not to mention the various points of slowdown throughout games. While fighting games are notorious for having terrible online, this is no excuse; it is absolutely unacceptable. So if your intention was to play this game online, then really think twice. However, this was just my experience with the online, many Steam reviews have stated that the netcode is in fact pretty good. Whether their standards are lower or they are indeed getting better performance in online, I am unsure.
I used both an xbox 360 controller and fightstick in this game and found both worked flawlessly and buttons are easily rebound. While not necessarily a critique, it seemed to me that inputs would alter depending on the character. I chose to main Zenia in this game and thought for a while that the inputs of the game were just incredibly strict. After playing around with the rest of the cast some more, I came to realize that it was just character specific. Things like doing charge back forward in a half circle motion might not work with certain characters. Other than that, the execution is similar to games like BlazBlue. Linking basic attacks together is incredibly easy and quick, meaning you can literally mash out basic combos. The difficulty comes from the focus on maintaining long combos as well as the sheer speed of the game.
The asking price of $29 is rather steep for the game you are getting. If the netcode was GGPO level and the online community was larger it would be another story. However, I feel that a lot of people will feel short changed with the rather basic package, especially seeing as this game is an updated and rebalanced version of a 6 year old game. Unless you have a committed group of friends who like the look of this game and fancy some good local fun, then I might suggest waiting for a slight discount.
This is a very hard game to review. While the core game is incredibly solid and incredibly innovative, like most PC ports of anime fighters, it’s the lack of a player base and poor netcode that is the kicker. Other than that, the game is an insanely niche, yet incredibly fun experience. If you are a fan of the more ridiculous 2D fighters, you could do a way lot worse than Arcana Heart 3: LOVE MAX!!!!!.
TechRaptor was given this game for the purposes of review. It was reviewed on the PC.