Koihime Enbu answers the question that has, undoubtedly, plagued the minds of all of us for decades now. What would Romance of the Three Kingdoms be like if all the characters were moe anime girls? The answer is surprising. The result is a compelling fighting game that is fundamentally sound, easily picked up when compared to similar titles, and worth a look.
Enbu isn't the first but the fourth in the Koihime series from developer BaseSon. The origins of the franchise can be seen in the debut title, Koihime Musō: Doki Otome Darake no Sangokushi Engi. It was a eroge visual novel meets tactical RPG that was a clear riff on the saga of the Three Kingdoms (more commonly known to gamers as the Dynasty Warriors series from Koei Tecmo) with a very clear focus on the "appeal" of its female characters. It even assumed the form of a free-to-play browser-based MMO at one point with pay-to-win microtransactions and a heavier strategy-based style of gameplay that focused more on gameplay and less on tantalizing vignettes. Koihime Enbu joins an increasingly crowded landscape of fighting games within the past few years and, frankly, it will likely get lost in the shuffle with big hitters like Guilty Gear XRD: Revelator, BlazBlue Central Fiction, Tekken 7, King of Fighters XIV and more all set to drop this year. It's a shame really as it has a solid foundation at its core that delivers on the promise of just how fun flinging cute anime girls with spear weapons at each other for the fate of the Three Kingdoms can be.
Players of all skill levels won't find any hand-holding with Koihime Enbu. There is zero tutorial available, but the basics are quick to learn. Each fighter is equipped with different weapons though their move sets are similar across the board. The same Dragon Punch/Shoryuken motions from Street Fighter will work along side with the same input for a patented Terry Bogard Burning Knuckle. This is a four button fighter with light, medium and heavy attacks along with a designated button for grabs. One of the biggest gates for folks who like games such as Mortal Kombat or Street Fighter are the inputs. Once quarter-circle motions and charge actions enter the mix most will offer blank stares. If someone wants to mash their way through a fight in Enbu, it is possible to claw one's way to victory. Every character has the same move set, the same inputs, and it allows for jumping between the various ends of the roster with ease. It is simplicity personified when it comes to fighting games. Special moves are easy to execute as well (as most require a simple quarter-circle motion on the joystick/directional pad at best), but move list memorisation need not apply here. The depth of other anime fighters such as Guilty Gear falls away in favor of being an accessible entry into the fighting game genre.
Assist characters can be picked from a roster of ancillary characters that range from adorable witch girls to buxom bespectacled advisors that offer another special move for the arsenal. Quarter-circle and throw will throw the assist into the mix to allow for quick stuns, potential mix-ups and switches in momentum should the timing be right. This idea of less is more works rather well for Koihime Enbu as the gameplay focuses on the ideas of footsies and spacing with a casual ease that other faster-paced anime fighters simply don't have time for. This is quite slow compared to Guilty Gear or BlazBlue.https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=61QQOQKs8Rc
The most interesting facet of the game has to be the Fatal Counter system. Chaining combos can be done off of light and medium hits but to further a chain a Fatal Counter will be required. This is, essentially, a hit stun or crumple attack that results in one's opponent dramatically falling over along with a flash of "COUNTER!" on the player side along with the heavy chime of a bell. This opens up the combo strings possible further and, better still, allows for an Ultimate move to be executed. This requires four charges of the "Tactics" bar, also known as Super Meter or EX meter in every other game, but it results in a flashy attack that results in a small cutscene and subsequent visual flourish that does massive damage to a recently stunned opponent.
The game is a bit sparse in the way of modes of play for single player. There is just a story mode of little consequence and a base arcade mode. Playing against AI is fine, but the game's story mode offers little in the way of narrative other than glimpses of what the Three Kingdoms saga is about. The exploits of Lü Bu are fascinating, and a female version could be just as interesting. The effort from BaseSon didn't make it into single player, though, and while this is par for the course for fighting game veterans, the landscape has changed. Games such as Mortal Kombat X and Guilty Gear offer a ridiculous story mode as a way for fans to get deep into the lore of the world these fighters inhabit. It's nothing major, but a better story mode would have been appreciated.
The real draw is multiplayer (local and online) complete with net code that is solid, but that would require actual people to play with. My time with the game was engaging when I could find folks to match up against. The community simply isn't lively, at least right now, for sustained multiplayer action and that is too bad. This game is a solid fighter that could easily serve as a gateway into the genre for the uninitiated but the population needed to keep people interested isn't there. It features a training mode that challenges would-be warriors to trials that require pulling off each character's combos and offers insight into the most fundamental level fighting game mechanics that are critical to grasp. The community, however, isn't present to take those lessons into actual sessions without long waits and disappointment.
Koihime Enbu features some strong artistic assets that all fit together well into a cohesive whole. There are, most assuredly, ladies with ample chests and short skirts, but they also fit in with the rest of the colorful cast that is vibrant and fluidly animated. Some would fit right in with the shinobi of Senran Kagura, but most are garbed in great outfits, have numerous color variations and all are wielding exotic weapons that range from spears to barbed rings of death. There was some particular attention to detail paid as small touches such as the folds of robes, the sway of hair and other nuanced animations are a constant alongside the most bombastic crumple or stunned state sequences. The smaller budget shows, though, with the game's Ultimate Moves as their attempts at cinematic awesome are serviceable but devolve into flash animatics at some point. When compared to the game's counterparts, specifically Guilty Gear, it is a poor substitute.
The game's music is a solid mix of rousing tunes that has hints of early Capcom along with clear Chinese orchestral arrangements that are well matched to the visuals. Nothing memorable but it works. The dialogue in the game's story mode is, surprisingly, fully-voiced and worth at least checking in on even if it doesn't deliver much in the way of an engaging narrative.
Koihime Enbu is a fundamentally strong anime fighter that forgoes the air-dashing and infinite combos of adjacent games for accessibility. That easily discovered entry into dishing out damage can be further iterated on by making use of Fatal Counters and, hopefully, Ultimate moves. The entire package is forged expertly by BaseSon, but it has a definite lack of modes, and the game's community on PC (as it's the only version available localized in the West) is a barren wasteland. Hours spent looking for matches doesn't look good for the game's longevity but if one wants an easy way into the fighting game genre and wants to pit cute scantily clad anime ladies against each other? Look no further, friend.
Koihime Enbu was reviewed on PC via Steam with a code provided by the publisher.
Koihime Enbu is an accessible anime fighter that focuses on spacing, fundamentally sound play and the Fatal Counter system. The art direction is great though the music is a bit forgettable. If only the online community on PC existed this game might have real legs as a gateway game into the fighting game genre.