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Arcana Heart review

AT A GLANCE
  • Beautiful visuals
  • Simple, intuitive combo system
  • Ridiculously destructive super-attacks
  • Saccharine in a way only anime can be
  • Final boss isn't even remotely fair
  • Fetishized preteen girls are creepy

If you've got a low tolerance for syrupy-cute anime nonsense, Arcana Heart probably isn't for you. A 2D fighter with an all-girl cast, it piles on the saccharine with high-pitched voices, exaggerated posing and lots of overcute everything everywhere. What's more, its 11 fighters have all been tailored to fit some weird Japanese fetish archetype; there's the athletic schoolgirl, the mopey schoolgirl, the bumbling witch with big glasses, the gothic Lolita, the maid with a giant claymore, the Chinese android with huge breasts and a thong, the... the diabolical 12-year-old in a swimsuit who rides around inside a giant blob... you get the idea.

So long as you're cool with that, though, Arcana Heart is much more than just a thin pretense for watching cute girls beat the crap out of each other. At the center of the game is a deceptively simple, four-button fighting system that's friendly to button-mashing, making it easy to chain together short combos even if you don't know what you're doing (it's also easy to make a fight look cool, thanks to a flashy parrying effect every time your attacks collide with your opponent's). If you do, however, it's possible to bust out some ridiculously lengthy, impressive attack chains that'll leave your opponents devastated. At its best, the game's juggle attacks, midair dash moves and huge stages enable the kind of aerial craziness that defined the Marvel vs Capcom games, although it'll take a little practice before things get that far.

Basic combos are the least of what's at your disposal, as each of the 11 characters comes standard with a handful of special moves and super attacks, the latter of which can only be executed once you've charged up a few levels on an onscreen gauge. On top of that, each character can be augmented with one of 11 "Arcana," which are chosen during character select and tack a secondary list of moves and abilities onto what you already have.

Each character has a default Arcana they're identified with, but you're free to mix and match, and savvy players will pick the Arcana that best complements their character's abilities - i.e. if you're picking a girl who's reliant on close-quarters attacks, you might want to pick an Arcana that offers a lot of long-range moves, just to shore up the difference. The Arcana can also augment your fighter's basic abilities, making her faster or giving her an extra midair jump.

Best of all, they enable massive, screen-filling super attacks that can turn the tide of a fight in seconds. These are pretty insane, too, ranging from a gigantic fish-god who fills the entire stage with water (slowing your opponent, but not you) to a carnivorous plant that swallows your opponent and briefly transports her to an alternate plant-universe where she's spat out and bounced off the walls. The only catch is that to use the best ones, you have to activate "Arcana Force," which rapidly drains your power gauges. If you don't use your super move in that time - or worse, if you get knocked down - you'll lose the Arcana Force for the rest of the round, meaning that it's something you should only use when you're really ready to do some damage.

More Info

Release date: Apr 08 2008 - PS2 (US)
Available Platforms: PS2
Genre: Fighting
Published by: Atlus
Developed by: EXAMU
ESRB Rating:
Teen: Partial Nudity, Sexual Themes, Violence

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