Overall the game is pretty evenly balanced and fun, but then - if you're playing through the game's Story or Arcade modes - that all goes out the window at the very end. See, Arcana Heart's single-player action follows a bad precedent set by some earlier 2D fighters, in that the relatively unchallenging "normal" opponents suddenly give way to a melt-your-face-off tough final boss that the normals did not prepare you for.
In this case, that boss is Mildred Avalon, a busty sorceress with angelic pretensions. Before you can even fight her properly, you've got to go up against her frustrating "cocoon" form, which slaps you down constantly with knockdown attacks (if you don't have any long-distance moves, don't even try to win this one). Then, win or lose, you'll have to fight her "angelic" form, which is to say you'll get mercilessly smacked with every other fighter's super attacks in rapid, unrelenting succession. And unless you're masochistic enough to think that it's fun to watch your life bar instantly disappear while being unable to retaliate, this is guaranteed to frustrate all but the most dedicated players.
In terms of presentation, Arcana Heart is pure eye candy, with fast, over-the-top action and beautiful hand-drawn characters bolstered by flashy CG effects. However, don't expect anything on par with a Guilty Gear here - the characters may be pretty, but for the most part they animate pretty stiffly. Don't expect anything on par with Guilty Gear's plot, either - Arcana Heart's story is dumb and one-dimensional even by 2D-fighter standards. Thankfully, it's not really meant to be taken seriously, and once you've accepted that, the goofy dialogue and silly characters make the story mode worth playing through at least a few times.
If you've been starving for a decent 2D fighter on PS2, there are better options than this - but Arcana Heart still delivers the quality, and its mix of accessible, over-the-top anime silliness and deep technical fighting put it in a comfortable niche between games like Super Smash Bros. and King of Fighters. And if nothing else, it's kind of a guilty pleasure to watch the ninja girl with dog ears and big socks violently boot the top-twirling shrine maiden across the screen.
Apr 14, 2008