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Arc System Works finally made a fighting game that plays differently than their old standby, Guilty Gear (see entry 108)--and it's fun! I think they were shooting for a more "accessible" fighting game that could reach a broader audience; I've read in a Gamasutra interview with some Arc guys that they were specifically directed to make it 3D, which was probably thought to have a wider appeal, and they were also aghast that Capcom called Street Fighter IV an accessible fighting game, saying (Arc, that is) that the moves in SFIV are still just as hard to do as ever; in Battle Fantasia, on the other hand, the inputs required for special and super moves are kept relatively simple.
Specifically, most special moves are initiated with a simple quarter-circle motion, and most supers are just a double-quarter-circle motion. That doesn't apply to quite all the members of the 12-member cast, though; one hilariously rotund Viking guy uses full-circle moves, ala Zangief from Street Fighter, a few use "charge" moves (ie hold one direction for a second, then reverse for another second and press an attack button), and a few use series of chained special moves: you do one move, then follow it up with one of a number of other moves you can't do on their own, and then maybe one or two more after that. Those characters in particular will take some practice to use effectively.
Keeping with the "accessible" theme, Arc left out battle systems that made Guilty Gear and other fighters of theirs feel either manic or super-complex: there are only a few cases of double-jumps or air dashes, you can't "break" out of every hit or attack, air juggles aren't extremely lengthy and easy, and the game moves at a speed that's much easier to follow, while still feeling brisk; but if you miss a move, there is a small but significant recovery time, so you can't just spazz attacks all over to the degree that you can in Guilty Gear.
Most characters have four or five special moves, and two super moves. A power meter builds up to enable them, and can store multiple charges. In addition to powering supers, you can mash all four buttons to use a power charge on putting your character into a very time-limited "heat" mode (or so I've seen it referred to on GameFAQs, anyway) in which they do extra damage and, in some cases, get access to additional moves, or get extra hits added to some of their usual special moves. Most characters have a long range and a short range super, but some have supers that are a little more specific in terms of how they have to be used, and in those cases I find it's more effective for me to rely on Heat mode instead.
Arc has dumped their usual three attack button style for a more traditional SNK-like four button array of weak punch, weak kick, strong punch, strong kick. This feels pretty intuitive, but they couldn't resist adding just one more button: a parry button. Now, generally speaking I stink at parry moves in fighting games, and end up eating the attacks I'm trying to parry more often then not. That isn't quite the case here, though, and I found that the first two times I deliberately tried parrying against two different characters, I actually succeeded! A successful parry against a melee attack usually opens the opponent up for a counter-attack, but only very briefly, so you have to be ready to input your follow-up; it also doesn't really seem to work well against attacks that automatically hit multiple times: you parry the first, but the next attacks come through. It seems to me that they added parrying so that more experienced fighting game players would have a sort of expert tactic they could perfect to separate them from the mere button mashers; I'm a little concerned that they made parrying a tad too easy (I mean, if I can do it with reasonable success, a good player could pretty much parry everything I threw at him; well, single attacks, anyway).
There isn't much chance that I'll find out whether or not that's the case, though; while the game has a Network mode, whose interface actually looks pretty much just like the Network mode in Street Fighter IV (right down to being able to play ranked or non-ranked matches), I checked repeatedly but could never find anyone online; in fact, the 1-week and 1-month leaderboards are totally empty. Dang.
The AI isn't that bad to play against, though; it doesn't feel overly robotic, and on the default difficulty it can give me some competitive matches (although some characters are certainly easier for me to work with than others) without feeling cheap.
The game runs in 720p, probably the same as it was in the arcade. There's an option to turn on a "soft" filter that applies a mild blur over the 3D parts, but it isn't actual anti-aliasing, and makes me a bit dizzy, so I keep it off. Even without anti-aliasing, though, the game looks very nice, with a sort of pastel look to the 3D backgrounds (which conveniently enough also lets them use lower resolution textures there without looking bad), and a cartoonish or anime look to the attractive and highly varied character models. The action moves fast with lots of pretty effects, and the animations of each character are very distinct, although a couple of them have blank stares that are a little off-putting (one's a sort of undead goth chick, so that's okay, but the other's a pirate, so I dunno what his excuse is supposed to be). Even though the game as a whole has a storybook look and feel (kept up very cleverly with nice "sketchy" 2D character portraits), some of Arc's character design habits are still visible: the two main characters have broad parallels with the two main characters in Guilty Gear, and, again like Guilty Gear, there's a character with a weird sack head, a serving girl (this time a cat-woman), a boy in what could be part of a nun's habit, and a pirate character with a large sharp instrument (here a hook-hand rather than a ship's anchor). Still, the characters are a little less far-out than some of those in Guilty Gear, and I actually enjoy playing more than half of them, which is a pretty high percentage for me in a fighting game.
So, the battle system, characters, and graphics all seem pretty good (oh, I forgot to mention that Capcom dudes mentioned in an interview on Gamasutra that it was seeing an early arcade test of Battle Fantasia that convinced them that going 3D for Street Fighter IV could actually work; and you'll notice that when you start a super move in BF, the camera zooms in and around your character a bit, almost exactly like it does in the later SFIV), and this would be a really fun game to play in the arcade. Unfortunately, the additional console modes aren't so great.
Aside from Arcade mode, and the aforementioned unpopulated Network mode, the other main mode is Story Mode, where each character goes through a lot of conversation cutscenes as they battle through the game. There is a lot of dialogue, and the voice acting is very good--too bad it's all in Japanese. The game tracks how far you've got through each character's story mode, which is cool, but without being able to understand what all the expressive conversations are about, I don't think I'll be playing through it much. It's a shame that although the game was initially announced as being brought to North America for both PS3 and Xbox360, in the end it only came over for the Xbox.
There are also Survival and Time Attack modes, fairly commonly seen in arcade fighting games ported to home consoles. I thought these would be great--Survival, at least--because typically in extra modes like this you just play through random assortments of the regular cast, and you *don't* have to fight the boss, who's always designed to be a huge cheater and no fun at all to fight. Well, nearly inexplicably, Survival mode (and slightly more explicably, Time Attack Mode) runs you up against the gosh-darned boss! And not just his relatively normal initial form, nooo! You've got to go up against his powered up, only-hurt-when-hit-by-a-character-in-heat-mode second form too. Argh. Argh argh. I thought this was supposed to be Survival mode?!
Drat again, then. I can see myself *maybe* playing Arcade mode some more, and just setting the difficulty up a bit so I don't have to worry about reaching the end boss, and I'd definitely like to play some 2-player, although with Network mode a ghost town it looks like I'll have to coax people to come over to play it with me, but I was really hoping to have a normalish Survival or Endless or something mode for the sake of longevity. I really like how the game looks and plays, but I have no interest in playing against the darn boss again.
|On the default difficulty level, the AI seems to have a blind spot to supers launched at the start of a round; if you have a super charge ready entering the later round of a match, crank it off as soon as the round starts, and the AI never seems to block it. I haven't noticed being able to land other types of quick hits that way, so it isn't just a big free hitsies window like the one in KOF R-1 (see entry 362), but it's a curious quirk.|
I should probably state clearly that Battle Fantasia, while in 3D, plays exactly like a standard 2D fighter.
|There is virtually no loading time between matches, which is great. I enabled the "System Cache" option, which may have some effect on that, but as far as I can see the game doesn't actually install data to the hard drive.|| ||