Arcana Heart Review (PS2)
As videogames continue to evolve and become more and more complex, it’s becoming less and less possible to accurately tell what a game is going to be about simply by looking at the cover. Some RPGs look more like action games, shooters look like turn based stategy, even the cover art of some sports titles can give the wrong idea. Indeed, the days of looking at a game’s box art and knowing exactly what to expect have passed.
And then there’s Arcana Heart.
Arcana Heart manages to entice grown men to play a fighting game starring a cast of schoolgirls ranging for 14 at most to just friggin’ 8 year olds. How? With the promise of all things shamelessly moe. If you don’t know what moe means, look it up right now as I’ll continue to make reference to the word throughout this review.
This is a fetish fighter that will attract you to it even if you don’t have any particular moe fetish.
Well, the ploy worked and now I own Arcana Heart. With that out of the way, how is the actual game? Let’s find out.
Arcana Heart is a hardcore four button Neo-Geo style fighter with an elaborate enhancement system that on tournament levels, really sets Arcana Heart’s balance and depth leagues apart from other fighters.
Once upon a time in the land of the rising sun, a group of game creators needed a new idea for a successful arcade fighting game in a sea of pre-existing fighting games. Their final idea was to group lolicon girls that beleive in love and peace and have them try to beat the shit out of each other. the team brought the idea to the the president who then proclaimed “brilliant! Also make sure to throw in inappropriate levels of sex appeal and magic and shit!” and thus Arcana Heart was born. Oh, you wanted to know the story in the game itself? How silly of me.
In ancient times, the Elemental world and our world were joined. No one knows why or when, but at some point in the past, they split. Now we live in our world, and the Arcana live in theirs. Behind the scenes, the Ministry of Elemental Affairs (MEA) has been working to protect the boundary between words, for they know if the worlds ever merges into one again the results would be disastrous for humanity. Now, in the skies above Tokyo, a dimensional rift is beginning to form, and the boundary between worlds is in danger. Humanity’s only hope rests with the Maidens young girls who can communicate with the Arcana.
Arcana Heart is a pretty drop-dead gorgeous fighting game. The first time I played it I couldn’t believe the PS2 was producing such beautiful high resolution character sprites on the order I would expect to see only in next-gen games like BlazBlue. The animation is truly excellent and there’s a lot of colorful, flashy environmental effects to be seen.
The character designs themselves are over-the-top moe oozing fanservice for every type of moe fetish there is. There’s an underage schoolgirl who fights for love and justice, to a katana wielding schoolgirl, a gothic-lolita possessed by a doll, a Chinese female robot with giant robotic breasts and a underage witch-in-training, just to name a few. JAPAN.
Sad as it is, none of the music except for the vs battle theme is very memorable in the least. None of it’s bad or irritating, but you will find yourself wishing there was more care put in to the music.
As for the voice acting, most of it was cut from the English release, but the girls’ voices can still be heard in battle, shouting their basic Japanese taunts that mean silly things such as “Can you take the heat of my passionate spirit?!” or “The power of love gives me super strength!”
Even the game’s well produced opening theme song is far more plain and generic than many other games. Here’s the opening song. Judge for yourself.
Arcana Heart offers eleven playable characters with their own movesets, speeds, strengths, advantages, and disadvantages, all the things you would normally expect. The game is a four button Neo-Geo style arcade brawler with three main attacks and a special attack button. By preforming button combos you can unleash special moves.
In addition to character movesets, but there’s this thing called the Arcana System. Like any game’s super moves, the Acana system can be completely ignored by novice players, but for those willing to learn it the system offers incredible depth. Unlike most game super moves, the Arcana ones are diverse and some are quite easy to pull off.
After you select your character, you can select any one of several enhancements called Arcanas which infuse that character with special traits. Some give elemental attacks such as fire or lightening, but others grant passive abilities such as the ability to teleport around the screen or slow your rate of decent while falling.
These are preformed with your usual button combination and the large number of different sets greatly adds to the replayability and lasting appeal of what otherwise would be a decent if shallow fighter.
There’s a heavy emphasis on aerial combat in Arcana Heart as you can toss your opponent easily twice as high as in other fighting games and fight mid-air Dragonball Z style.
Here are the default controls. These are vital to learn if you want to have a hope in hell at playing the single player. They can be reassigned as you like.
Left Stick: Movement, scroll through menus
D-pad: Movement, Scroll through menus
Right Stick: Unused
□: A Attack (weak)
Δ: B Attack (medium)
O: C Attack (strong)
X: S Attack (special)
L1: Arcana Force (A+B+C)
R2: Throw (A + S)
Unfortunately, Arcana Heart breaks one the carnal rules of arcade fighting games – it is not friendly to first-time players. Button mashing will result in confusion as the button required to harness your Arcana super move is also a dash move which homes in on your opponent and is by default, mapped to the X button, which is likely to be the first button players will reach for.
Playing with a full-sized arcade stick is pretty essential as is clearly remapping the controls to buttons that make sense to you. Doing this has the added benefit of further teaching the basic controls, which absolutely have to be learned for success in the single player in even the easiest difficulty.
Availability & Price
Arcana Heart usually floats around $20-30 for the North American version. The English version includes everything the Japanese version has including the ability to switch between chipset revisions (Arcana Normal vs Arcana Full), but it lacks the voice acting found in the Japanese version.
Arcana Heart was developed by a small software company called Yuki Enterprises, who had previously worked in concert with SNK-Playmore for the development of Samurai Shodown 5, one of the final games developed for the legendary Neo Geo MVS and AES platform.
When the Neo Geo was at least retired in 2004 after the extremely long fourteen year console cycle, Yuki Enterprises changed their company name to Examu Inc and began work on a brand new fighting game for the newer and more powerful Arcade ex-BOARD archetype. Two years later, that game was released in Japanese arcades until the title Arcana Heart.
In order to stand out from the competition, arcade game makers have often had to think of ways to turn heads and attract players. Some games use flashy graphics, huge bezels or generally giant cabinets. Examu’s stategy was to focus on attracting the moe otaku crowd by using only the most fetishy moe characters they could think of. It worked.
Arcana Heart soon became a break out hit and was featured in many fighting game tournaments in Japan. Less than a year later, a patch for the arcade game called Arcana Heart Full was released to combat complaints of character balance issues and bugfixes. Given the massive popularity, a PS2 port was soon in development that eventually found its way to store shelves in North America thanks to Atlus.
There’s since been two sequels, but neither have yet been localized.
Here’s the trailer for the US version of Arcana Heart. Try not to cringe.
- Outstandingly beautiful 2D graphics
- One word. Moe.
- For players willing to learn the Arcana System, there’s more depth in Arcana Heart than just about any other fighting game out there
- The game’s barrier of entry is rather difficult to overcome. This is a deep and involved fighter that casual fighting game fans and button mashers stand no chance at.
- Atlas completely removed all the Japanese voices from the story mode turning what was a semi amusing plot points into a drab and boring wall of text.
- Forgettable music
- Not to beat a dead horse, but the game has no tutorial to teach players just how the hell to play the game.
Arcana Heart is a hardcore gamer’s fighter through and through. It’s visually amazing, using high res sprites and zooming techniques right out of the Samurai Shodown series, but make no mistake, this is anything but a casual game. If you aren’t willing to learn the complexities of the fighting system, steer clear of this series. If you have expereince with Guilty Gear of Melty Blood or other doijin fighters though, this one might be worth a look, and I’m not talking about the girls. Perverts.
Platform: Arcade, PS2
Genre: 2D Fighter
Release Date: April 10, 2008
Developer: Examu Inc (formally Yuki Enterprises)
Also from the developer: Samurai Shodown V
Also try: Melty Blood, Big Bang Beat, Guilty Gear
Game Length: ~35 minutes once you learn how to play it
ESRB: T for partial nudity, sexual themes, violence and batshit insane Japanese moe content up the vazoo
Buy/Skip: It really depends on what you’re looking for. Refer to the review above.