Arcana Heart

Year: 2008
Platform: PlayStation 2
Publisher: Atlus
Genre: Girl Fighting
Review Date: 4/19/08
Rating: ***

FINALLY!    It's taken over twenty years, but Atlus software deserves a huge amount of praise for being the first American company to dare and publish a legitimate Japanese girl fighting game! "Metal And Lace" doesn't count since it's a hentai game that only pretends to feature fighting females, and "Rumble Roses" doesn't count because it's a wrestling game. Girl fighting has always been my favorite gaming genre, and it's frustrating, difficult, and expensive to always have to import them from Japan and play them on modified systems. I'll never forget the look of sheer horror on the clerk's face at Game Stop when I bought the game and mentioned this to him. Hopefully the game fares well enough to allow other games to follow, but I'm afraid that America's fear and hatred of strong women may keep that from happening.

"Arcana Heart" is a 2D doujinshi fighting game much like "Melty Blood: Act Cadenza" or the "Queen Of Heart" series. For many years, the Ministry of Elemental Affairs has protected the boundary between the human world and the elemental world, but now a rift has appeared that threatens the existence of humanity. It's up to eleven teenage girls (or maidens) who can communicate with the arcana from the elemental world to stop this and return things to normal. The roster includes the standard array of Japanese schoolgirls, maids, witches, ninja, nuns, Shinto priestesses, and androids (I've never quite understood the android angle in these doujinshi games...). The android in this game happens to be a Chun Li knock-off with enormous breasts. What sets this game apart from other fighting games is that each character can choose which arcana they align with. Each arcana comes with its own super attack that can be used once during each match. How each fighter integrates with the arcana is unique, which creates a wide array of possible fighting styles and combinations. There is depth in the game for those who seek it, but in practice the arcana angle isn't particularly interesting or useful.

Like most modern fighters, the game is ridiculously difficult. Fortunately, the easiest setting makes it possible to make some progress, but the final boss is still super strong and uses cheap tactics. Presentation wise the game is gorgeous and the hand drawn characters and backgrounds are lively and colorful. The music is bouncy and nicely compliments the fun atmosphere of the game. My only complaint regarding the art direction is with the character design, which deviates from the typical manga style. I don't know what it is, but the characters' faces just look strange - almost dog-like in their features. The control schemes differ radically for each fighter, and many of the moves are nearly impossible to pull off. The main character, Heart Aino, is the easiest to control, with the standard "Street Fighter" styled attacks and combos. Unfortunately, my favorite character is sword wielding Kamui Tokinomiya, who is extremely difficult to control.

While "Arcana Heart" is definitely no "Asuka 120% Burning Fest. Ltd." or "Advanced V.G. 2," it's certainly a step above the "Pretty Fighter" series and can hold its own against the majority of 2D fighters on the market. Let's hope to see more in the future!