Aquapazza: Aquaplus Dream Match

Year: 2013
Platform: PlayStation 3
Publisher: Atlus
Genre: Fighting
Review Date: 4/15/15
Rating: ***

One thing that PlayStation 3 offers that XBox doesn't is a wealth of 2D anime fighting games. Many of them never make it to the US, and especially the ones that feature primarily female rosters. I've never quite understood that, as that's my favorite genre, but apparently American audiences feel too intimidated by strong female characters. Or maybe that's just what marketing people want us to believe. Anyway, "Aquapazza" is a Japanese anime fighting game, featuring characters from several obscure manga/anime series including "To Heart", "Tears To Tiara", "Utawarerumono", "Comic Party", "White Album", and a couple others. It utilizes a familiar "Street Fighter" control scheme and features two story modes, a versus mode, and a training mode.

The first story mode revolves around one of the characters mixing up a mysterious love potion called "aquapazza", which inadvertently brings several worlds together and explains why all of the various characters exist in the same space. Over a series of eight fights, your character eventually defeats the villain and returns the worlds to normal. After completing this story, a second story is unlocked for that character, which has you tracking down a magical mirror that can grant wishes. It turns out to be rather sinister, and you end up fighting the demonic soul of the mirror.

As far as anime fighting games go, this one is fun and colorful, but not particularly outstanding. Sadly, the genre hasn't evolved much in the last 20 years, and if you compare it to something like "Asuka 120% Burning Fest" or "Advanced VG 2", you would be hard pressed to notice any significant differences. Even the music sounds the same. The game features thirteen playable characters and thirteen partner characters to choose from. Only three of the characters are male, which is still three too many as far as I'm concerned. Thankfully, the male characters are goofy and self deprecating, so they aren't completely annoying. It's also a bit disappointing that you can't play as any of the partner characters, as there are several that I'm rather fond of (Mizuki, Satsuki, Yuma, and Octavia immediately come to mind).

It's a nicely balanced fighter, but it takes a few hours to get used to the controls and overall game mechanics. Each character has the standard weak, medium, and strong attacks, along with a partner assist attack, a few special attacks, and a super attack. The special attacks are overly difficult to pull off and the super attacks are literally impossible. Unfortunately, this robs you of some of the more flashy animation that the game has to offer. The easiest difficulty level was just about right for me, and still provided some rage inducing rounds. I managed to play through with every character except Riannon, who I could never win a match with. The training mode is weak and not especially helpful, but thankfully the game comes with an instruction manual that gives you everything you need to know.

Since it's a Japanese game, you spend a lot of time reading talking head speech bubbles between the various combatants. They're fully voiced, which adds a nice emotional touch and makes each of the characters endearing. The stories are fairly silly, but they're well written and have a clever sense of self awareness. The "To Heart" characters are the silliest in the group, consisting of high school girls in short skirts that fight with books, satchels, mops, and bicycles. This bears a strong resemblance to the "Queen Of Heart" games, which also feature the "To Heart" characters. The end game epilogues are fairly amusing, although the "To Heart" characters offer up a bit of awkward and uncomfortable fan service. While they're mostly lighthearted, Multi's story is downright sinister. The writing is also rather amusing and some of the Japanese insults are quite hilarious. Some of the highlights include:

"Girls who read books are either evil or married."
"You think you and your ridiculous bust are a match for me?"
"You might as well ask the dragon for panties!"
"This is nothing compared to dealing with hardcore otaku in a crowded convention hall."

I wasn't especially fond of the game when I first started playing it, but it grew on me considerably after a few hours. The character sprites are lively and colorful, and it's always a thrill to pull off a difficult move. Having two story modes is a great feature and offers more depth into the characters and their relationships with each other. Another feature unique to this game is an emotion meter, which punishes players for being too defensive. This encourages you to remain on the offensive and engaged in battle. The partner assist attacks are fun to use, and you'll quickly find whose abilities you prefer. While the game doesn't offer the same level of sophistication as upper tier franchises like "Street Fighter" and "Dead Or Alive", it provides a fun and solid experience with a lot of smiles and laughter.