Battle Fantasia

Year: 2008
Platform: Xbox 360
Publisher: Aksys Games
Developer: Arc System Works
Genre: 2D Fighter
Review Date: 4/28/10
Rating: ***

Arc System Works' original follow-up to their popular "Guilty Gear" series is a fun and lighthearted fighting game that has a lot in common with its successor, "BlazBlue" (2009). The biggest difference from both GG and BB is that "Battle Fantasia" features 3D rendered characters instead of 2D hand drawn sprites. However, the character personalities are all very familiar. Another huge difference is the presence of a delightfully airy fantasy soundtrack instead of the high energy heavy metal sonic signature that defines the other games. Perhaps more than anything, the soft and pleasant soundtrack sets the lighthearted and whimsical tone of the game.

Attempting to branch out from the hardcore GG fan base, the mechanics in "Battle Fantasia" are much more accessible to casual gamers. The control schemes are fairly simplistic and the move lists are small, but they do feature some devilish double-dialing combos that are impossible to pull off. The game also employs a unique parrying method as well as a "heat up" power meter that enables more powerful attacks for a brief amount of time. Playing against the CPU is manageable at the easiest setting, but like most fighting games, the final adversary is cheap and overpowered. This is made worse by the fact that his final form can only be defeated using "heat up" attacks.

The character roster has only twelve playable characters and only three of them are women, which is rather disappointing. The other characters include a sea captain, a masked gun-man, a perverted scholar, a rabbit magician, a rotund king, a couple of bratty brothers, and an effeminate lady killer. Sadly, none of the characters are remotely interesting or likable, with the sole exception of Coyori, the cat-girl waitress (a delightful cross between "Guilty Gear's" Jam Kuradoberi and "BlazBlue's" Kaotaka). She is adorable, with cute and flirty animations and a wonderfully exuberant voice performance by Shoji Umeka. She's the very essence of kawaii without being sickeningly sweet.

While the standard arcade, time attack, and survival modes are all enjoyable, it's the humorous story mode that provides the most entertainment. It's not nearly as deep and convoluted as the multiple branches of the BB story mode, but the character animations are much better and more engaging. Since it's a Japanese game, you can expect to spend most of your time advancing through talking head animations rather than fighting, and while the characters don't have anything interesting to say, their interactions are often hilarious. In particular, Coyori's story is extremely amusing, as she attempts to track down a desert goblin who failed to pay his bill at the Coyori Cafe. Her single-minded determination gets her into all sorts of trouble, and the only thing that distracts her from catching the "dine and dash bastard" is her constant fear of people seeing her panties under her ridiculously short skirt. This adolescent and decidedly Japanese theme is revisited numerous times, and it's very funny to see how the other characters react. Most of the male characters in the game are lechers and perverts who try to take advantage of the sweet and innocent Coyori, which makes pounding them into the ground all the more satisfying.

Ultimately, "Battle Fantasia" is an average game that doesn't bring anything new or innovative to the fighting genre. Its lack of depth probably won't appeal to hardcore fighting fans, but its anime characters, fantasy setting, and colorful graphics may attract younger players. Ironically, where the game succeeds the most is in its non-fighting elements - namely the music score, voice acting, and character interactions in story mode. The game is good for a laugh and a smile, and it's a fun diversion that's easy to pick up and doesn't require mastery to enjoy.