Magical anime girls fight for love and power in Arcana Heart 3

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Last month at PAX East 2011, I had the chance to try out the latest game that Aksys Games had recently licensed and localized, Arcana Heart 3. While fun, it was a shot preview due the the number of people wanting to try it out as well. Now thanks to their PR rep, I was able to receive a PSN review code for the game (and just well before the PSN shut down).  So what do I think of the game now that I'm able to play the full version? Let's take a look. Arcana Heart 3 (and the series in general) isn't your average fighting game. Instead of burly muscled men trained in the martial arts, the roster of AH3  is consisted of 23 "moe" anime girls. Yes, anime girls. But don't let their cuteness fool you, these girls can kick some serious butt. These girls are known as "Maidens", girls with magical powers and the ablity to summon elemental beings know as Arcana to help them fight. Now you're thinking to yourself "So why are these girls fighting with each other?" Here's the story in a nut shell.
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Two months have passed since the second game (which never came out on console, only in arcades) and a company known as the Drexler Institution was created to restore order and investigate the events of the past game. Lately there have been several dimensional distortion within Japan, and the government is suspicious of the actions that the Drexler Institution is taking. The institution has leaked out information that by gathering "Celestial Stones" that are the source of the distortions that their wishes could be granted. While this may be the main storyline, each of the 23 girls have their own reasons to search for these "Celestial Stones". Some want to gather them because they see them as a danger to society, while seek to see if the rumors are true and make their wish.

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Now I won't go into too much gameplay details like combos, super moves and advance techniques. If you want to learn more detailed information, I suggest reading a guide written by Aksys Games PR coordinator, James Xie, called How to Play Arcana Heart 3.  In the guide he will tell you everything that you need to know on how to jump in and play the game, from the basics such as choosing the right character to advance combos. What I will explain are the basic button layouts, how the buttons are mapped on the Dual-Shock 3 and a SFIV TE arcade stick. As I have mentioned in my impressions, AH3 uses a 5 button layout: A (light attack), B (medium attack), C (strong attack), D (homing/dash) and E (Arcana). This translates on the Dual-Shock 3 as ? (light attack), ? (medium attack), O (heavy attack), X (homing/dash) and R1 (Arcana). Playing on a controller is fine and all, but to get the most out of the game, a fightstick is preferred.
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The diagram on the left shows how the buttons are configured on the arcade version of the game. For those who want the full experience of the arcade in your own home and have a fight stick this is the way the buttons should be mapped. The top three buttons ideally should be the attacks, while homing should be mapped to the first button on the bottom row and Arcana mapped to the third button bottom row.  Another way that the buttons can be set up (and a way that I use from time to time) is having light and medium on the first two buttons on the top row and have two strong attacks mapped to the first two buttons on the bottom row, similar to King of Fighters or Tekken.
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The look of AH3 is what makes it standout from the rest of the fighters out there right now. While most fighting games have either gone 3D (SSFIV, MVC3) or HD rendered 2D (BB, KOF), Arcana Hearts 3 is rendered in standard 2D pixel sprites. And for using an outdated method, it suites the game very well. While it would have been nice to see the the girls rendered using HD sprites, this doesn't take away from the over all experience. Another thing that makes AH3 standout from the rest is animated sidebars. Each time the girls attack or get hit, an animated versions of themselves will react to the corresponding action made on them. Now at the time of this posting, the PSN is still down, making online play unavailable at the moment. Lucky I had downloaded and installed the game a day before PSN went offline and logged in a couple of matches. Arc System Works, the publisher of AH3 in Japan and creators of the BlazBlue series, have taken the net code used for BB and applied it to AH3, making AH3 one of the most smoothest online experiences I've had. Even on a wireless connect on my end, matches ran smoothly and with little to no lag. The online mode of AH3 has everything that all fighting games should come standard with: 8 person lobbies, ability to watch matches while waiting, online rankings, stat tracking, and a Replay mode to where you can save matches and watch them afterwards. All in all Arcana Heart 3 is a very solid fighter that stands up with the rest of its brethren to the point of being used both in EVO (the US premier fighting game tournament)  and in SBO (Super Battle Opera, the Japanese premier tournament). It's a shame that AH3 didn't get a retail disk release or a collector's edition release like it did in Japan and Europe. I for one am a junkie for collector's editions and extra stuff that developers bundle with the game. Still Arcana Heart 3 is a must buy for fighting game enthusiasts or for those who are fans of magical anime girls. At the time of this review I would normally say buy this right now, but as of last Wednesday the PSN and its store is still down due to external intrusions. But once the network is back up, make sure to buy this game. And if looking for a one on one match drop an invite at my PSN ID, Thunderstriker09, me and Heart Aino will show you how we will win with the power of love! See you in the Next level, Mike V.

Write me and Grayson at pgamer@sacurrent.com.


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