Inside Pulse 12

Review: Dengeki Bunko: Fighting Climax (Sony Playstation Vita)

Dengeki Bunko: Fighting Climax
Genre: Fighting
Developer: Ecole/French Bread
Publisher: Sega
Release Date: 10/06/15

Fans of Ecole as a fighting game developer have gone from famine to feast this year; after years of never seeing a US port of Melty Blood in any form, we’ve suddenly been given two fighting games from the developer, in Under Night In-Birth and the game we’re looking at today, Dengeki Bunko: Fighting Climax. While Melty Blood and Under Night In-Birth were fighting games based more or less in their own universes, however, Dengeki Bunko is basically a mash-up fighting game, featuring a bunch of characters from a wide variety of different franchises. Designed as a fighting game based around the Dengeki Bunko publishing line in Japan, this seems like the weirdest possible game to bring to the US; not only does the publisher itself have no real US presence, but half of the characters in this game have little to no US presence either. That said, bless Sega for doing it, as while the cast will probably be all new to you outside of the Sega and Sword Art Online characters unless you love niche manga, the game itself is outstanding, and it’s one of the better fighting games to drop this year.

Two dimensional fighting action in every sense of the term

The core concept of Dengeki Bunko is that the imprint of the same name has come under assault by an evil being who has basically absorbed the majority of the characters and universes associated with many of the manga. In the story mode the character you pick is basically the only character left standing against evil, but otherwise it’s just a full-in brawl between the different franchise characters to see who’s left standing. The storyline actually isn’t bad; it incorporates the personalities of the characters well and each character gets a plot that’s of decent length for those who know and love the characters. It’s not of the visual novel quality something like Persona 4 Arena would have, but it’s still perfectly fine and works well. If play options are more your speed, though, you’ve still got a lot of options here regardless. The Story mode offers a core plot and “Dream Duel,” offering extra fights for each character that lets them meet characters from other world for fun exchanges before you whoop up on them. There’s also three Versus modes, in normal Versus against the CPU, Ad Hoc play against local players, and Network play versus online opponents, so everyone has some options for playing against friends. You’ve also got a Challenge mode that allows you access to Score Attack, Time Attack and Survival modes, a Training mode for learning your craft, and the option to Customize your aesthetics, as well as a Special mode for reviewing artwork and replays. In short, you’ve got plenty of play options whether you’re a casual genre fan, a diehard FGC member, or just someone who likes the manga that shows up here, and the game caters well to all skill levels to boot.

Visually, the game is a 2D fighting game both mechanically and visually, meaning everyone is represented with their own 2D sprite, and the sprite and animation quality is top notch. Every character is recognizable and fluidly animated, and while the visuals aren’t quite on the level of ASW fighting games, they’re honestly really well animated and a joy to watch in action, especially given how ridiculous some of these characters are. There are also a mix of 2D and 3D elements in the backgrounds, which mostly take inspiration in Sega properties, such as Virtual On, Sonic the Hedgehog and Valkyria Chronicles, among others, and they’re all really interesting and (mostly) recognizable to boot. Aurally, the game uses an entirely Japanese language track for the voice work, so English dub fans won’t find that here, but the Japanese audio is honestly really fitting and feels perfect in combat, and the story features English text so it’s hardly a problem. The game soundtrack, as you’d expect from most fighting games, features a top-notch setlist with plenty of high energy electronic style tracks, so you’ll feel appropriately energized while beating people up. The aural effects for combat and such also fit perfectly here, and nothing sounds poorly assigned or out of place in the least.

Mechanics, mechanics everywhere

Dengeki Bunko works off of a 2D fighting plane, so anyone with experience with this kind of game should have a good idea of what to expect. If you’re brand new and just interested for the characters, everything’s easy to pick up: press up to jump, down to duck, toward enemies to move forward, and away to move back or block attacks. The game also offers dashing movement forwards and backwards, and some characters have aerial dashes and such, so there’s a definite freedom of movement here that aids in fast-paced play. The game uses a three attack button system, so you’ve got a weak, medium and strong attack at your disposal, and you can chain attacks from one to the next for combination attacks if you’re looking to combo off an opponent for big damage. You also get various special attacks, and in an interesting touch, the characters all seem to use the same basic inputs for most of their special moves (though some are more complex than others) so you can basically learn everyone fairly easily if you’re so inclined. For more advanced players, it can be noted that the game offers your standard Super Move system (build bars by taking and dealing damage) with up to five levels, and everyone has two Super Moves (Climax Artes here) that cost two bars. There’s also an EX Special system, so pressing Weak and Medium while doing a special does a powered-up version of the move, at the cost of one bar. These mechanics are honestly pretty standard and easily understood, so you’ll be able to pick them up pretty quickly, and the similar attack motions across characters makes them easily learned for players of any skill level.

The game is by no means a pushover mechanically, though, as it offers a bunch of interesting systems to keep it fresh and unique. The most obvious (though by no means the most interesting) is the Assist system, which you’ve probably seen variations of in other fighting games. Basically, you pick a support character before going into battle, and by pressing the fourth face button (either alone or with a direction) you’ll summon your assist ally to perform one of two moves. The allied character can only be used every so often, and once you do you’ll have to wait for the meter in their portrait to charge before you do so again, but they can disrupt play to get you out of a jam or help you with special effects, depending on the allied character you chose, making them a valuable asset. The most interesting system, pound for pound, is probably the Blast System, which is essentially a mechanic that allows for rapid generation of Super Meter, depending on when and how you use it. By pressing all three attack buttons on their own, you execute a Power Blast, which gives you one bar of Super by default, plus two more if you hit the opponent with it, and you’ll regenerate health and Super Meter while it’s active. You can also use Blasts as a move cancel, which locks down your opponent’s Blast if it connects for a period of time while knocking them back, and allows you to render risky moves safer if you’re blocked when performing them to allow you recovery room. Finally, you can use it as an instant escape when you’re in a hopeless situation, and while doing so is the riskiest of the possible options, it’s a tool in your box if you have no other choices left. Using Blasts to your advantage is a big part of the metagame here, and it makes what would seem like an otherwise simplified game into a complex experience if you can get the concept down.

There are also a few other novel mechanics here that make the game its own animal. Trump Card is essentially a mechanic represented by two icons above your character’s Super Meter that, when you press Weak and Strong, kick off a special effect that either hits for big damage and knockback regardless of whether it connects or not, or impart a passive effect that generally offers super armor and some degree of improved effects (such as Kirito’s Dual Wield) that give them added skills in battle. The catch is, you only get two per match (unless you lose a round) which makes them very much a risky resource to spend. You’re also given two type of Impact moves, Impact Skills, which are super armored attacks that can potentially turn the tide, and Impact Break, which allows for a follow-up launcher if you connect to go into air combos. There are a few other minor mechanics here that are quite useful, like Reflection Blocking (pushback on block to create distance), Cancel Support (calls your Assist character to add to a combo at the cost of one Super Meter bar) and even passive skills that kick in based on certain scenarios to give you boosts in battle if you pull them off. In other words, while the game is very much tuned so that an inexperienced player can pick it up for the novelty, it’s got some serious mechanical chops under the hood for the skilled player to sink their teeth into.

The return factor

You can probably blow through a single storyline for a character in about twenty minutes, give or take, though each of the twelve default characters has a full storyline and a set of Dream Duels to plow through, which will probably take around six or so hours all told (unless you skip all the text for some weird reason). There’s also plenty to unlock here, between two hidden characters (both from Sega games), a bunch of costumes and custom novelties, and Trophies, so based on that alone you’ll probably have a lot of fun coming back to the game to clear it out. There’s also the online and local offline multiplayer to work with; the net code seems stable enough for online play (though not close to local play for obvious reasons), and Ad Hoc play will give you the option to play with local friends if you want to get a fight going with a friend. The game is going to offer the most replay to fighting game fanatics and fans of the manga this is associated with, of course, but the broad skillsets the game caters to combined with the interesting style and mechanics will give it some surprising legs for even the most casual of players.

The biggest issue with the game, all told, is that even at its discounted price (thirty bucks), it still feels like it probably needs a bit more to it in terms of characters to make a really viable fighter. The Support characters add a layer of depth to the game, and swapping them out can change some of the gameplay a bit, but it doesn’t make a character or a strategy radically different, and with only fourteen characters it’s not likely to be a strong tournament piece on its own merits. It’s really a game that’s hampered by its own appeal, honestly; it’s not quite robust enough to be a top-tier tournament game, nor is its fanservice broad enough to be easily recommended unless you love the brand… or Sword Art Online one supposes. Also, the game feels like it needs a little balancing, as some characters feel like they have less useful tools to use in comparison to others, and with a smaller roster that’s kind of hurtful. Finally, while the game works perfectly fine on the Vita, it doesn’t work at all on the Playstation TV as of this point (though indications are that this will be patched in later), and there’s absolutely no obvious reason why this is, since the game does nothing with touch controls.

Dengeki Bunku: Fighing Climax is almost certainly worth your money if you’re into the comic imprint or fighting games, though, as it’s a fun fanservice piece that caters to all skill levels and features a robust and interesting fighting system alongside anime silliness that make it an exciting piece of work. The plot is surprisingly solid given the concept behind it, there are a whole lot of play modes to keep you occupied, and the visuals and audio are both excellent all around. The gameplay and mechanics are fairly newcomer friendly, so casual fans and those who love the manga associated with this more than fighting games will find it easy to learn, while diehard fighting game fans will find there’s a strong technical game here that’s very layered and interesting to master. The game could use a more robust roster and some balance tweaking here and there, it’s hard to know who the game’s really meant to appeal to at times, and the lack of PSTV functionality leaves it a game for Vita owners only unless a patch is forthcoming, so it’s not all sunshine here. Overall, though, Dengeki Bunko is honestly a top shelf fighting game experience that should be worth checking out for both fans of the series and fighting game aficionados alike, as it’s a strong game mechanically and there’s a lot of really good ideas and fun content here to play around with for both crowds to enjoy.

Short Attention Span Summary:
Dengeki Bunko: Fighting Climax is another solid fighting game from Ecole, and while it’s not quite Melty Blood, it’s still a robust fighting game with an interesting license attached that’s worth a look for anyone into the manga imprint or fighting games in general. The plot’s actually pretty solid, there are a large amount of play modes to jump into, and the visuals and audio are excellent from beginning to end. The mechanics are simple enough that even casual or new players should be able to pick them up easily, but robust enough that diehard fighting game fans will find a lot of depth here, and there’s a good amount of content to plow through to keep you coming back for a good while. The roster is a little on the small side and could use some balance adjustment in spots, the overall experience has an odd appeal to it that’s hard to really qualify, and the lack of PSTV support means the game’s only going to be worthwhile for conventional Vita owners until that’s patched, if it ever is, but honestly, these aren’t big enough issues to detract from the overall experience. If you like the manga imprint or 2D fighting games, Dengeki Bunko is definitely going to be your jam, and it’s absolutely worth the asking price and then some.