Review: Battle Fantasia (Microsoft Xbox 360)

Battle Fantasia
Genre: Fighting
Developer: Arc System Works
Publisher: Aksys Games
Release Date: 09/16/08

While we’ve discussed Arc System Works here a time or two before, it once again needs to be said: they have single-handedly turned into one of the most prolific fighting game developers of the past few years, purely by force more than anything else. Aside from the numerous Guilty Gear titles they’ve developed, we’ve covered other fighting games they’ve developed outside of that franchise here, such as Sengoku Basara X and Hokuto No Ken. While the Guilty Gear franchise has, until recently, been the only ASW developed fighting game series to see stateside release, as of now, this is no longer the case, thanks to Battle Fantasia. Sporting a fantasy vibe that riffs and pays homage to RPG conventions, as well as 2D gameplay with 3D characters, Battle Fantasia looks like it would absolutely be a worthy addition to the library of any fighting game fan, but outside of its stylistic presentation, does it manage to actually give the interested player a worthwhile experience? Let’s find out.

There’s an actual story to Battle Fantasia, which more or less revolves around the coming of darkness to the land, thanks to the “Scion of Ill Presage” (“Child of Bad Omen”, basically). Each character has a storyline revolving, in some form or fashion, which may or may not have some sort of direct or indirect relation to the major events running throughout the land, depending on the character. The one neat thing about the storylines of each character is that most of them branch at one point or another, meaning that there are a large amount of storylines in the game between the different characters and the branches in those stories that can lead said characters in entirely different storyline directions. On the other hand, the stories are often either standard RPG fare or beating the bad guy and saving the world, or they’re standard anime fare of goofy characters out on wacky misadventures involving transforming into Viewtiful Joe and panties panties panties. In short: the stories in the game are, at best, everything you would expect, and at worst, so Japanese they’ll leave you pooping Domokun for a week. Insofar as the game modes are concerned, you’ve got the option of jumping into the normal nine battle Arcade mode, the Story mode for each character, Versus fights against another player or the CPU, the Survival mode, which allows you to see how many CPU opponents you can beat in a row, the Practice mode to hone your skills, the Time Attack mode, which tests you to complete thirteen fights as fast as possible, and Online play in Ranked and Player Matches, as is the standard. You can also view the Gallery to look at the artwork you’ve unlocked, or hop into the options to change the timer, difficulty, controls, and so on. There are enough modes to make Battle Fantasia interesting, and the inclusion of online functionality is welcome, though there’s nothing, save the Story mode, that’s particularly different or exciting in the game.

Battle Fantasia certainly looks nice, though. The visuals are done in a cel-shaded 3D that looks quite nice in motion, and the characters are all very colorful and move fluidly. There’s also a lot of personality to the game, both in the backgrounds (which are suitably fantasy themed and moderately lively) and the characters (who respond differently to different attacks). One of the single most interesting examples of the visual variety in the game can be seen thanks to the character Marco, who performs his standard throw by tossing his hand upward, then crashing into the opponent. While many of the characters will simply react with mild disinterest, the female characters will end up having their skirts tossed upwards (which generates no end of embarrassment from catgirl Coyori and token princess Olivia, but is met with indifference by Odile), and odd-looking gunman Face will end up getting punched in the twig and berries. Oops. This simple variety in responses to a move from character to character shows an attention to detail a lot of games seem to lack, and it goes a long way to making the game exciting (though that may just because I think watching game characters take a hit in the no-no button is hilarious). Aurally, the game isn’t quite so enjoyable; while the sound effects are top notch across the board, the voice acting in the game features more than a few voice actor changes between the fights and the cutscenes in Story mode (most notably the talking weapon Dokurod, whose voice shifts several pitch levels from one to the other), and while the music in the game is mostly fitting to the theme of the experience, one song in particular (the Dyna-Kid theme song) is about a billion different kinds of audible torture and whether or not it was intended to be so doesn’t make it good.

So, being that this is an Arc System Works fighting game, and being as how most ASW games play with the now standard Guilty Gear mechanics, you’re probably assuming that Battle Fantasia plays the same, but surprisingly enough, Battle Fantasia has more in common with your more recent SNK or Capcom fighting games than anything ASW has released. Basically, you have two weak and two strong attacks (noted as A and B for weak attacks and C and D for strong attacks, since most characters don’t punch/kick specifically), with A and C and B and D being associated to each other for special move purposes. Each character has a pool of regular and special moves they can work with, with regular moves basically being usable by pressing the buttons and special moves requiring directional combinations along with a button press. The power of the button used for your special move dictates the power/range/whatever of the move, so using down/down-forward/forward and A with, say, Marco, will produce a slower projectile attack, while down/down-forward/forward and C will product a faster projectile. So, yeah, Battle Fantasia plays under Street Fighter 2 rules. Most characters are fairly simple to pick up and play, with a few basic roll/charge attacks at their disposal, though a couple of characters (the aforementioned Coyori and Face, for example) have odd chain moves at their disposal for more experienced players to master. Every character also has a super move of some sort or another they can use, which is, again, pretty self-explanatory for most players; perform a directional input twice and press a button to do a high-powered attack on an opponent. Characters can earn power to perform these moves either through standard combat or by taunting, which serves to fill up a portion of the super meter when a taunt is completed successfully. Taunts are mapped to the triggers on the D-Pad (though the buttons can be changed as needed), as is the throw button, which allows the player to grab the opponent and toss/slam/smack their opponent without retaliation, though throws can also be broken if the opponent presses the grapple button at the correct time. Again, all of the above is fairly simple to learn, and fighting game fans will be able to jump in with little to no effort.

Where Battle Fantasia differs from its competitors is in the Heat and GACHI systems. Heat is fairly simple to understand; pressing a button when you have one full stock of super move meter allows your character to “Heat Up”, allowing them access to more powerful attacks and, depending on the character, other surprises. GACHI works as a counter of sorts (fans of Street Fighter 3 can liken it to the parry system from that game); when an opponent attacks, holding back allows the player to block, but if instead the player presses the GACHI button they will simply parry the attack and leave the opponent open to counter-attack. GACHI can also be used to send attacking opponents flying backward (called GACHI Drive) and to recover from knockback attacks (called a Ground Parry), basically allowing the player a large amount of offensive and defensive options at any given time. None of these options are terribly difficult to work around, either; timing is the name of the game here, not move complexity, and anyone who’s played a fighting game, well, ever, should be able to work with the gameplay mechanics in Battle Fantasia with little to no problems. Playing against friends or the CPU isn’t bad, balance-wise, either, largely because the characters are fairly well balanced against one another. Characters like Face and Coyori could potentially be deadly in the hands of skilled players, as their movesets are complex and take some getting used to, but most of the characters are reasonably balanced against one another and easy enough to learn. Playing against the CPU isn’t a big problem either, as once again, the difficulty levels mean what they say, so playing on the lowest difficulty will be fine for inexperienced players (save for the occasional final boss that, though the game does not tell you as such, needs to be fought in Heat mode to be damaged), while the higher difficulty levels will give skilled players a significant challenge.

As was noted prior, there’s also plenty to do with the game. The Arcade, Versus and Survival options are generally staples of most of these sorts of games at this point, and feature the sort of mechanics players will have come to expect (IE Arcade mode will feature nine battles in a row to make it to the end of the line, Versus mode allows you to play against the CPU or friends under your choice of conditions, Survival is you versus the CPO until you die, and so on). Story mode, however, is fairly interesting, in part because there are branching paths in the various character stories, but ALSO because winning AND losing generate parts of the story, as do certain actions taken in battle (IE taunting a specific amount of times in a certain battle, finishing a certain battle with a certain move, and so on), which presents plenty of little variations the player will have to challenge themselves to discover. The Story mode is also where you’ll spend a lot of your time unlocking things, as playing through a character’s story multiple times in multiple ways will unlock new costumes/colors and Gallery artwork for you to play around with. You also have the Time Attack mode to test your skills at, in hopes of earning the best possible time, and of course, Online play will keep the experience going for a good, long time if you’re at all interested in taking on the world. You have, as noted, the option of playing in Ranked or Player matches (to improve your worldwide ranking or just to goof around), which allow you to search for Quick matches, Custom matches that meet certain specifications, or make your own matches that allow you to change the timer speed (but not turn it off, sadly), round count, and in an awesome addition that more games should include, turn off voice chat. So, yeah, there’s plenty of game modes and options to keep you interested for a while.

But not really enough.

Now, Battle Fantasia does a lot of things many people will consider “good”; it’s simple to play, it apes the RPG market a bit by making life bars also appear as numerical meters below the actual bar and actually showing the damage being done to characters by way of little numbers floating upward as they take their damage, it offers online play, and so on. The trouble is that, frankly, while it’s stylistically interesting, simple to play, and has more than a few options in its bag of tricks, it doesn’t really do anything special. For one, considering these are the people that made Guilty Gear, the characters are outright boring in comparison. I mean, come on now: the former franchise features, among other things, a half-naked Gear/Human hybrid with an angelic and demonic wing and a tail, a guitar-playing witch wearing a talking hat, a little boy dressed as a nun who wields yo-yo’s, multiple characters who control or are controlled by demonic forces, and a girl who wields A GIANT, LIVING KEY, and this is the best you could do? A big fat dwarf, a nine-year-old boy who turns into Viewtiful Joe, an automaton with a talking rod, Death Adder, and a panty-obsessed catgirl? There is exactly one “interesting” character in the game (Face, the gunman with the cartoon sack over his head); everyone else is either a silly stereotype or ridiculous in uninspired ways (IE Marco turning into “DynaKid” because, you see, Dyna was his father’s name so it makes perfect sense when he transforms into a Power Ranger, or his brother Urs, who wields an energy chainsaw named Basilisk, despite its inability to, you know, turn people to stone). Oh, and while the play mechanics are certainly simple, they are by no means in any way innovative or original, so while those who have played a few different fighting games will find this easy to pick up, they’ll also feel like they’ve played the game before.

Also, while ASW seems to have a big problem with this, one more time, from the top: IT IS TWO THOUSAND AND EIGHT. THERE IS NO REASON, TECHNICAL OR OTHERWISE, TO SELL US A FIGHTING GAME WITH TWELVE CHARACTERS IN IT UNLESS IT IS AT BUDGET PRICE. As a twenty dollar game, yeah, fine, a small character roster is forgivable, but at the fifty dollar price tag this game commands, when you can turn around and buy any one of a number of full or budget-priced games with four or more times the amount of characters available in them, there’s no way to justify such a miniscule offering. Generally speaking, most fighting games can justify their existence in some way or another. Soul Calibur 3 had a rudimentary character creation system and all sorts of oddball extra modes. Neo Geo Battle Coliseum featured tons of characters, tag battles, and a budget price. The various Guilty Gear games feature fairly large rosters, complex characters, and modes beyond normal expectations. Battle Fantasia features a limited character roster, shows you everything it has to offer in an hour and, in all honesty, plays like Street Fighter 3, and the only significant saving grace, Online Play, is hampered by the fact that you will have to wait half an hour just to fight against one person. No, really. Of three attempts I made to play the game online, I found a match, ONCE, after waiting half an hour for someone to join.

Now, if you’re either a complete neophyte to fighting games or someone who loves fighting games across the board, you can definitely have some fun with Battle Fantasia so long as you don’t jump into the experience expecting anything stellar. It’s pretty, simple to play, offers enough gameplay modes to be entertaining for a while, and might be amusing to you if you like anime clichés, and the game is easy enough to learn and balanced enough to play around with to learn all of the basics of the game. It’s not a particularly imaginative or deep game, however; dedicated fighting game fans will have seen everything this game has to offer in prior games, and casual gamers probably won’t be able to justify spending fifty dollars on a game with so few characters and online play that can take half an hour just to find an opponent. Battle Fantasia certainly isn’t a bad game, and at a little lower of a price it would be an easy sell, but as a nearly full-priced 360 release, this is really worth renting before buying, if only because you’ll see everything the game has to offer in a rental period.

The Scores:
Story/Game Modes: ABOVE AVERAGE
Graphics: GREAT
Control/Gameplay: GREAT
Replayability: MEDIOCRE
Balance: GOOD
Originality: BAD
Addictiveness: MEDIOCRE
Miscellaneous: POOR

Final Score: DECENT.

Short Attention Span Summary:
Battle Fantasia is a generally solid, if limited, fighting game that might be more readily recommendable if it were a little cheaper. It’s pretty, simple to play, offers a decent amount of gameplay modes, features online play, and is generally fairly balanced across the board, making it fun for both serious and casual gamers, for a while. However, between the limited character roster, difficulty finding opponents online, lack of originality and depth, and lack of anything significant to unlock, it’s really a rental at best, until the price decreases, as it most likely won’t hold your interest for any longer than a week. Again, Battle Fantasia isn’t bad, but it could certainly be a lot better.



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