A.W. Phoenix Festa is an interesting combination of genres put together into a single game. On one hand, it’s fairly simple fighting game based on a popular anime, while on the other hand, it’s something of statistical sim that tasks you with balancing your training with your love life. It sounds like the exact type of niche game that some fans out there has been dying to play, and at first glance it’s easy to see how it could be that. In reality, though, it’s mostly a curiosity that delivers a unique but otherwise average experience.
From the get go, you have three different ways to play the game. If you want, you can jump straight into exhibition matches using the show’s cast, which is a great way to get a handle on the combat and the various weapon types. Beyond that, there’s the story mode, where you must choose between playing as Ayato from the show or as a created character. The choice isn’t simply aesthetic either; if you play as Ayato, you start the game towards the end of the school year, and you only get a few weeks to find your partner before moving on to the Festa, while if you choose a created character, you get several more months to go through the game. Even better, the differences continue in gameplay. As Ayato, you have excellent stats and can focus on things besides training. As a created character, you have to train up to be able to defeat even the lowliest of characters. Ayato’s campaign also shows off more character interactions and bits from the show.
Whichever way you choose, prepare yourself to be let down by the story. Little efforts is done to show any of the characters as nothing more than archetypes that needed to be checked off a list. Even worse, events with those characters are often repeated; one of the supposed key mechanics of the game is to ask and go out on dates with one of four girls from the show, but subsequent dates are highly likely to use the same scenes. It makes it feel less like you’re making progress and more like the game didn’t expect you to actually score a date. Ayato, again, gets better content here; as well as getting different scenes to start his story off, he also has story elements that tie in with each of the four girls. This unlocks more lore for you to digest as well as a handful of different endings. However, don’t expect anything to get resolved here, as the endings usually just involve a hug and an unfinished plot thread. There might be a climactic moment or two, but nothing definitive. After all, this game covers merely the first arc of the show.
Visually, the game is fine enough. The character models are somewhat deformed but entirely faithful, and there are plenty of special effects that turn battles into light shows, as well as special scenes for extra powerful attacks. It’s all on the low end tech-wise though, as the polygon count is low and we’ve seen far better games on the Vita. However, it runs well and looks like what it’s supposed to be, and there’s nothing ugly about it, it’s just outdated. Outside of battle, the game plays out with visual novel style sequences and menus. There’s little going on here, but it doesn’t ever get bad.
As for the audio, it’s pretty solid. Like most fighters, the sound of battle can get repetitive. Expect to hear the same one or two lines multiple times per battle. However, the voices are well done and the music is decent enough background fare. I won’t say that you need the sound on to enjoy the game, but it’s more than adequate if you choose that route.
Gameplay is split between managing your daily activities and battle. We’ll start with the former and work our way towards the latter.
Each day is split in between AM and PM. You can perform any one activity and it will take up one of those slots. Your choices are training, jobs, shop, laboratory, appointments, and rest. Training is simple. You merely pick the attribute you want to increase and it will increase. You’ll have to expend HP to train though, and this is the same HP you’ll use in battle. Attributes you can train are all basic like health, energy, strength, defense, and so on. Jobs are pretty self explanatory. You forgo training in order to earn money that can be spent at the shop. The cool bit is that the jobs all involve mini-games using the fighting engine. You might take on a horde of thugs, chase down a runner, or try to avoid taking damage for a set amount of time. The money you’ll earn will be needed for use in the shop and laboratory. At the shop, you can buy new weapons, restorative items, and gifts to give to your potential dates. At the laboratory, you can upgrade or modify your weapon to increase it’s strength and decrease it’s energy consumption. Take note though, that spending any money in either of these places will take up half a day like any other activity. You can browse all you want, but going in just to buy one item is usually a waste. As for appointments, you can either challenge someone to a duel or ask out a girl. Interestingly enough, they can decline. Either way, you lose time. Your chances at getting accepted increase by raising your rank in combat and your intimacy with the girls. Finally, you can rest. This restores a good deal of health and moves time forward as per usual.
The game is on a timer. After a certain number of days, you’ll have to find a partner to enter the titular tournament. If you don’t find one, the game ends immediately. That seems to be a rare occurrence. You can literally just ask any girl towards the end and she’ll likely agree to it. The only concern is that you can only ask during random events. If you’re trying to get a specific partner, you might get screwed. The game also autosaves, so it’s not like you can just try again. Assuming you’ve found a partner, the game continues as normal until the tournament. At that point, you simply fight a bunch of matches until you’ve won the whole thing. Tournament fights are the only ones you’re allowed to retry, so it’s clear the game expects you to win. It’s a bit of shame though. The game kind of goes flat at the end. The tournament isn’t even mentioned until the day of your next fight, and there is no fanfare for victory. It feels like any other day, and you’re expected to keep training as normal. It’s anticlimactic.
On to the fighting system. For the most part, it’s a hack ‘n slash. You have a light attack and a heavy attack that can be strung together in a small number of basic combos. You can block, dash, and jump as well. Each character has a couple of special moves that either deal out extra damage or impart some buff. Battles are either one on one or two on two affairs. In the case of multiple opponents, you can switch between lock ons easy enough. The good news is that you never have to control the camera yourself, which is ideal for a 3D fighter like this. Attacking depletes your “prana”, which serves as stamina. It will recharge over time, but it can run out if you keep attacking. If this happens, you’ll be utterly defenseless for several moments. Your opponent can have their way with you.
Like in most games, you lose when your health runs out and win if you can deplete your opponent’s health. However, there’s an alternate win/loss condition to consider. Each character comes equipped with a badge. This badge takes damage if a character is hit as he/she is attempting to attack. Think of it as a punishment for button mashing. It is entirely possible to have dealt far more damage and still lose the fight thanks to having your badge destroyed. It makes you take fights more carefully. It also serves as a boon to faster characters whose attacks don’t deal as much damage as the bigger ones. What’s interesting here is how your actions outside of combat effect your time in battle. Your training will pay off in terms of noticeable increases in damage output in speed. Changing weapons drastically changes how you tackle fights. Building intimacy with a character will allow you to more often use powerful dual attacks. When the game works, it works because of this noticeable progression.
Sadly, the game rarely clicks on all cylinders. Your daily activities are pretty much just menu navigation. Training is a monotonous grind and inviting girls on dates feels impersonal when you’re forced do either do in via email or hope for a random event. You might find yourself doing jobs just to break things up. The rejection systems is also quite harsh. It’s understandable that the game doesn’t want you to keep asking for duels until they say yes out of frustration. What’s not understandable is how the mere task of asking someone out or for a duel takes up half a day! Why couldn’t you simply be limited to the number of times you could ask per day? The combat isn’t much better. If often boils down to you spamming the same combo repeatedly as your opponent tries to get up. While there are plenty of controls to consider, there aren’t many legitimate combat options. More moves were needed to keep the variety up.
Going through the game will take your three to five hours depending on which story mode you choose. You’re free to replay the game in order to try out different techniques or go down different routes. Your learned skills will carry over to new games, which will make things easier to boot. In that way, the game is fairly replayable. The downside is that the grand majority of any subsequent play through will be that same grind from the first one. So it’s kind of a tossup there.
When it comes down to it, Phoenix Festa is a whole that is only slightly greater than the sum of its parts. The individual simulation and fighting aspects are sub par at best, but combine together to create a decently rewarding system. You’ll get better as you go, which is not nothing.
Short Attention Span Summary
A.W. Phoenix Festa takes two mostly disparate genres and mixes them together to create an acceptable blend. Fans of simulation games will find the options too sparse while fans of fighters will find the combat too simple. For someone looking for a bit of both, however, the game might just deliver, as while it’s an average experience, it could just be your cup of tea. If you dig what this game does on a conceptual level, it’s certainly worth a look at the very least, and it won’t be an actively bad experience once you get into it.