Everybody was Wai-Fu fighting!
For being such a niche genre, fighting games have astounding variety; some focus on extreme violence, some appeal to fans of pre-existing characters, and some try to make their own name by creating their own lovable characters; enter Arcana Heart 3: Love Max!!!!!
Game Name: Arcana Heart 3: Love Max!!!!!
Platform(s): Playstation 3, PS Vita, PC
Publisher(s): Arc System Works
Release Date: 9/29/2015 (steam)
Reviewed on: PC
Love Max offers an all-female cast of 23 characters, each playing in a distinct style; standard fare. What sets Love Max apart is that there is an excess of story content to build character, which provides an interesting cycle for prospective players: pick a character you’re interested in, see them interact with other characters, start liking other characters based on that interaction, rinse and repeat until you can safely call one of them “best girl”.
However, the game is far from shallow fanservice; the story content is more plentiful than a great deal of other fighters on the market, the combat is fast and satisfying, and the netplay is smooth. This is all a lot to take in, so let’s break it down a bit.
Love Max features both a story mode and an “after story” mode. The former is simple enough; it functions as a classic arcade ladder mode with an added level of character interaction and story progression focused on a single character whereas after story is a single story line in which every character plays a part. These sound simple enough, but there was a surprising amount of depth to both. Story mode allows the player to choose most of their opponents for varied dialogue and interaction; at first, I thought that this was neat, even if I often found myself questioning if I wanted to read all of the text that the game was throwing at me, but the voice acting was good and the interactions were funny, so I rolled with it.
After completing a story ladder, I took to after story to see what distinguished it from the main story mode. Rather than a branching story that ends in whichever character you choose to be the hero, afterstory functioned in short chapters (one for each character) with a great deal of dialogue and character interaction and only one fight each, and it all told different parts of the same narrative. It was then that it dawned on me: Arcana Heart 3: Love Max!!!!! is not simply a fighting game, but rather, it is akin to a full-fledged visual novel with fighting as the core gameplay mechanic.
Now, when hearing that Love Max is up there with the likes of Phoenix Wright as far as genre is concerned (in a sense at least), one would think that the combat would be somewhat limited due to a greater focus on story; however, this is far from the case. Every character has a distinct style with potential for long, beautiful combos and sensible utility; but the star of the show is the arcana system. The game has 23 arcana, each corresponding to a character; however, they are not necessarily bound to that character. No matter what character the player chooses, they have free choice over any of the arcana, each offering a different boost to the character’s stats and granting them access to new tools.
This system allows the player to play the character they want in the manner that they want, which is rather refreshing considering that even at a casual level; if characters are played out of their intended style, they suffer greatly. With the arcana system however, players can tweak their characters to better suit their needs: if a player likes recklessly attacking their opponents, they can pick the water arcana which grants them access to bubbles which can trap opponents, making them harder to punish; if a player likes long combos but lack mobility, they can pick the plant arcana which allows them to throw out a vine and pull the opponent towards them. This level of selected utility mixed with the three-button light/medium/heavy input system smacks greatly of the Marvel Vs. Capcom series, with a similar button layout to MVC3 and assists (arcana) in a similar fashion to the original entry. With that said, though there is a good deal of learning new specials offered by arcana, the game plays quite smoothly and easily at a basic level.
As for netplay, I very rarely had matches with poor latency, so from what I can tell, the netcode is fairly solid.
Graphically speaking, Love Max is rather impressive in its effects and characters despite the fact that the original Arcana Heart 3 is about six years old at this point. For the most part, in true visual novel fashion, the art is static and swaps out character images to convey changes in emotional state. When in a fight however, a feature called “anime link” can be enabled, showing an animated representation of both characters with a few animations to convey victory/loss/damage/ETC; adding a great deal of charm to the game while also giving players stuck in painfully long combos something cute to look at.
As far as sound goes, the voice acting is plentiful and high quality; granting characters a greater level of life. The music is nothing necessarily something to write home about just the normal anime fighter fare of vaguely jazzy and vaguely rocking tracks, which are by no means bad, but again, are fairly average; making for a decent atmosphere during fights.
All elements considered, Arcana Heart 3: Love Max!!!!! is a solid game all around: with good characters, strong voice acting, and intuitive fight mechanics. With that said, there is a bit of a conflict when it comes to the Anime Fighter genre. Games of this sort have high mobility, typically more technical options, and emphasis on long combos; as such, to have fun in an online environment, a player needs to put in a decent amount of time to master the game’s fundamentals if they ever want a match in which they’re not being flung around like a ragdoll. This is the case for most fighters, but in a more mainstream title like Mortal Kombat X or Killer Instinct, there are always handfuls of players who don’t know what they’re doing which can either be preyed upon or can serve as a match for those without the time to master the game’s mechanics. Love Max, being a much less known title, does not have that luxury. However, the vast amount of story and interestingly deep arcana system make Arcana Heart 3: Love Max!!!!! a worthwhile purchase for casual and competitive players alike.
** review copy of Arcana Heart 3: Love Max!!!!! was provided by Arcsystemworks
Author’s note: the game has an issue where it will tab out if it is currently set to an aspect ratio different than that of your PC; so if it isn’t working, try setting your resolution to 1280X720 to set the game’s aspect ratio, then change your native resolution back.
Highest cuteness to fighter ratio around!
Gameplay - 9/10
Graphics - 9/10
Audio - 8/10
Value - 8/10
In all, Arcana Heart 3: Love Max!!!!! is a fun game with great combat that should not be missed by lovers of anime and fighting games alike. Even if you don't have the time to reach competitive levels of play, it's still a load of fun single-player or with friends.
- Deep and innovative combat system
- Beautiful art
- Lots of story content
- Great characters
- High barrier to entry
- Some characters are less visually interesting than others