Arcana Heart 3 Love Max is a 2D Fighting game featuring an all-female cast of 23 fighters. Set in the country of Japan it is up to you to choose one of these fighters and find rare objects known as Celestial Stones that are used to power a giant robot. Each character has very slightly different dialogue so playing through the Story Mode once and skipping everything but the ending results in no real loss as long as you don’t skip the unique ending. Story mode is the nonsensical bare-bones set up one would expect from a fighting game with nothing even remotely interesting about it. None of us are likely to buy a Fighting game expecting a well told narrative however, so luckily the combat in this is very enjoyable. It’s a one on one fight but you also choose from one of 23 unique Arcanas (support character) for slightly different powers at your disposal.
The difference between Arcanas is very minimal like some poisoning your enemy or boosting your power. Without a doubt the stars of the show here are the characters themselves. It has demon nuns, living paintings and dolls, dead little girls and a wolf riding catgirl to name a few. They are all very unique and memorable minus the main character Heart who is as cliché as can be, strangely enough. It’s not just appearances that differ, each one controls and fights in very distinct manners such as some characters needing to reload their guns, some having limited mana to unleash magic and your more traditional ‘punch your enemy into submission’ type of characters. This huge difference between characters also means it is typically a good idea to train with them a little first before plunging straight into one of the modes as button mashing won’t get you very far in this title.
You have three bars at the bottom which allow for three special attacks or one huge one depending if you have them filled up of course. Special attacks always require you to press both your light and heavy attack buttons simultaneously along with a certain combination so you are unlikely to accidentally waste a bar in the heat of the moment. Certain Arcana attacks also require a bar of energy to pull off. What may be even more important than your energy bar is your arcana percentage meter located at the top of the screen right under your characters portrait. Once it is at 100 percent you can activate it for a boost in power with the added benefit of knocking your opponent to the other side of the screen if you activate it while she is near. Another equally important function of that meter is that you can activate an “arcana burst” at any time that allows you to interrupt a combo and giving you enough breathing room to get back into the fight. Bursting out of a combo causes your meter to refill far more slowly than usual so it is more of a one off emergency move than something to be relied on.
Arcana Heart 3 has a rather unique gameplay mechanic that allows you to dash towards wherever your opponent is, at the press of a button. Whether she be at the other side of the screen or mid-air, a single press of the button will put you face to face in no time. It helps keep the pace of the game fast but is also not detrimental to range based characters as it is rather easy to put a stop to someone making a mad dash at you. If both of you are dashing at each other it is a matter of who strikes first that will be at the advantage or if you both strike at the same it will cause a brief moment where you can either attempt another attack, block or just get out of range. All characters have a double jump and having that dash button at hand it can lead to some really cool mid-air fights. Being defensive is just as dangerous as being very aggressive since blocking an attack does little to no damage to you and creates small openings where you can counter-attack. You do have to predict whether it’s a low or high attack though and grabs cannot be blocked so it takes skill whichever way you fight.
Stages are really bland to look at unfortunately and often have very little detail in them. Each level does change into something more interesting when someone is using their arcana meter but that is just a very brief time then its back to the bland backgrounds. It is rather cool each stage has two looks to them though the problem is the one you look at most is sub-par. Another problem is that the camera is very zoomed in to focus on the characters so not much of the background is shown. That issue could have been fixed by allowing us to play in 16:9 aspect ratio though sadly it’s stuck to 4:3. One thing I do like about the stages is that they all have a ton of vertical space to jump around in.
Since it is stuck at 4:3 only the middle of your screen will be for the game itself the rest will be for the rather cool character animation portraits on each side. While fighting your character will be shown on the corner of your screen in a battle stance, squirming when taking damage and various other movements while performing special attacks. It adds nothing to the gameplay but I really liked that small touch nonetheless. The animations on the side of the screen may distract some players from the fight in which case there is an option to turn them off and have them be static screens. If you have a monitor over 60hz the game will run far too fast in which case you must go into your graphic cards menu be it Nivdia’s Control Panel or AMD’s Catalyst to turn on Vsync since there is no in game option to do so.
Now onto the game modes, aside from Story Mode you have “Trials” that challenges you with a certain task each day, Survival that has your health carry over between matches with only a bit of it refilled and Training which is exactly what it sounds like. There is also Versus, Time attack, Network and After Story. There are a ton of modes to choose from and strangely enough you may not want to actually start off with the Story Mode. It is the only mode with a Street Fighter 3 like feature where you can choose from a couple of characters on who to fight next match but the sub-boss is a massive difficulty spike that will destroy you if you don’t know how to properly play as your character. It’s not an insurmountable foe but it is quite a challenge whose difficulty seems to not scale regardless of your difficulty setting. Once you are decent with a certain character it is an exciting battle even if she does love to spam her giant mechanized turtle. The real problem comes afterwards. You will be facing a giant skyscraper tall robot. Sounds cool right? Well the bad news is that it is not a fight at all but a glorified version of the car smashing bonus round of SF2. In here you must attack small portions of the stage which can range from easy to a real pain depending on your characters range, air fighting skills and move set.
All you gain from story mode is a unique ending so I don’t even bother with that mode due to that robot. Simply fighting regardless of mode will unlock stuff like that character’s mini story and sub-stories which are a cool way to know more of your favorite characters personality and an enjoyable read when they are not being serious. It has very good humor but on occasion it tries to be serious and falls flat on its face. Speaking of story you may remember me mentioning an After Story mode. This is basically a Visual Novel with a few fights thrown which have the characters look for a hot spring. It is exactly as boring as it sounds and after suffering through that I can confirm there is nothing other than an achievement to be unlocked. This being the third game in the series they expect you to be familiar with the lore and don’t explain anything like the characters background or factions. This is the first game to be released on PC so you will be totally lost if you didn’t happen to play the first two on the PS2. So with boring stages, huge and terrible story as well as having hit or miss music would I recommend it? Well yes if you don’t plan on playing online since the community is dead. The gameplay, characters and content are more than good enough to keep you happily playing regardless of the flaws.