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Arcana Heart

Arcana Heart continues the recent trend of releasing 2D fighters for the PS2. What separates it is the distinction of being the only brand-new title of that group, with others being compilations or continuations of existing franchises. Oh, and the fact that the game is comprised completely of cutesy colorful anime girls. This all-anime cast might appeal to anime fans, but for others (including myself), it was a turnoff. However, if you like the genre, it’s in your interest to dive in because of the games’ great depth hiding under its cuddly facade.

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Despite Arcana’s eleven selectable fighters all being young and female, their similarities are few. From Heart, the always-smiling peppy main character, to Kira, an eleven year old who wants to be a dictator, the cast plays widely different.

2 Games in 1Arcana Heart for PS2 includes not only the arcade port of Arcana Heart, but the arcade update, Arcana Heart FULL!. FULL! is the more recent arcade version. It features some tweaks in character priorities and moves, balancing all the characters better then the initial release did.The range of play styles allowed by Arcana Heart is where the games’ strength really starts to show. Characters have a number of special moves and a couple of super moves each. Special moves are executed with a gamut of commands found in countless other 2D fighting games. Many of the commands are simple motions, even for the more complex super moves. The timing for said inputs is more relaxed allowing beginners access to all the moves, which include the standard fireballs, pile drivers, and flash kicks.

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In addition, Arcana Heart borrows some systems found in other games, but throws in it’s own tweaks to keep things fresh. Arcana Heart is built around two meters. The Homing Meter, which acts like the Action Meter found in Super Dragonball Z, is divided into three sections and refills gradually. One section of the meter is used to chase your opponent. For example, if you use a normal attack, which knocks your opponent into the sky, you can then hold the homing button plus a direction to follow your opponent, allowing you to continue with an air combo. A section of the meter can also be used to execute a Homing Cancel, which resets your character, allowing them to continue a combo that otherwise wouldn’t be possible.

A lot of Arcana Heart is built around air combos, and to accommodate this the game features an incredibly high vertical space in its maps. Despite this design, you will still find yourself continuing combos well-beyond the visibility space of the level. Combos in the game frequently exceed 20 hits. Even with the high number of hits possible in a combo, Arcana Heart’s timing and slower pace is more flexible then games like Guilty Gear easing less experienced players in.

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What really separates Arcana Heart from other fighting games is the Arcana system. After choosing your character you have to choose an Arcana to accompany your character. There are a wide variety of Arcana to choose from, including elemental based, such as fire, earth, water, and on to status type like death and light. Each Arcana have their own set of special moves and super moves, but more importantly provide special abilities to a character. These abilities range from adding poison effects to your normal attacks to negating block damage. Using your Arcana’s moves and supers deplete your Super meter, which can hold up to nine meters’ worth. What really gives Arcana Heart it’s depth is not only finding the character that suits you, but also finding the Arcana that compliments that particular character, but also your desired play style. From there, the rather small sounding cast of 11 characters balloons to a dizzying amount of character/Arcana combinations.

“The rather small sounding cast of 11 characters balloons to a dizzying amount of character/Arcana combinations.”Despite the great variety found in the fighting system, Arcana Heart isn’t without a few shortcomings. The sounds range from amusing and slightly charming to grating and highly repetitive. I usually don’t notice the music in fighting games, however in Arcana Heart I found the appropriately bubbly music increasingly annoying. You’ll be spending a lot of time in the game’s training mode, and you can only listen to that loop so many times.

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The only other notable problem with the game concerns the lack of additional single player modes from the arcade version. This game is designed to be played with a friend, which means if you’re playing this alone you’ve got an Arcade, Story and Training modes. The only real difference between Story and Arcade is that there’s more dialogue, and you have to wait even longer between matches. As you complete these modes you’ll unlock some artwork in a Gallery section; although it’s hardly an incentive to trudge through the story mode one more time.

If you’re a fan of 2D fighting games then you will definitely enjoy this game. If you look past the cutesy characters, there is a solid game with lots of options to explore. On top of that you’re getting a brand new fighting game that’s cheaper then most other releases. For beginners, there is a whole lot of systems and variety, which might be daunting, but the slower pace and easier inputs can set you in the right direction. On the other hand, if you’re a hardcore fighting gamer you’ll love the Homing and Arcana systems, which allow for some interesting matches and truly ridiculous combos.

8 out of 10

The author of this fine article

is an Associate Editor at Thunderbolt, having joined in April 2008. Get in touch on Twitter @_seankelley.

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