With no known equivalent in the West, Japanese light novels are quite a thing in Japan. Worshiped by otaku circles, those bizarre stories mixing action, love, science-fiction, fan-service and humor sell large volumes at each new issue and become animes in a blink of an eye. Reading is good, watching’s fine too, but playing is even better and Sega knows it. The fans’ aspiration for direct action now comes true with Dengeki Bunko Fighting Climax (FC).
While the game design of this 2D fighting game is fairly classic, its playable characters aren’t. You’ll have the great pleasure to play as the most famous heroes/heroines from a dozen of series. Characters well-known in the West as Asuna and Kirito from Sword Art Online come alongside less renowned ones like the basket-ball star schoolgirl Tomoka from Ro-Kyu-Bu, plus some guests like Akira and Pai from Virtua Fighter (who have a tendancy to gatecrash every fighting game since they don’t have their own anymore).
In terms of game modes, you have the usual suspects : Arcade, Story, Training, Survival, Time-attack and Versus await you. Arcade feels a bit repetitive, but the point of an arcade mode has never been to tell a story. In fact, the little narrative behind it, however simplistic, proved intriguing enough and features surprising metaphors. For example, the girl designed by Kei representing Sega’s last console asks you to save the dreams. In other terms, in FC, you must save the Dreamcast! On the other hand, the story mode exclusive to the console version turned out to be no more than a series of mini dialogs. I did expect a lot more substantial content.
The whole game is nevertheless extremely well dubbed and transcribes the atmosphere of the Dengeki series in an astonishingly wonderful way. Should it be Taiga’s extravagant behavior, Miyuki’s Magic or Tomoka’s shoots, FC spares no effort and goes as wild as needed to delight the fans. Kirito is especially cool : everything in its lines, attitude, moves and of course its amazing Double Edge Sword remind us of what’s amazing in Sword Art Online. Selveria being an unlockable playable character also is a huge plus, and she’s an extremely effective character and fun to play on the top of that. Graphically speaking, the 2D sprites on PSVita have a lovely feel in them, but animations look a bit jerky. The 2D models during talk parts are the ones from the novels and not from the anime. It kinda gives a fresh look to the characters and the animation are rather cute/fun despite no lip sync. Music is way above your average fighting game, with a beautiful theme song and quite great and entertaining composition.
Each character’s movelist being ten lines or so, you could believe that FC lacks depth. Far from that, it’s actually a vastly technical game. You just have to spend some time online to ascertain that : skilled players build impressive combos, proof of a vast amount of time spend in training combining moves with one another. The annoying thing is that it makes it difficult for people not used to 2D fighters to enter the fray online : FC’s gameplay tuning is made for experts. It’s really a shame because the controls are quite fine even on PSVita, on which the stick allows you to perform half/quarter circles with ease.
Adding to traditional combos and moves, FC has 3 original elements : a support character, a kirifuda and a Climax gauge. The support character attack or defends depending on whether you press X ou X+direction. Effects and range being quite different from one another, there’s already some training to do in order to find the one that fits your way of playing and calculate timing in battle. Kirifuda is a special move a bit more powerful than the others or a boost that gives you some advantages. They’re pretty uneven : Selveria fires a whole magazine of her personal rifle, while Shana’s is an all-cancel that refills a bit of her Climax gauge.
The above mentioned gauge is used either to give an additional blow to the square button combo (consumes one bar), or unleash extra powerful techniques known as Climax Arts (two bars). Here’s the problem : the latter are next to impossible to execute successfully in a serious match. The range is short most of the time and normal guard blocks them. The only way to have them hit is to imbricate them in a longer combo. Good luck with that… Consequently, it is often more beneficial to use the extra square hit which is a lot more practical. Further in this logic, this almost unbreakable guard discourages risk-taking and tends to turn online battles in defensive/long range confrontations which is hardly fun. Let’s stress that unlike the 3D fighters I know, here you can’t perform combos unless you actually hit your opponent, so no approaching while being covered. You’ll have to cautiously monitor your distances if you don’t want to become full of openings.
Last point, FC is rich of bonus content. There’s whole range of customization items such as colors/plates/icons and even the authors’ & voice actors’ autograph, plus some well-chosen illustrations and a chapter to read!
Dengeki Bunko Fighting Climax is a very enjoyable fighting game, so well-thought for its targeted audience that it’s impossible to get bored if you like Dengeki series. It is just sad that gameplay arbitrations make online less fun than it should have been.