The Asterisk War anime must be quite popular in the West seeing how fast BandaiNamco decided itself as for the game adaptation. In less than a couple of weeks since the leaks, Asterisk War Phoenix Festa is already up on Vita’s PlaystationStore.
The story mode of this game can take place in two different ways. Let’s focus first on the one in which you create your own character. The character creation is OK but not one of the best : the various design choices are correct. Once you have your character, he enters Seidokan Academy for a new term and prepares himself for the big event reuniting all the schools of the peninsula.
The story lasts several months in the game, the first three ones being used to train your avatar so that he can eventually stand a chance against the main characters of the anime. Asterisk War Phoenix Festa is an Action-RPG as each training session (and whatever action by the way) increases your stats. Several menus are available, to beef up HP, strengh, defense, agility, MP recovery rate… Nothing spectacular in those though as they’re just small animations. The whole system quickly becomes a chore. Besides that, you’ve also access to a shop to buy different weapons and a R&D lab to improve them. You can also tackle small jobs to earn money, but here again it’s not very compelling (beat a certain number of opponents, evade attacks for 1 or 2 minutes, etc).
But Asterisk War is known for its heroines and one of your goals will be to convince one of them to be your partner for the tournament. To do so, you’ll have to impress them a bit either by giving them presents, or by increasing your fame after winning matches against other students. Seidokan Academy has a ranking of its best elements, and you’ll have to defeat higher ranked opponents to take their place. If you feel confident enough, you can also ask one of the girls for a fight : for example, getting the upper hand against Kirin immediately gives you the top spot! Even if you have trouble with that part, worry not : the game will automatically seek a partner for you 2 days before the deadline and… it will even give you the choice! This de facto nullifies the pickup system, which is useless from the very start…
All the talk or dating happens in 2D, so nothing noticeable and especially not the unispired dialogs. The same conversations come back relentlessly, so annoyingly that the skip feature becomes your best friend. Talking of this, the friend level of your girlfriend will have a direct impact on her strengh in battle. It’s therefore important to please her a maximum, as it will make future victories easier.
The Phoenix Festa starts in about 4 months. You’ll have done quite some preparatory battles, but this is where it gets serious. As in the anime, there are two different victory conditions : either you depletes the enemies’ HP or you break their badges. The action takes place in tiny areas, and most of the time you (happily) have the choice of playing as your character or your partner. The good news end here however, because the gameplay is seriously shallow : a sad little 3-hit combo on square and a special attack (of uneven effect, I still can’t figure the use of some) on L+Square. The only clever point is the mechanic of anticipating your opponent’s moves so as to hit his badge, because you need a counter to damage it. Aside from that, it’s just mashing buttons without real need to deploy skill.
Several fighting styles are noticeable : swordsmen/women can try to pull out a counter head-to-head whereas Saya for example will be useful to attack enemy HP from afar with her firearms. Speed and nimbleness still are critical to your success in Asterisk War Phoenix Festa : Kirin, the fastest character by far, excels at countering but has rather low stamina. On the other hand, Juris’s fire spells are so slow that it’s difficult to even hit your target. The characters are clearly unbalanced in the effectiveness of their specialty. The avatar’s progression is rather logarithmic so the final matches will be a challenge.
You can also choose to tackle the story mode as Ayato, the hero of the series. Ayato can train exactly like the avatar, but on a much shorter period. The reason for this being that… he’s super strong from the very start! No problem for him to deal enormous damage from mid-range. Any fight will be a piece of cake, so the point of this particular story mode is elsewhere.
The big deal in that case will be to re-experience the anime from a different point of view, including pretty fun variations. Each walkthrough lasting 2 or 3 hours at best, it’s rather easy to clear the game with every heroine. In the end, you can beat the game entirely in about 15 hours, which is kinda low. Asterisk War Phoenix Festa covers the 2 first seasons, but given the poor look of it, you’re just re-watching the story in less good conditions. The illustrations you’ll progressively unlock will slightly make up for it : some look cool or sexy, but a lot of them are actually nothing special.
Technically, the 3D of this game is really rough and doesn’t live up to today’s Vita standards. The cel-shading doesn’t hide the unrefined modeling. The level of detail is dreadfully low and some characters like Irene look so bad that you might want to turn your system off. Animation is worse : between graphical bugs and less-than-elegant moves, BandaiNamco’s game is almost uglier when in motion.
The game features a free battle mode which includes most of the important characters from the anime. You’ll have to clear the story mode over and over to get them all though, but the good news is that even sub-characters are playable. Shen Fa and Shen Yun are in that case, even though they only appear in two episodes. A rather rich roster, in which you can make unlikely pairs if you want to.
Last but not least, Sylvia, the discreet singer who showed up briefly in the 2nd season, is present here as a partner with a side-story on her own and the pictures that go with it.
Asterisk War Phoenix Festa for PSVita is merely a cog in the media mix marketing of the license. No aspect of this game gives the impression of the slightest effort from the developer. Despite the numerous characters playable, hard to recommend it. Maybe it can be seen as a collector’s item for the biggest fans.