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Arcana Heart 3: LOVE MAX!!!!! PC Review

The fighting game genre is becoming more and more prolific on PC with each passing day; Street Fighter V is currently in development as a PS4 exclusive, but will also be making its way to PC in addition to featuring cross play between both versions. Killer Instinct, previously an Xbox One exclusive, is also headed to PC and also featuring cross play between console and PC players. This growing trend in platform synergy continues to show just how serious a contender the PC market is becoming for broadband brawling, so it’s only natural that publishers like Arc System Works would want to get a piece of the multi-platform pie.

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But while Arc’s most popular fighting game franchises have yet to grace Steam with their latest releases (most notably Guilty Gear Xrd), the publisher seems more determined to give some of their more obscure releases a second shot at the spotlight. In this instance, they have released Arcana Heart 3: LOVE MAX!!!!! on PC, a franchise that has almost as many expansions as there are exclamation points in its name. Developed by Examu, undoubtedly one of the more obscure fighting game devs out there, LOVE MAX!!!!! is the current updated version, with another enthusiastically-named expansion coming to Japanese Arcades this Winter, called Arcana Heart 3: LOVE MAX SIX STARS!!!!!

The story of Arcana Heart carries the trend of current Japanese fighting games in featuring a ludicrously complex narrative filled with multiple organizations, foreboding terminology, and alternate dimensions. In Anime terms, it revolves around a select group of conveniently female fighters known as “Maidens”, who must prevent the widespread outpour of dimensional distortions from destroying their world. Various alliances are formed in addition to rivalries, which all take place during dialog-heavy cutscenes. The characters are a grab bag of pandering designs that are bound to cater to several Otaku fetishes; you’ve got improbably busty ladies like cyborg fighter Mei-Fang and Japanese priestess Maori, you’ve got diminutive child characters in questionable attire like Kira and Catherine, and you of course have human/animal hybrids like the cat girl Akane and the dog girl Konoha. This is a series that revels in its clichés, from jiggle physics to shrieking Japanese voice acting, in addition to an entire story scenario taking place within a magic hot spring. If your Anime tolerance level does not reach a certain threshold, this may not be the game for you.

But those who look past the various degrees of subjective discomfort may be surprised to find a highly competent 2D fighting game that draws much inspiration from the very best of the genre; the game features 2D sprite artwork on a 4:3 screen, with animated portraits of the two chosen fighters taking up the empty space. While not quite up to the gorgeous HD visuals of games like Blazblue, Arcana Heart still features a pleasant aesthetic that is marred only by its compressed character models. Where the game truly shines is its unique moveset for every single character; no two characters play alike, and many bring a unique spin on a familiar archetype; Kira, for example, is a little girl swimming inside a gelatinous bubble, which is then used to grab opponents like a speedy grappler character. Mei-Fang unleashes several quick combos that string together, but can fly across the stage with a level of finesse that would be too quick even for a Marvel vs Capcom game. Other unique variations include characters with swords, gunslingers, and animal-assisted ladies, all leading up to an assortment of Anime-influenced fighters that cater to virtually every known fighting style.

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Things only get more complex when the Arcana system comes into play; upon selecting a character, players also have the option of selecting an Arcana, which acts as an elemental assist that endows its fighter with additional abilities, such as casting long-range attacks or giving the fighter increased speed and strength. Each Arcana has its weaknesses and strengths, which gives players a lot of leeway in playing around with their preferred combination. There are also various gauges to keep track of besides the usual life and special gauge, as well as exclusive abilities that can only be executed when the corresponding gauge is filled up. Going into the nitty gritty would make this review twice as long, but in fighting game terms it’s what lets players unleash a devastating special attack in the middle of a combo, or lets them turn the tide when they are on the receiving end.

With as many complex mechanics as there are, it would have been nice if the game offered a more in-depth tutorial. The game does feature trials that somewhat help newcomers wrap their heads around the systems, but they are not nearly enough to help players put all these systems together. Worse still, it seems fighting game fans may have to stick to local play, as the online mode resulted in immediate crashing of the game. It is uncertain if or when this will be fixed in a future update, but it seems that the singleplayer offerings will have to suffice (which include a last boss that almost reaches SNK levels of frustration). For those who delight in Anime cheesecake, there are also various unlockable story scenarios and galleries, including the aforementioned hot springs scenario.

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With a little more polish in its presentation, Arcana Heart 3: LOVE MAX!!!!! would have been a must-have addition to the slowly-increasing Steam library of fighting games. As it stands, this is a competent-yet-hardcore game that doesn’t quite have the entry-level aspects of more modern fighters, but still possesses a lot of depth and variation that longtime fighting fans will eagerly lap up.

7 out of 10