Arcana Heart «

With the disintegration of the American arcade scene and the shift to a third axis, modern 2D fighters often resort to gimmicky gameplay or popular licenses to attract an audience. While Arcana Heart may look to draw a quick crowd with its alluring all-female cast, what we found was a deep and customizable fighting experience that both innovates and entertains without forgetting its pedigree.
It’s easy to see — at a glance — why Arcana Heart has gained such a following in the Japanese arcade scene: Its beautifully rendered visuals and framerate flaunt its technical dexterity, while remaining virtually glitch-free. Despite being a port, the PS2 version of the fast-paced fighter suffers very minimal slowdown, and remains clean and crisp on even the largest HD televisions.

Click the image above to check out all Arcana Heart screens.
Like many of its 2D predecessors, Arcana Heart offers a secondary mode of play in conjunction with the selected fighter — the choice of an Arcana elemental. But unlike Capcom vs. SNK’s grooves or Samurai Shodown’s Slash and Bust system, the Arcana proves to be much more than a mere special meter; it bestows players with an entirely different move set and elemental properties that changes the way they block, move, and strike. Perhaps the most unique function of the Arcana system, though, is the ability to cancel any combo by activating a one-time elemental summon. Once active, the Arcana releases you from any attacks and provides you with an elemental-themed special ability as well as the option to summon your Arcana’s deity, which packs a colossally powerful attack. The Arcana system ensures that even the most skilled 2D enthusiast can spend hundreds of hours immersed in the complex combat.

The most advantageous function, however, is the key to which the Arcana attacks are tied: the homing button. The fourth attack button not only acts as a trigger for all Arcana super moves, but also works as a homing dash, enabling you to effectively fly to your opponent?s location. This homing function allows you to not only keep the pressure on your opponent, but to effectively cancel recovery time from your attacks, eliminate stun time when blocking, and string together combos that would otherwise be considered impossible. Taking advantage of the homing dash, skillful players can combine a multitude of deadly attacks, creating devastating air combos several stories high.

Much like any other hardcore genre title, Arcana Heart’s virtues lie in its excessive attention to detail. The scores of button memorization, the canceling of recovery time, even the compulsion to count frames are exactly what die-hard fighting fans are looking for, yet it?s exactly this that will turn off many players just looking to kick some easy ass on the weekend. Like any other fighting game of its caliber, Arcana Heart assumes that players will spend the time to learn its complex combat system, and it’s unfortunate that increasingly more gamers are finding themselves alienated by this attitude.

Click the image above to check out all Arcana Heart screens.
It also becomes apparent early on that the developer spent little to no time crafting the generic storyline or individualizing the catalog of generic female character models. Polished as the visuals may be, I would certainly appreciate some alternative to simply choosing between “generic anime heroine A” and “generic anime heroine B.” So unless you’re especially drawn to the quest of a wide-eyed Japanese temple maiden (although who isn?t?) I recommend skipping the superfluous story mode.

Though the 3D fighter may reign supreme here in the States, a game like Arcana Heart shows us that clean, hand-drawn sprites and complex 2D mechanics are still far from dead. While it borrows unabashedly from several other titles, the game does a great job of providing its own fun and unique flair. I would not recommend Arcana Heart for the Sunday gamer, but 2D fighting aficionados will find a rich and rewarding experience behind this immediate arcade classic.


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