Review: Battle Fantasia

Review: Battle Fantasia

Like riding a bike, somewhere in the animal part of your brain is a motor skill that, once learned, you never forget: down, down-forward, forward and punch. There’s an inevitable and immediate sense of familiarity when sitting down to play a beat ’em up for the first time, due to the constant reuse of control schemes and commands that threatens to rob a game of its own identity and leave its players cold.

The secret to success lies in how those mechanics are presented, an area in which developer and publisher Arc System Works has some considerable talent. Battle Fantasia’s polish is evident from the moment that the menu screen appears over a gloriously aged world map. It extends through the scratchy character portraits to the characters themselves – a cast that ticks some of the more obvious boxes (small and nimble, large and powerful, catgirl), but that makes up for this with an abundance of small details.

Animation is of an exceptional standard throughout, reinforcing the characterisations and providing real warmth to what is really a game about calculation and precision. The conversion from the arcade version is also fulsome: much as it did with Shikigami No Shiro 3, Arc has added a new and extensive story mode, each character given its own storyline, complete with branching paths and fully-voiced dialogue.

It’s not a game about reinvention, however. Innovations are few, though a juggle system tied into moves that see combatants rebound from the invisible boundary at either side of the screen goes some way towards adding a distinct flavour. It takes some practice and skill to get the most from this ability, but so does its SFIII-style parry/counter mechanic.

The slower, more deliberate pace and the hefty fine levied by missed throws and counters may initially confuse those expecting Guilty Gear in a new set of clothes, but ultimately provides a smoother learning curve and a more welcoming experience for new players.

The likelihood of it ever being able to attract those new players from under the looming shadow of the most recognisable down, down-forward, forward and punch is, of course, open to debate.