The Arcana Heart series has been largely ignored by western audiences over the years. Even the first version of Arcana Heart 3 did little to make an impact on the established brands of Street fighter and BlazBlue. Arcana Heart 3: Love Max!!! has taken the 2011 version of the game and reworked it to try and build on a solid template and make one more attempt to hit the sweet spot for fight game fans.
The unique selling point of the series is that it contains an all-girl cast. Don’t worry though, this isn’t one of the highly questionable Japanese titles that are borderline pornographic. Characters here are for the most part treated in a much better way than female characters can sometimes be. The other key gimmick is that the base characters can be combined with a large range of magical ‘Arcana’ spirits to give staggering depth and flexibility in how you want fight.
Arcanas are basically huge magical beings that give extra powers, attack and defence options (Think of them like the summon or guardian force creatures in the final fantasy series). A defensively weak character could choose a defence orientated Arcana to boost that area of their skills for instance or emphasise one of their abilities even more. As well as boosting attack and defence they also each have unique special moves and abilities and getting the balance right is the key to success.
The biggest problems fight fans will face is that there is no introduction to the game mechanics or characters. It has become fairly standard practice now for character related trials and tutorials to be introduced in fighting games. Here there is nothing of the sort with just a standard training option to go into and play around with moves. Unless you dig through to the digital manual it is highly unlikely you’ll ever work out what half the meters and bars do in the game. This is a pretty major oversight and it’s likely to greatly impact how you get on with the game as it’s not something that is easy to just pick up and play.
This isn’t helped by the fact that hardly any of the characters are newcomer friendly either. There are no real Ryu or Ken a-likes and with so many characters to choose from it becomes a case of picking one and seeing what comes of it. For those that persevere there is a highly entertaining and complex fighting game underneath but unless you’re willing to put in the hours it’s questionable if you ever really know what you are doing. This coupled with some ridiculous pad inputs which are near impossible to pull off on a Vita (recreating a pentagram motion on the D Pad for instance), means casual fight fans are likely to want to look elsewhere.
When it’s in full flow Arcana Heart certainly looks lovely and the speed never lets up - even on the Vita. You’ll have special moves flying everywhere with the backgrounds changing from summer to winter as characters initiate time lapsing moves and Arcanas crash into the arena. It’s unlike pretty much any other fighting game and once you get to grips with it, it offers something unique in an ever growing genre.
Overall, Arcana Heart 3 Love Max!!! is certainly an improvement other the base version of the game with more polish, balance and flexibility added to the battles. That said, it is still far too impenetrable for newcomers to the series and the last boss remains a terrible encounter on a multi levelled arena that we could have really done without. Once you know how everything works it’s a real joy to play but we can’t see anyone but the hard core fight fan even getting close to that level without the addition of some kind of tutorial system.