Arcana Heart 3 Love Max!!! is the otaku's dream fighting game. Every moe stereotype is here, from the child-like Eko to the buxom Mei Fang, and they all walk the fine line of appropriateness from time to time. However, buried within the super anime exterior is a decent fighting game with a lot of variety both in roster and ways to play. Fighting fans who don't mind the cuteness will find a pleasantly surprising amount of depth here.
One of the two most important parts of a fighting game is the roster, and there are a lot of different characters to learn here. Some of them seem pretty normal, like the main character Weiss, the former protagonist from the previous games Heart Aino, or Heart's friend Saki Tsuzura. Once you get past them the designs start to get weird, like the two nuns Elsa La Conti and Clarice Di Lanza (the latter of which has demon wings of some kind) or Catherine Kyohbashi, the small blonde girl with rabbit ears that commandeers a giant robot. My favorite, however, has to be Kira Daidohji, a small swimmer girl floating in some kind of blob that can be manipulated into giant muscular arms and legs. She truly is a sight to behold.
One might think that choosing a character would end with the human roster, but not here: the mythical creatures called Arcanas then call for your attention. Each Arcana is obviously intended for one character, but the game allows you to mix and match, offering hundreds of different combinations for countless strategic possibilities. However, Arcanas are not full characters that can be controlled, they simply give whichever character they're matched up with chose extra powers and attacks, so there's still only one character to worry about during a battle.
This two-characters-in-one approach makes fighting each round an unpredictable and interesting affair. The game already does things a bit differently than other fighters, like extending the screen up to about four times the original screen for massive air combos, but choosing and learning a character/Arcana duo that suits you is incredibly satisfying. I was surprised how quickly I was pulling off some massive combos, yet I still feel like I only scratched the surface of the game's fighting system.
Picking a character is only half the battle, as the other most important part of a fighting game is different ways to fight. Arcana Heart 3 Love Max!!! is bulging with different challenges, both ordinary and unique. The game offers the standard Versus, Survival,Time Attack, and Practice modes, but most impressive is the two story modes. One is the standard stage-by-stage format, but the other is an "After Story" that adds a little more background to the main story arc. Each character's After Story is unlocked after that character appears in someone else's After Story, so I had to play them all to see them all, and that's pretty cool. Of course, both the Story and After Story have the Japanese fighting game trademark difficulty spike, sending me from, "Okay, I got this," to raging out in a matter of minutes. Be prepared for this game to kick your butt.
As much praise as I'm heaping onto the game, there are plenty of things that bring it down a few notches. First, being an older arcade game (the original Arcana Heart 3 originally launched in Japan in 2009) this version can only display in standard 4:3 screen size. The game tries to make up for it by placing moving visuals of the two characters in battle on each side of the screen, but the lack of widescreen fighting is rather disappointing, especially when so many other fighters offer it.
Also, perhaps more importantly, I've been sure to mention the otaku aspects of Arcana Heart 3 Love Max!!!, but I still haven't portrayed how "moe" this game can be. Finishing the story mode with a character usually brings on a brief ending scene followed by a provocative drawing of the character in a compromising position. They're nothing that hardcore anime fans haven't seen before, but those who just want to fight may be turned off by it.
Arcana Heart 3 Love Max!!! is a deep fighting game with an interesting dual-character system and a lot to learn and absorb. However, the anime-influenced source material may turn some people off, and the lack of visual fidelity may be an even bigger deterrent for those looking for flashy graphics. It's not going to win any major awards, but there's enough here to enjoy a few fights before the shine comes off.
This review is based on digital download of Arcana Heart 3 Love Max!!! provided by the publisher for PlayStation 3.