Saint Seiya: Brave Soldiers is almost the very definition of 'anime fighter'. It's chock full of colourful playable characters, crazy storylines, and over-the-top voice acting. If you've ever tried a Dragon Ball Z or Naruto brawler, then you'll generally know what's in store here – even if the original anime never quite caught on all that well in the West.
Following the story of the Bronze Saints – a somewhat newbie group of celestial guardians – the game's plot takes you through the main arcs of the anime. The mode spans several episodes made up of numerous chapters, with each section usually consisting of a couple of scraps against one opponent. It's a simple, very systematic story mode, but its linear nature allows you to enjoy each fight at a steady pace.
That said, unless you're familiar with the source material, nothing much will make sense outside of the main plot points. You'll know the Bronze Saints' overall objective, but when characters from their past start appearing with alarming frequency, you simply won't have a clue – especially since the tale is told exclusively through stills, character portraits, and dialogue.
It's all very bare-bones, but then so is the rest of the release. As far as brawlers go, Saint Seiya: Brave Soldiers is very basic in terms of gameplay. The combat system carries all the traditional traits of the genre – blocking, dashing, combos, throws – and that's all there really is to it besides some flashy special attacks. Fighting purists will be disappointed with its lack of depth, but newcomers to the genre, or more casual players, will find its accessibility welcoming.
The title may not be as technically rewarding as the heavy-hitting competition, but by no means is it a poor fighter – there's still a lot of fun to be had thanks to its relatively basic control scheme. Mashing square executes your standard combo, while much like Dynasty Warriors, hitting triangle after a certain number of attacks activates a slightly more powerful secondary blow. In addition, pushing circle deals out character-specific special moves, all of which are suitably flashy and powerful.
Meanwhile, on the defensive, holding down L1 allows for a sturdy block, while double-tapping X will send your chosen warrior zipping off in the held direction. But perhaps most important is your R1 evade, which shifts you behind your foe with the right timing. The most complex that the game gets, however, is with the introduction of enhanced techniques. By holding own L2, almost all of the manoeuvres that we've mentioned can be powered-up at the cost of some of your cosmo bar – a gauge that fills up as you deal out damage. Enhanced blows break guards, while beefed-up dashes allow you to automatically home-in on your opponent at blistering speeds.
Again, it's an extremely accessible system, but it can be responsible for some great-looking and satisfyingly fast-paced brawls. It's also relatively well-balanced, as there's always a technique that will allow you to get the advantage on an enemy – almost in a rock-paper-scissors sort of way. That said, with a roster of nearly 50 combatants, it's unsurprising that some warriors are simply better than others. This is usually due to their specific special move being especially effective, and it goes without saying that these unbalanced attacks are casually exploited during online matches.
Sadly, instead of what should be exciting battles decided by skill, playing against other humans usually devolves into a special technique-spamming bore-fest. Many players will get as far away as they can, charge their cosmo bar by holding down L2, and then keep you at bay with a barrage of super moves while sprinting around the arena. It's a frustrating and cheap tactic, and it's incredibly disappointing to see it being utilised so much, even if more experienced players should be able to close the distance.
That's not to say that there won't be times when you encounter more fun-loving adversaries, though. When you're up against an opponent who makes use of all the game's mechanics, the title's online component shines as an intense brawling experience. Although having said that, the release's netcode isn't consistently reliable, and there definitely seems to be a shortage of players when searching for opposition.
Outside of the rather standard online fare, there isn't much to keep you entertained once you've smashed your way through the game's story. There's a somewhat addictive survival mode that offers up unique in-battle challenges, which, when accomplished, reward you with bonus points, and the tournament-style Galaxy mode. Both can potentially keep you slugging your time away, but the title's overall simplicity means that proceedings won't stay very interesting for long – especially when you've worked out the artificial intelligence's attack patterns.
It's a good job, then, that there's a lot to collect. A gallery offers the chance to behold the mountain of trinkets that you've managed to acquire, from bizarre pictures of official Saint Seiya trading cards to character profiles and alternate costumes. There are also orbs that can be purchased with points which bolster your chosen fighter's abilities, be it their health, damage output, or cosmo recovery speed. Although unsurprisingly, there isn't much depth to be found here, either.
Unfortunately, the release's presentation is just as simplistic as the rest of it. Menus often appear cheap and tacky, while the re-mastered anime stills that the game is so fond of using usually look rushed and badly drawn. All in all, the title doesn't do a great job of bringing the source material to life, with stages lacking in both variety and colour. But thankfully, the character models capture the anime's style rather well, and the whole package is given a decent personality boost by the cheesy yet catchy soundtrack.
A simple but ultimately enjoyable brawler, Saint Seiya: Brave Soldiers is a good attempt at turning an anime license into a solid video game. Fans should enjoy the title's retelling of the source material, while newcomers will find the combat system refreshingly accessible. However, just like a shooting star, the release isn't likely to keep your attention for long.