If there's one thing Kill la Kill - If gets right, it's capturing the relentlessness of the source material. Even outside of combat, well made cutscenes do a great job of replicating the madness of the anime, right down to the completely over the top facial expressions of its crazy characters. From the word go, the story mode is a barrage of dramatic colours and absurd interactions. Needless to say, if you're not familiar with Kill la Kill, then you're going to be in for a rough ride.
Indeed, this is one for the fans. As its name suggests, Kill la Kill - If actually tells several 'what if' tales in which original scenarios play out. For those with prior knowledge of the property it offers an alternate take on events that's somewhat interesting, but the storytelling itself feels stunted. Obviously you can't expect an entire anime's worth of exposition and character development in a story mode for a fighting game, but the narrative elements often feel cobbled together.
That said, the plot's still presented with the kind of swagger you'd expect from Kill la Kill, which at least makes it a feast for the eyes. If you can look past its extremely uneven pacing (seriously, some of these cutscenes take up entire chapters), the story mode provides real spectacle -- it's a delightful celebration of everything Kill la Kill's peeper-popping visual style stands for.
The same is true of the combat itself. Special attacks in particular are striking, sporting some super slick animation. There's no denying that Kill la Kill - If is a labour of love, but even with its gorgeous aesthetic, it's difficult to ignore the game's numerous flaws.
Its lack of a narrative hook means that the story mode definitely starts to drag as battles get more and more drawn out. Generally speaking, one-on-one fights are fine, but when the title starts pushing skirmishes with multiple opponents your way, frustration sets in -- and not just because of the horribly unruly camera.
Kill la Kill - If's combat system can handle duels between two characters, but it sh*ts the bed when you're tasked with putting down groups of enemies. Whether you're up against another playable character who has backup -- often in the form of hilariously cheap projectile attacks from off-screen -- or an army of faceless foes, actually focusing on and reacting to the immediate threat is a tall order when everything's so chaotic.
But even when the game's at its best and you're clashing with a single combatant, dishing out cool looking combos and unleashing perfectly timed specials following perfectly timed sidesteps, the combat system eventually falls short. There's a distinct lack of depth here, which is nothing new for the vast majority of anime-based fighters on today's market, but Kill la Kill - If's especially small character roster amplifies the problem. Each member of the cast is unique, but that's not enough to distract from unbalanced core mechanics.
Combat revolves around a kind of rock-paper-scissors system which incorporates regular, fast attacks, projectiles, and unblockable blows. The gist of it is that everything has a specific weakness -- if your opponent's hiding behind their guard, hit them with an unblockable. If they're spamming quick strikes, dodge to the side and punish with a heavy hit. In theory it all makes perfect sense, but in practice it devolves into a bit of a guessing game. When most characters can throw out an unblockable attack almost as quickly as a standard strike, then what's stopping you from forcing your foe into a 50-50 mix-up whenever they're not mashing buttons? Things gets cheesy way too quickly, especially if you're playing online.
And if you do happen to have an answer to any particularly cheap tactics, you're not gonna escape the immediately obvious cheesiness of Bloody Valor -- a mechanic that forces your opponent into a cinematic head-to-head situation at the cost of half of your special bar. Guess right and you get access to instant boons that can turn the tide of battle, while also growing in power. Guess wrong and you lose a small chunk of health. Bloody Valor is an incredibly low-risk gamble considering the potential payoff, and it can absolutely murder the pace of a match when you and your opponent are activating it whenever it's available.
It's a shame that Kill la Kill - If falls very, very flat once you wrap your head around the cheap stuff, and unfortunately, there just isn't much else to distract you from these failings. As a full price fighting game package this is a disappointingly bare-bones release. Outside of the story mode there's a survival mode and a mode that sees you clash with groups of enemies (ugh), but that's about it. Neither one's going to keep you coming back, and as hinted, the online's a bust once you come across players who have learned to exploit the flaws in the game's combat system.
Kill la Kill - If certainly looks the part, but once you're past the striking art style and eye-popping visuals, it's only a matter of time until the gameplay falls flat. As a bombastic anime fighter it can hold up for at least a few rounds with friends, but beyond that, this is a lacking release, both in terms of mechanical balance and bang for your buck.