When a game title has five exclamation points, there should be no doubt that it will attempt to blow your mind with a furious amount of explosions and wow moments. Arcana Heart 3: LOVE MAX!!!!! is certainly in your face, focusing on large full screen specials that will blind you with brash colours, while still maintaining classic 2D arcade fighting mechanics. This updated version that has made its way onto the not-so-soon forgotten PlayStation 3 and Vita includes some balancing improvements and new story additions. And although the title’s Japanese roots may prevent it from reaching a mainstream audience, there’s still some zany fun to be found here.
Those that do take a chance on the release will at least be spoiled for choice. In addition to a kicking roster of 23 all-female combatants, you can also pair each diva with a list of 19 Arcanas (celestial beings) which will change their combos. This innate variety represents much of the title’s appeal; experimenting and finding what works best for you is all part of the pleasure.
Each one of these fantastic female leads has their own arc to be followed in the story mode. However, whether you’ll want to play through it is a whole different matter. Like most fighters, the narrative isn’t exciting enough to grab your attention, and if you haven’t been following the previous instalments, then you’ll definitely get lost.
The plot also has a tendency to be a bit clichéd: there are the usual bad guys with power hungry ambitions in mind. In this instance, you have five days – or, five battles – to collect stones that will save the planet. Anime fans should have a blast with this option, even if the writing can be extremely dull. Obviously, the same can’t be said for everyone else, though.
As good fortune would have it, however, story isn’t the only mode included in the package. There are a great deal of extra activities, including After Story, Versus, Survival Score Attack, Trial, Time Attack, and Training. Most of these should seem familiar to fans of the genre, with only After Story being out of the norm. As the title suggests, this offers a little extra narrative exposition – y’know, if you’re really into it.
With all of that being said, does any of this matter if the gameplay is as wacky as the rest of the romp? As florescent and exotic as the explosions on the screen can be, the real bliss comes from the smooth under control chaos that occurs when the combos are rolling and specials are going off. As previously mentioned, with the addition of Arcanas to add to your warrior, the combinations can be toyed with until you find perfection.
Combat includes a light, medium, and heavy attack, which can be combined in different manners to create devastating combos and specials. However, what is truly exciting is the countering. If you find yourself in a messy situation stuck at one end of the arena, there is a way to knock back your opponents, reducing the frustration when you’re on the receiving end of an insane combo. Multiple bars also inform you of what specials can be used; one bar is the weakest, and it increases all the way up to three bars.
However, the joy of battle is a bit hindered by claustrophobic character borders. This makes the screen feel much smaller, and gives you a lack of visibility of the whole arena. Admittedly, there’s not much that you need to see in the stage, but depending on the size of the fighters chosen, they may outright fill the visible areas of the screen. This is more troubling on the Vita’s smaller display, mainly because it makes an already hectic title seem busier than it needs to be. On a more positive note, at least it’s not a static boarder: each side shows the emotions that each combatant is going through, giving it a more of a graphic novel feel.
There’s no doubt that Arcana Heart 3: LOVE MAX!!!!! is a bit of a niche proposition, but it provides extremely enjoyable combat that rivals the smoothness of more well known brawlers. Sadly, what brings down the experience is the dull story and cluttered screen layout that makes arenas feel unnecessarily small. Still, with so much content available, anime fans should give this colourful fighter the old one two.