SeanNOLA’s Take: I remember where I was when arcade fighters started coming home: I was in the living room playing Tekken. Even though I had been a huge arcade buff growing up, I always had a lot more fun playing Tekken at home by myself than I did at the arcades with other people. There were a lot of things that made the home version feel superior, such as new game modes and additional characters, but I think the unique endings for each individual character are what kept me in the den rather than at Aladdin’s Castle. Unlike traditional arcade brawlers, like Street Fighter, Tekken had a story. Each of the characters had motivation for fighting in the Iron Fist Tournament, and you could witness their stories without ever cracking open the manual. I wanted to know about each and every one of them – I was hooked.
Years later, fighting games have made a comeback and, without arcades lining every street corner, they have directly penetrated the living room. However, few have strong story modes, like the PlayStation-era fighters I loved so much. Battle Fantasia continues the tradition of fighting games tailored for the living room, but might concentrate too much on the engrossing world and story, while tossing the fundamentals to the wind. Each character is unique, with each character acting out their own agendas for hunting down the “Scion of Ill Presage,” creating great incentive to play through with each of the ten warriors. In story mode, each fight is book-ended by a brief cut scene, complete with voiceovers, explaining who each fighter is, why there are present, and why they would choose to fight one another. Even if you lose, the chapter is carried out to a logical conclusion before offering a chance to continue.
Battle Fantasia falls flat in the actual mechanics of combat. Each fighter is frustratingly unbalanced, which allows for a challenging single player experience, and an irritating, rock-paper-scissors-style multiplayer experience. The size difference between certain characters makes it near impossible for some combatants to land a hit on a smaller foe, and slower fighters will often find themselves committing to a lengthy assault, only to be manhandled by their quicker opponent. A large character may have double the HP of a smaller character, which does little to level the playing field, but can make a fight seem drawn out. The combo system is mundane when compared to any of its contemporaries from the past decade, providing an overall lackluster brawling experience.
Battle Fantasia allowed me to relive the armchair fighting days of the 90s, but I would be hard-pressed to invite my buddies over for a tournament anytime soon. After the story was told, there really wasn’t much left that I wanted to see.
DesertEagle’s Take: For the majority of the 1990’s Capcom reigned uncontested as the premier developer of 2D fighting games. When I wasn’t dropping fanatical amounts of quarters into their arcade coin-ops, I was feverishly purchasing every home translation on release day. While Street Fighter Alpha 2, Darkstalkers, and Marvel Super Heroes all offered competent recreations of their arcade counterparts, each was hampered by the hardware- from missing frames of animation to the sporadic lengthy load time.
In 1998, Arc System Works released Guilty Gear onto Playstation systems, magnificently demonstrating that home fighters could have all the visual flash and fluid animation of their coin-op counterparts. After more of a decade of Guilty Gear Slashes, #Reloads, and revisions, the developer released their first successor to the title, entitled Battle Fantasia. While this game has a number of similarities with its Arc brethren, it also offers distinction from the perpetual permutations of Guilty Gear titles.
Whereas most 2D fighters render their roster with a minimum of visual depth, Battle Fantasia’s characters are drawn with three dimensional polygons. This technique gives the title a pronounced sense of depth, and is comparable to Street Fighter IV’s graphic aesthetic. While combat is presented in razor-sharp clarity, the game’s cutscenes employ a remarkable hand drawn look, with observable pencil shading. Preservationists will enjoy that the game’s original voice-overs have been left intact, requiring non-Japanese speaking players to read a healthy amount of on-screen text.
As SeanNOLA stated, characters are woefully unbalanced; although the inconsistent health points and size of each combatant didn’t present a substantial nuisance, each character’s reach did. As such, I found myself gravitating toward the characters that had an extended attack range. While I could understand balancing issues for a game with a gargantuan roster, Battle Fantasia contains only twelve brawlers. On the upside, each of the game’s pugilists are wonderfully inventive- from a mysterious gunslinger, a rabbit mage, to a Harry Potter clone with a mitre. For better or worse, the title eschews some of the more hardcore mechanics of the Guilty Gear series. By eliminating Instant Kills, Roman Cancels and Burst Gauges the game is accessible to novices, but also lacks the depth cherished by fighting aficionados.
When Battle Fantasia was released on Xbox 360s, I didn’t think the disk-based game had enough content and depth to warrant its $50 price of admission. Now the title is available for $20 in the Playstation Store, I’d recommend the game to fighting-game fans. While the Arc System Works developed title isn’t without its flaws, it should keep players pleasantly occupied until Super Street Fighter IV makes its inescapable home appearance.