There are hardcore games, and then there is, Arcana Heart 3: Love Max!!!!! – a game so hardcore that it needs five exclamation marks. The fighting genre is ostensibly hardcore by design, but in a sea of hardcore games, Love Max stands out as the most hardcore of the bunch.
The first follow up to 2011’s equally hardcore Arcana Heart 3 (originally released in Japan in 2009), Examu’s latest adds to the games’ robust all female roster, includes additional, if still largely incomprehensible story elements and refines the already extremely tight core mechanics, but sadly, despite these additions, Examu has once again decided to leave newcomers to the series with not so much as a paddle with which to navigate its decidedly stormy seas.
Ok, terrible metaphor aside, what that essentially means is, Arcana Heart 3: Love Max!!!!! is absolute nails and doesn’t give a shit about what you think about it. There are trials to complete, and they are helpful to a degree, but these really don’t help in understanding how the game is supposed to be played. Despite a few very minor concessions, this really is a game for the already initiated and will likely prove all but unfathomable to newcomers.
The very basic fundamentals are classic 2D fighter fare, but with each of the 23 fighters being home to drastically unique and incredibly technical fighting styles, getting to grips with just a single fighter’s abilities will prove an extremely time consuming venture. Yes, the usual half circle business will get you so far, but you only need to take a look at the move lists to realise just how deep the rabbit hole goes on this one.
As deep as the basic mechanics might be though, it is the games’ Arcana’s and unique homing movements that really push it over the edge. The Arcana’s in particular turn this already fundamentally deep fighter into an even more tactical and technically nuanced affair. Arcana’s, essentially celestial beings linked to your chosen fighter, allow for additional move sets, buffs and abilities. There is an Arcana for each girl in the roster, but with the ability to choose whichever you please, their addition allows for the creation of a fighter built specifically around your specific play style.
The homing movement, while not as immediately as effective as the Arcana’s, also have a huge impact on gameplay and the potential tactical options available during battle. By allowing you to home in on a character from anywhere on the screen, this ability subsequently frees up movement and, thanks to a few refinements to the concept, allows for high level players to really take advantage to potentially devastating and game changing effect. Combined with an array of cancels and additional dashes, the homing ability has huge implications to both offensive and defensive approaches and is ultimately one of the games’ defining features.
Yes, there is a simplified mode for beginners that maps Arcana abilities and special moves to a single button, but as always, while it does deliver the immediate fireworks for those only interested in the story or characters, will do little to improve you as an actualy player. Again, if you’re in it for the story etc, that’s cool, but if you have any plans to play this in the long term, I suggest giving that control scheme an extremely wide berth.
With plenty of content, an entertaining if largely incomprehensible story, an array of technically unique fighters and arguably more depth than any 2D fighter in recent memory, Arcana Heart 3: Love Max!!!!! certainly has plenty to offer those willing to commit to its decidedly terrifying learning curve.
This is an unforgiving fighter in every sense of the word and clearly aimed at top-tier fighters looking for something to sink their teeth in to, and while casual fans might be tempted in by the simplified controls, it should be noted that this is a largely no frills fighter. It’s not what you would call ugly, but in comparison to the likes of BlazBlue, Street Fighter IV of King of Fighters XIII, Arcana is somewhat plain by comparison. The quasi-futuristic Japan is kind of cool from a an artistic stand point and the characters are certainly uniqueon a conceptual level, but make no mistake, Arcana looks old fashioned when placed alongside some of its more illustrious competitors.
Unabashedly hardcore and technically a bit plain, Arcana Heart 3: Love Max!!!!! offers few concessions for newcomers, but then, why should it? This is a game made by the hardcore for the hardcore. It’s unlikely to win many new fans and doesn’t deliver any major changes to the well-worn Arcana formula, but for the already initiated, this is a robust update and a great reason to return to the deep, unforgiving world of Arcana Heart.
REVIEW CODE: A complimentary Sony Playstation 3 code was provided to Bonus Stage for this review. Please send all review code enquiries to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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