Japan is an awesome place. Nearly any and all things you can imagine exist there, and they’re likely to have some role in video games too. That trend continues with Examu, Aquaplus, and Leaf’s huge collaboration Aquapazza: Aquaplus Dream Match for PS3. Taking several key characters from some of their biggest projects, slapping a story for each one, and pitting them together in a fight to the death – it’s only logical a fighting game is the end result. But do Aquapazza‘s fighting mechanics stand up to the ranks of other fighters, or is the game just another wet dream for fans?
Comic Party, White Album, To Heart, Tears to Tiara, and Utawarerumono might sounds like nonsense to non-anime and manga fans, but those in the know, or who at least follow Leaf and Aquaplus, know that these are visual novels and anime over the course of these companies’ existences. Aquapazza pulls a few from each and casts them as fighters or partners in a battle to save their respective worlds from the diabolical Ma-ryan. It’s a pretty confusing storyline thread for the uninitiated, and it’s not likely to make it so you must read the necessary backlog of novels and manga to understand, but it should open doors to do so. As vast as this reviewer’s anime and manga knowledge is, aside from seeing Utawarerumono on a Best Buy shelf and watching only a few episodes of Tears to Tiara, I’m certainly not fully up to date on the characters represented. That’s not to say they don’t present each character and their respective world with respect and due diligence; it’s just a lot thrown at you at once.
The meat and bones of Aquapazza is that it’s a fighting game, and a not-so-basic one at that. Oh, there’s depth here, and the talented will be able to do quite well once they spend some time with it, but some rookies and newcomers will be able to get by just as well after practicing for a while. Being that it’s a fan-service game, it’s intended for fans. Aquapazza is not for those who are unaccustomed to the worlds presented and their characters. Several of them are very niche and take a ton of time to master, and newbies will likely avoid them as a result. It’s a shame too, as several of the characters are interesting and present a nice difficulty curve to learning.
It’s a four-button setup: Light, Medium, Heavy attack, and a partner attack take up the face buttons. Naturally, there are typical quarter-circle, rotation, and hold “direction for ‘‘x’ seconds” plus punch/kick inputs, as well as super attacks; it’s par for the course as fighting games go. Combos and meter watching are going to benefit you more than button-mashing, trust us. Some characters have healing or poison attacks; one even has a limited amount of arrows she can use in a round, so being prepared and tactful is the key to her success. It’s nice dynamic rarely seen in fighting games, but it’s likely for a good reason. Don’t be discouraged, as there are several other colorful fighters to look out for and try, so it’s not a scant roster.
Unfortunately, for the amount of options there are for characters to choose from, there’s very little to use them in. Aside from the Story, Online, and training modes, there’s not enough to really make these unique characters shine. Limited modes to showcase them all is a shame, and seeing as it’s all untranslated, there’s quite a bit of reading to do, so beware if you’re not in the mood to read subtitles between each fight. It’s a brisk story mode too, as there are about eight different combatants including the boss encounter (which we’ll get to in a second), so you can breeze through it in about an hour, depending on your competency. As for the final boss, it is one of the cheapest bosses we’ve ever fought. Not to spoil too much for those that want to experience the cheapness for themselves, we’ll just say you should make sure you’re well prepared for a long, arduous battle. We’re talking supers that take full bars of health!
Cheap boss aside, Aquapazza is a pretty game, with nice sprite work and occasionally jagged edges, but nothing too glaring. Solid music and voice work (all in Japanese, so subtitles are rampant) accompany the battles and intermission scenes. You unlock several pieces of art and other goodies upon completion with each character, but it’s nothing too scintillating to keep you dealing with that atrocious boss battle. I can’t help but think that more modes might have helped Aquapazza stand out a bit more against the already divisive ocean of fighting games out there, but it’s distinct, fan-oriented ideas help it stand out just enough to warrant a go – even more so that Atlus has a smart launching price of $30. Whether or not this is a true tournament fighter remains to be seen, but the next six months will determine if it can stay afloat or will drown in a sea of “same old stuff” for the fighting community.