Head To Head
If I may start off with the most obvious statement ever, people play video games for many different reasons. Some are looking to immerse themselves in a story. Others might use it as a kind of stress relief, putting bullets into the bodies of as many aliens/monsters/gangsters/what-have-you as possible. There are many more examples, and I could go on and on endlessly. Let’s focus on one kind of gamer: the competitive gamer. The one that exists to crush other human opponents.
There are endless kinds of multiplayer games in existence, with a huge number of them focusing on competitive playing. However, as gaming culture was building itself through the 80s and 90s, no other game style came close to pure, almost sports-like competition than the fighting game genre.
Typically, two players enter and one player leaves. Each selects a weapon of choice (their character) and utilizes their personal playstyles against their opponent to emerge victorious. Sure, other multiplayer games gave the option to play competitively, but fighting games seem to exist solely for that reason.
The genre’s popularity exploded thanks to many big-name titles, but I’d argue (along with many, probably) it was Street Fighter II that really brought the genre into prominence. Now, it seems like any media property with a variety of characters gets its own fighting game spinoff.
Coming off that tangent, the game we are looking at today is, of course, a fighting game. Developed by Ecole Software and published by Sega, Dengeki Bunko: Fighting Climax was released in North America and Europe on October 6th, 2015. The game brings together a number of characters from Dengeki Bunko, a publisher of light novels in Japan, and lets them beat the crap out of each other.
Fighting Climax is available for both PlayStation 3 and PlayStation Vita. The PS3 version was played for this review.
Dare To Dream
Fighting Climax offers two different story modes: the standard arcade-style Story Mode, and the character-interaction focused Dream Duel.
The standard Story Mode is hardly anything to write home about. A shapeshifting creature named Zetsumu has appeared to eat the dreams of the universe, and the character you select has been summoned as a last-ditch effort to stop it. That is, quite literally, all there is. You now know the entire story of the standard mode of Fighting Climax. Sorry for the lack of a spoiler warning.
The Dream Duel mode, though, is a bit more interesting. Each character in the game has a set of other characters to battle with, and pre-battle, you get to view an interaction between the two. The whole thing is pretty much pure fanservice for those who already know the characters, but it does offer more variety than the standard Story Mode. If you do not know anything about the characters, though, prepare to be confused during most of the exchanges.
Team Up and Throw Down
Fighting Climax, to boil it down, is a very easy to pick up fighting game. Each of the four face buttons corresponds to a different attack: light, medium, heavy, and assist. Light through heavy attacks are easily comboed together in increasing order, and rapidly performing light attacks will cause your character to perform a full combo automatically. While fighting games fans may scoff at this idea, I believe it allows the game to be more accessible to newcomers, as accessibility is a problem I often come across in the fighting game genre.
Continuing with the accessibility idea, every character has the same basic inputs for special attacks. A quarter-rotation on the analog stick in either direction, starting from down, plus any attack button will activate a special attack. Once enough power is built up in your character’s special meter, a half-rotation in either direction plus two buttons pulls off a super attack. Also available is an armored attack (press light+medium), an unblockable power-up attack (press one trigger), and a “Blast Attack” to break out of combos and power up (press the other trigger). Keeping the combo inputs the same across characters makes it easy to play as anyone in the roster, although it does make the individual characters feel less unique.
Combining your character with a chosen assist character, though, allows a bit more uniqueness in playstyle. Assist characters are chosen alongside your main character and have two abilities available to use. They can be summoned at any time, even in the middle of a combo, and have a quick cooldown time between summoning, so there is no need to hold back on using them. The number of available assists outnumbers the main characters nearly two-to-one, opening up a number of combination options for you to find what works best for you.
On the downside, despite all the characters playing the same, there are some major balance issues. Issues that are even noticeable to me, a gamer that doesn’t often load up fighting games. It’s not so much “this character can cover distance better than the others, that one is better at the close game, etc.” It’s more like “this character can destroy all the others, so they are the only one I will use.” I convinced my brother, very much a non-gamer, to play a number of rounds with me, and even he took notice of this issue.
Fighting Climax is a traditional-style 2D fighter, so most of the graphical focus is going to come down to sprite detail and background art. Luckily, this game is not a slouch in either department…although it’s not the best I’ve seen either. The game translates the artstyle of the included characters incredibly well to sprites, and even assists (who do not spend much time on screen) receive an equal amount of detail. Being that most of these characters are made up of solid colors and some shading, though, it’s not that hard to be accurate original artwork. Backgrounds are nicely detailed as well, but I ended up ignoring them for the most part to focus on the action.
The talking heads in the story mode, though, hit some kind of uncanny valley of weird. The characters here have a constant breathing motion that seems unsettling, and their transitions between expressions come across as weirdly unnatural. The vague 3D-style they’re given during these moments is unusually strange as well.
Looking more to mechanics, the game runs nice and smooth in story mode and offline multiplayer. Incredibly important for a fighting game, but a plus nonetheless. Unfortunately, due to some internet connection problems in my apartment, I was unable to test online mode, and can not remark on that.
The music of this game is some of the most straight-forward generic fighting game music I’ve heard. Most of the soundtrack is generic synth-heavy power rock, and is pretty much the first thing most gamers will think of when they hear “fighting game.” Unfortunately, I can’t think of any standout tracks, either. The music just kind of went in one ear and out the other without leaving an impression on me.
Fans of the game’s characters will be glad to know that voice acting is in the original Japanese, with subtitles where appropriate. As far as I can tell, each of the characters is voiced by their original actor or actress from the anime they were featured in. For the characters I’m familiar with, the voice performances sounded just like the anime originals, and are a nice touch to the game.
A Strong But Disappointing Match
Overall, Fighting Climax is a fun fighting game and easy for newcomers to jump into…but it is desperately short on content. Story Mode is short and unremarkable, Dream Duel is more interesting but still lacking, and the character roster is rather small and samey. Also, despite how easy it is to pick-up-and-play, the severe balance issues make keeping a session going a bit more difficult.
On a final note: an updated version of this game, Fighting Climax Ignition, is planned for release at the end of this year in Japan. From what I’ve read, it fixes many of the issues that this entry has. This fact begs the question: why bother localizing a game that is going to be fixed and surpassed in a few more months?
Dengeki Bunko: Fighting Climax is a decently fun game despite its faults, and is easy for just about anyone to play. Hardcore or competitive fighting game players may lose interest quick though. If you’re looking to pick it up, I’d say it’s worth your time, but I’d recommend waiting for a sale.
Review copy provided by Sega. Screenshots and art taken from official Sega and PlayStation trailers.