AquaPazza, which is being published by Atlus in the US and developed by EXAMU, who most notably developed Arcana Heart, is an excuse to get characters from various AquaPlus dating sims such as ToHeart2 and Utawarerumono together in a fighting game. A lot of the appeal of this game is the fan service of these characters from disparate franchises interacting with each other. However, to the vast majority of the American playerbase, these characters are all brand new. With the fanservice appeal out the window, the game has to rely on its fighting engine to appeal to the West. How does it do? …eeehhhhhhh.
Lovers, Maybe Not Fighters
AquaPazza features the requisite modes for a fighting game: Story Mode, Score Attack, Training, and Online and Offline versus. There are 13 playable characters, and additional support characters that you can choose from that can be used as assists in battle with varying effects.
The game system is relatively basic: You have light, medium, and hard attacks, plus a fourth button to call your aforementioned support character. This ability to mix and match a main character and a support character is somewhat reminiscent of developer EXAMU’s last major hit, Arcana Heart. I did find that the use of partner characters was easier to use in AquaPazza than in Arcana Heart, however. Pressing light -> medium -> hard almost always results in a combo, and beyond that, there aren’t too many advanced ways to do combos. To some, that might be refreshing, especially after games like Skullgirls that feature 60 or 70 hit combos that just don’t feel like they end. However, it also feels like characters are very limited in what they can do. My main character, Tamaki, has no real combos she can do outside of a partner assist, and for the most part, those assists basically let a combo continue for one more hit before she finishes with an air grab. In other words, each character isn’t really that flexible.
I keep looking for character depth that just isn’t there. I feel like it’s just over the horizon, and I’m missing something, but I played several online matches and had no trouble besting my opponents. I truly think that I’ve gone as far as I can with this battle engine.
To be fair, there are some unique features of this engine. There’s something called the “Emotion System,” which goes up or down based on how aggressive you are. When it is high, you do more damage, and your super moves have more hits and flourishes to them. Games like Guilty Gear and BlazBlue reward forward movement and aggression with super meter; AquaPazza simply chooses to do something slightly different.
That being said, the lack of depth might be a selling point for those that are new to fighting games, or don’t feel like they want to learn a complex system. Having three attack buttons is easy to deal with, and a fourth button to call your partner is easily understood. Each character only having a few special moves and combo possibilities means it is easier to get up to speed on a chosen character and be more effective. I personally do see this lack of depth as a negative, but I wanted to point out that there is a positive side to this.
Characters without Character
If you don’t know who these characters are, you won’t find out by playing Story Mode. Being an AquaPlus fanservice game, the whole point of this experience is that you already know who all these characters are, and there appeal to watching them interact with each other. Some of the characters are wacky, like a maid robot who fights with her book, and a library mouse who throws bundles of books at opponents by being awkward and letting them slip out of her hands. If you are in the West, odds are very good you don’t know these characters.
Listening to the story mode, I encountered several other characters, including some not playable in the game. I had no idea who they were, but given their cadence of voice, I wanted to put my fist through my TV. I don’t find, well, any of these characters that appealing.
The plot of the story mode is that someone named Ma-ryan has created a terrible concoction that has brought the various disparate worlds of AquaPlus together, and controlled the minds of specific characters. Whomever you have chosen has to go and beat some sense into these mind-controlled drones, before handing Ma-ryan some justice. There’s also a second story mode that’s unlocked after beating the first, involving a mirror that can grant wishes. You’ll have to fight through the other characters who want their wishes granted, before you encounter the mirror and the horrible truth behind it. It is what it is, I suppose, but I found the story mode to be very garden-variety.
I wish I could tell you more, but I can’t. I just don’t know enough about this cast of characters. And likely, you won’t know either, which is precisely the ultimate problem with presenting this product to the West.
Reach Out And Touch Someone
The game does have online play, and in my testing, a 3-bar connection resulted in lag-free gameplay. I had these matches against people who were less than 25 miles away. I also played a 2-bar match against someone in Florida which was essentially unplayable due to the amount of lag caused by the connection. AquaPazza does not utilize GGPO or any of the newfangled middleware that removes the appearance of lag. While I haven’t played any online matches outside of these two areas, I don’t feel amazingly comfortable recommending the online play.
AquaPazza is certainly a new fighting game, but it doesn’t do anything new. What’s worse, it attempts to offer a fanservice package to an audience that’s not receptive. I can recommend this game to AquaPlus fans only; otherwise it is my recommendation to avoid.
Ted completed both available story modes with Tamaki, and played several online matches against Atlus QA during a scheduled online multiplayer session. He mostly won during this session, and doesn’t know if QA was going easy on him. Probably not though; they were trying some slick crossup combos. He received a review copy from Atlus for review purposes.
Available on: PlayStation 3
Version Reviewed: PlayStation 3