Review: Dengeki Bunko Fighting Climax (PS3/PSV)

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Platforms:

  • PlayStation 3
  • PlayStation Vita

Extras:

  • PlayStation TV Compatible No
  • Cross-Buy No
  • Cross-Save Yes
  • Cross-Play No
  • Cross-Chat No
Title: Dengeki Bunko Fighting Climax
Format: Blu-ray Disc / PlayStation Network Download (PS3 1.4 GB) (PSV 851 MB)
Release Date: October 6, 2015
Publisher: SEGA
Developer: Ecole Software
Original MSRP: $39.99 (PS3) / $29.99 (PSV)
ESRB Rating: T
Dengeki Bunko Fighting Climax is exclusive to PlayStation 3 and PlayStation Vita.
The PlayStation 3 and PlayStation Vita download versions were used for this review.
A copy of this game was provided by the publisher for review purposes.
PS Nation Review Policy

Dengeki Bunko Fighting Climax (sometimes called DFC In the fighting game community) is a localization that came completely out of left field. The game is a crossover fighting game featuring a bunch of anime/light novel characters from Japan, which already made it seem unlikely for localization.

On top of that the brand name Dengeki Bunko, a light novel and magazine publisher, isn’t all that well known here even among anime fans. Finally, it was very odd timing for the localization announcement as the game’s sequel, Fighting Climax Ignition, was announced for Japanese arcades just a couple of weeks later.

That said, DFC is a nice little game for the niche crowd that it does serve. Not the best or most interesting fighting game out there but any anime fans familiar with multiple franchises represented in DFC should enjoy all the small references and throwbacks that have been crammed into the game. This is a game for people who look at the cover and recognize most of the characters.

The game covers a pretty wide range of Dengeki’s catalogue. The fourteen included fighters hail from eleven light novel series and two SEGA franchises. Included characters span the light novels Sword Art Online (Kirito and Asuna), Accel World (Kuroyukihime), Oreimo (Kirino), A Certain Magical Index (Mikoto), The Irregular at Magic High (Miyuki), Black Bullet (Rentaro), Shakugan no Shana (Shana), Durarara!! (Shizuo), Toradora! (Taiga), Ro-Kyu-Bu! (Tomoka), and Strike the Blood (Yukina).

… caters pretty heavily to the enfranchised anime fans …
As the game is published by SEGA, they have tossed in two characters that serve as bosses in the story: Akira from Virtua Fighter and Selvaria from Valkyria Chronicles.

Assist characters fill out the roster even more by including not only characters from those light novel series but also tossing in more from other ones such as Spice and Wolf, Kino’s Journey, The Devil is a Part-Timer and more.

Needless to say, this game caters pretty heavily to the enfranchised anime fans especially when it includes series like Ro-Kyu-Bu!, whose anime doesn’t even have a home release in North America.

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Gameplay:
All of the characters are thrown into a traditional 2D fighting game. Perhaps because the designers anticipated getting a lot of new players who picked up the game because of the characters rather than being fighting game fans, the systems in the game are kept pretty simple.

For example there are only three attack buttons, plus one button to call in the assist character. DFC is also light on things like command normals (holding a direction while pressing a button to get a different attack). This means most characters only have nine normal attacks (each button at neutral, crouching and jumping) plus their special attacks.

Movesets are pretty much standardized between characters as well to make it easier for players new to fighting games to jump between characters. Plus the game only uses quarter-circle motions for special attacks and half-circle motions for super attacks that require two levels of the Climax Gauge (the super meter in the game).

A few characters go a little beyond that but for the most part it is pretty easy to swap between characters as the only differences are the move’s properties rather than that and the move’s input.

… an auto-combo feature …
There are also a lot of two-button moves that don’t require any motion at all. A+B is one of the most important as A+B at neutral is a universal “uppercut” (move with high priority and some invulnerability but significant recovery time) and A+B while holding back is a universal launcher (hits the opponent into the air and can be followed up with an air combo).

These kinds of moves, especially uppercuts, are often associated with more complicated motions so tying them to just a button press ensures new players can jump into the game faster. The game also includes an auto-combo feature so players can mash the A button to get an easy combo into a special, allowing them focus more on other aspects of the game rather than learning long and involved combos.

Dengeki Bunko Fighting Climax Screenshot 2015-10-03 11-25-54Dengeki Bunko Fighting Climax Screenshot 2015-10-03 12-12-20

Some other mechanics in the game do show that it is trying to court the fighting game crowd as well. The assist mechanic is a big part of that. Like many games with assist attacks, there are a lot of ways to use the assist, either to cover the main character’s weaknesses or accentuate their strengths.

Assist characters have two moves, one for pressing the assist button with no direction input and one with any direction. Assists can also be used during the middle of a combo, but at the cost of one level of the Climax Gauge. Knowing which assist to use, and how to best use them, adds a decent degree of depth to the game.

Another mechanic is the Trump Card, activated by pushing A+C at the same time. Players only have two Trump Cards to start with and they gain one if they lose (max two though), meaning they can potentially be used once per round in a best of three match.

… some more depth to explore …
The attack that comes out varies, but they all activate a state that allows the player to chain more normal attacks into each other and to use assist attacks for no Climax Gauge cost.

Finally, there’s a burst mechanic that should be familiar to fans of Arc System Works‘ recent games. A+B+C together initiates a burst. If used while in hit or block stun (ie while being attacked), it will push the enemy away and break their combo.

If used on an enemy that’s not attacking, a burst will put the player that used it into a powered up state where they do extra damage and gain Climax Gauge more quickly. If an offensive burst hits the opponent, the player instantly gains two levels of Climax Gauge as well.

DFC2Dengeki Bunko Fighting Climax Screenshot 2015-10-03 11-15-52

The mix of mechanics that seem designed for newer players and the higher skill level mechanics works well enough though. Newer players should be able to enjoy duking it out with friends while having some more depth to explore.

The top end of the game doesn’t seem as high as other fighters out there and the focus is clearly on players who are more interested in seeing whether Railgun or Kuroyukihime would win in a fight. All told, the game plays very solidly even if nothing in it is all that groundbreaking.

One of the biggest misses, in my opinion, is that the game’s modes don’t cater to the new players as much as the mechanics seem to. A tutorial mode to explain the game’s mechanics or some kind of combo challenge mode would have been a great addition.

Unfortunately, this doesn’t have anything outside of a training mode for that. Instead the game has two story modes, three slight variations on a challenge mode, and versus play (both online and local).

… the cross-franchise banter one would expect …
Story mode is typical fighting game fluff. Fight through eight rounds and a boss round with a couple lines of dialogue in between fights to add a little flavor. The story pulls in Denshin (an anthropomorphic character based on the Dreamcast from Sega Hard Girls) and adds in some nonsense about “dreams” and stuff.

There’s so little to the story, and it’s basically the same no matter which character you play as, that it’s hard to care about any of it.

The other story mode is called Dream Duels and is at least a little more interesting, at least for players who know the characters. This mode is five separate duels that can be played in any order, with a bit of dialogue between the characters before the fight. Since the main story mode doesn’t have the characters actually interacting, this is the mode that provides that. Granted it’s still just a dozen lines before “okay, let’s fight,” but at least it provides the cross-franchise banter one would expect from a crossover game like this.

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The last three modes are a no-filler series of fight modes with slightly different objectives. Score Attack has set difficulty settings and opponents to attempt the highest score possible. Time Attack gives the player back-to-back fights but with an overall timer to see how many opponents they can down in the set amount of time. Survival Mode is similar, a series of fights but the player doesn’t regain all of their health between fights.

And that’s about it. There are some unlockables to grind for: different color palettes for characters, nameplates to use online, artwork/character profiles, etc. but for actual single player game modes there aren’t a ton to offer and it feels like it comes up a little short. But fighting games are often more about playing the game with other people and the multiplayer components are discussed below.

… it doesn’t always scale well …
Visuals:
Much like the BlazBlue series, DFC combines 2D character art with 3D backgrounds to create the visuals in the game. The 2D fighters look good and are animated fluidly with plenty of special effects to keep the match exciting.

There seems to be a lot of love in the character animations too in the form of references to the source materials that the characters come from. This is especially apparent for fighters and assist like Taiga and Kirino who don’t come from an action-genre novel, so their movesets were designed from the ground up.

Kirino, for example, changes costumes for some of her moves as homage to her love of cosplay. The rest of the cast is more obvious but still fun to watch translated into the game’s 2D sprite work, like Mikoto’s railgun attack that she draws her nickname from.

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The one thing about the 2D character art is that it doesn’t always scale well. When the game zooms in for a special attack, for instance, the sprites look jaggy when scaled up. Meanwhile the Vita version has the sprites scaled down for the smaller screen and some of the details seem lost in the translation.

The 3D backgrounds are where most of the SEGA references come from in the game. All of the stages are based on Sega franchises, such as Sonic or Valkyria Chronicles.

This, combined with the 2D vs 3D difference means that the characters and the backgrounds don’t always jive. A couple stages in particular were, to me, borderline annoying with how much they clashed with the onscreen characters. Versus mode does at least allow the players to pick a specific stage though.

… a rudimentary jukebox hidden in the game …
Audio:
Probably to avoid an expensive dubbing procedure on a budget localization, DBFC only contains Japanese voices for the characters. From what I can tell, the voices sound like the same ones used for any anime adaptations these novels had but I could be wrong for the few shows I haven’t seen.

One very nice touch that was added for this localization is speech bubbles during the intro and victory portions of the game. Some other games just glossed over any dialogue they couldn’t add subtitles for but DFC put these in so players who don’t speak Japanese can tell what the characters are saying.

So now, when the two characters banter at the start of a match, there’s a speech bubble for them. It’s a small but very appreciated addition to the localized version of the game (in the original game, only assist characters had a speech bubble).

Music is the upbeat and energetic music one might expect from a fighting game. Of course SEGA has slipped in a few tracks that reference the games they put in the stage backgrounds.

When playing online, each player can select a track they like ahead of time and their music has a chance of being picked. There’s also a rudimentary jukebox hidden in the game to listen to the game’s soundtrack.

Dengeki Bunko Fighting Climax Screenshot 2015-10-03 11-21-57Dengeki Bunko Fighting Climax Screenshot 2015-10-03 11-23-25

Online/Multiplayer:
Fighting games get most of their replayability from versus modes and DFC is no exception. On the PS3, the basic Versus Mode serves as the game’s offline multiplayer though it can also be used to play single matches against the CPU.

The Vita‘s Versus Mode is only used for playing against the CPU but the Vita has an added ad-hoc mode for local multiplayer without internet access.

… up to eight people in a room …
For online play, the game comes with the usual options: ranked matches and player matches. Ranked matches are of course the mode to play for points. Win games, rank up, and potentially end up on the game’s leaderboards. Ranked matches have predetermined settings though the game does at least let the player limit games, such as only searching for games in their region to reduce lag.

Player match is the more casual online game mode. Players can create a room with specific settings and have up to eight people in a room. This can be set to invite-only to allow for players to only play with their friends, for example.

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Actual online match quality can vary greatly, naturally. Although the game supports cross-region play, there were not very many people on when I was attempting to play so I don’t have a huge sample size for the online match quality.

I did manage to pick up some games against another reviewer as well as with my import copy of the game, when it first launched in Japan, and the matches I played were mostly good outside of a slight hiccup here or there.

When it does hiccup, the lag would cause the game to seem to freeze for just a split second. Annoying but fortunately it only happened a couple times in my small sample of online games.

Both ranked and player matches online offer the ability to save a replay of the match to watch later. The replay doesn’t offer much in the way of frills, just the ability to pause, but the feature is appreciated nonetheless.

… how to build a game for a niche …
Conclusion:
Dengeki Bunko Fighting Climax is an example of how to build a game for a niche. That niche being players who want to watch Shizuou go toe-to-toe with the Palmtop Tiger.

To that end, the game does seem to cater more heavily to players new to fighting games, which is probably a shortcoming to many veteran fighting game players. But for the players who hear that Kaga Kouko’s assist attack is her hitting her opponent with roses and immediately say “well of course they’d use that,” this game is right up their alley.

Score:
7.0

* All screenshots used in this review were taken directly from the game using the Elgato Game Capture HD Pro screen capture feature and the Vita’s built in screen capture feature.

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