Battle Fantasia location test
By Alex Kierkegaard / October 28, 2006
Arc System Works is testing their new versus fighter this weekend at Hey arcade in Akihabara, so tonight I duly made my way over there to take a look. I stayed on for a couple hours and discovered a lot of interesting things; both about the game itself, as well as about the hardware it's running on.
The first thing that hit me when I arrived was how different the atmosphere was compared to the shooting game location tests I usually cover. Perhaps thirty people were crowded over the two cabs, jostling to get a better view of the action -- some of them even bumping up against the players themselves. Everyone was trading jokes back and forth, laughing and discussing the game, between rounds of fighting each other as if their lives depended on it (the winner stayed on, you see).
Compare this with your usual Cave location test, where everyone stands at least a respectful three feet away from the player, solemnly observing the screen and hardly ever saying a word, or even acknowledging the existence of the others. I guess it goes with the territory -- being multiplayer by nature, versus games perhaps foster more social behavior in those who play them. (Perhaps if games like Senko no Ronde catch on STG fans will start being more social.)
So anyway, one of the good things about the crowd situation was that there was no orderly line, so if you were, how should I put this, audacious enough, you could push your way past the others, get right next to one of the players, and assert your right to go next by staring down everyone else. Having grown up in mosh pits, as well as being a head taller than anyone else, I was able to do just that. Needless to say, I got a lot of disapproving looks, but I was enjoying myself too much to care.
Now before I talk about the game I'd like to say a few things about the Type X2/Viewlix combo, which is Taito's answer to Sega's Lindbergh system. The most important point here is to find out whether it is possible to use a Type X2 motherboard in the Lindbergh cabinet, and vice versa (i.e. whether a Lindbergh motherboard can be used with the Viewlix cabinet). Of course, we already know that this is technically possible; the question is whether Sega and Taito will allow arcade operators to do this. Because if they won't, Taito had better have more compelling titles than Battle Fantasia lined up, otherwise not only the Type X2, but also the Viewlix will be dead on arrival.
You see these new cabinet/system combos don't come cheap, and if an operator has to choose between the Lindbergh, with its Power Smash 3 and Virtua Fighter 5, and the Viewlix with Battle Fantasia, it probably won't take them long to decide (and, remember, Raiden IV runs at 480p on the original Type X, so operators don't need a Viewlix to run it -- not that it would have made much difference, given how mediocre the game is).
In fact, many of the small and medium-sized operators have so far said no thanks to even Sega, going as far as to stick the two Lindbergh games in regular Net City cabs, and run them at 480p instead of 720p. So Taito will have a tough time convincing anyone to invest in its new hardware -- apart from those game centers which it owns, of course.
Now I've written in glowing terms about the Lindbergh cab before, but today I came off thinking that the Viewlix might actually be better. When I first saw it running Raiden IV, at the AM Show in September, I was left unimpressed, but I realize now that that was only because Raiden IV -- being a 640x480 game -- had to be upscaled to 1024x768 (by the display, not natively) to cover the whole screen. And of course it had to be letterboxed, because the panel's native res is 1360x768. It was a messy business indeed.
But Arc System's gorgeous high definition new fighter definitely showed off what the Viewlix is capable of. And it wasn't just the bright screen or the striking red-white contrast of the cab's paint job that attracted my interest -- the ergonomics seem to be better than the Lindbergh's as well. The Viewlix cabs were set up next to four Virtua Fighter 5 machines, and you can see from the picture above that Taito has tilted the screen back at a much larger angle than Sega, resulting in a more natural and relaxed stance, and giving the player a more commanding view over the whole screen. I must have put in a good 50 hours on the Lindbergh cab so far, but I'd take the Viewlix over it any day. (However, I'd still say that, from a purely aesthetic viewpoint, Sega's cabinet is much better-looking. Not that it makes any difference.)
But enough hardware talk, I'll write again about Sega's and Taito's high definition arcade solutions when I know more about them. In the meantime Arc System's latest deserves all our attention, because it's the first 2D fighter running at a high definition resolution -- using 3D graphics, of course. If it does well there will be more where it came from; if not, there probably won't. In any case, this approach is the genre's future and, judging by the enthusiasm with which it was received, it should manage to open up the way for more similar efforts.
Now Battle Fantasia is billed as a Fantasy/RPG-themed fighter, which sounds as awesome in theory as something like Virtua Fighter Quest, but which in practice has turned out to be quite ridiculous. The only differences between this and normal fighters is that Rounds are now called Chapters, and the health bars represent hit points. The characters all have different amounts of hit points (stronger ones naturally have more), and every time someone lands a blow you see how many points of damage you've dealt. I mean wow, I am speechless. All they need now is fifteen-minute CG cutscenes and they'll have Squeenix sweating.
Moving on, what I loved about Battle Fantasia more than anything else was the definite Power Stone vibe coming from the character designs and backgrounds. The swashbuckling theme is meticulously pulled off, and the graphics have a crispness and a depth of color that is startling, and remains so long after you first see the game in motion. The end result is stunning, and when it's running on a 32-inch screen three feet away from your face it's hard to tear yourself away and go back to playing a regular fighter. By the way, the only screenshot that does the game justice is the second one -- the rest are all slightly blurry.
Now the only thing I've got 100 percent figured out about the system is how the special moves work. There is a gauge at the bottom of the screen, and every time you score a hit it slowly fills up. When it maxes out you can pull off a special move, which includes some fancy-schmalzy 3D effects. You can also stockpile these moves if you want, and even save them to use in later... "Chapters".
Apart from that you can see the basics by looking at the instructions above. It's a five-button setup based on the brand-new "Gachi Battle System", which I've no idea at the moment exactly how it works, or even what "Gachi" stands for. The "MP gauge" referred to is the one I was talking about, and I guess MP stands for Mana Points...
Anyway, I just think the RPG-gimmick is retarded. When I first heard rumours about it I imagined an IC card setup, perhaps with items and levelling, but there were no cards in sight at the location test, and I am not sure whether the Viewlix even supports any IC standards natively. Come to think of it, if it doesn't that would be a huge point against it.
My overall impression was that the game was rather simplistic, and I certainly didn't see anyone pull off any interesting techniques. From my limited playtime I noticed a great variation between the eleven playable characters (there will also be a twelfth in the final version), and the fights between the better players were fun to watch partly because of this -- but if what I saw was all there is to the game, yeah, Arcsy is going to be in trouble. Hopefully there'll be more.
Battle Fantasia should be released sometime after Accent Core comes out in December. Early February is a good bet. Let's see how it turns out. It should be interesting, if nothing else.