“Aquapazza: Aquaplus Dream Match” Review
The term “anime fighter” is certainly not a new one within the scope of the fighting genre, but it can be a little misleading at times. In truth, it simply applies to games that take on a more anime-style visual direction and trend toward more of an exaggerated, over-the-top gameplay approach than other games in the genre. Even so, it isn’t at all unheard of for an anime fighter to come along that is, in fact, based on a particular anime license, but, in many of those cases, a little digging will show even deeper roots in the Japanese “visual novel” gaming genre. Main examples include Ougon Musou Kyoku: Umineko, Fate/Unlimited Codes, and the original trendsetter, the Type-Moon mega-crossover classic known as Melty Blood.
Such is the case with Aquapazza: Aquaplus Dream Match.
What Is It?
Aquapazza is a mega-crossover built from a foundation of visual novel developer Aquaplus’ vast catalog of franchises from over the years, some much better known as anime series, some relatively unknown at all in North America. In all, the franchises represented with either playable characters or supports (think Marvel vs Capcom assists) are Utawarerumono, To Heart, Routes, Comic Party, Tears To Tiara, Kizuato, and White Album, which makes for a truly eclectic roster of characters ranging from swordsmen to schoolgirls to androids. This might sound bizarre to the uninitiated, but in the anime arm of the fighting genre, it’s another day at the office. For those a little more accustomed to traditional fighting game characters, roster entries like Arawn, Touka, and Hakuoro (or “Hakuowlo” as he’s listed here) should make the transition a little less jarring.
One wouldn’t expect an exclusive developer of visual novels to suddenly sit down and bang out an effective fighting game, and that isn’t what happened here, either. Although Aquaplus opens up their character vault for Aquapazza’s roster, Arcana Heart developers Examu take up the actual development duties, and their experience shows nicely.
Why Should I Care?
In 2009, Street Fighter IV hit consoles and was as popular as it was divisive. Many fighting games since have taken SFIV’s micromanaged approach to gameplay, where single-frame windows ceased to be the exclusive domain of showmen and video publishers and became essential to many facets of actual gameplay, even to a greater extreme than the deepest 3D fighters of the time. This brings forth a high degree of mastery, for sure, but also excludes players whose muscle memory doesn’t quite reach 1:60 accuracy. This makes fighting games that come from a more old-school mentality, including Aquapazza, especially attractive to some. It’s not to say that there’s no degree of mastery to Aquapazza and its ilk (to suggest that would be to completely write off 18 years of history in the genre), but it clearly values a different set of skills than a lot of fighters do today. That hasn’t kept it from proving its quality by making its way to the most prestigious fighting game tournament of all, Japan’s invitational Super Battle Opera.
Aquapazza does quite a bit with its four-button layout – three scaling attack buttons and an assist – and a style of play that finds its roots much deeper in games like The Last Blade than its anime-genre brethren. Crazy can certainly happen, just not on the scale of what you might see from a Marvel vs Capcom or a Melty Blood. There isn’t much systematically for Aquapazza to hang its hat on, but the Emotion mechanic is noteworthy. This generally rewards players for uptempo offensive play while punishing those who opt for the defensive approach. This pushes the action hard, making for more entertaining matches and giving players a nice incentive to stay actively engaged in battle. With that setting the pace, the game’s simple but effective control scheme does a great job of giving you all the tools you need to enjoy the combat.
While a fighting game always lives and dies by its ability to hold up to Versus play, Examu hasn’t forgotten about the single-player component. The game features not one but two story modes to enjoy, although in many cases, players will need to study the source material in order to fully understand what’s going on. This happens quite a bit with anime fighters, and so much the better. If Aquapazza gets more people watching Utawarerumono or Tears To Tiara, that can’t possibly be a bad thing.
What Makes It Worth My Time And Money?
Aquapazza: Aquaplus Dream Match is both an effective fighting game in the modern sense and a wonderful throwback to the late-90s/early-oughts era of the genre (which many of today’s players missed out on). It’s fun to just pick up and play, yet has also long since proven its worth on the Japanese tournament scene. The fact that exploring its origins will introduce you to some really solid anime is just the cherry on top. Some might say that the properties’ obscurity is reason enough not to make a game like this, but discovering new brands in other mediums is a big part of what makes the versatility of the fighting genre so special, and Aquapazza does that tradition proud.
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