The Vita is probably one of the best places for anime games and small experiments. This is why the library is so vast and filled with oddities, which can either be obscure gems or wastes of time. Unfortunately for Asterisk War: Phoenix Festa, a game that combines dating sim tropes with a 3D fighting game, this may be one to pass for all but the biggest fans of the anime and manga.
The Asterisk War originally started as a series of light novels written by Yuu Miyazaki with illustrations by Okiura back in 2012 under the full title The Asterisk War: The Academy City on the Water. Introducing the world to a battle series staring all sorts of cute girls wielding ridiculous weaponry. An anime adaptation was released in 2015 and for a while it was a popular series on Crunchyroll, which is where I initially heard of it. Since I adore the Vita, I eagerly raised my hand to review Phoenix Festa, hoping for a unique experience.
Sadly, I am here to share my thoughts on why Phoenix Festa barely captures the elements of the anime, let alone a fun dating sim or a brawler.
There are two major ways to play Phoenix Festa, a traditional battle setup and a story mode that includes dating sim elements. I actually started playing the game by messing around with the versus mode, playing with characters I remembered from the show. There are actually quite a few characters to play as, and a few rows to unlock through continuous play. Initially I thought the battle system was at least average, if not frustrating because it was lacking a way to counter attacks that I know of. However, after going through the story, I found the battle system, as well as the dating sim scenarios, incredibly repetitive.
Battles are played in a 3D arena, with simple attacks, a heavy attack, and a special move for each character and weapon. Our main character through the story can equip different weapons for some variety, but about an hour in I was gifted with a powerful longsword that trumped most things I could afford, so I stuck with that. Battles usually boil down to chasing down the opponent and mindlessly spamming attacks until they’re down. This is mostly because there isn’t much of a way to stop a combo once its started against the player. No flashy reaction like Killer Instinct’s combo breaker and no seamless way to stay in the fight. Well, if there is a system like this, I wasn’t aware of it.
This was coupled with just how fast each match goes. After each fight there’s a rating system that tells the player how well they did. Most of the standard fights I conquered within twenty seconds, getting an ‘S’ rank on literally every combat encounter in a single run of the story. I only lost a total of five matches, usually because I got locked in cheap combos or my badge broke, which is hard to explain why it counts as a lost as this isn’t conveyed well enough. Overall, combat got old real quick, blending into a mess of awkward dashes, empty shouts of nonsense, and lackluster visuals. At least some of the weapons look pretty cool though.
On the flipside, we have a dating sim game that lets the player date the girls in ways that even indie dating sim developers would laugh at. Most of the “gameplay” of this mode is just picking options from a menu, like training to increase stats or scheduling a date or duel. The story itself has hardly no conflict, with the end goal being winning the Phoenix Festa, a tournament held between students at the academy. Characters lack growth, with the only big moment I can think of being when the player can acquire that powerful sword I mentioned earlier. Each of the girls are fairly annoying, with none of them having depth. This could have been circumvented if there was some sort of fan service or pay off at the end, like there is with many dating sim (or even hentai) games. Yet, there’s barely anything redeemable about this part of the game.
Really this comes down to the empty dialogue between characters. With no major adversary or problem to solve, characters just mindlessly talk to each other. It’s all fluff! Even if the player does stick past the first couple hours, they’ll like find something awfully familiar about the game’s dates. This is where I had the most hope for the game, a tender moment to expand what was known about these girls and their stories. However, there are actually only a few unique dates and the player usually has to repeat them over and over to reach max level with that girl.
For example, I chose Kirin (mostly because she was the quickest character to build up) and I easily found out the best way to increase that relationship was to do the date that has the player defending her honor and beating up a couple of thugs. This scene plays out exactly the same every time, to the point that I skipped the dialogue just to make it go quicker. This is by far one of the worst ways I’ve seen these sort of interactions designed. There’s really not that many choices either, at least not many that really mean anything to the overall experience. The overall game just comes off as lazy, which could in fault be because something was lost in translation, but that’s yet to be determined.
I’ve played a lot of anime games through the years with varying degrees of enjoyment, but I don’t even think being a super fan of the Asterisk War franchise would entice me to play Phoenix Fiesta any more than I already have.
Asterisk War: Phoenix Festa is available exclusively for the PSVita. A code was provided for this review.
For another anime game review, check out my take on Akiba’s Beat on PS4.