Fighting in the streets, Sega in the sheets.
Dengeki Bunko Imprint is a Japanese publisher of light novels, serialized books with pictures. Many light novels have been adapted into popular anime and manga. Dengeki Bunko: Fighting Climax is a game that celebrates the company’s 20th anniversary by pitting many of the characters from their books against each other. However, you don’t need any prior Dengeki Bunko knowledge going into the game because while the characters come from pre-established series, Fighting Climax can work as a standalone title.
The combat in Dengeki Bunko: Fighting Climax is surprisingly simple for a fighting game. Combos are fairly easy to learn and pull off, requiring mostly quarter turns of the left stick/joystick and one or two button presses, so you won’t have to memorize twenty different button combinations and direction inputs just to use the better moves. Combat relies heavily on the climax gauge, a gauge that fills up as you deal damage to the opponent and is used to execute powerful Climax Arts and EX moves that can tip the flow of a battle in your favor.
I also found the gameplay to be very fair, if an enemy has you cornered and is in the process of cheaply pummeling you against the side of the stage, a simple button press will activate your Blast (if your blast gauge is full) and knock them back to give you time to breathe before going on the offensive. Blasts can also be used to recover lost health and fill the Climax Gauge. You can also pull off counters by using certain attacks at the right times, which is a nice feature that can help out in a pinch.
One feature I liked in Fighting Climax was the Trump Cards. Each character has a powerful move or ability that they can use to deal a decent amount of damage to the opponent should it connect. For example, Taiga can kick a trash can at the opponent, and Kirito can temporarily dual wield. Each player has two trump cards at the start of a match and they can regain them by losing a round, giving them a slight edge in the following round. It’s a nice feature that gives less talented fighting game players a chance to deal a good amount of damage.
Each character has two Climax moves that act as “super moves” which are activated with a simple rotation of the joystick and two button presses (a very easy input, might I add). These attacks deal heavy damage, use two bars of the climax gauge and are usually based on scenes or abilities from the character’s light novel; for example, Taiga can hit repeatedly kick the opponent against a telephone pole, similar to the telephone pole scene from Toradora, and Misaka can use her signature railgun coin attack. It’s also worth mentioning that most of the moves require your opponent to get hit by an attack or be in a certain place for it to hit.
While most characters are easy enough to pick up and play as, there are a few characters in Fighting Climax‘s roster who have more complex move sets, such as Tomoka, whose fighting style revolves around tricky weaponized basketball combos and Kuroyukihime who has multiple variations of her trump card, the effects of which are not very clear.
Dengeki Bunko: Fighting Climax‘s stages are all based off Sega games, and while they are all well designed they feel out of place in a game about light novel characters duking it out in celebration of the publisher’s 20th anniversary. The locations the novels are set in can be just as important as the actual characters and excluding those locations feels like excluding a fairly large part of the source material. As fun as fighting in Sonic the Hedgehog‘s Green Hill zone is, I wish that they at least added some stages based off locations from the light novels; I would have liked to fight in Ainkrad or the streets of Ikebukero as opposed to the spaceport of Phantasy Star Online 2.
Stages aren’t the only thing Sega stuck their brand onto. The arcade mode features Sega’s humanized Dreamcast character, the four unlockable characters (2 playable and 2 assist) are from Sega games, and a number of color palettes are based on popular properties from the publisher. It’s like the former console heavyweight crashed Dengeki Bunko‘s birthday party and brought all of its friends along.
The game’s soundtrack is great as well. Each stage has a unique song from some of the best artists Sega has to offer. In the event of a tie the music for the tiebreaker round will change to one of four or so songs (that the player can pick), this adds tension to decisive tiebreaker matches and makes them feel like more than just another round
The game features a roster of 14 playable characters (two of them are unlocked by completing the single-player story modes) consisting of various light novel characters from the Dengeki Buko imprint. The roster ranges from popular characters like Kirito from Sword Art Online and Shizuo Heiwajima from Durarara!! To less familiar characters like Tomoka from Ro-Kyu-Bu and Yukina from Strike The Blood. Each character has a move set unique to them while remaining virtually equal in terms of mobility and damage intake. For the most part the characters are balanced, none of them have any significant advantages over the others. The two unlockable characters are both from Sega games, the first one is easy to unlock while the second requires you to beat a certain mode in a very specific and difficult way, which I felt was a bid unfair.
In addition to the 14 playable characters who make up Dengeki Bunko‘s roster, there are 23 support characters that can be called into battle, each with different abilities and effects. Some assist characters are damage dealers, others can restore your climax gauge, and some are counters that can be used as traps against your opponent. There is enough assist characters to offer a good amount of variety and encourages experimentation to see what fighters paired with what assists can yield the more best results.
By winning battles and completing challenge modes you earn points to spend on things such as character color palettes, titles, and icons. Whats handy about his feature is that the items themselves are fairly cheap; within an hour of playtime I was able to earn enough points to purchase a color palette for my main and my assist character, buy an icon that suited my fancy, and bought an amusing title for online play with more than enough leftover to buy color palettes for my training mode punching bag characters. So you don’t have to worry about needing to save up a large number of points to get the one color palette you actually want.
Of course, online bouts are a key feature in any online fighter, and Dengeki Bunko: Fighting Climax largely succeeds in this regard. Online runs pretty well, I didn’t see alot of lag in online fights and the user interface was fairly easy to use. The game does have a nasty habit of showing rooms in the listing that are full without telling you that they are and clicking on them sends you back to the room search screen which in itself is a hassle and wastes the player’s time. Once you are in a game room you can send the other players short prewritten messages, this isn’t a new feature for online multiplayer games but Dengeki Bunko has more message options than the average online multiplayer game. These messages range from the simple “lets go’s” to more specific things like “Bathroom Break”, “lets use our mains”, and “this will be my last match”. There’s even a message asking a player to leave. The variety of pre-made messages makes communication between players easier and more fluid. Its interesting how such a small feature can add so much. The actual online fights are fairly balanced with no character having a huge advantage over the others as far as I have seen.
If playing against other people isn’t your thing, there’s plenty of single-player content.
The Arcade Mode serves as the basic story mode but there isn’t much to it. You go through a series of fights of increasing difficulty that are connected with a very basic story that feels like every other crossover game’s storyline in spark notes form. The character sprites used in the story segments are well animated though, and each matches the art style of that character’s light novel. Its a shame that the dialogue and story are so bland while the visuals are very appealing.
Dream Mode, on the other hand, is more enjoyable. You pick a character and you can fight against six different opponents in any order you wish, each battle starting off with a dialogue segment between the two fighters. Seeing two characters from different worlds interact is an enjoyable experience you can only get from crossovers (and fan fiction but that doesn’t count), and the dialogue bits are very in character and show some interesting chemistry between characters. I didn’t think I wanted to see Shizuoka Heiwajima and Taiga meet until I actually saw them talk.
One thing I noticed was the lack of a tutorial. While the controls are fairly easy to pick up, I do wish that there was an in-game method of teaching players some of the more complex elements of the game, such as how to properly use EX moves. The closest thing to a tutorial is the training mode, but it’s not as helpful.
There are also three challenge modes, Score Attack, Time Attack and Survival. Score Attack is a basic “earn as many points as you can” mode where you fight through nine battles trying for the highest score. Time Attack mode, however, was disappointing. I expected it to be fighting through a set amount of enemies under a set time limit but that was not the case. In time attack you play through nine matches while the game times you. It’s not very fun and you can get the same effect by playing score attack with a stopwatch. Survival is the most interesting challenge mode; you fight through nine one round fights where your health does not restore after a fight. It’s a fairly challenging mode that stands out above the other two modes as a whole through the challenge modes are a fairly plain feature that you probably won’t sink a lot of time into.
Overall, Dengeki Bunko: Fighting Climax is a very good fighting game. While some of the modes leave a bit to be desired, its easily accessible gameplay and unique assist system make developer Kadokawa ASCII Media Works’ anime-inspired brawler the best fighting game I’ve played all year. Even If you’re not into the source material, Dengeki Bunko: Fighting Climax is a game no fan of the genre should miss. And who knows, maybe you’ll gain an interest in the original light novels while playing the game.
Final Verdict: 4.5/5
Available on: PlayStation 3 (Reviewed), Vita ; Publisher: Sega ; Developer: Kadokawa ASCII Media Works ; Players: 1-2; Released: October 6, 2015 ; ESRB: “T” for Teen ; MSRP: $39.99 (PS3) $29.99 (Vita)
Full disclosure: This review is based on PlayStation 3 and PlayStation Vita review codes provided by Dengeki Bunko: Fighting Climax’s publisher, Sega.