Love is a battlefield… especially when on the battlefield
Wow, is it really already August? Summer sure has been flying by! I mean, yeah, we still have a few weeks left for the season, but pretty soon it’s going to start getting more and more like Fall. The days will start getting shorter, the leaves will begin changing colors, and for a lot of you out there, dare I say it, school will begin once again. Man, I really don’t envy any of you people in high school. It seems like every year more and more expectations are piled up on top of you. Between the seemingly-endless amounts of homework, difficult classes, and carefully trying to balance your social life while trying to stay afloat academically it really seems like the high-schoolers of today have it pretty darn rough. Don’t worry about it too much though; it’s only four years of your life. I promise that it really isn’t that bad, and hey, it could always be worse. Take for example the students in A.W.: Phoenix Festa. Not only do they have to balance everything I’ve just mentioned, but they also have to take time out each day for combat training. Imagine coming home after school, doing two hours of Geometry, and then going out to practice fighting to the death all while making sure that you never look anything but your absolute coolest whenever you see that super-cute girl from homeroom; talk about rough!
A.W.: Phoenix Festa is quite the interesting concoction, consisting of gameplay that is split up pretty evenly between the dating sim and fighting game genres. The game begins with you enrolling in Seidoukan Academy, as either a custom character or a boy named Ayato Amagiri (we’ll get into the differences between the two in a little bit). The overall goal of the game is easy; to win the upcoming fighting tournament between several renowned academies known as the Phoenix Festa. Things, unsurprisingly, aren’t as straightforward as they seem however; the Phoenix Festa is a two-on-two tournament, meaning that if you don’t find a partner before the deadline then you’re not allowed to compete (and the game subsequently ends).
Upon starting a new file, A.W.: Phoenix Festa prompts you to choose a character, and gives you two choices. The first character, is Ayato Amagiri, the official protagonist of both A.W.: Phoenix Festa as well as The Asterisk War: The Academy City on the Water, which is the light novel that Phoenix Festa is based upon. Choosing Ayato as your main character means a few different things. First and foremost, it means that you will be following a story that is somewhat similar to the actual Asterisk War light novel (with several liberties being taken appropriately, of course). While this could most certainly be enjoyable, Phoenix Festa errs a bit in how it’s presented. Rather, it seems to assume a bit too much that you have actually read the original light novel. The main characters have very little introduction and backstory, and literally almost every other character has no backstory at all; the game just kind of assumes that you know everyone already and is essentially “doing your a courtesy” by lightly touching upon the backgrounds of the main characters. While I could certainly understand this viewpoint were this a more popular series (and perhaps this is fine in Japan) I, as a person who had never even heard of The Asterisk War before playing Phoenix Festa was left a bit confused for some of the game. Aside from assuming that you know the storyline, playing as Ayato also serves as an “easy” mode of sorts; simply by picking Ayato, you are given a character with several maxed-out weapon proficiency, incredibly high starting stats, and a boost in Affinity with all of the girls. While this isn’t technically “wrong” in any way, the way in which Ayato’s character is built would be better tailored toward being some sort of unlockable post-game bonus feature. Ayato isn’t all positives however; his story begins later in the school year, which means quite a bit less time to develop your character and Affinities.
If playing as Ayato isn’t your thing, or if this is your first encounter with this franchise, the custom character is the way to go. As was the case with Ayato, playing has a custom character has its own unique perspective, strengths, and weaknesses. Unlike how Ayato’s story somewhat mimicked the actual story in The Asterisk War, playing as a custom character means a totally fresh and new gameplay experience. As a newly-enrolled student at the prestigious Seidoukan Academy, you’re actually treated as a new face (as opposed to the game thinking that you’re already knowledgeable when it comes to the series). Characters properly introduce themselves to you and, when building up a relationship with said characters, it actually feels as though you’re putting in a bit more work (in a good way). The custom character is also noticeably weaker than Ayato and essentially a blank slate. While Ayato was already proficient in several weapons (and, to my knowledge, unable to use any sort of firearm whatsoever), the custom character route allows you to fully… well… customize your playing experience. Not only that, but your overall experience is quite a bit longer; while Ayato’s school year begins partway through the actual school year, something that is probably touched upon in the light novel but is merely skipped over in Phoenix Festa, the custom character actually begins the school year at the beginning of the school year. Both of them have their merits and are both enjoyable in their own way but personally I found the custom character to be a bit more enjoyable, if only due to the fact that I was entirely unfamiliar with the Asterisk War franchise.
The first major portion of A.W.: Phoenix Festa revolves around combat and player character development. As a student of Seidoukan Academy and participant in the upcoming Phoenix Festa it is your duty to keep both yourself and your chosen weapon (known as a Lux) in tip-top shape as the Festa draws ever-closer. Here’s how all of that goes down; game progression essentially takes place on a calendar, with each day consisting of two segments (AM and PM). With a few exceptions here and there, you are free to do as you please with each day. Time can be spent in many ways, and include training, shopping, upgrading your Lux, participating in jobs, or attempting to (yes you can, and more often than not, will be rejected) set up up either dates or duels with your fellow students (ironically, actually participating in a duel or a date does not consume any time). Because of the fact that there are so many different things to do and so little time in which to do them, time management becomes key. While you’ll find yourself participating in a variety of activities during your Phoenix Festa playthrough, most of your time will undoubtedly will be dedicated toward training. Training allows you to spend one time segment in order to power up one of your stats. While training stats is incredibly straight-forward, it isn’t quite as simple as just training the same thing over and over. Training day and in and day out will make your character tired. As your fatigue increases, your training will yield fewer and fewer beneficial results. Training doesn’t just fatigue you; it also depletes your HP. That’s right, the same HP that is used during combat is also depleted while you train. Fortunately, the remedy to both of these problems lies within one thing; the Rest command. By taking one time segment to rest you can simultaneously increase HP and reduce fatigue to improve your overall condition, which of course means better results from training!
Remember how I said that you can’t participate in the tournament alone? That’s where the lovely ladies of A.W.: Phoenix Festa come in. The entire partner mechanic is really what the dating sim aspect of Phoenix Festa centers around. During your time at the academy, you are introduced to four (maybe more if you play enough) girls – Julis Riessfeld, Sasamiya Saya, Toudou Kirin, and Claudia Einfield – one of whom you will need to partner with in order to participate in the upcoming Festa. The Phoenix Festa is a big deal, so partnering up isn’t as easy as just asking someone; naturally, you’ll need to build up some sort of relationship with one of these girls before they’re comfortable enough to fight side-by-side with you.
Once you’ve seen each of the girls in action (as either a temporary ally or an opponent), and gotten to know them a little bit, it’s time to decide who you want to partner up with for the Phoenix Festa. As you develop a relationship with the girl of your choosing, you’ll build up a stat known as “Affection”. Affection is, without a doubt, the driving force behind everything related to your heroine and impacts not only how they feel about you but also how well they do in the fighting portion of the game. Raising Affection with your chosen heroine (or any heroine, for that matter) can be done both passively and actively. As you progress throughout the days, random events will occur, some of which increase Affection levels. These may consist of conversations, opportunities to present them with gifts, or even battles. While it’s nice to be able to increase Affection without having to put a painstaking amount of effort into it, the fact that you’re basically always guaranteed to come out in a better state with whomever it is that you’re talking to can get a bit boring at times. In fact, I remember purposefully trying to make one of them mad just to see if you could lose Affection; it turns out that you can!
The second, and more active, way of raising Affection is by going out on dates with the heroine of your choice. While this starts out quite fun and exciting, things get a bit stale rather quickly. First off, there are only three places you can go; the school, the dorms, and downtown. Although you can pick whether your date is in the AM or PM, it doesn’t do much to change how things go. Secondly, there are the dates themselves. They’re pretty darn cute at first, and are always worthwhile, but they’re so… well, plain. Almost every date ends up being the same regardless of who you’re with, despite their varied personalities. For example, starting off the date on school grounds ends up with you and the girl you’re out with going downtown. After a brief exchange of dialogue, a thug comes up and complains about how you’re being too lovey-dovey. You have the choice to either fight the thug, or run away. Before fighting the thug, you say something about how you’re out with your girlfriend, and combat commences. Afterward, you apologize to your lovely lady about the date going sour and they tell you that they’re not only fine with that but happy that you called them your girlfriend. You can expect this event to happen every single time that you start out your date at school. I understand that this game is focusing on multiple genres and, perhaps because of that, the dates can’t be as varied; I promise that I really can. There is something to be said, however, when both events and dialogue are written this lazily. There were literally times where everything was so same-y that the girls started to lose their personalities. Sure, the way in which they said things was a little different but it felt as though everything was way too pre-determined during dates, which is unfortunate considering the importance of raising Affection as well as the importance of having varied romantic choices when it comes to dating sims in general.
Buffed-up protagonist? Check. Super-strong Lux? Check. Doting anime girl at your side? Check. You know what that means, right? Of course you do! Yes, it’s time to take a look at combat! While most of your time spent playing A.W.: Phoenix Festa will revolve around building up your stats and chatting it up with your fellow classmates, all of that hard work really all boils down to one thing; making you as effective as possible when it’s finally time to fight. Combat takes place on a three-dimensional field that allows for free movement. There are two ways to come out the victor during a fight. Fights can, of course, be won in the traditional manner by reducing your opponent’s HP down to zero. The second way of winning is just as easy to comprehend, but a bit more confusing to pull off. During most battles, each character wears a badge on their chest which symbolizes the academy that they are representing. These badges also have a set amount of HP and, when broken, automatically disqualify the fighter from the battle. While this is a neat mechanic, I had a rather difficult time figuring out how to damage an opponent’s badge. The most obvious thing was to carefully aim attacks near the center of the opponent, but this didn’t always seem to work. The game, for whatever reason, also seemed to think that you knew how to break badges and offered no tutorial. Although a bit frustrating, badges broke relatively infrequently for me and didn’t cause too much of a problem; sticking to depleting my opponent’s HP worked just fine.
The actual fighting itself is pretty easy to pick up, consisting of buttons that allow for basic attacks, a secondary attack, jumping, dodging, locking on, and blocking. Though the combat is rather simplistic, it fits quite well and is enjoyable overall. With no need to worry about excessively-difficult button combinations or a myriad of in-battle mechanics, the fights within A.W. Phoenix Festa pretty much boil down to being able to act and react appropriately which is a nice change of pace when considering how many fighting games work. Training a lot will definitely give you the edge too, although it’s still not a guaranteed victory in most cases. Another nice thing about the combat within Phoenix Festa is how varied the characters are. Although the story mode allows for only the use of either Ayato or the custom character with occasional instances of being able control your heroine, there is an additional arcade-like combat mode focused solely on fighting. During this mode, you have your pick of the litter and are able to choose from 17 different characters with a whopping 6 extra slots for your own custom-made characters. Though there are a few instances of “copy” characters, such as there being two different versions of Ayato, most of the characters vary quite a bit one another which is especially impressive when you, once again, consider how simplistic the combat is overall.
Visually, Phoenix Festa was pretty solid overall. While there wasn’t necessarily a lot of visible flourish during the game, what was there was genuinely pleasing to the eye. Character models during the 3D segments of the game were pleasantly smooth overall, as was the entire flow of combat. When making a game that contains a lot of characters, especially when most of those characters won’t be seen for long, it’s easy to just kind of stray toward the lazy side of things and resort to doing nothing more than swapping heads in order to make each character “unique”. While there were a few instances of this, it was only among custom characters (understandably so), and a few of the lower-ranking, and quite unimportant male NPCs (which seemed to use assets from the custom character creator). Aside form that, I’m happy to say that everyone was quite varied and accurately matched their 2D images. The two-dimensional assets of the game were nice overall as well. While I would have perhaps preferred for each character to have several poses matching their mood (as opposed to merely changing facial expression), what was there was well drawn and, from what I can tell, matches the original style of The Asterisk War very well.
While A.W.: Phoenix Festa‘s visuals were good, I could have done with a bit more on the audio side. While nothing in terms of either sound effects or OST was bad, nothing really stood out to me although I will admit that the track that plays while actually fighting in the Phoenix Festa was pretty catchy. The number of actual tracks was a bit limited as well, and I felt as though perhaps a few more songs could have been added during dating or fighting segments in order to add variety and perhaps more properly match what was currently going on.
A.W.: Phoenix Festa is a bit rough around the edges, and I do feel that I have perhaps inadvertently pointed out more bad than good during the course of my review. So, in an attempt to remedy that, let me make myself clear about one thing; Phoenix Festa was a genuinely fun experience. Although most certainly catered toward those who were already well-versed within the realm of The Asterisk War and, if I may, a bit on the short side, Phoenix Festa tried something new with its quirky dating-combat mixture and its result was a unique and fun experience not quite like any that I have ever had before. Going to high school, courting your fellow classmates, and then teaming up with them in a series of high-stakes battles isn’t something that I would have ever thought of before but I’m glad that someone out there did and, even more so that they turned it into a video game.
Final Verdict: 3.5/5
Available on: Vita (Reviewed) ; Publisher: Bandai Namco Entertainment ; Developer: Atlus ; Players: 1 ; Released: July 26, 2016 ; MSRP: $39.99
Full disclosure: This review is based on copy of A.W. Phoenix Festa provided to HeyPoorPlayer by the publisher.