Dengeki Bunko: Fighting Climax Review

Dengeki Bunko: Fighting Climax is a 2D fighting game with a cast of fighters from various novels published by publishing imprint Dengeki Bunko. The stages are themed from various Sega franchises as well known as Sonic The Hedgehog, to as lesser known as Border Break. The soundtrack is great, and definitely worthy of adding to your gaming music playlist. Now, to be clear, I know absolutely nothing about any of the Dengeki Bunko franchises represented here. I am just a fan of fighting games, 2D fighting especially, and this one seemed promising. The Sega themed worlds is what initially caught my attention, those along with the fluid sprite work done on the characters. I don’t really mind the aesthetic even though I am not a consumer of much anime/manga myself. My anime rap-sheet doesn’t fall far from the “early 2000’s adult swim” tree. Call me a “casual”, but I figure if you’re a fan of any of these particular series, you have already made a decision to get this game.

Story

Well, let’s put it this way, it’s a crossover fighting game. I think we all know how shallow those “story” modes get. Whichever character you choose at the start is somehow cast into an unfamiliar, bizarre world. Your character is now the hero who must save a “world of dreams” from demise. It all plays out through a quick back and forth between characters before each match. The dialog is usually each character meeting for the first time, and arguing over some cocky remark one of them makes, which takes you into the match. I will give the game some praise for it’s written dialog. I found myself chuckling at some things said and exchanges between some characters will usually be referenced again after it shows the “win” screen of whichever character won the match. So everything said isn’t usually just some generic dialog, but unique to many different match ups. I’m certain if you are familiar with the characters, there are references to their franchises. Beating story mode with a character nets you the usual rewards you would expect from fighting games like this. Character portraits, artwork, and credits to use to buy icons, titles, more artwork and color palettes. There are also two unlockable characters that must be obtained through story mode. The characters to unlock are from Sega games, rather than some other Dengeki Bunko fighters. These two characters are Akira from Virtua fighter (along with Pai Chan as his assist) and Selvaria Bles from Valkyria Chronicles (along with Alicia as her assist). Those unlockables being the main reason to really even touch the story if you aren’t a fan of the Dengeki Bunko characters as I mentioned before.

Presentation

The game’s presentation is what drew me into considering buying this game. It’s extremely bright and colorful which pops on the Vita’s screen. I find myself taking screenshots of the game just for my own enjoyment of looking through them later. The characters sprites are well detailed and flow smoothly in action. You can tell plenty of work was put into these sprites as each animation has several frames that feel like these characters have come to life off of their manga pages. The backgrounds are enjoyable to look at by themselves just to notice the Sega references riddled throughout each stage. Now, the backgrounds are done in 3D, in contrast to the 2D characters. I am usually not a fan of that choice of art direction as I always feel it looks like the 2D characters and 3D stages don’t mesh well, and feel as if they come from two separate games (I’m looking at you Marvel vs. Capcom 2!). However, I didn’t get that impression here. The art styles I feel, integrate well with each other and the stages and characters don’t feel out of place, ironically enough, given that nearly every character is technically from a different world. The music and sound really gets you pumped to play the game. It’s energetic and makes the matches feel exciting. The music fits each stage well and sometimes you will swear they could have been in their respected game franchises originally. Voice acting is done well enough even though it’s only in Japanese. No English audio dialog here, but character chatter is translated with subtitles and speech bubbles above fighter’s heads.

The character’s move-sets seem to be peppered with references from their associated source material, as sometimes silly, flashy moves leave me lost at what is going on, but deal lots of damage to my opponent, leaving me satisfied with the outcome, at least. For someone like me who is unfamiliar with most of the source material, I find this game not at all awkward with it’s mostly cutesy, anime girl representation. What I mean by that is, there aren’t loads of bouncing breasts and upskirt shots at every turn. This game is rather modest in the “ecchi” department, other than a few comedic dialog exchanges involving some cute girls. One character has a “victory” animation where the wind nearly blows her skirt up, but she catches her skirt before anything is revealed. Some of the unlockable artwork may have more provocative material depending on how you define that yourself, but nothing I would consider unsafe for work.

Gameplay and Design

The roster is rather small compared to most crossover fighting games, with only 14 characters after the two “secret” characters are unlocked. I didn’t really mind the small roster as it lets you focus more on one or two fighters to use as your main options. Every character feels different enough from one another and there are no “clone” characters so each fighter can offer you a different experience. That being said, most special moves and “Climax Arts” (this game’s super moves), are mostly all done using quarter circle and half circle motions (think Ken and Ryu). To some, that can feel rather shallow, but I find it makes the game easy to pick up and play for newcomers. There are also 23 assist characters to pick from before a match starts. Pressing the X button during a match will call out whichever character you chose to help you in various ways depending on the one you pick. Some will do a quick attack, boost attributes of your fighter, or even hinder your opponent in some way. Assist characters can also be struck by your opponent’s attacks, canceling their action altogether.

Even though most special moves are done similarly for every character, every move set is true to their respective character’s source material, putting fans of these franchises in fanboy/fangirl heaven. Like I said before, I personally have no real attachment to any of these characters, but many of these fighters feel powerful, like superheroes. Magic attacks, super strength, and telekinetic abilities keep the action at an all-time high. The timing or spacing of when moves are executed are what makes each fighter feel different enough to enjoy this game for long periods of time. Some are brawlers, some are more defensive fighters, some wield various weapons, and some rely on projectile based combat. Explosions, glittery attacks, and goofy and/or wondrous Climax Arts, really catch your eye and make you want to play the game. This game was originally an arcade game in Japan and you can tell they were going for the type of colorful, flashy gameplay that makes you want to put in a token and try it out. I was disappointed that you can’t set matches to anything higher than, best 3 out of 5. I wanted to fight multiple rounds at a time sometimes while playing “versus” mode but there was no option to go higher. At least you can set the timer to infinity, if you want.

As far as modes, you have what you would come to expect at the minimum. Story, versus, training, score attack, time attack, and survival. You have ad-hoc mode for local play if you have a friend with this game. Online mode is there, but being that this is a rather niche title that came out in 2015 (2014 in Japan), you can probably guess it’s a barren wasteland where you spend all of your time searching for players that never show up. I have very seldom ran into a player during ranked matches, but they either beat me to a pulp, or just spammed their assist character while firing projectiles over and over. I should mention there is also a cross save feature with the PS3 version if you are to go so far as to own both iterations. Another thing I feel is worth mentioning, because it most likely contributes to the desolate online mode, is that there is a refined version of this game that only came out in Japan called Dengeki Bunko: Fighting Climax Ignition. That version added new characters and offers more balanced gameplay, making this version obsolete for the most part. That refined version had even came out in Japan before this “vanilla” version had been released worldwide, so wrap your head around that.

Conclusion

Dengeki Bunko: Fighting Climax is a game for those who like an eye-catching, flashy 2D fighter that is easy to pick up and start playing. This game just oozes style with it’s bright, colorful presentation and energetic soundtrack to keep you engaged. Many of the Dengeki Bunko franchises represented here are true to their source material and studded with references that will please fans. Each character feels powerful and effective in battle. Moves can be executed quickly for massive combos and seizure-inducing Climax Arts. Admirers of 2D sprite artwork will also love the game’s clean and detailed character movement that bring the characters to life. The Sega themed stages draw in outsiders of the Dengeki Bunko world, and fit the action nicely. Online mode is a ghost town however, so be sure to have a friend to play with after you unlock everything in single player.

Score: 7.5 out of 10

Dengeki Bunko: Fighting Climax is a gem of a fighting game available for PS Vita. The 2D sprite work is beautiful, some of the best I’ve seen in 2D fighting games. The lively presentation makes the game feel like celebration of the franchises represented. Satisfying combat keeps you hooked, but the uninhabited online mode makes you wish there was more in terms of single player.

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