It’s not uncommon for Japanese franchises to stop coming to the West, as publishers often believe they won’t have a big enough audience. One such example is the Shining series of JRPGs, which haven’t been seen outside of Japan since the PS2. Blade Arcus from Shining: Battle Arena has managed to make the journey to Steam, not as a JRPG this time, but a fighting game.
Those like me, who enjoy delving head first into the story campaign, will be met with the wonderfully stereotypical JRPG plot: find the 7 MacGuffins (in this case, orbs) which will grant the bearer whatever wish they desire. Each character’s journey is pretty predictable, while still sprinkling in some humor or depth where necessary – Roselinde is possessed, for example, which contrasts nicely with Melty’s search for a decent ice cream.
It’s really easy to get all 16 character endings, thanks to Blade Arcus’ mild challenge level. Multiple easy modes provide a way for newcomers and more casual players to get through the story, an addition particularly useful for franchise fans looking for more time with the characters. The flip-side is that fighting game pros are going to want more, even on the hardest difficulty. Even I, with my mediocre skills at the genre, had to crank the setting to Hard before finding any real satisfaction in victories.
What I did take constant pleasure in was Blade Arcus‘ art style, where the 3D characters do battle against 2D backgrounds. In a similar fashion to the story, there’s nothing overly unique about the designs themselves, although I’ve never been one to complain about busty ladies, muscular men, cat girls or wolf guys. It was how clean everything looked, and the attention to detail within the backgrounds than made me want to pause the game for a moment with each new location I came across.
When I wasn’t getting distracted by the art, my focus was on the combat. Each opponent must be crushed 3 times within a 60 second time frame to count as a win, although it’s possible to change these conditions in the options menu. The basic play style reminded me of a Marvel vs. Capcom title, with attacks being determined by how you make use of the stick, rather than button-mashing combos. You’ve still got your light, mid and heavy attacks, as well as support moves available via basic button presses and a grab. Making use of these alone will get your butt kicked online (or indeed, during hard mode in the campaign) though.
Blade Arcus includes three main movesets for the different characters: quarter-circles for close range weapons, holding a direction then flicking the stick for long distance, and setting-up combos for technicals. My personal preference were the more long distance attackers, since I found their moves the easiest to execute. Altina was a particular favorite since her bow allows for fast firing distance shots, causing trouble for anyone who needed a close range. Ultimately, though, characters handled well and felt responsive no matter who I picked.
Unfortunately, play styles lack variety. As a comparison, in Tekken, you could play as a dummy model with Mokujin’s moveset and still realize who you were controlling. You don’t need to see the skin to know who he is, because the developers have made him feel completely unique. In Blade Arcus, on the other hand, the only difference between the “skins” is the weapon they’re holding. Characters need to have more presence than simply “sword guy” or “umbrella girl”; their personalities should be clear from how they hold themselves in battle, something that this game’s cast unfortunately lacks.
As with most fighting games, Blade Arcus‘ mechanics shine brightest when playing against others. Both local and online multiplayer provide a way to up the difficulty as you can play against someone of a similar level. It’s particularly true in the case of the Online mode, where you can gain EXP for your chosen fighter, that equates to your skill ranking on the leaderboard.
Multiplayer also gives the opportunity to fully make use of support characters (that can be switched in between fights). While it felt odd to do this during the character campaign, changing up fighters during an online match can really surprise an opponent, such as tactically moving between Roseline’s heavy sword and shield to Rick’s more agile blade — forcing a change of strategy on both sides.
When it comes down to it, Blade Arcus from Shining: Battle Arena was an enjoyable experience without really doing anything new. The game is pretty, and the smooth, precise controls helped every character feel unique, despite multiple sword-wielders. Sadly, it lacks in difficulty and depth, giving fighting enthusiasts little reason to pick this game among a crowd of similar titles.
This review is based off the PC version of the game, which we were provided with.
Blade Arcus From Shining: Battle Arena has beautiful art design and a number of difficulty options, but the limited fighting styles result in a lack of any real depth.