The resurgence of the fighting game genre has been great for fans, but with new titles coming out monthly, it’s growing increasingly difficult to stand out from the crowd. Most games try to combat this by adding more depth or unique mechanics that you can’t find elsewhere. Unknown Games’ Koihime Enbu seemingly takes the opposite approach, and instead focuses on building around solid fundamentals.
While there are disappointingly no tutorials (which is ridiculous, and one of the common reasons why the genre fails to gain new fans), it won’t take long for players to pick up the combat in Koihime Enbu. Each of the 13 female fighters are armed with different weapons, but they all play pretty similar on a core level. Enbu is a 4-button fighting game with 3 core attack buttons (low, medium and high), and another button being used exclusively for throws. That level of simplicity is surprisingly refreshing, and it’s nice not having to struggle my way through learning a complex system with no documentation.
Special moves are also very simple to pull off, and the inputs (typically a quarter circle) are the same for each character. That makes it increasingly easy to jump from character to character when playing, since you won’t have to remember difficult button combinations. Instead, the player gets to strictly focus on gameplay and what’s happening on-screen. Sure, it loses some of the depth, but memorizing different move lists have never been the best part of fighting games.
Finally, you’ll also get to bring a support character (or a strategist if you’re going with the game’s Romance of the Three Kingdoms theme) into battle. These are character specific helpers that will give players access to one additional special attack (which is triggered by doing a quarter circle motion in conjunction with a throw). It’s a simple enough mechanic where it really doesn’t complicate the core combat, but it does add some experimentation for players to check out.
While there aren’t a ton of different systems at play here, it doesn’t mean the action lacks depth. Since it’s a counter-heavy game, battles are typically tepid affairs as one mistake can cost the player a large chunk of their life bar. While it’s slower paced compared to most other Japanese fighters, it feels freeing getting to strictly focus on spacing during a match. It’s nice being able to concentrate on what are typically more advanced strategies in other fighters.
Sadly, there aren’t many ways for you to experience the action in Koihime Enbu. There are really only 2 single-player modes of consequence: a story mode and a traditional arcade mode. The story is pretty forgettable (mainly due to not much of consequence happening), but can be entertaining for those that are fans of the Romance of the Three Kingdoms saga. Important warriors such as Lü Bu have been reimagined, and are the basis of all of the game’s characters. Both modes are solid, but don’t really stick out as anything special.
There’s also local and online multiplayer to check out, and that’s where I spent most of my time. Or attempted to, at least. While the netcode is solid during online play (as my matches were seemingly lag-free), there just isn’t a very lively online crowd. Sometimes it would take several minutes to find a match, leading me to simply give up and go back to playing the arcade mode. That’s disappointing to see, and you might want to convince a buddy to pick the game up unless you’re okay with playing against the computer constantly.
On the bright side, Koihime Enbu does have a surprisingly in-depth training mode. It even features trials to test players’ abilities to pull off the game’s combos. It’s great to see it in such a low-key release, especially when Street Fighter V didn’t launch with a challenge mode.
There’s a certain charm to be found in Koihime Enbu, and it’s largely due to the fighter focusing on fundamentals. While there isn’t anything particularly amazing here, there’s a solid base that allows fans to focus on strategy above pure execution. A lack of modes really hurts its appeal towards gamers wanting to dip their toes in the genre, but it’s hard to imagine someone having a bad time with this one.
This review is based on the PC version, which we were provided with.
If you're looking for a fighting game with a back-to-basics approach, then Koihime Enbu fits the bill. It's a title that rewards solid fundamentals and one that's easy to get into. A lack of modes hurts its long-term value, but the core gameplay is plenty of fun.