Hinokakera - fragment:Eclipse (Import) review
*Cue Pre-Battle Scream*


When it comes to doujin games there are two genres that stand out a mile, in part due to the large number of them readily known by any fan. Bullet hell shooters is one and a genre that tends to see little popularity outside of that market. Hinokakera falls under the second category of fighting games, where reactions to a flurry of punches and kicks is the key to success.

To compare to a console, the graphics are around on par with the Dreamcast era of games. It's the first doujin fighter I've seen that uses actual 3D instead of 2D sprites and the difference is definitely nice to see. Essentially the characters have that slight flatness to them but ultimately I like it. Character models have some fantastic designs, like you can see the various straps and buckles on Aya's outfit, or all the fine details on Celes' classic RPG heroine costume. It reflects the main character art extremely well.

It's also great to see the fluidity in the movements. The animation has been done to a high standard and it shows when characters flow freely from one attack to the next, which helps make the lethal combos visually satisfying. Special effects are nice too although probably not the best aspect. You get a nice assortment of flares, blood splatters and gusts but some of it can come off a bit generic.

The arenas are nicely designed though. You have some good options like a desert wasteland where the sand is swirling around or a regal chamber lit by elegant lamps. As the action can shift around these locations have been fully rendered in 3D and provide some suitable battlegrounds to witness these fights.

The game has an amazing soundtrack to back up the action. The music is quite simply epic and is often intense in order to match the combat. The selection does still feel varied too. The sound effects are also great for the most part, ranging from the usual smashes of fist hitting face to the voice clips as fighters scream out during combat.

Hinokakera plays out mostly like a 2D fighter would, despite the graphics. Two fighters are on a linear plane where you can move left and right, duck and jump. The game does offer a button that lets you move around an opponent, which can be used to dodge some attacks but I did feel it offered very little in use.

That looks like it might hurt. A little.

This game operates a three attack button setup, consisting of light, medium and heavy attacks. In conjunction with the directional input this allows for quite a wide range of attacks along the lines of quick kicks, low sweeps and leaping strikes. These moves also link in easily with a rather flexible combo system, allowing you to link levels of attacks others probably wouldn't and resulting in a fantastic system. This is helped by the physics of the game lending themselves so well to it. Every opportunity usually presents a chance to combo the hell out of your opponent and it can make for some hectic entertaining fights.

Every fighter also gets the benefit of special attacks. The input is classic in 2D fighters, like quartercircle and attack and can produce melee or ranged attacks that can prove useful. The more powerful versions of some of these attacks do consume energy that is built up during the fight, so knowing when to use them is vital. As expected the game also provides us with super specials that burn a lot of energy but bring a lot of pain to the unfortunate victim. Pulling one of them off and watching a large portion of their health gauge vanish is so satisfying.

There are other mechanics in here taken from other 2D fighters. You can dash and backstep easily by double-tapping a direction and there is good emphasis on trying out aerial approaches for attacks. You can use this fluidity to better take the fight to the opponent. Launchers allow you to knock the opponent skyward and then cleverly chase after them to lay on extra damage, which can easily be linked into from combos. You can also build up brake energy which can allow you to evade the consequences of a guard cancel or allow you to interrupt your own attack in order to brutally extend a combo. In all giving the player plenty of attacking options.

The guard system is set up pretty well too. Holding away from your opponent will automatically block attacks, although you still have to take attack height into consideration. You can step it up with guard cancels for instant punishment as well. These actions are kept fairly simple and work well.

Characters tend to bring their own styles to the game moreso than beyond just moveset changes. Ashley is a maid that switches between three combat styles by changing weapons. Aya Immortal has a heat gauge that determines the intensity of some of her attacks. These aspects can add an extra layer to proceedings.

Stages don't really offer anything more than those found in 2D games. There's no real boundary to run into so characters can move endlessly in all directions which prevents wall combos. Does prevent you getting trapped by them but also means you can't trap opponents in one either. There is more than enough space to play around in though so you don't feel too cramped in there.

...no, I've no idea what they're doing either.

Difficulty is probably one area I think the game could do with some work. Normal difficulty and up are naturally what you'd expect from a doujin game - brutally challenging and unforgiving. If you're after a hard fight then this won't disappoint but even normal opponents tend to punish the slightest mistake and the final boss is SNK level nightmare projectile spammer. The game does also provide an easy option, and it's the gap between that and normal that irks me a little. Normal is brutal by itself, but easy is almost insultingly easy, as the AI will happily walk into attacks. Having something in the middle would have been nice.

Control input is solid. You can opt for either the keyboard or a joypad, and the game will pick up both by itself. Responsiveness seems high which is important in a fighting game. I am somewhat perplexed by the default settings though. The keyboard for player 1 opts for a YGHJ directional input instead of a more common WASD or numpad. The joypad defaults fare better although I did have to change the pause button. In the midst of hectic combat I found myself accidentally pausing the game several times. At least the ability to customize the controls does exist which is nice.

There are a few game modes on offer. Normal mode (which really should be called Arcade) is simply a series of fights against the computer. Training mode exists to let you practice against a dummy or a live opponent. Vs Com lets you set up fights against any computer opponent for fast fights and Vs Human naturally lets you fight another player for some fun local battles. There's also a netplay option if you want to fiddle around with that, although getting it to work isn't anywhere near as straightforward as more mainstream online titles.

Story mode gets a special mention for going with something different. Sadly all the dialogue is in Japanese so unless you happen to have that as a language then you won't understand what is happening. The style is great though; done in the fashion of a visual novel with very nice half body artwork and stills. The way it is handled reminded me of Fate/Stay Night, although this one lacks anything in the way of branching paths or dialogue options and scatters some fights in there.

Thankfully, story mode is really the only area heavy on Japanese language. The menus in the game are in English, as are the displays onscreen and hints, so it's perfectly accessible to those of us in the West.

There's a few other extra elements that are nice additions. Watch mode lets you set up a computer match and see how the cheating bastards bots fare against each other. There's also a handy replay function where you can save videos of battles at the tap of a button and view them later.

Hinokakera is well respected doujin fighter for a reason, with an impressive presentation and gameplay that shows us that a game doesn't have to be done by big businesses to be good. The fighting engine is certainly well designed and if you're looking for a new fighting game then this would certainly prove to be a worthy addition.

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