Magical Battle Arena: Complete Form (Import) review
It's A Magical Experience
I won't lie. I got Magical Battle Arena purely because it promised cute girls flying around arenas beating and shooting the stuffing out of each other. Of course, this describes a lot of the doujin fighters available, but what makes MBA stand out is that it isn't a traditional 2D fighting game. With a crossover cast from various series and a touch of independent developed design it's time to cross that language barrier and see what Japan has come up with this time.
In this game the general idea is to defeat your opponents with a variety of melee and ranged attacks while keeping your own health up. Each character has access to several basic techniques to cause or defend against damage. Going on the offensive you can use close range melee attacks or pepper the opponent with projectiles. The effectiveness of these depends on the character which affects the power and number of chainable hits. You can also bring up a shield to guard against attacks, which is standard across all fighters. Everything here does their job well.
Delve a little deeper and you start to dig into the complexities the game offers. Characters have three specials on hand, activated by the special button in conjunction with the melee, missile or guard button. Typically each type of special relates to the button used to activate it (eg a large beam attack from the missile variant or a counterattack shield from the guard variant) though there are a few minor exceptions. These will be the core of your offensive as you mix them into combos or unleash them on their own. There is a minor bit of repetition involved, like several characters have similar beam style attacks, but in all there is a healthy selection of options to give each character a unique flair.
The special system is set up in a way to prevent abuse too. Each move has its own gauge that builds up over time, and once activated the gauge empties and players must wait for it to refill. Some special techniques also have a cool bonus of being chargeable, giving the choice between speed and power. By building up a special gauge through landing or taking hits you can also enter “burst mode”, which offers several benefits like increased speed and infinite dash. Two ultimate specials also become available in this mode – one which only needs burst mode active and another desperation attack usable in burst mode and only one health bar left. These attacks vary by nature, like a large hammer that is difficult to avoid or a more focused beam that results in an explosion on contact. There’s nothing cooler than luring an opponent in and smashing them away with a powerful attack like that.
Adding onto the numerous gauges is the dash gauge, which brings us onto the game’s movement mechanics. Suffice to say that, unless you've played this type of game before, MBA’s movement system will take some serious getting used to, but once you've used it for a while it will feel like second nature. The camera is placed off-centre behind your character and you’ll usually be locked onto one of the other fighters (while it is possible to break lock-on entirely, only a few single player missions benefit from doing so). Your directional movement is therefore relative to whoever you have in your sights and this is what makes it feel strange at first. With some play time though it becomes impossible to figure out how to do it effectively another way.
Elevation can be controlled by the player, though this is partly automatically handled by moving while locked on as well. Then there is dashing, which increases movement speed at the cost of draining the dash gauge (which replenishes when not in use). As well as a standard dash you can doubletap for a super dash for even more speed at the cost of a bigger drain of energy. This system gives battles a more intense and therefore fun feeling as the girls fly around trying to find an opening in an opponent’s defences.
There are also a few special guard moves you can mix into all this. A break guard will interrupt an opponent’s attack and push them away even if they are in the middle of a combo on you but this does require a full gauge of the break meter and some burst energy. Another more accessible technique is the ability to warp around your opponent, which is handy when you teleport away from their attack and reappear behind them, ready to punish them severely.
There’s a very nice selection of fighters on offer. Based on the Complete Form version of the game, you start with 10 characters from a variety of sources and can unlock numerous more through the game, including the two original stars. These characters tend to be split between melee, ranged and all-rounders but bring their own style with techniques that often reference their source material. Sakura, for example, uses numerous cards such as the Fiery and Mirror cards as her specials.
The arenas are more interesting than your standard “flat plain” stages of usual fighting games. While some do still adhere to being little more than pretty featureless arenas differentiated only by their looks, some places have that terrain in the way, like fighting amongst the buildings of a city or dashing around the mountains. Generally I do like the collection of arenas of offer.
Nothing beats seeing awesome in action.
There are plenty of game modes on offer for gamers to sink their teeth into. Story mode is one of the main single player modes where a character is chosen and taken through their respective adventure, fighting various battles such as 2 on 2 or the classic “clone” battle (taken up a degree by fighting off 5 at once). Some characters aren't available in this mode sadly (mainly those that were added through later patches) but it is fun working through these.
Mission mode sets out specific objectives for the player to complete and ranks them on their performance. Since it’s all in Japanese then it can be a bit tricky to figure out the actual objectives, although a bit of messing around should help. These missions, in addition to regular “defeat everything in sight”, can throw ones in like destroying bombs, executing counterattacks and winning fights with limitations. The difficulty of these can be up and down a bit but I had a lot of fun working through them all, with only a couple of missions of the kind that I would never want to see ever again.
Survival mode finds its way in here too. You start in simple 1 on 1 fights where a set amount of health is restored each round, with the amount dropping as you progress and difficulty increasing. Then the game throws in 1 on 2 and 1 on 3, just because it can. This mode had the least appeal for me and I only played it far enough to unlock the special stages (FYI, that’s winning 13 battles in a row).
A practice mode is available that lets you beat up a computer dummy to get used to the controls and your chosen character. You can set the dummy to act as a computer at a specific level too for real combat experience without the risk of losing a match, and with gauges set to always full it provides a handy area to mess around in.
Versus mode is, as expected, going to suck up most of the time. Up to 4 fighters can be in the same battle, allowing for multiple human players and the computer filling roles set but not taken. There are a variety of options in this mode, like setting up teams, lives, damage and time so there is a very good chance you’ll find a setup you like here. I would have liked something that saved the options setup for this mode though, as while settings are preserved between matches while playing, they are lost once you exit the mode. Be prepared to spend most of your time in here once you've exhausted the rest of the content.
There is an online mode as well, although typically it’s not as user friendly as a more commercial offer. You generally have to go through steps to connect directly with other players, and naturally trying to do this in a language you don’t understand only makes it worse. Still, it could be worth the effort to take on rivals across the world.
Visually I am very impressed by the display on offer. The girls’ designs reflect those of their source material brilliantly and it is clear a lot of effort went into recreating them in flying magical girl form. Given the crossover of source material you can certainly expect a nice variety of different designs, such as the mechanized style of Kirara or the caped outfit worn by Lina. These girls have been animated quite well too, presenting clear actions like swinging around, aiming their weapon and generally interacting with each other in a believable manner (as far as flying magical girls goes as believable, that is).
I could let them fight it out themselves, or I could dive in and beat both of them up.
Guess which option I picked.
The arenas are equally impressive, as you fight it out across vast cities, desert wastelands and the almost mandatory school playground, to name a few. Each location has been constructed to a high standard to make them look amazing as battle wage on. Despite dashing around to avoid eating a face full of laser it is easy to appreciate this and it is also great how the fields extend beyond the border of the stage to make it look like part of an actual virtual world.
The way the game handles special effects deserves mentions too, of course. You can expect impressive shows as laser blast out, explosions burst on the arenas, dash trails envelop the girls and ice encases anything within range. There’s even the cool concept of the camera swinging around for a better view when executing most special attacks, really letting you revel (or suffer, if on the receiving end) in every finer point of the expertly executed attack.
Music is awesome in itself. The opening theme is easily music playlist material and I can’t help but have it stuck in my head. In a good way. The backing music tracks also make themselves stick out in the mind by providing high energy audio settings to the combat, enhancing the experience perfectly and giving such a healthy selection of tracks that you’ll love every moment of it.
The girls also have voice clips that play out during combat, either as war cries for unleashing their attacks or cries of pain when they are taking punishment. I can’t really compare how well they match the original voices of these characters but on their own merit I thought they sounded great.
In terms of gameplay the Japanese language is a bit of an issue as the story and most options are in that language so you might want to be prepared to do a little research or messing around to figure out what does what. Once you’re used to that though then it is easy to set up matches and adjust options and I do honestly think it is worth that small effort.
Overall I am very impressed by Magical Battle Arena. It provides an alternative style of fighting that might not be as competitive-focused as traditional side-on fighters but offers up a load of fun with four way fights and various game modes. If you’re a doujin enthusiast who has been wondering about this game or somewhat new to the scene that I wholeheartedly recommend this title.