While the school battle genre is a guilty pleasure I take in the animes I watch, Asterisk War became a series that went on the ‘do not recommend’ pile. This happened due to what felt like a lot of lazy writing. Not too long after the release of the anime, it gets its own game release named ‘Asterisk War: Phoenix Festa.’
Given how I felt about the anime release, I was ready to pass up on this title. There’s even the issue of how game adaptations of tv shows or movies are usually not up to snuff. But hey, when you think about it a lot of how Asterisk War’s universe was very much going in the direction of a game. Also considering how games don’t necessarily need a good narrative, I took it upon myself to give the game an honest go.
Long story short, better than expected. So were the expectations rock bottom or are there merits to this game after all? Let’s break it down.
Asterisk War takes place on the overused setting of a floating island with all sorts of futuristic technology. On it 6 schools regularly compete to determine the strongest fighter and by extension, school of that season. For some reason, wishes are granted to the tournament winners. Nothing else is really explained, it’s basically the game asking you if you want to get to the fighting already.
Production (3.5 / 5)
- Look from anime is pretty much consistent
- Average graphics, looks like it was based on SAO
If you have played any of the Sword Art Online (SAO) games before, you may quickly recognize the engine being used for the Asterisk War: Phoenix Festa. It’s honestly nothing near impressive but the effort placed to feel as close as possible to the anime’s look is commendable. Sprites for the conversation / dating sim sections are pretty much from the anime and at least that’s nice to look at. The character stories also feature full screen art for key moments in the story. The voices of high profile VAs carry the anime feel quite well and you don’t feel too disconnected from the experience, except when the plot trips on itself. That’s pretty much part of the experience.
Other sound elements in the game are really rather forgettable, multiple stages are available for battle but again it’s something you may or may not notice.
Mechanics (2.5 / 5)
- Schedule Management much like Persona
- A lot of random factors that affect your plans
- Controls tend to feel stiff
- Generally okay combat
- Balance issues with ranged combat
While it seems to be geared as a fast paced combat game, the popular dash-cancelling technique is only available to specific moves per weapon. Also considering how stats directly translate to the battlefield, you may end up with rather sluggish combat. Especially at the start of the game. However over time, it may grow on you as you’ll notice the finer mechanics in the game. Taking inspiration from Dark Souls, it runs on a ‘use prana (aka: stamina) to do anything’ system. Making the application of several strategies come end game viable.
Honestly though, the AI have no idea how to deal with ranged combat. It literally suddenly became easy mode even at high levels when using gun types.
The other half of the game is something that you’d probably associate to Persona, managing your schedule to train your stats, develop relationships, and have money to get what you need. It’s entirely up to you if you’re going to prioritize having the best gear, be in top condition, or seeing your favorite girl smile. However, like life, not everything goes as planned. Setting a schedule that involves others can be a mess if they decide to take a rain check, making you waste your time getting nothing done. While there are ways to influence your chances of getting what you want, much of it is unclear despite more than 2 playthroughs.
Basically, it’s very close to Persona 3 or 4. But heavily simplified with limited options and has unclear rules on getting appointments scheduled.
Content (2 / 5)
- Fight along and against characters from the anime
- Discovery planned as content
- Explanations are bare minimum
- Skinner Box with Probabilities
Asterisk War: Phoenix Festa tries to forego explanations as much as possible, which is sort of appreciated if you plan to go through the game several times. What’s not appreciated, however, is the tests that ask you about things you never heard or learned about. Nowhere in the game does anyone or anything try to teach you about its universe. But for some reason they expect you to know about it. The silver lining on this is they never really penalize you for failing these tests.
As for story it simply goes through the motions of the anime’s events, that is, if you’re playing as the anime’s protagonist, Ayato Amagiri. And well, that’s about it.
Progressing through the game you’ll later discover a thing or two on developing your character. How condition is related to stats development, how using a certain weapon can affect your relationships, the quirks of the weapon itself, how intimacy levels affect your chances of dating, the list goes on. There’s a lot to find for those who would have the patience to sit down a few hours just to dig through the mechanics that aren’t so obvious.
What I would pose as a bigger plus is the number of featured characters in the game. Fighting against them and alongside some of the girls really does have its own charm. Their attacks and skills are heavily based on the anime which was an appreciated sight. Taking down the anime’s protagonist with my own character, despite lackluster stats and equipment, it was a personally satisfying achievement.
Features (3 / 5)
- Get hooked with custom character creation
- VS Adhoc and CPU, Survival
- Skills carried over every NG+
- Bland default story mode
To be honest playing as Ayato Amagiri in the default story mode was a real bore as everything was just too easy. Though I suppose it’s okay to get used to the quirks of the game, also if you’re looking to understand the story behind each girl.
Once you decide to create your own character, you start with much weaker stats but with a much, much longer time to prepare for the main event. Through this, you are able to fully customize your character, at least in theory. There are a lot of external factors that may hinder your plans, and may end up with a less than ideal build for your character. I was about ready to shut the door on this mode, then I learned that the New Game+ exists. Everything is reset save for the skills that you obtained, which completely changes what you can gain on your next playthrough.
Every playthrough you seem to make a better character, and you just want to take it a little further. It’s like a carrot and stick approach of you being able to get what you want out of your character, you get more thorough each time, and you just keep looking forward to making something invincible. If that sounded like some mad scientist talk, that’s basically the obsession that minmaxers go over when developing characters. And yes, it can be effective.
Beyond that there’s the free battle mode where you can have a 2 on 2 fight with AI or another player via AdHoc, you can even use your custom created characters for it. There’s also a Survival Mode that makes you go through 100 battles, which sounds like a lazy addition, and personally I think it is.
Overall (3.5 / 5)
- Minmax players and fans of anime may be entertained
- Generally a lighter version of Persona
- A largely mediocre game
- Had it more content would be immensely interesting
Honestly in general I find Asterisk War: Phoenix Festa a largely mediocre game. It don’t think it really presents anything interesting or new for games of this type. But perhaps making use of familiar mechanics and methods makes it all the more easier to absorb the game without having to explain much. However this leaves a lot to be desired in terms of discovering more about its world. The source material speaks a lot about this different world run by six schools, perhaps exploring it openly in a game would have been a great opportunity to present its vastness.
Maybe if it had more work put into its animations and the general way the game presents itself, I wouldn’t be so quick to dismiss how it looks. It would have been great if I could make a character come from any other of the 6 schools instead of just the one where the characters are. But if you only want to see or play as the characters, perhaps this much is fine.
Indeed, the meat of the game is to create the ultimate fighter, and for minmax players, that’s a lot to chew on. Those who are looking for a lot more in the Asterisk War universe, well, there’s the book.
Asterisk War: Phoenix Festa for the PlayStation Vita might do better on the rematch as it scores 2.9 / 5.