Usually whenever a crossover game is announced for release in Japan, fans in the West usually hang their heads or prepare to import the title because the chance of a localization is usually nil for such titles. However in recent memory a number of very niche titles have begun to grace Western shores thanks to localization teams such as Atlus USA. AquaPazza: AquaPlus Dream Match was originally released on home consoles in Japan back in 2012 and a little over a year later, it is now available in North America. The question is, did the title deserve such a localization?
In AquaPazza there are two story modes, one which is immediately available for every fighting character on the roster and a second which is unlocked on a character by character basis as they clear the first story mode. These stories don’t really serve as much more than a reason to place numerous anime/visual novel worlds together and have their characters fight it out in your standard arcade style gameplay.
The first story involves Ma-ryan accidentally creating Aquapazza liquid while she is trying to brew a love potion, forcing the worlds to start colliding and various members of each world blindly obey her will. The second involves a mission to track down a mystical mirror with the power to grant the owner’s wish. Each story remains more or less the same regardless of who the player picks to use, though there are different dialogues between specific fighters as they come across friends and allies and must fight them.
It is also worth noting that there are also two different ending scenes for each character thanks to these modes, giving fans of a series an extra look at some of their favorite fighters. Speaking of that, while I like to think that I am well versed with anime and visual novels, the only characters recognizable to me are from Utawarerumono, Tears to Tiara, and Comic Party.
This means that any interaction between the fighters from the first two series as well as their ending scenes were a nice highlight thanks to my familiarity with their sources. The fact that the game also contains a number of fighters and partners from the To Heart series and numerous other titles means that there is something for everyone here, especially those who already know the story of specific characters. Of course for those who go in without knowing any of the characters, the story and interactions are pretty basic but the character relations are briefly explained but the sheer fun and absurdity of some of these characters will quickly grow on players.
On its surface, AquaPazza appears to be a simple fighting game that obeys the familiar rules of your average game with a few small tweaks. Players will enter into combat against another fighter who must be defeated via basic attacks, combos, special attacks, ‘Splash Arts’, and more as they tear through a fighters’ health bar. It is also worth mentioning that each fighter is given two health bars, which means rounds last a bit longer as players must deal more than your standard amount of damage to drop an opponent and this can also lead to a few upsets as fighters grow overconfident in a bout.
There are a number of ways to do this; though again on its surface AquaPazza appears rather simplistic in this regard. Players are given four attack buttons, which correlate to weak, medium, and strong attacks and a button which will call their partner into the fight to perform an assisting attack or take a blow for you. While picking your favorite fighter may be a difficult task, picking the best partner to match your playstyle can be even more difficult since the game features a number of partners that have their own special attacks that can best be used with specific characters’ fighting styles.
One thing that AquaPazza has an issue with, and perhaps why it appears a bit simplistic on its surface, is that it does a rather poor job of explaining the various fighting techniques that players can pull off as the tutorial is completely lacking in this regard. This is a shame as this leaves the player on their own as they try to figure out the numerous details that are in the game, such as move canceling that can be chained into larger attacks, guard impacts or more.
There is also something called the Active Emotion System in the game which encourages players to stay on the attack and discourages turtling or cowardly gameplay. If a fighter is constantly pushing the fight and laying into their opponent with a number of attacks, special moves and simply moving forward, they can enter a ‘High’ emotional state where they will be outlined in red and can deal more damage to opponents. If a fighter is guarding too much, dodging around without fighting, or missing entirely they can enter a blue ‘Low’ state where attacks can deal more damage and it is easier for your guard to break and become stunned.
That being said, AquaPazza isn’t a game with an incredibly high barrier of entry. Thanks to the balancing of the characters the fighter tends to lend itself to shorter combo strings that are easier to pull off than your average fighter and even special moves can be easy to learn given enough practice. That being said, it is still difficult to pull of Splash Arts but this is for a good reason.
All special moves require one full bar of stored supers, which can be used to deal out a fair bit of damage but a Splash Art requires three stored bars. These Splash Arts can be difficult to pull off but they deal massive damage to an opponent, so much in fact that the game displays a mini-cinematic any time one lands. Of course there is also the option to switch the control scheme to ‘Simple’ which allows the player to use longer combos, special moves through shoulder button presses, and even unleash a Splash Art if they store enough energy. There is a drawback here however as it limits the character’s attack versatility and players are only able to store three bars of energy instead of five.
While on the topic of move-sets, the thirteen playable fighters may seem like a small number but in the case of AquaPazza it is clear that the developers were looking for quality over quantity. Each fighter in the game has a unique move set and while there are a few standard characters that players of other fighting games will be familiar with, many others have unique styles that separate them from your standard fighting cast. The style diversity of the cast means that mastering a character can take quite a bit of dedication but it feels very rewarding when you take your knowledge online.
As with most fighting games, AquaPazza features an online mode where players can choose to fight in either ranked or player matches, but sadly that is all. There is the option to save a replay of a fight, set titles for yourself, and check your status on global rankings but it would have been nice to see some additional variety online. That being said, every fight that I participated online was very fluid with only one instance of noticeable lag but even that disappeared before the battle was over.
It is clear from the beginning that a lot of care has been put into making all of the characters in AquaPazza look the exact same as they did in their original stories. Each character is incredibly detailed looking with high quality anime sprite designs and character portraits that appear during the dialogue sections. It is also interesting to see how the portraits spring to life on the character select screen, though oddly enough this did cause slowdown occasionally which made it difficult to choose a character.
As for the battles themselves, they are quite a treat for the eyes in every way imaginable The backgrounds are highly detailed, including one that has a full concert playing in the background, anime cinematic and all. Combine this with the game’s flashy style of fighting where each character has special attacks and a move-set to match their personality and you have a visually splendid title.
It is worth noting that Atlus USA has not provided a dub with AquaPazza but this is alright as the original Japanese voice work is nicely handled by the cast. Also, if memory serves the voice actors for characters from their respective series have been retained to voice the characters in the game. As for the game’s soundtrack, it features an enjoyable array of fighting music that does a nice job accompanying the action on-screen.
Seeing a game like AquaPazza in the West may have been something gamers never thought would happen but here it is. With fluid online gameplay only limited by its few modes, an enjoyable amount of single player content that contains a diverse roster of fighters, some of which anime fans will likely know, and amazing visuals and a discount price to top it off, AquaPazza is an enjoyable fighting game that can be easy to access but incredibly challenging at the same time.
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