Not all the goodies at E3 are displayed with bright neon lights and giant robot/monster/robot-monster statues. The concourse meeting rooms, which are a more utilitarian selection of displays either invite-only or open to whoever walks by, are a perfect venue for a company that would rather not blow the bank on a multi-million dollar display of excess. This is where Aksys Games was hiding, tucked in the back but with a nice selection to show off. This year’s games are Arcana Heart 3: Love Max!!!!!, Xblaze: Code Embryo, and Guilty Gear Xrd: -SIGN-, which amounts to two fighting games and a visual novel that ties into the universe of a fighting game. It’s a niche, but it’s a niche Aksys inhabits well.
The big game on display was Guilty Gear Xrd: Sign, which is not only the first new entry in the series in far too many years but also the first to not use 2D hand-drawn sprites. It’s still hand-animated, though, and the high-polygon models are don’t lose any details of the character art. The camera stays on the 2D plane for the most part, and it would be hard to tell that it’s polygonal if it wasn’t for the occasional dramatic camera angle during special attacks. The fighting is fast and aggressive, exactly as Guilty Gear should be, and the two new characters fit right in with the old cast. Ramlethal has a pair of giant swords that she can send out and recall, and her dress has shark teeth because Guilty Gear. Bedman is a man who never wakes up, and fights from a mobile robot bed that taps into the power of his dreams. He’s got the strangest fighting style of the lot, able to send out an icon that repeats an attack. Much as I’d like to give more detail on how that works, Bedman is a character that’s going to take more hands-on time than I had available to describe properly, but under the control of someone who knows how to put his moves together he can take an opponent apart with the best of them. Guilty Gear Xrd is as big and badass as any in the series, and a welcome return for Arc System Works’s premiere fighting game.
The next game on the agenda was the all-girl fighter Arcana Heart 3: Love Max!!!!!, which comes complete with five exclamation marks due to horrific overproduction at the punctuation factory. Choose a fighter from the 23 girls available, an Arcana spirit to enhance abilities or even grant new ones, and go to town on the moveset. While Arcana Heart 3 probably won’t be setting the fighting game circuit on fire, it’s a colorful 2D fighter with a nice list of moves for its large cast, and could easily become a guilty pleasure.
The final game is a complete change in style, being a visual novel based on the BlazBlue universe. Set 150 years before the fighting game series starts, Xblaze Code: Embryo follows the troubles of Touya Kagari, your standard “normal high school student”, who gets pulled into a whole host of problems with connections to Arc System Works’s other fighting series. It’s a standalone adventure, easily played without any knowledge of BlazBlue, but series fans will pick up on references throughout the plot. The story structure has multiple paths to follow, but in a creative twist on the plot structure which path you follow isn’t primarily dictated by conversational branching but rather what information you choose to read. There’s a Facebook-style network called TOI, which stands for Technology of Interest, and reading articles on it causes the plot to branch or close off as Touya gains information. Read everything to get the general path, or pick and choose what you want Touya to know to send the story in a different direction. There are seven routes through the game to discover, and Aksys figures it would take 40 hours to complete them all. Whether it’s worth the replay or not is down to personal preference, of course, but Xblaze has some very nice production values for a visual novel, with far more animation and image changes within a scene than normal.
The three games on display in Aksys’s booth may appeal to a niche audience, but it’s an energetic, vibrant fanbase that should be well-served by the selection. The new Guilty Gear is the big one, of course, but both Arcana Heart and Xblaze are good additions to their respective series. Aksys may not have laid down the big bucks for the flashy display but they brought the games, and that’s the most important part of E3.