In the West, the worlds of TV and games don't collide all that often - beyond Telltale's takes on popular TV shows, and terrible Kim Kardashian themed money spinners, anyway. But in Japan, the connection between games and TV (as well as manga comic books) is much closer, and the chances are pretty high that your favourite game will have an accompanying anime - or vice versa. Whether it's Danganronpa, Phoenix Wright, Hakuouki, the Tales of series, Pokemon or Persona; many games have spawned their own animated series - and some have gone the other way, too, moving from anime into tie-in games. The latest to be localised for the West? A.W.: Phoenix Festa.
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Perhaps not immediately obvious from it's somewhat obtuse Westernised title, A.W.: Phoenix Festa ties in with a lesser-known manga/anime series, called the The Asterisk War - a near-future tale where much of the world as we know it has been destroyed by a massive meteor shower. Along with a whole lot of destruction, the meteors bought with them a surge of 'Mana', which led to the birth of number of people with special powers and enhanced physical abilities. As one such student at Seidoukan Academy, it's your duty to enter the upcoming Phoenix Festa competition - a tournament where similarly gifted students from other schools will duke it out - and it's up to you to win. The only problem is, you need to enter as a pair - which means finding yourself a ready and willing partner. Fortunately, as luck would have it, there just happens to be a number of highly capable and available anime ladies waiting to join up with you and take on the world.
But before you begin, you have a choice to make - would you rather take on the Phoenix Festa as Asterisk Wars' main man Ayato Amagiri, who's using the tournament as a way to find out more about his long lost sister - or, would you rather play as a character of your own creation?
Depending on who you choose, the game plays out a little differently, with Ayato starting a mere fortnight before the Festa entry deadline, packing some already pretty impressive stats, while Joe Bloggs - or Blogg, given the absurdly small character limits in the creator - begins his school life a few months earlier. However, while Ayato's story takes in the main events of the anime series, including various memorable moments with the girlies, the custom character's story is much more scant, bereft of any real dating scenes. It's also much more of a grind, as getting your character up to anything even approaching Ayato's starting standard requires taking part in pretty much constant training sessions - and frankly, it's just not as fun.
Part visual novel, part fighting game, and part dating sim, the story here charts the run up to the Phoenix Festa tournament, your time generally being divided between training, heading on dates with the girl of your choice, and taking part in random duels. Every day on the calendar is divided into a morning and afternoon, and by and large, it's mostly up to you what you choose to do - but whatever you do decide upon will eat up a chunk of your time, whether it be shopping, upgrading weapons or resting to recover your health. Forcing you to manage your time somewhat, key events are non-negotiable, with school exams, Festa rounds and training sessions with your chosen partner all locked into place already.
As touched on earlier, most of your time in A.W: Phoenix Festa will be spent in training. Done through menus rather than virtual gym visits, you can choose a particular area you want to focus on, such as attack, defence or speed, and for the cost of a morning or afternoon, your stats will increase. However, training also eats into your overall health, preventing you from training too intensely for too many days without a rest, as well as decreasing your character's 'condition' - the better your condition, the greater the benefits you'll reap from a training session. Choosing the rest option will let you take a break to recover your health, which will eat up a chunk of time, but also improve your condition, letting you get back on the training wagon a new and improved man.
But training isn't the only way to up your Festa game, and the appointments command lets you book both duels and dates with your classmates. Dates are obviously fairly self-explanatory, sending you off on a jolly with the girl of your choice, to one of three different destinations to hopefully improve your relationship with them - although A.W.: Phoenix Festa takes the issue of consent very seriously, and you'll often find yourself shot down when you invite them out.
Duels meanwhile let you schedule a fight against an opponent of your choice. If you win, you'll get a boost to all your stats, and up your proficiency with your chosen weapon - but much like dates, it's all too easy to find yourself being told where to stick it. And to add insult to injury, regardless of whether your partner agrees or not, it'll always cost you half a day to even try and book something.
Given the Phoenix Festa is a fighting tournament, both Ayato and Mr. Noname will have to get their hands dirty in the ring, tucking at least a handful of fights under their belts before they even hit the early rounds of the Festa. Sometimes one on one, sometimes in pairs, battles are little more than a bit of button mashing really, hammering the square button, dodging incoming sword attacks and peppering your offence with more powerful special attacks whenever you can.
In the world of Asterisk Wars, there are two ways you can win a skirmish - either by reducing your opponent's health to zero and rendering them unconscious, or by dealing enough damage to their 'school badge' that it breaks. Certain moves, such as exploiting openings between attacks, or unleashing your 'Meteor Arts' special attacks, deal extra damage to the badge, so it's up to you whether you go on the all out offensive or play things a bit more strategically.
A.W.: Phoenix Festa is definitely a game for the fans of the anime too - not only are all the lonesome females key characters from the show, but the game's story may be a bit hard to follow without a decent grounding in the series. With the likes of Ogre Luxes, Strega and the Invertia dropped into conversations with little to no explanation, it can be a bit hard-going if you don't understand the lore or terminology - nor will you have much luck in the school test(s) without the help of Google.
However, those who are into the anime will no doubt appreciate the time with the female stars, with the devious class president Claudia, sweet and innocent Kirin, Saya the sleepaholic childhood friend and of course, the cold-hearted Tsundre princess Julis-Alexia van Riessfeld all being romanceable - as well as the idol Sylvia, unlockable after you've played through all the other routes. And with a single playthrough weighing in at around three or four hours, you'll likely want to to get your money's worth.
In all, then, A.W.: Phoenix Festa is a decent attempt at turning an anime series into a game that perhaps tries a little bit too much to be too many things. As it's such a mish-mash of genres, it can sometimes feel a little bit too thinly spread, with each of its components feeling a bit lacking at times - there's no deep or meaningful story for visual novel fans, those looking for a dating sim will find the lovey-dovey scenes too few and far between, and its fighting sections are nothing more than a minute or so of button mashing. But if you temper your expectations a little - and swot up on the anime if you haven't already - you'll find an entertaining take on the TV series.
Format Reviewed: PS Vita