Coming into Dengeki Bunko: Fighting Climax, I had little knowledge of many of the featured characters. Developed by French Bread and Ecole Software and published by SEGA, this is a 2D fighting game (ported from an arcade game of the same name) that draws a roster from Dengeki Bunko light novels and pits them against one another. Aside from the familiar faces of Sword Art Online, I was introduced to characters from Black Bullet, Toradora, Ro-Kyu-Bu, and Accel Gear, to name but a handful.
To some extent it doesn’t necessarily matter that the roster had me lost initially. Fighting games are primarily concerned with giving players an enjoyable fighting experience. I have always enjoyed fighting games, but despite my eagerness I’ve never been too sharp. It took a little while for me to get up to speed with Fighting Climax, but after a few humbling defeats I had a great deal of fun with what is a snappy and responsive fighting system.
Light, medium, and heavy attacks, as well as combinations of all three, form the basis of the fighting system. Additionally, light attacks can be chained to form a simple yet potent combo. This offers a beginner-friendly option for dishing out damage, with greater confidence allowing for other attacks to be tied in. Guarding is also an incredibly important part of the game, and balancing offence with defence is vital.
While each fighter utilises the same basic button combos, there is a great deal of variety to be found amongst the roster. I could juggle best with Taiga, Shizuo’s attacks have great reach, and I felt most comfortable with Shana when waiting patiently for a counter attack. There is also an added level of variety with whoever is selected as an assist character. They are a small but useful part of combat that can set you off into a combo chain or defend your fighter.
Where the basics of the fighting system are friendly to newcomers, the game has a lack of inbuilt information to explain its unique and complex mechanics. There is a little information in the combo list, and more in the manual, but the lack of a tutorial to explain things in a practical way is sorely missing here. The Climax Meter (that allows for special attacks), Trump Cards (which grant temporary power-ups), and Blast Attacks (to help break free of combos) are all necessary things to understand to be competitive. Being overwhelmed is the only alternative to a Google search, which is far from ideal.
Taking advantage of everything the game’s combat system has to offer is paramount to being competitive in online multiplayer. Even as someone who isn’t great at fighting games, I could hold my own from time to time. That is, until I come up against anyone using Tomoka (of Ro-Kyu-Bu). I swear there must be a psychological advantage to changing an opponent into a basketball. Matches are always smooth, with bouts even against opponents with weak connections operating as crisply as the single player experience.
Matchmaking allows for filtering of ranked opponents based on skill level, region, and connection speed. In my experience, finding opponents at my lowly rank was hit or miss, and it often took a little while to find an opponent. There are also unranked options with winner or loser stays rotations for up to eight people. Saving replays is also possible, and I was surprised by their quality. Other games with similar features offer subpar videos, yet Fighting Climax’s replays are inseparable from the gameplay they replicate.
And what pretty gameplay they replicate. Fights quickly become a beautifully chaotic scene, with vending machines and car doors flying about alongside the expected fire balls and giant snowflakes. The characters all look great, with bright colour schemes and an animation style that replicates the beauty of anime in motion. Each is voiced by their original Japanese voice actor, lending a level of fan service to proceedings. Stages, drawn from SEGA franchises like Sonic, Armored Core, and Valkyria Chronicles, serve their purpose without truly standing out.
The game’s story modes, known as Arcade and Dream Duel, do a decent job of introducing the characters by way of some basic information that can be gleaned. Shizuo’s short temper, Shana’s loner mentality, and Miyuki’s want to step out of her brother’s shadow were all details I picked up. Kirito asking aloud if Shana’s flaming sword will drop when he wins was a fun inclusion, though most of the references made went right over my head.
Unfortunately, both story modes quickly grow tiresome as time spent with them exposes what is underwhelming about these modes. Arcade mode is weak, with the basic story of a fairy character, Denshin, summoning an Envoy of Hope (your chosen fighter) to fight the shape-shifting, world devouring Zetsumu. It is cute the first time, but subsequent playthroughs reveal a mode that features only slightly tweaked dialogue for the individual characters while all other dialogue remains the same.
Dream Duel has a slightly more interesting take, with the characters interacting with one another directly. This was where I learned the most about characters, with vignettes that feature sombre meetings between similar characters or humorous encounters poking fun at anime archetypes. Both modes simply stand as a way of experiencing the core fighting gameplay, yet outside of some initial fascination quickly become tedious.
Time Attack, Score Attack, and Survival are also present with leaderboards. These are standard fare and while welcome, leave the game as a package feeling a little barebones. The unlockables include customisable name plates for use online, as well as art cards and alternate costume colours for each character. These things are neat in theory, but feel very much like padding as an attempt to encourage continued play.
One final annoyance is the inability to freely adjust screen size. The game has a set of preset options for this, with the full view clipping the edges of the screen in my experience with the game. This can only be solved by converting to an option that squeezes the image down with a sizeable black border. There was no satisfying alternative, and I simply persevered with a clipped screen. With this being a standard feature in contemporary games, it stands out as a significant oversight.
On the whole, Dengeki Bunko: Fighting Climax delivers a solid fighting experience, yet the package built around the gameplay is lacklustre. It features a weak story mode, only the bare minimum of game modes, and offers a few meagre rewards to pad out the experience. The core gameplay comes to the rescue, delivering a satisfying fighter experience that is unfortunately the sole reason to check it out.