If you’re like me, maybe you’ve come to read this review as a fan of the anime; if you’re not, maybe you’ve come to read this review through sheer curiosity. Whatever your reasoning however, you’re likely to be a little disappointed – ’cause while this game tries its best to have something for everyone, most of what it offers is a little sub-par. That’s not to say there isn’t enjoyment to be had here, but there are also quite a few caveats to go with it.
… and with that, it’s time to learn about A.W.: Phoenix Festa – and find out why pandering isn’t always a good thing. Let’s start with an explanation of what it offers, shall we?
A.W.: Phoenix Festa – or The Asterisk War: The Academy City on the Water – Phoenix Festa as it’s known in Japan – is first and foremost a title that focuses on the titular Phoenix Festa; an elimination tournament held once every three years. The first of a three tournament cycle, Phoenix is a pairs event, and requires both members of the pair to come from the same school. This pair then takes on other qualifying students, whittling down the field of participants from over 200 teams down to two-versus-two for the final match.
Matches themselves are decided by either knockout (completely depleting the enemy’s HP gauge), or by the breaking of a school badge (which requires you to repeatedly hit your opponent as they attempt to hit you) – participants fighting it out with luxes (life energy enforced weapons made out of crystalized mana) in a closed ring.
The Phoenix Festa itself however is a short piece of the actual game, and serves mostly as something for you to work up to – the bulk of your time spent training, working, shopping, upgrading your equipment, dueling, dating, and otherwise occupying yourself with school life. These things all take time and energy away from the protagonist, with the time coming out of an AM/PM schedule (two events per calendar day) and the energy coming out of your HP gauge (and your status gauge). Thankfully the gauged resources can be renewed through rest, however time is non-renewable and will need to be planned out well in order to succeed.
Speaking of using your time wisely, the events that you can spend that limited time on are varied – and each produces its own benefit path to the player. While some options may simply enable a future benefit (like buying a gift to give), some are immediate (like training). Just like watching your time is important, it’s important to know what your options are, and how they can be used to get you closer to your goal. In that train of thought, let’s run them down.
Training works across three levels, with level one requiring ten sessions to upgrade, and level two requiring thirty – a total of twenty full days needed to reach level three. There are six training categories, and usually only around fifty days to work with, so choosing what to train for is a big part of getting yourself ready for the Festa. Training takes a half a day for each session, consumes a chunk of your HP, and will drop your status down one level for every few sessions – but in return will up your abilities by one level for level one training, two levels for level two training, and three levels for level three training. The higher the training level, the greater the reward, and the more it takes out of you. Keep that in mind.
Working a job (there are several types) will net you money to spend on upgrades, consumables, and gifts – with each successful job completed unlocking the next level of that particular job (up to level ten). The money also increases as the job gets harder, meaning you’ll want to get at those level 10 jobs to maximize your cash flow. Jobs generally have you taking on an enemy of sorts, be it one or many, trying to defeat them with a given set of rules. There are six job types in total, and some of them are unlocked through play (therefore not always available).
Shopping is done in the business district, and the things that can be bought include medicine, luxes, and gifts. Medicine restores your HP or status without taking up time (like the rest function will), new luxes will change your base attack power (as well as your attack style and your reach), and gifts will up your intimacy with the ladies if used correctly. Basically, shopping cuts corners to get you the things you’d normally have to pay for with currencies other than money – just like in real life! 😉
Looking to upgrades, they come in two varieties; reduce your prana usage, or up your base attack modifier. Ogre Luxes (special luxes like Ayato’s) can only have their prana usage reduced, while regular luxes can be upgraded in both ways. It’s worth noting however that upgrading the base attack modifier will require manadite (a mineral earned through winning partner-initiated duels, or a million bucks at the store) and therefore isn’t as easy to utilize.
Duels come in a few different varieties, with the main ones you’ll encounter in the story or via the duel option being either one-on-one or two-on-two. Story duels are unmissable and more often than not require you to win to proceed, while non-story duels only effect your school ranking (which earns you bonus cash every week in-game) and can be lost or won. Duels initiated via the duel appointment option aren’t always accepted however, so don’t think that other students are simply at your beck and call.
Dating is an event type tied into the main story as well as the appointment option (much like duels). You can get to dates through following a path in the main storyline, or via using the date option in appointments to request one (though again, they’re not guaranteed to be accepted). Going on dates will send you to one of three places with the lady you’re taking out, and will up your intimacy level – leading to a better experience as partners in duels, and a more friendly attitude towards your requests.
School life is the last piece of the puzzle, and will see you interacting via visual novel style scenes and dialogue options. It’ll take you from day one at the academy, right up to the end of the Phoenix Festa (and maybe beyond); feeding you event scenes and options to pick from along the way. Your choices will help shape the story path you’re on, and will hopefully help you get close enough to someone that they’ll partner up with you – ’cause if not, it’s back to the beginning of the story for you!
As for who you are playing as in game, that depends on which route you’re going for. There’s a set of routes that follow the idea that you’re a new character who started school early in the year, or a set of routes where you step into anime protagonist Ayato’s shoes and start school late. Whichever route of those you pick, you then have to navigate the five paths (one for each girl you can pair with, and a true ending) available to you in that state and make it through the Phoenix Festa as a winner.
Unfortunately, the hardest part about this game is simply learning how best to use your time and committing your options to memory – the gameplay itself is not very difficult at all. I’ve only ever lost two battles I can recall, and both were due to me going into the fight with less than perfect health – not a lack of ability. You can – for the most part – button mash your way through any fight, which isn’t a good thing in my opinion.
Okay, so the active gameplay is easy, but the rest is enjoyable though right? Err, not so much. Training is monotonous, shopping and upgrading luxes take too much time to be useful more than once a game, and both duels and dates are often refused. When you can get a date however, there are literally only three places to go with each girl – and all three are pretty much single use. Once you’ve taken a single girl on her three dates, you know exactly how all the dates are going to be with all the girls. Bummer.
Thankfully, while the game has a lot of caveats, the graphics aren’t really one of them. You see a little jagged edge here and there, and there are some reused elements, but overall the game looks pretty damn good on the Vita (the screenshots don’t do it justice). It’s colourful, there aren’t any slow-downs, and all the characters look like their anime counterparts. They’ve done a decent job making it look good at least.
The audio is decent as well, though I’ll let you know right off the bat there’s no English voice option. That’s generally how I like my localizations though (text only), so I enjoyed what they offered – but I can see how those looking for pure spoken English could end up a little disappointed. As for the other sounds (background, music, etc) they seemed to be well chosen as well. I never felt that the sound didn’t fit the scene, which is a good sign if you ask me.
The controls to this one were easy to master, with in game battle elements taking on the usual setup. To jump you use “x,” to attack you use square, to dash you use the right trigger, and to lock onto enemies you use circle. Locking on to your partner can be done by tapping their face on-screen, and your Meteor Arts can be unleashed using square and the left trigger (any link elements requiring you to press triangle as well).
As for any sort of lasting appeal, that seems to come from the fact that you need to complete the game with each of the heroines to unlock the final “true route” – but beyond that, there’s only trophy grinds and Battle Mode (a non-story based mode where you simply fight using unlocked characters). There’s not a lot of reason to come back to A.W.: Phoenix Festa when you’re done, though I think that becomes obvious once you learn just how little effort they put into generating new content (stuff that wasn’t present in the anime or main storyline). When you can’t even make dates unique, post-game is probably the last thing on your mind.
Y’know, it’s really too bad all of this doesn’t add up to a good game, ’cause if you take away my notes and simply leave the explanations there it seems like it could be more than decent – right? While the elements that make up the whole are all pretty well thought-out in and of themselves, they simply aren’t meshed well in A.W.: Phoenix Festa, and that’s what messes with your enjoyment. It’s hard to enjoy getting stronger when you just mash “X” at the menu to train. It’s hard to enjoy dates when aside from the three basic molds they’re all the same. It’s hard to enjoy battle when for the most part you can just mash square ’til their badge breaks or they get knocked out. These things take the “life” out of the game and make it feel more like a chore, which isn’t a good word to have to use when talking about gaming.
Its redeeming bits are few and far between, but include the little twists on scenes you see while in the original character’s shoes, and the true ending’s never before seen bits. Aside from that however, most of this game is a bit of a chore (if mildly fun) and you should definitely know what you’re getting into before getting into it.
I didn’t, and now I’m slightly disappointed in myself (and the developers).