Saint Seiya Brave Soliders is a surprisingly fun fighting game.
I had heard of Saint Seiya before, but didn't know anything about it. Turns out it was a popular manga and then anime in the late 80s and a few videogames have been created within the Saint Seiya universe, but none in quite some time. Enter Brave Soldiers, which plays a lot like recent Naruto or Dragonball Z games in that's a 3D, large-arena style 1 vs 1 fighting game. The Saints Chronicles is the main mode that allows players to relive three main stories from the Sanctuary, Poseidon, and Hades and arcs. Online multiplayer, local tournaments, and tons of unlockables, including upgrades you purchase with points earned from play, as well as forty-three playable characters give Saint Seiya Brave Soliders (SSBS) some considerable depth for a downloadable PSN-only title.
Knowing nothing about Saint Seiya didn't keep me from becoming interested in the characters and the stories as I played through the Chronicles mode. It's rare for me to get into an anime at all, but SSBS struck a chord. I really liked how the character's powers were based on astrology and zodiacs. Seiya, for example, is based on the Pegasus, Shiryu, who became my favorite character, features Dragon powers, while Shun is connected with Andromeda. Choosing zodiacs as a basis for your characters gives plenty of mythology and flexibility for all sorts of storylines.
The first of the three story arcs, Seiya, along with Shun, Shiryu, Phoenix Ikki, and Hyoga, must work together to reach a special pope who has the power to remove a golden arrow that has struck Athena. The pope, who is the only one who can remove the arrow to keep Athena alive, is protected by twelve Golden Saints, all of whom are supposed to be protecting the Athena, but they have been deceived into thinking Seiya and his fellow Bronze Saints are the bad guys. Each Saint draws from a zodiac symbol such as Scorpio, Taurus, Gemini, Cancer, Virgo, Pisces, etc, creating a lot of stylish showdowns.
In each story arc within the Chronicles Mode, a world map with progression tree is shown in between battles. The progression system is a series of lines and rectangles indicating encounters that goes from left to right across the screen. Some situations have up to three separate encounters before you are clear, usually with three different characters. Above this is a map view that shows your progress towards the final goal. In between the fights, there are some cutscenes but mostly just static images of characters with a text box below them. It's sufficient, and I found the story engaging. As you might expect, players don't get to pick their fighters in the Chronicles mode, but being forced to use several different characters kept things fresh and interesting. Controls and general character feel, HP, and special-power meter "feel," is the same for each character, but their range and special moves are often quite different. I found using Hyoga, who draws from Cygnus and uses a freezing power, was difficult to use due to his freeze-blast range being somewhat short, or at least shorter than Seiya's Pegasus blast. He also had to fight his master a few times in the Sanctuary chapter and he was probably the hardest enemy. Shun's chains were also somewhat constricting, at least with the weak attack, but the heavier attack usage was solid. My favorite though was Shiryu and his dragon attacks for their range and strength, although Phoenix Ikki's immense power was also cool.
Playing SSBS regardless of chapter or really even what character I was using was surprisingly fun. I was into the story, the characters were intriguing, the battles were constantly getting more and more epic, in true anime fashion, and I thought the controls and gameplay in general was comfortable and balanced. Sure, there were a few times where it felt like the CPU was just not going to lose this round and no amount of blocking seemed to help, but just as many times I was able to eek out a win in a tough final round to move on. I'll be honest -- this is one of those games that were the difficulty much higher, it wouldn't keep me playing for too long. Fortunately I thought the difficulty was well balanced, and not linear, either. Facing a difficult battle with Hyoga in one scenario didn't actually mean that the next fight was going to be even harder. I liked the variance in difficulty, it gave the game more personality than if it were just a steadier, linear rise. Oh, in some instances you have to fight the same character back-to-back, but with some kind of modifier in place, such as the CPU character does 30% more attack damage but your character's Seventh Sense meter fills up faster. Tweaks like that were welcomed, although I will say the Continue screen was a bit annoying. I didn't see it too often, thankfully, but after your character goes down, expect about a ten second wait before you can even try to continue. Furthermore, you can only continue twice -- you have a short timer and must rapidly press X to fill up a meter before the timer runs out. If you're successful, you will immediately start the fight over, but in Round 2, with the CPU having already been given the first round's win. Losing altogether doesn't mean you have to start the chapter completely over, but you do of course have to start the fight over from scratch. On the other hand, the time between rounds is as short as I have ever seen in a fighting game, which is just a statement really, I don't necessarily consider that a good or bad thing.
Getting more specific about the fighting now, and thus the gameplay, characters can throw, perform weak and heavy attacks, and use special moves. The special move button is Circle, and I don't think there was a limit to how many times you can press it, although don't expect to just spam an enemy to victory. Using L2 with X, Triangle, and Circle modifies them in a significant way giving additional attacks, but, this also uses up your Burst meter, so you have to balance that out. Block is mapped to L1, but, it's honestly not all that useful, at least not in the Chronicles aka single player mode. R2 is for your Big Bang Attack, which uses your Seventh Sense gauge and Burst gauge to unleash. Connecting one of these is harder than you might think, but if you catch an opponent with it expect a strong, probably 30% declination in their HP meter. I should point out that you can build up Cosmos, the stuff that fills the Burst meter, by holding down a button (honestly forgot which one as I so rarely used it), but your vulnerable while doing so. Interestingly, the CPU will charge up fairly often, giving you a good chance to try and race in for a throw or ranged attack. Also of note, expect combos in the range of five to fifteen hits, not in the dozens or hundreds like some fighting games. Furthermore, the Cosmic Orb Customization System allows you to add a variety of Orbs that must be purchased with points earned from battling. These Orbs are like a perk system, giving you small boosts in this mechanic or that. Initially, you have eight Orb slots available.
Besides the Chronicles mode, Battle, Vs Battle, Survival, Galaxy War, and Training modes are intact. Battle is just a Vs mode against the CPU, while Survival pits you against CPU characters one after the other with your HP meter carrying over between fights. Galaxy War, which supports 1-8 players, is a tournament mode. There are several pre-built tourneys that increase in difficulty as you advance. Online play is also available, including 5 vs 5, but in the few times I looked, I couldn't find anyone to play with, be it by joining or hosting a game. There is also a large Collection area from the main menu where you can view unlocked Items, Models, Titles, BBAs, Orbs, and Costumes. Along with about thirty-eight unlockable characters (giving the game forty-three total), there are 382 Titles, 110 Orbs, 98 Challenges, and numerous Costumes, etc., to unlock. The Challenges are shown with a brief text description in the Chronicles mode and (optionally) task you with defeating an enemy with at least 50% left on your HP meter and soon.
As for presentation, Saint Seiya Brave Soldiers looks like a typical anime fighter, which is to say it's very colorful, creative, and has an excellent framerate. Interestingly, during a fight, the characters talk to each other pretty much constantly, in Japanese, with English subtitles taking up a small, non-interfering area in the lower left. The action was too fast paced for me to be able to keep up with the scrolling subs, but, this is the first fighter I have played where the characters were talking this much during the course of the battle -- it was kinda cool. And that statement about sums it up...