Most people probably haven’t heard of Dimps, but you’ve probably played something that they’ve had their hands on. They’ve worked on a number of well-known franchises, including Sonic, but the studio is especially renowned for their work in the fighting game genre.
While they’re probably best known for their work on the Dragonball Z: Budokai games, the studio also co-developed the Street Fighter IV series and Street Fighter X Tekken, a fact that becomes less surprising when you consider that the studio was founded by Street Fighter co-creators Takashi Nishiyama and Hiroshi Matsumoto, and employs a number of former Capcom and SNK employees.
Which such a pedigree, it’s no surprise that the studio has largely stuck to the fighting game genre. What is surprising, however, is that they would focus their efforts on Saint Seiya, an iconic anime from the 1980s that features Greek-themed heroes who fight with magic and martial arts. In many ways, the series is very similar to Dragonball Z, though the former never achieved the latter’s popularity outside of Japan, where it retains a strong hold on popular culture. The series was recently remade as Saint Seiya Omega, which was released in the west and has seen some exposure.
"The core of any good fighting game is its fighting system, and it’s clear that Dimps has pulled a rather large amount of what works in Brave Soldiers from other licensed games in the genre. The game bears a striking resemblance to the recent Naruto titles from Namco Bandai and Spike’s Budokai Tenkaichi series."
Despite this, the latest entries in the series, including Dmips’ Brave Soldiers, have chosen to ignore the remake and continue to draw from the original series, which drastically limits the game’s appeal outside of Japan. As a result, much of Brave Soldiers’ potential audience will have had no prior experience with, or nostalgia for, the anime, which means that the game must be enticing on its own.
This isn’t an enviable task for any licensed property, as a large part of the appeal of these games comes from already being a fan. Still, the best games to come from licensed properties – titles like the Budokai series, GoldenEye, the various Naruto titles, and even the WWE games from THQ and 2K – have always been good games in their own right, without the aid of their license, and Brave Soldiers is an opportunity for Dimps to prove that the Saint Seiya property can succeed in the west despite the series’ niche status.
The core of any good fighting game is its fighting system, and it’s clear that Dimps has pulled a rather large amount of what works in Brave Soldiers from other licensed games in the genre. The game bears a striking resemblance to the recent Naruto titles from Namco Bandai and Spike’s Budokai Tenkaichi series. Combat takes place on a 3D plane, though combat itself feels like a mix between 2D and 3D fighting games. Characters have access to normal and heavy attacks, as well as two special moves and a super move, known as a Big Bang Attack, which can be activated with the press of a button.
"Unfortunately, the story is rather poorly delivered, and it’s difficult for newcomers to understand what is going on. Saint Chronicles compensates for this by offering quite a bit of content."
There are also burst attacks, which are souped-up versions of normal and heavy attacks. As in other popular fighters, burst attacks, special moves, and Big Bang Attacks require a section of super meter, also known as Cosmo meter, which is built up by attacking or manually charging it. You can also burn a section of your Cosmo meter in a defensive fashion, which will allow you to teleport behind your enemy in after being hit, effectively ending enemy combos. Landing strikes and getting hit will also build up your Seventh Sense, which can be activated to greatly boost a character’s damage.
This might sound complicated, but it really isn’t. Each character comes with a number of built-in combos, many of which carry over between characters. This means that switching between characters is relatively simple, which is a good thing since the cast is very large. Unfortunately, it also means that there is little variation available to the player, and you’ll find yourself dialing in the same combos and going for the same set-ups quite often.
As you can imagine, this causes balance problems. Since there are so few individual moves available, characters must be good in nearly every area to succeed. Unfortunately, most aren’t, and something as small as one weak super move can put a member of the cast at a huge disadvantage. Still, the game is fun to play when everything comes together, and there are enough combo options and characters to keep dedicated players happy.
Brave Soldiers is no slouch in terms of content, either. You’ll spend most of your time in Saint Chronicles, a retelling of Saint Seiya’s story from the perspective of multiple characters. Between fights, the game delivers its narrative like a visual novel, with animated characters talking to one another against flat backgrounds, though the game will occasionally thrown in stills from the original anime to spice things up. Unfortunately, the story is rather poorly delivered, and it’s difficult for newcomers to understand what is going on. Saint Chronicles compensates for this by offering quite a bit of content.
"Despite the Barve Soldiers’ large roster, only six characters are available at the beginning of the game. Unlocking new characters does provide a reason to keep playing, but this limitation is annoying when to you want to jump right in and experience everything the game has to offer."
There are three story arcs to play through, and each takes a fair amount of time to complete, especially if you try for the optional objectives that are placed within each match. This is good, since Saint Chronicles is the main method of unlocking characters. Despite the Barve Soldiers’ large roster, only six characters are available at the beginning of the game. Unlocking new characters does provide a reason to keep playing, but this limitation is annoying when to you want to jump right in and experience everything the game has to offer.
There’s also a standard versus and training mode, though there is no tutorial, so you’ll have to teach yourself to play, which, fortunately, isn’t difficult. In addition, the game features Galaxy War, a tournament mode that supports up to eight players, and the genre standard survival mode, where you can test your mettle against a number of enemies in rapid succession. Winning battles earns you Cosmo points and collectible items.
The former can be spent in the game’s store to buy Orbs which can upgrade your characters, while the latter adds access to pieces of arts, in-game videos, and so on to your gallery. Those looking for more of a challenge can take the fight online. Standard player and ranked matches are available, and matches play very well, even when you’re playing against people on the other side of the world, a nice option given the title’s niche status.
"Despite its good points, Saint Seiya: Brave Soldiers never really escapes its fate as a licensed title. The story mode is too convoluted to draw in new players, and the game’s combat system is a little too shallow for its own good."
Visually, the game is a mixed bag. The cell-shaded animation is beautiful, but and it complements the 80s art style well in-game. However, Saint Seiya’s original animation has aged fairly poorly, which makes for a sharp contrast in quality when you transfer between fights in Saint Chronicles. The sound design fares a little better. The voice acting is entirely in Japanese, though subtitles are provided and the translation is well done. Combat also sounds good. Big Bang Attacks are loud and feel powerful, and even the basic attacks have a nice punch to them, but the game’s score is fairly forgettable.
Still, in many ways Brave Soldiers is the game that Dimps needed to make to give Saint Seiya a chance outside of Japan. Mission accomplished then, right? Not quite. Despite its good points, Saint Seiya: Brave Soldiers never really escapes its fate as a licensed title. The story mode is too convoluted to draw in new players, and the game’s combat system is a little too shallow for its own good.
Ultimately, Saint Seiya: Brave Soldiers Fans is still a niche game for fans of a rather niche series. It’s not a bad title – far from it – but it does require a familiarity with the property and will require players to forgive it’s issues before it can be fully enjoyed. Fans of the series will find a lot to like here, but there’s little to appeal to anyone else.
This game was reviewed on the PlayStation 3.
Easy to pick up. A fair amount of modes. Fun to play, despite its shortcomings. Lots of content to unlock. Good use of cell-shading. Solid online play.
You have to unlock all but six of the characters. Barebones story mode won’t bring in any new fans. The art style hasn’t aged well. Combat system is a little too simplistic for its own good. No tutorial. Some balance issues.