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Koihime Enbu / 3rd of August 2016

Koihime Enbu is a fighting game spin off from a visual novel series that I have no prior knowledge of - supposedly the series has had a rather strong underground following in English speaking circles with this game hoping to break the series out to mainstream - and a veritable honey trap for the anime fighter fans. You know anime games right? Those games like Guilty Gear or Melty Blood or Persona 4 Arena where they have anime character designs, cranked up mobility with air dashes and such and literally every metre ever constructed you can imagine thrusted onto the UI for the player to manage? Well, myself and fellow critic Jack were suspecting that this would be another typical anime fighter, but as it turns out, we were actually rather surprised.

Air combos? Not really an option. 2D assets? Digitised from 3D models. Mashed chain combos? A work of fiction beyond A-B-C. Fifty shades of gauge? Its Black and White, health and super. Even in fields where Koihime Enbu tries to replicate anime fighters, such as with assists, it’s twisted on its head. Instead of becoming a one button “come in for a special move and jump out again”, assists are super meter eating special moves. Speaking of which, not since Super Smash Brothers have I seen such universal special inputs. With slight exceptions, everyone has a quarter-circle forward, quarter-circle back and a dragon punch control input (failing which, the last one is often replaced with a double down input), and the direction which these attacks carry the all-girl roster replicate the stick motions. It feels weird now that I think about it, a nigh-universal special input system, with inputs that coincided with attack animations (dragon-punch motions had characters rising forward with their attacks for instance) makes the game feel like the accessible slower fighter for new players that Capcom tried to make Street Fighter V. This does partially hold the game back as the initial onslaught of spear wielders and their deceitfully samey move-set can be a quick refund for the uninitiated. The character designs try to give some distinguishing features but it still comes off as “Do you want to play as the girl with the spear or the girl with the spear?” in a cast of only 13 fighters and 7 assist characters locked to a choice of two in any given fighter selection.
The game's “Scenario Mode” is a tad hard to call as its format and general function seemed all too familiar to the “Arcade Mode” initially, as both were functioning as a series of battles with cut-scenes (or as much as “two text boxes” on some background art and Japanese only voice acting can pass as such). The difference arises when one finishes their first stage battle however, as while “Scenario Mode” continues to provide inter-missionary cut-scenes where “Arcade Mode” does not. That said, unless you bought this game as a fan of the Koihime Musou franchise, just stick to “Arcade Mode”, the basic context of the first stage is more than enough narrative, your choice of assist character is not locked to you and you get options on the number of match rounds, round timer and difficulty (which by default, starts surprisingly easy, not SFV character story easy though, before spiking up to corpse juggling Touch of Death!). Atop these features is an unlockable gallery of art, a “Replay Mode” to re-watch saved online battles, online multiplayer and offline multiplayer.

The port sadly is very barebones, worse than Shinovi Versus. Beyond a controller launcher for syncing controller types beyond the typical Xinput ones, you are left with “windowed or full screen” setting and that's essentially it, no filters, resolution settings, not a sausage in this clam bake! To the game's credit though, in the field of controllers, it definitely takes the extra mile in accommodating for all controllers, even allowing the assignment of select controllers to different sides, a feature in fighters I last saw in Skullgirls.
Koihime Enbu's mechanically simple nature is sadly its biggest betrayal with its £29.99 price tag. While it definitely sports a bigger roster than say, Skullgirls Encore, purchasing Skullgirls and its 2nd Encore expansion would nullify that benefit and leave you with over £10 to buy snacks as you enjoy fully voice acted English storylines with a dark blend of art deco and anime, a rather exhaustive tutorial and a cast that would rival Enbu by number but triumph in variation. It’s hard to really point out why the game is as costly as it is and that sadly is my primary reason to not recommend it. While Street Fighter V had Capcom desperately declaring there will be more content in future, Koihime Enbu appears to be seen as a complete package with no plans for expansion, so until the game drops its price tag sharply, I cannot really dub this game as being worth its lofty fee. I mean seriously, Mortal Kombat Komplete Edition is not even that expensive! Mortal Kombat X is not this expensive, and unlike Street Fighter V, the developer has made no announcement of expanding the game's content in future updates nor does the game's content leave much of an impression to hint that there is anything more to it. The game does sport functional online play, however, and, as previously stated, the game's more footsie oriented play (playing around keeping space between you and your opponent that is optimal for you) than that which is typical of the sub-genre and its nigh universal specials might make it a worthy entry point for those wanting to enter the fighting game scene without too much fluff for those that are willing to cough up the rather hefty price tag.

Real niche audience I know, but its highly possible.
Greg Baxter
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