Review: Saint Seiya: Brave Soldiers



I was really excited to play Saint Seiya: Brave Soldiers, as it seemed like a great way to finally learn all about this famous, zodiac-inspired series. While I had some knowledge of the show from the odd video and passing mention, I'd never put any time to watching or reading Saint Seiya. It's a shame really, as I'd heard some good things, but just didn't have the time to get acquainted with a whole new series. This is why I was excited to play Brave Soldiers

This game doesn't attempt to be a balanced tournament fighter. Instead, it joins games like Naruto: Clash of Ninja Revolution and the Dragon Ball Z Budokai Tenkaichi series in the "good, dumb, party fun" category. Which isn't a bad thing, because pitting itself against popular, competitive fighters would have been a recipe for disaster for Brave Soldiers. Instead, the game seeks to sacrifice combat depth for a huge cast of characters and crazy special moves. Now, I can get behind that, but unfortunately, the game falls a bit short of its goal.

Saint Seiya: Brave Soldiers (PS3)
Developer: Dimps
Namco Bandai Games
Release date: October 17, 2013 (JP), November 23, 2013 (EU, AU), November 26, 2013 (US)
Price: $59.99

Ever wanted to see all of the characters from your favourite shonen series duke it out in a fighting game with lush, cel-shaded visuals? That's what developer Dimps is offering for the Saint Seiya universe, with Brave Soldiers marking its second trip to the PS3 with this particular franchise. The goal seems pretty clear; make a fighting game that existing fans of the series will salivate over, while making it look interesting enough to newcomers who want to learn more about Saint Seiya. So far, so good.

Brave Soldiers spans the entirety of the original manga, with a large focus on the three major arcs: The Sanctuary, Poseidon and  Hades arc. You'll have to work your way from start to finish rather than jump into the deep end, but from a story perspective, that's what you want anyway. Fans of the original manga will be satisfied to see it recreated as a beat-'em-up, and newcomers should-- in theory-- get a chance to experience from start to finish what Saint Seiya is all about. Sure, it doesn't seem like the anime spin-off Omega is represented, but there's plenty of content on offer.

All of the story is locked up in the 'Saint Chronicles' mode, which sandwiches one-on-one battles between a condensed retelling of the Saint Seiya narrative. This is shown in typical visual novel style, with character dialogue appearing beneath the 3D models of the characters currently speaking. Sometimes, stills from the 1986 anime are even used to show some of the scenes that just can't be reproduced in the game engine. It seems a little lazy, and it's quite hard to grasp the context of certain story elements because of it.

In the process of balancing walls of text with gameplay, large portions of the story appear to have been cut. That's perhaps to be expected, but, even early on in this mode, there were sections that didn't make any sense to me. For example, after finishing the fight with Aiolia, there's mention of a character called Cassios; there was no mention of this character previously, and after doing some research, I still have no idea what dropping his name was supposed to accomplish. Now, it's understandable that Dimps didn't want to turn the game into a novel, but this does mean that it's not really a great place for newcomers to catch up on this classic series; you'll certainly get the gist of it, but you're going to be left scratching your head at times.

As for the core game, combat is relatively simple to pick up. The face buttons allow you to perform basic attacks, a special attack that's unique to your character, as well as a jump/dash. With the shoulder buttons you can block, charge up your Cosmo Gauge and use that character's "Big Bang Attack," should the Cosmo Gauge be at least three-quarters full. As a boon to players who don't have much experience with fighting games, all of the special moves are activated with a single button press under the correct conditions, rather than with complex button combinations. This not only makes the game instantly accessible for any friends who want to play local multiplayer with you since there's no combinations to memorize, but makes it really simple to see the flashy special moves for all the characters after you unlock them.

However, this is also where the combat starts to fall apart. Sure, it's easy to pick up, but it also lacks any depth. It's very easy to just mash one button to instantly perform a combo, occasionally backing off to charge up your Cosmo Gauge until you can use your Big Bang Attack. This turns most of your multiplayer matches into a contest to see who can knock the other player down long enough to charge up their Cosmo Gauge. The Seventh Sense meter, which allows your character to enter a more powerful state for a short period of time, charges up way too slowly to even be usable in most matches.

Furthermore, neither the Cosmo Gauge nor The Seventh Sense meter carry over, so it's 'use it or lose it'; you can't use strategy by saving your special attacks for the next round. As a result, gameplay gets awfully repetitive.

Aside from the Saint Chronicles mode, there are a few other options on offer. There are versus modes for both local and online multiplayer, as well as the option to fight against AI opponents, which is where you'll be going if you want to see the special moves of the 50+ characters. The Orb menu allows you to customize your character by boosting their stats and adding bonus effects to their attacks; this is great for online play, but you'll probably want to stick to the vanilla characters if you're playing local multiplayer. There is also a plethora of unlockable content, including high-resolution images of cards from the Saint Seiya Crusade collectible card game and the Saint Seiya Myth Cloth figurines. You can see one of these in the image above, and while they don't add much to the overall experience, they're an interesting addition if you like to hunt for collectibles. 

The audio is limited to Japanese with subtitles, so if you were anticipating a dub you'll find yourself disappointed. Still, I think most players will be more than happy with having the Japanese voice actors representing Seiya and company; some of the shouts from the cast while using special moves are entertaining. There are also Survival and Galaxy War modes that add some variation to standard combat. Survival is exactly what you think it is; you're tasked with beating as many AI characters as possible in a streak, and your health bar only regenerates a little per enemy defeated. The Galaxy War mode is a knockout tournament, so be sure to load that up if you have a bunch of friends over.

Aside from everything else, it's the art that really sets this title apart from similar games. Sure, it uses cel-shading and we've all seen that before, but it looks incredibly crisp even in the midst of battle. Every special move is given due care so that it always looks fantastic, with believable cloth and hair physics; really, the way this game looks is a love letter to the source material. As far as 3D fighting games go, this is as close as you can really expect it to get to the original anime.

So while Brave Soldiers as a whole caters incredibly well to existing fans of Saint Seiya, there's more to be desired for those who want to experience it without having to see the anime (or read the manga) first. The aesthetics can't save the gameplay, bumping this down to a party game that's fun enough for you and a few friends, but too repetitive for enjoyable online or competitive play.

However, the big problem with selling this as a party game is that the vast majority of characters are locked away in the Saint Chronicles mode, and unlocking them is a lengthy process. If you're not enjoying the combat in single player, you'll still have to slog through it all to add more fighters to the versus mode. There's not even a code to temporarily unlock everyone, which I see as an incredible oversight. Will fans of the show care enough to want to run through an abridged story that they already know? Will newcomers care about this abridged story, and will the combat turn them off before they unlock enough characters to make Brave Soldiers a fun party game?

If you're a fan of Saint Seiya, then yes, I wholeheartedly recommend you give this game a go; the stunning visuals and gorgeous special moves will do a lot to make up for the somewhat lacklustre fighting mechanics. If you're curious about the series and want to know more, then you may want to try the anime or manga before you attempt this game, since it won't really give you the full story.

6 -- Alright (6s may be slightly above average or simply inoffensive. Fans of the genre should enjoy them a bit, but a fair few will be left unfulfilled.) 

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Saint Seiya: Brave Soldiers reviewed by Chris Walden



Slightly above average or simply inoffensive. Fans of the genre should enjoy it a bit, but a fair few will be left unfulfilled.
How we score:  The Japanator reviews guide


Chris Walden
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