Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha A's Portable: The Battle of Aces PSP Developed by Witch Craft Released in 2010
How’s that for a birthday game? While last year I played through my actual favorite game of all time, Recettear, for this year I had a bit of a pickle. Other games that would rank high among my favorites are titles I already reviewed or which would kick off long-running series reviews, which didn’t fit my schedule for the coming weeks well. I wanted to play something standalone I was really passionate about and to do that I looked towards some of my all-time favorite anime series. From among these shows I ended up picking Lyrical Nanoha and found a PSP game that was interesting enough to star on this special day.
Battle of Aces follows up after the second season of Lyrical Nanoha (or the second movie, if you prefer) and offers up an alternate storyline in which The Book of Darkness, the big threat of that season, wasn’t destroyed. While this leaves us with more major characters not being dead, it does mean the book continues to cause problems. These now come in the shape of every character recorded in the book being cloned by it in an attempt to once again harvest magical energy, with the three people most familiar to it receiving especially powerful clones referred to as “materials”.
The game offers up a campaign for each of the 9 available characters, which take you through pretty much the same beats for each one. They all discover something is amiss and begin working their way through clones to stop the Book from growing stronger. Each battle is preceded with a conversation between the two contestants and each one ends with one too, often the parting words of defeated clones. This game being entirely Japanese does mean much of the drama and context of it is lost on me, though you can kind of decipher what the conversation is about through the voice acting.
A’s happens to be my favorite season of Lyrical Nanoha and a direct continuation of it is much appreciated, as opposed to the actual show that introduced a time-skip. The plot, while brief and not going anywhere much, is also rather fun for what it is and I like the alternate take on the show’s ending. It seems the original creators agreed, as Battle of Aces has since been adapted into a third movie.
Story score: 7.5/10
Pink beam of death
This game is a 1-on-1 3D fighting game. Players choose from among 9 characters of the show and then fight other characters from the roster while floating high above cities, plains, and other arenas.
What sets this game apart from other 3D tournament fighters is how it treats distance. When two fighters are within a certain range of each other they engage in pure melee combat, where the square button has them perform basic attacks, triangle is a counter-move, and the circle is a grapple that launches the opponent out of melee range. When the opponent is too far away the entire move-set changes to instead have your character perform a variety of magical attacks. Nanoha, for example, will launch small, tracking projectiles with square, fire a large beam with the triangle button, and casts a bind spell with circle.
All the characters of course have their own, appropriate move-sets consisting of abilities they also have in the actual series. This creates a nice balance between characters, with somebody like Nanoha excelling at ranged battle, whereas a hero like Signum can’t compare, and instead has multiple abilities that serve to close distances and force the opponent into melee range. It does have to be said that magic really is the preferred method of play here; melee combat just has a three-hit combo for each character and their counter & grapple move, whereas magic is much more varied and developed.
Holding the button instead of tapping will have you use a more powerful version of your magic attack, but puts you are risk of being counter-attacked. You can also combo magic much more effectively, such as using a bind to lock an opponent in place and then following up with a powerful move. These battles also tend to be more dynamic as spells throw up clouds of dust that temporarily obscure parts of the field and you can time moves so that they will still be active while you are also moving in for close combat. Using magic is subject to your MP bar though, which will deplete as you cast spells and slowly fills back up. When it depletes you are effectively defenseless. you can use a shield with the trigger button or dash around with X, though the shield breaks when hit enough times and dashes can also run out, so managing your MP is essential.
An alternative is entering Full Drive with the other shoulder button, which immediately refills your entire MP bar and powers you up for a short while. By pressing the button again while full drive is active you’ll make a move that, if it connects, will have you perform a powerful, character-specific super attack, though it is really tough to connect as it only works in melee and has a short range. It’s cool to have around and using it well can make the difference in fight, but permitting each opponent to use it twice per battle is a little generous considering the short duration of each round. Especially against the AI early on it’s too easy to pull off your special move twice per fight.
The character roster consists of Nanoha, Fate, Hayate, Vita, Signum, Shamal, Zafira, Chrono, and Reinforce, which nicely ticks off the major characters of A’s, while somewhat cruelly excluding poor, old Yuuno. Each character is also made distinct by having 2 special ability cards slotted in, such as Zafira who gets an automated shield that breaks faster and takes 25% less damage in close combat. Before proceeding with the fight or campaign, players can slot in an additional 2 cards of their own choice to optimize the play-style they want to use.
Battle of Aces really succeeds at making fights at range feel dynamic. It feels great to fling spells at each other, trick opponents with clever combos, and dash into close range to score a few melee hits and give your MP bar a chance to recover. Some more options while in melee combat would have been nice and would have made characters like Signum and Zafira more interesting to play, and I also think it may have been interesting if arenas had obstacles to serve as cover, as opposed to the empty 3D spaces we have now. Still, this is a really cool fighting game worth coming back to, that even non-fans could appreciate for its energy and varied action.
Gameplay score: 8.5/10
My first PSP game
This really is the first PSP game I ever played and while it may not be the best example of what the system can do, I did find that the game looks rather nice. It manages to capture the style of the show reasonably well and the characters all make the transition to 3D models gracefully. In terms of animation it’s a bit stuff, however, as characters have very stilted movements and the cutscenes are all either 2D still-images or just have two characters in a stationary pose speaking their lines. It’s not exactly fancy, but once you get into the thick of the action it’s a lot less noticeable.
The only moment where you really get a chance to focus on how everything looks is during the lengthy animations of a super move. While it gets old seeing the same scene trigger over and over again if you stick with one character, for the first few times these are definitely a joy to watch and a proper reward for pulling off the move.
Where the game does meet the quality of the actual show is in its voice acting and music. The soundtrack consists of exciting instrumental tracks that nicely fit the action, with my favorite tune by far being a instrumental remix of the show’s opening, Eternal Blaze. As far as I can tell all the voice actors are here to perform as their characters and put up a good performance. Again, this is best heard during super moves, but also during story segments where the tone and pronunciation of the voice actors is pretty much the only way to figure out what is going on if you can’t read Japanese.
Presentation score: 8/10
There isn’t a lot to unlock in Battle of Aces. There is an archive where you can watch the static pictures that serve as the game’s cutscenes, which is about it. Alternatively, you can also challenge yourself to beat the story mode by only winning matches with a score of 2-0, which will add in some extra fights throughout the campaign. Doing this with specific combinations of characters will also unlock the 3 materials from among the clones, which isn’t a bad reward as, unlike the lesser clones, these ones are more than just a subtle palette swap and have their own finishing moves, ability cards, and movesets.
I am not so delusional as to believe people care about Lyrical Nanoha much. Even back in its day it wasn’t the most groundbreaking show and time has done it no favors. Even among the people that do care, not all of them will be in the market for an unconventional tournament fighter adapting and twisting its story. With that said, I definitely am, and today’s my birthday, so I get to write about whatever I want.
Jokes aside, Battle of Aces is a decent game that could have done with some better animations and a translation, but makes up for it by offering a unique take on 1-on-1 fighters by focusing on ranged combat and managing the MP meter.