Arcana Heart Hands-On

We take a look at an upcoming PlayStation 2 brawler that combines deep gameplay with cutesy 2D visuals


Japanese fighting fans have been able to play Arcana Heart in their local arcades for more than a year now, but those of us in North America won't see its release until next month. In the meantime, Atlus has been kind of enough to send a preview version our way so we could get a feel for what this upcoming PlayStation 2 release has to offer.

It won't take you long to realize that Arcana Heart is a game of contrasts. The 2D visuals are filled with cutesy female brawlers, each featuring sparkling eyes and bright costumes. It seems every female anime archetype is represented in the game's 11 playable characters. However, the fighting isn't nearly as lighthearted because it offers a deep move set and plenty of element-based customization to help appeal to the hardcore crowd.

Story is usually an afterthought in fighting games, but Arcana Heart's plot helps to explain one of the more important features of the gameplay. The female brawlers are known as the maidens, and it's their mission to keep the world we know today from merging with the elemental world (the result of this fusion would be disastrous). Oddly enough, they go about doing this by actually teaming up with spiritual beings from the elemental world known as the arcana. This means that before each match, you select both a character and an arcana to supplement your roster of attacks with elemental special moves. It's an interesting twist that lends a lot more variety to the characters than you would otherwise see.

Aside from this mix-and-match aspect, the core gameplay is fairly traditional. Basic attacks are mapped to the square, triangle, and circle buttons. The X button is used to dash and execute arcana abilities. Many of the attacks require multiple buttons to be pressed at once, so it's often a better strategy to keep three fingers over the face of the controller rather than just your thumb. The quick pace of the battles and the fact that each character has a wide variety of moves means you'll need those fingers to dance rather frantically. In our experience, the controls felt nice and responsive, although mastering the directional sequences with the joystick could take some time.

Adding more variety to the combat are the aforementioned arcana abilities and a number of miscellaneous techniques. Your arcana can be summoned in grand fashion--temporarily putting a hold to the action with a quick but dramatic animation sequence that contrasts nicely with the cutesy 2D characters--to effectively double your number of special attacks. You'll also need to grasp the game's homing, homing cancel, and guard cancel techniques because proximity, as well as timing, are very big factors. On top of this, the levels can get very vertical, so there's also an aerial element to deal with also. All in all, Arcana Heart feels like the sort of game that's aiming for the seasoned veterans of the fighting genre.

This PS2 port of Arcana Heart will give players the option of using the original version of each character or the "full" one (the latter option comes from an arcade patch that was released to address some character balance issues). Whichever you prefer, you'll be able to check out Arcana Heart when it's released on April 8.

Got a news tip or want to contact us directly? Email

Join the conversation
There are 42 comments about this story
42 Comments  RefreshSorted By 
GameSpot has a zero tolerance policy when it comes to toxic conduct in comments. Any abusive, racist, sexist, threatening, bullying, vulgar, and otherwise objectionable behavior will result in moderation and/or account termination. Please keep your discussion civil.

Avatar image for Aqua_Mirage

A good game, its hard the combo system when you start..but is easy to leran to! various styles of chars!!

Avatar image for hellpolice

The game is out for months! and I want it!

Avatar image for WitteKraai

I just bought this game, and it seems really awesome so far. My arcade stick is really taking a beating, though. ^_^v I'm playing Saki w/ Tempestus atm.

Avatar image for 98KOF_EISON

this game is owesome new combos, new girls give it a try you'll love it 2d fan all the way 3d not even close sorry.

Avatar image for Dualmask

All female cast...sign me up...unless it sucks.

Avatar image for Jacava

Does anyone have any ideas about when, or IF, this being released in Europe? I can't be bothered/don't have the funding to get an NTSC PS2 or make mine multi-region or whatever.

Avatar image for deactivated-5bcb8ec2e27a5

Would not knock with the most cliched insult. Yery, very unique 2D fighter.

Avatar image for deactivated-5bcb8ec2e27a5

Wow! Insane!

Avatar image for 666sinboy81

heehee dope user pic megadosc

Avatar image for megadisc

whoa....the game is unbeliveable

Avatar image for Gregomasta

Hmm, even tho the roster is all Chicks I can dig it.

Avatar image for Gregomasta

this looks more like a 2d fighter

Avatar image for V-Nine
V-Nine if they could bring over Melty Blood as well....

Avatar image for M4574

Awesome full of cute looking grlz. I like it ^^ it might be better than x2 but we´ll see about that .

Avatar image for 666sinboy81

x2 was awsome I wish there were more rpg's with female casts I wanna c hot girls wen I play not guys that might as well be girls maybe thats why I liked bullet witch also finaly geting to play seperate ways on the wii Ada is sexay!

Avatar image for deactivated-5bcb8ec2e27a5

I'm a huge fan of female characters in video games. For example, my favorite RPG is Final Fantasy X-2, and when I play Tekken 5, I almost always play Asuka. So this is a must-buy for me, automatically.

Avatar image for deactivated-5bcb8ec2e27a5

This isn't really a girly fighting game. Actually it's something anyone, even us guys, can get into. The 2D visuals are solid, the combat shows a lot of promise, heck, it's the deepest fighting game i've seen since Tekken. You owe it to yourself to buy it. I do even if I'll a little late to the party.

Avatar image for Mantiskilla007

Melty Blood is a better fighting game (Got Act Cadenza ver B for PCand original for japanese PS2) but Arcana Heart is a good game. Much slower than Melty Blood but not terrible. I like to pull off the crazy midair combos though.

Avatar image for 666sinboy81

the female characters are always my fav in 2d fighters ..cammy.. mai from kof..and you know who from darkstalkers so I pretty much reserved this title instantly I'm happy to have it released in the u.s. in any form .. online play would be a really nice bonus but 2player action in the living room is always fun ..I'm a long tym fan of 2d fighters not so much 3d but I'm am very excited about sf4 and I'm really enjoying bleach4 on psp game is crazy anywho fighters are great this title will be great there's nothing really like it out in the u.s no brainer for me thanks atlus

Avatar image for O2k4

Yippiee!!! a girlie fighting game.... yuck

Avatar image for VagrantChild24

Don't have the funds right now to get it what with Baroque and P3: FES but eventually I'll be sure to pick it up.

Avatar image for lowkey254

@ litafan4ever I'm still waiting for the U.S. release too. You guys should check out Big Bang Beat, that's something i've been into.

Avatar image for RaiKageRyu

I can't get into the characters, so I'm gonna have to pass.

Avatar image for metal_gear269

I just wish they would make games like this for PSP...

Avatar image for litafan4ever

still no Melty Blood, but it'll do

Avatar image for MamaLukuBuku

What a fun game. Imagine Hakoto NO Ken and MvC2 combined and that is this game. I am lucky to have this game at an arcade in Chinatown and I have an imported version for my PS2... Doesn't me I am any good at it though lol.

Avatar image for tandukbadak

a pretty good 2D fighting game. If you prefer Guilty Gear than Street Fighter and King of Fighter, than this is a game you should looking for. As it is released by ATLUS, I do hope for one thing. I hope they didn't change the Japanese voice or at least add dual audio option.

Avatar image for noxian

@Craft2299 1) it would be rather odd for it to come out on the XBox marketplace seeing as its a PS2 game 2) i could be mistaken but as far as i can think of, the PS Network has only put PS1 titles up to date, not PS2 titles, thus once again, making it not an option

Avatar image for Craft2299

Why cant this game come out in xbox live market place? or ps3 market place, thingy?

Avatar image for optimusprime18

@ bjmage16 - "The low price shows that they know this won't sell well. They want to entice people to buy it. What would entice people to get a fighting game is making the controls simpler as to appeal to more people, yet keeping the depth and skill. Fighters could learn a lot from games like SSB." no. Brawl has alot to learn from the original smash brothers. brawl has awesome fan service and presentation but lacks everything else

Avatar image for optimusprime18

man, I know this is off topic, and Im sorry, but did the PS2 kick the crap out of the XBOX and Dreamcast or what? I mean its been out for 8 years! I love this thing! sony fanboy for life

Avatar image for CasinoOutlaw247

It does look like an interesting game. I am glad the PS2 is still coming out with games and I'll be watching this one.......

Avatar image for ChiefFreeman

it's cool that they're still releasing interesting looking Ps2 games, like this.

Avatar image for 09231991

@ bjmage16 - "The low price shows that they know this won't sell well. They want to entice people to buy it. What would entice people to get a fighting game is making the controls simpler as to appeal to more people, yet keeping the depth and skill. Fighters could learn a lot from games like SSB." Ummm, no they shouldn't.

Avatar image for magicquebec

They should release this on the PSN, i'M sure they would sell a lot more!

Avatar image for bjmage16

The low price shows that they know this won't sell well. They want to entice people to buy it. What would entice people to get a fighting game is making the controls simpler as to appeal to more people, yet keeping the depth and skill. Fighters could learn a lot from games like SSB.

Avatar image for -PresidentEvil-

I was excited from the beginning, and the $30 price tag seals the deal for me, but I kind of think it's time for the PS2 to die. I mean, PS3 came out and PS2 is still selling like hot cakes and a lot of games are coming out that I want [FES, P4, along with a few others], and so many that I want that have already came out. Just an opinion though.

Avatar image for gamerush

looks sweet! Im glad they are still making games like this for PS2. Atlus you ROCK!

Avatar image for Lord_Daemon

I'm just so happy that small games like this make it over on occasion. I was going to import the game but then I was surprised to see it was making its way here and so now I wait.

Avatar image for 09231991

Wow, I've never seen or heard of this and I'm interested!

Avatar image for galerian86

This game is hardcore. Very hard to master, just like Ninja Gaiden (if NG is a fighting game)

Avatar image for jaykho213

Can't wait!