Game Review: A.W.: Phoenix Festa (PS Vita)

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Publisher Bandai Namco Entertainment continues to push out those ‘unique’ experiences onto the PS Vita as following on from their recent release of Mobile Suit Gundam Extreme VS-Force, which is of course a videogame adaptation on a popular franchise, the publisher returns with A.W.: Phoenix Festa a game based upon the popular Japanese anime and manga franchise The Asterisk War.

Personally I find it to be a rather odd choice for Bandai Namco Entertainment to publish a title which has had, in my eyes at least, very little exposure within the European market – especially when other ‘more notable’ franchises exist – but on the other hand I must commend the publisher for trying something different and giving the fans of the franchise something that they want; even if it is a digital only release.

So; what will A.W.: Phoenix Festa offer and is it worth your time? Well let’s take a look.

aw-phoenix-festa-box Title: A.W.: Phoenix Festa
Publisher: Bandai Namco Entertainment
Developer: Bandai Namco Entertainment
Platform: PS Vita
Resolution: 966 x 544
Audio: Japanese
Subtitles: English (White)
Local Players: N/A
Online Players: N/A
Install: YES (1.5GB)

Our View:

Originally released in Japan as The Asterisk War: Houka Kenran, but later renamed to A.W.: Phoenix Festa for its western release, A.W.: Phoenix Festa is a mixture between visual novel and arena combat that loosely follows the events of The Asterisk War anime series; an anime series which recently finished it’s TV broadcast within Japan.

As mentioned A.W.: Phoenix Festa, which for the rest of this article will be known as AW: Phoenix Festa, is a game which loosely follows the events of the anime series through visual novel dialogue and combat segments; however how this is achieved is done in a rather odd, but interesting, fashion. Most anime related games will re-tell the original story through various different gameplay methods but with AW: Phoenix Festa it’s slightly different.

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The story of The Asterisk War, and in part this game, sees newly transferred high school student Ayato Amagiri arrive at Seidoukan Academy in hopes of finding information about his missing sister, Haruka; however upon arriving he is informed by student council president that as part of his enrolment at Seidoukan Academy he must partake in the Phoenix Festa which is to commence in two weeks time. The Phoenix Festa is a tournament which sees the students from several academies compete for the top prize; a prize which will grant the winner(s) any wish they desire. Unfortunately in order to take part in this tournament a team of two must be formed and it’s here where the adventure of AW: Phoenix Festa really begins.

Depending how you decide to play AW:Phoenix Festa depends on the events that will transpire next; as upon starting the game you will be given the choice of playing through the game as Ayato Amagiri, which in turn will loosely follow the events of the anime series and will see you have two weeks to form a partnership with another student. The second option however will see you create your own character which will allow you to experience your own unique storyline within the world of The Asterisk War. The generic content and gameplay aspects all remain the same throughout whichever variation you decide; however some notable differences can be seen. For instance a self-created character is able to wield multiple types of weapons where as Ayato is only able to wield his iconic weapon; additionally when playing as a self-created-character you will have much more time to look for a partner to team-up with whereas Ayato will only have two weeks.

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Whichever option you decide an interesting story will unfold. Personally I found the storyline involving Ayato Amagiri more interesting as it has some backbone and merit to it; for instance Ayato already is familiar with one of the characters on campus, namely Saya Sasamiya, and it’s not long before you’ll become familiar with Claudia Enfield and Julis-Alexia von Riessfelt – all of which have their own unique personalities and quirks. The self generated storyline however will be slightly different and as the your character will have no prior engagement with these characters you will have to work harder for them to notice you; a challenge but not impossible.

So how exactly does AW: Phoenix Festa play? Well the story progresses through visual novel dialogue elements, some of which appear on purpose periodically while others appear through player input, but in order to actually instigate these conversations the player must adhere to a calendar. Basically each day is split into two halves (AM and PM) and it’s up to you, the player, to decide what your character will do. At first the options are limited, such as Training, Resting or requesting an appointment for a duel or date; but as the game progresses more options will become unlocked, such as Jobs and Shopping. It’s a relatively odd way of playing the game as opposed to watching endless streams of dialogue flow past you have to just select options on a screen and, at times, wait for something to happen and it’s actually quite boring.

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The whole purpose of this system is not only to build your stats, as by training your stats for Attack, Defense, Speed, Life, Prana and Insight – each of which have to be trainined individually – but it is to find a suitable character to partner up with for the Phoenix Festa. It sounds simple but its actually more confusing than you think due to the limited options available to you. The options presented to you are, as mentioned, Training, Jobs, Shopping, Appointment, Labatory, and Rest with each awarding different results.

Training is beneficial only to yourself but sometimes a character may show admiration for you taking it seriously,  Jobs on the other hand act as another way of gaining attention but it mostly earns you money; money which can then be used to buy equipment or gifts for the female characters. Appointments will allow you to arrange a duel with other characters on campus or arrange a date with female characters both of which will increase your stats or affection from female characters if appointments are approved; which in most cases are not. It’s also worth noting that unless you have a decent appreciation (affection) level from a female character than you will unlikely get approved for a date with them. Labratory on the otherhand will see money being used to equip new weaponry or change your fighting style and finally rest will see your stats returned to normal and life restored. I should also point out that Life is not restored automatically and as such all events, including fights will drain your life and the only way to restore it is through the rest option on this menu.

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Each decision you make in the game, be it Training, Jobs or Appointments, will effect the arrival of certain visual novel dialogue elements and in some cases the same dialogue sections can pop-up more than once. For instance after getting Saya’s affection rating high enough I chose Ayato to go on a date with her to which it was interrupted by a thug; several days later Saya invited Ayato out for a date and the exact same events happened. It’s this repetitiveness, and simplistic design menu interface with limited options, that gives me the impression that AW: Phoenix Festa is a relatively basic game sold at a premium – which is of course disappointing.

Disappointing is an optimum word as even the fights are pretty basic themselves. Fights take place throughout the tournament section of AW: Phoenix Festa as well as part of Jobs and Duel appointments but however a fight begins, be it part of the story or pre-arranged, it’s pretty much all the same. Most fights are 2-on-2 and as such your AI controlled character will assist you in taking down your opponent and in order to do so you will have two notable attack buttons as well as jump and block at your disposal. A stronger, more special attack, is also available but require multiple button presses in order to activate; an option which I discovered by accident rather than being informed about it.

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The positive aspect of the fighting mechanics is that not all two characters are the same; for instance Ayato is a close-range sword type fighter while Saya is a long-range Shooting type. The result of this means that not all fights are the same; sure enough some can be stupidly easy, especially the low level jobs, but during proper combat with other students during the tournament then the AI can be tactical and avoid your attacks and then attack from a distance or just outright block your attacks with seemingly no damage concern.

Personally for me the battles within AW: Phoenix Festa are more enjoyable than what the rest of the game has to offer; the visual novel elements are short in number and when they do appear they do not feel as ‘polished’ or ‘high budget’ as other visual novel type games on the market; such as Hyperdimension Neptunia or Sword Art Online: Lost Song. They feel pretty bland, simplistic and un-emotional which for a game that revolves highly on dialogue is not a great sign. Oddly enough despite me enjoying the Battle mechanics of AW: Phoenix Festa the fights can be rather bland as background environments are usually limited in choice and while the characters themselves look great they too only have limited functionality with no real team-work or command options available for you to use during team combat objectives.

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Those who do enjoy the fights will be glad to hear that a separate Battle Mode can be accessed through the main menu and it’s here where players can take on individual challenges or fights whereby you can fight characters in arcade style matches. The interesting part of this ‘Battle Mode’ is that players can choose from a variety of characters from the game with more unlocked as you progress through the story; which is a nice feature to be added to a game that feels rather basic on the surface.

AW: Phoenix Festa is, at its core, an interesting game that will be enjoyed by fans of the franchise and it’s a game that can be liked by those who have never heard of the franchise (such as myself); however it’s rather simplistic nature and bizarre way of actually playing the game leaves much to be desired as in my eyes I found myself on the menu screen choosing what to do next more than actually engaging in dialogue or battling out on screen. It’s a nice try, and a nice change of pace; but ultimately it’s not one for me.

Score: review-stars-3

A.W.: Phoenix Festa is now available to download digitally from the Playstation Network Store for the PS Vita within the UK and Europe; alternatively you can buy a physical version of the game from Play-Asia.

About Scott Emsen
Scott is the Founder and Executive Editor of AnimeBlurayUK but in the past he has worked on ZOMGPlay and was once a Community Moderator for the Nokia N-Gage forums. Based in the UK, he loves anything related to Games & Anime and in In his spare time you'll mostly find him playing on one of his many gaming consoles; namely the PS Vita or Xbox One.

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