Bandai Namco's video game spin-off of the "Asterisk Wars" light novel series takes in account said light novel's background story, and turns it into an interactive dating sim hybrid. It combines the use of characters from the ongoing series, applies dating sim mechanics, and adds elements of 3D action based combat into the mix of it all. As a newcomer to the academy which the game utilizes as it's training grounds, and area of romantic outings you (the protagonist) will be tasked with completing optional chores/duties, and extracurricular activities to a series of collective 45 calendar days within a month-like arrangement which takes in account such things as student courting in the form of dates, stat improvement through Lux (weapon) training, duels with challenging individuals, and an end goal of competing in the annual "Phoenix Festa" event in order to obtain a single granted wish. How you manage the schedule will of course determine the outcome of your time invested. Whether or not you're prepared is entirely up to you though as you will be the one deciding what the readily named protagonist, or unnamed protagonist does with his given time.
At the start of the game, past the beautiful anime intro, and your selection of the already named or no-named (you can name him) protagonist you are forced into the shoes of a guy who just so happens to be at the wrong place at the wrong time. After stumbling upon an article of clothing blowing by him in the streets the man of youthful age hears someone exclaiming that they had lost said item. Trying to be the gentlemen he that he is he rushes into the building where the young lady was yelling from, and boldly asks her if the item is hers. This leads to an awkward conversation, and an unexpected first duel between the young lad, and the long time female attendee named Julis. Things spiral out of control for a short while, but through Julis, an interjecting childhood friend named Saya, and a student president things get straightened out just in time for you to learn, and earn your place at the established academy ...
As I mentioned ever so briefly in the introductory paragraph of this very post "A.W.: Phoenix Festa" is a game that plays heavily off of scheduled activities. At first said activities will be strictly limited to training, getting to know the characters through forced interactions, and the ability to recuperate from all of your day's doings with some much needed rest. These initial activities, while tiring and taxing do little to stress your accompanying menu emoticon at first. Yes, that is right. I said "emoticon". The game uses a color coded smiley emoticon that changes as you do various tasks from the several menu listings (Training, Job, Shop, Laboratory, Rest) that gradually become available through plot advancement. As your character grows weary from training, courting the ladies of choice, and dueling among student and staff members the emoticon's color, and expression will change accordingly. With the red smiling emoticon being the most positive, and the other emoticons of varying colors and expressions being the more negative status indicators. Using the emoticon as a guide with which to plan your schedule you can maintain a healthy regiment of daily interactions, and training.
Along with the emoticon indicator comes main character stat monitoring in the form of an intimacy meter, and an RPG stat pie graph. The intimacy indicator which is shown along with all other stats at the main menu takes in account the male protagonist's romantic relationships with the available female characters. These meters raise, and lower accordingly depending on date results, basic conversational interactions, and in-combat partner performance. If you manage to get a female character's intimacy meter raised high enough through any of these things you can ask them to partner up with you, and in some cases even take the relationship a little further. As far as the RPG stat pie graph goes it takes in account the several attributes that are important to the combat portion of the game. Those attributes being Attack, Defense, Insight (damage boost through Prana attacks), and Prana (think of it as a an energy meter for performing special attacks). By choosing the respective training option you can level up each base stat/attribute making your protagonist better prepared for the more challenging fights ahead.
When it comes to the daily activities of choice, and the calendar scheduling you'll find that each task you take on will take up the AM & PM of a given day. There are 45 days in each calendar month (give or take some ...), and only a handful of those months available which ultimately lead up to an end battle that makes up the "Phoenix Festa" event. The first calendar month will be a sort of introduction to characters, and gameplay mechanics with everything explained through animated dialogue inclusive story panels, and intermission hints told by chibi character representations. It is during this time you will gain access to all task oriented menu options, and will learn what your options are when it comes to moving forward towards the Phoenix Festa end goal. The second, calendar month beefs up said daily task, and encounters (duels & dates) while taking you into the Phoenix Festa preliminaries. After that is an all out fight for love, and Lux as you duel in the Phoenix Festa with your chosen partner.
At any of the given months you can do with your character's time as you see fit. Learning how to manage it properly through the responses given during multiple choice interactions, and through accepted, or neglected calendar scheduling will help you better understand how your time is best spent though. Speaking of the "calendar" there is an actual accessible menu calendar which will allow you to plan duels and dates ahead of the current date with the characters of your choosing. Depending on the relationship, or intimacy status the character will accept or turn down your offer accordingly. Using gained knowledge from past interactions will help you better build the relationship, and intimacy with any character of your choosing. It should also be noted that gifts are a thing in this game. As with most dating sims doting upon your love interest can be beneficial to your partnership. You can buy gifts from the shop as an AM or PM daily task, and give it to your desired female friend when in a multiple choice interaction with them. Also from the shop you can by new Lux (weapons - long sword, sword, spear, gun, knuckles), or medicine which can improve upon that emoticon status I told you of earlier.
In the way of combat the duels you will fight in are simple in the mechanics sense of the meaning, but challenging in the sense that your opponents will use said mechanics more efficiently the higher their rank is. You'll be minding a couple of meters in combat including an icon, and a facial expression inclusive character image as you fight solo, or with a partner against standard enemies and other academy attendees. These meters include a health bar which shows how much life your character has left, a prana meter which indicates how much energy you have to spend on special attacks or functions, and an icon which acts kind of like the emoticon status indicator of the main menu. At your disposal you also have the ability to block (Left Trigger), the ability to dash (Right Trigger), The ability to attack with your Lux (SQUARE),the ability to perform a meteor strike (Left Trigger + SQUARE), and the ability to lock onto a target using (CIRCLE). The ability jump (X), and follow-up with aerial attacks (SQUARE) is also there. While that's not really all that complicated learning attack patterns, and how to manage your joining partner when they are with you is slightly more so.
The partnering of partners in combat is more of a hands-off kind of deal, in a way. While you can highlight, and activate your partner by tapping their image on the PS Vita screen they do their own thing. When they are assisting, or you are in control doing your own part in the fight the partners' profile image will change expressions from happy to sad. Should you be able to keep them happy through the end of the duel you will earn bonus intimacy points further improving upon that character's intimacy meter. Any duel that you complete will also tally up the time it took for you to defeat your opponent/s, the health you had left, and the partner's status. As with most games of this nature your performance will be graded alphabetically with the "S" rank being the highest possible rank to obtain. Other battles come in the form of paying level specific jobs that will pit you up against lesser important NPCs (Non-Player Characters) for some Yen. You will fight dummies, evade NPCs until the timer runs out, and even deal with trouble making academy gangs in a timed fashion. The reward is always in the Yen currency which will in turn allow you to shop (thrift store, ...), or upgrade your Lux in the Laboratory.
The shop, and laboratory task menus are sub-divided into different categories that each offer different items and services for your earned Yen. In the shop you'll be able to buy gifts for your favorite girl (gifts which are listed in each girls favorites listing), buy medicine to cure your emoticon ills, and by stronger Lux that you can't get through story advancement. On the Laboratory side of things you can take obtained Lux, and modify, upgrade or color them. The modifying process which also costs Yen will improve upon the Lux's stats making it even more effective until you modify it to it's pre-determined MAX limit. The upgrade process is different in that you will enhance damage output only. Finally the "Color" process will let you change the color of a Lux for a given price. Not all Lux will allow this though. Within the game's lore students have to be tested to see if they are compatible with a Lux. Kind of like it was in "God Eater". These Lux come in a variety of different forms including that of swords, guns, spears, and even knuckles.
Now for the graphics, and sound assessment ...
While "A.W.: Phoenix Festa" has it's shining moments in the form of animated story panels, an anime intro, and cool animated menus that show your character training the combat portion of it is a little less "flashy". The 3D character models, while alright in build are basic in a more cell-shaded sense. For what it's worth though combat doesn't seem to be the main focus of this game, but only half of it. Most of the time spent will be building up your character, and his relationships in order to be prepared for the Phoenix Festa event. I will say as a complete package the game is very complimentary regardless of the games visual shortcomings. Nothing seems out of place, and it all melds well together quite nicely. Even the spoken voice-overs, and music combine to make the perfect atmosphere for the adventure at hand.
If you made it this far into the review just know that more is coming in a separate post. Yes, I'm not done yet. Seems I have a "Battle Mode" to unlock, and a secret mode which becomes available by playing through the main story using the named version of the protagonist. Do stay tuned! ...