Saint Seiya: Brave Soldiers looks and sounds like a complex fighting game, chock-full of intricate button combos and multitudes of powers to utilize in battle — but it's actually an extremely simple affair to understand.
During a hands-on demo session during publisher Namco Bandai's pre-Tokyo Game Show event, Saint Seiya's simplicity was quickly evident. Though its gameplay is centered on one-on-one combat, it more closely resembles a combo-centric action game rather than a fighting game. That parallel holds up especially well with regards to controls: fighters are mostly limited to light, heavy and special attacks, with just a handful of other options sprinkled in for flavor.
The result is a brawl where all your potential tactics are very surface-level; rather than focusing on what button sequence you need to press to activate your salvo of attacks, you just start chaining them together. Fighters move in 3D space, so positioning yourself to land those attacks is half the battle. Dodging and blocking let you prevent a super-powered attack from landing, assuming you can execute them with adequate timing.
A fascinating side-effect of this simplification is a much, much heavier focus on the power meter both players must maintain in order to use their special attacks and defensive maneuvers. Commodity systems like this are nothing new in fighting games, but with Saint Seiya's limited moveset, busting out and landing your most powerful moves — "Big Bang" attacks, in the Saint Seiya parlance — is critical.
"...we didn't really make it too much in the fighting game genre."
You can boost that meter by landing blows and getting knocked around a bit, but the fastest way to fill it up is to manually hold down the charge button, rendering you completely vulnerable for a moment. Given the importance of that resource, figuring out times to charge is vital; in a few matches I watched, both players would freeze and charge simultaneously, staring each other down and waiting for the other one to break. Those standstills provided a surprising amount of quiet tension to the otherwise over-the-top fights of Saint Seiya.
Producer Ryo Mito told Polygon during the presentation that the game needed to be as accessible as possible, so it could cater to the Saint Seiya series' younger and older audiences.
"The controls are not too complex, because we have a lot of fans, young fans and older fans, and we want them to be able to access and enjoy this game. So, that's why we didn't really make it too much in the fighting game genre. For example, you could just press one button and get the special attack. That's the way we meant to create this game.
Despite that simplicity, Mito said balancing the game's cast of characters proved somewhat difficult due to the sheer scope of the roster. Over 50 saints are included in the title, with a cast stretching across all three of Saint Seiya's main story arcs. Many of those saints (and their alternative costumes) will be unlocked as the player progresses through the game's campaign.
Saint Seiya: Brave Soldiers will launch exclusively on PlayStation 3, and will arrive in North America this coming November.