Game Reviewby Heidi Kemps,
KILL la KILL - IF
The iconic cast of Kill la Kill returns in a multiplayer brawler game appearing now across several consoles and PC.
Kill la Kill is a beloved anime series for a very good reason: fantastic art design, memorable characters, a weird and fascinating setting, and – perhaps most importantly – fantastic action sequences. Fans have clamored for a Kill la Kill game for years, all while knowing deep in their hearts that living up to the high standards of the original material would be extremely difficult. Now, at last, the arena fighter Kill la Kill IF is here, with a heavy push by beloved developer Arc System Works. Does it live up to lofty expectations? Well… no. But it's not all bad, either.
It's worth noting that Arc System Works's involvement with this game is dwarfed by that of developer APlus, who are perhaps best known among anime fans for their work on the Little Witch Academia game released a while back. That game did a great job of nailing the look and feel of LWA, so it's not surprising to see that same sort of care poured into the visuals of Kill la Kill IF. This game looks fantastic: the character models are absolutely dead-on representations of the anime characters in 3D, their attack animations flow well and feel natural, and the backgrounds accurately recall places and arenas from the show without being overly busy and distracting from the battles.
Anime games tend towards being arena fighters, and that's exactly what Kill la Kill IF is: a one-on-one free-running duel in a 3D arena where your goal is to beat the everloving hell out of the jerk you're up against. Close and long-range attacks, combo strings, guards and sidestep-dodges, a risky guard-break move, homing dashes, and cinematically-enhanced super moves are all part of your arsenal to kick ass. It's an easy game to get into: the controls are simple and feel very responsive, the input commands are simple, and your various movement options and attacks flow nicely into each other. The cast is rather small (though DLC is coming), however, each character is distinct enough in playstyle to feel unique and interesting. Some characters, like fan favorite Gamagoori, have interesting gimmicks that make their gameplan very fun. Unfortunately, a lot of Kill la Kill IF's most interesting mechanics – including a lot of character-specific stuff -- are simply not explained. In fact, one of the game's most important systems is completely glossed over: by pressing L1 and R1 together with 50% super meter, you can execute a Bloody Valor attack that, if successful, puts you and your opponent in a rock-paper-scissors showdown that can not only grant you bonuses like extra life and meter if you win, but increases your valor level if you win or tie. Increasing your valor level grants bonuses like extra speed and damage, makes certain skills available to characters, and at MAX level even grants you a Guilty Gear-style instant-kill move. It's an essential mechanic for many characters to be able to do damage beyond plinking down a foe's life with basic combos, and the game goes out of its way to just not tell you anything about it. I had to figure out how it worked completely on my own.
In order to unlock things like local and online versus and most of the roster, Kill la Kill IF forces you through its story mode, which is one of its big selling points. The IF part of the title refers to, “What if Satsuki was the epicenter of the Kill la Kill story rather than Ryuko?” Seeing things play out from Satsuki's POV is a fun conceit, but the game also abridges a lot in the course of its storytelling, resulting in a story that feels rushed in many places. The numerous cutscenes that are present, however, are extremely well done: the cinematography is solid, the character voiceover (in both English and Japanese) is excellent, and the presentation is filled with the same sort of quirky energy and dramatic tension we've come to love from the show.
Unfortunately, the actual battles in story mode are considerably less interesting. The standard one-on-one fights are fine, but when Kill la Kill IF tries to inject gimmicks like two-on-one and mob battles into its gameplay engine, things really start to go awry. There's no targeting system in place making aiming for a specific character a real pain, and the mob fights you're forced into feature a gaggle of enemies that are all infuriatingly damage-spongey. These mob battles aren't just tedious, they actually encourage bad play habits by discouraging defense in favor of just attacking mindlessly. Everything wraps up with a big boss fight that answers the question, “What if the Apocalypse fight from X-Men Versus Street Fighter was in a 3D arena brawler?”
(Also, streamers take note: Arc System Works seems very touchy about having story mode streamed, even disabling the inbuilt PS4 streaming functionality and displaying a warning as the game starts.)
Once you make it through figuring out the game's unexplained systems and unlocking everything through story mode, you're finally free to just have fun in combat against the CPU and human opponents on and offline. The game feels a lot better when it's just you versus an opponent in one-on-one dueling, though it's hard to say at this point if Kill la Kill IF will hold up as a competitive game over time. (There's a tournament running at EVO soon, so that should be something to watch to get a bit of an idea how this game's competitive life might play out.) Having a smaller cast actually works in the game's favor here, as more care has been given to developing individual fighters rather than simply having an absurdly huge roster (as most anime arena fighters do).
Beyond the main game, there are a decent number of extras to play with. You earn money as you play the various modes, which can be spent on KLK art, development materials, and even special voice messages from the characters. There are also diorama modes where you can place and pose the character models like virtual figures, which is fun (and, given the nature of KLK, potentially a bit lewd if you're in a certain mindset).
Kill la Kill IF probably isn't the dream KLK game fans had in mind, but for what it is, it's fine. It's rough around the edges in a lot of ways, but it looks and sounds great, has a lot of fanservice, and is easy to pick up. Just… y'know, maybe read some guides online or something if you want to move beyond the bare basics of combat.
Overall : B
Graphics : A
Sound/Music : A-
Gameplay : B-
Presentation : B
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