Part of the short list of "timeless completed Jump classics" that I put alongside Dragonball, Fist of the North Star, Yu Yu Hakusho and Rurouni Kenshin, Masami Kurumada's Saint Seiya is one of the most beloved, enduring, and just plain fun manga/anime hits around. While I'm nothing but glad that you can watch the newer, less-insane Lost Canvas and Omega here on CR, I'll always have a special place in my heart for the O.G., the series that newly-released PS3 brawler Saint Seiya: Brave Soldiers--the first Saint Seiya game ever released in the US--takes place in.
Covering the vast majority of the original series with the Sanctuary arc, the Poseidon arc, and the Hades Chapter, the game plays out as a series of one-on-one battles that are mostly reminiscent of the Naruto Shippuden: Ultimate Ninja Storm games. Long still-image-only cutscenes set up the battles, but like many games, it's always kind of amusing for your character to suddenly lose in a cutscene after you spent two rounds mangling the opposition.
Much like the aforementioned Ultimate Ninja Storm games, combat in Brave Soldiers is pretty simple and straightforward, with an emphasis on combo variety using light and heavy attacks. Few specials can be chained into normal combos, and Big Bang Attacks (supers) all have a huge windup and can be easily dodged or interrupted by anyone who's paying attention or not caught in the middle of an attack. The game constantly pulls the camera in to show off characters doing signature moves, and with a large (if kinda padded--I'll get back to that later) cast, Saint Seiya fans will definitely get their fill of flying magical punches.
No Kaitos Spouting Bomber, though, which is a grave injustice
While it retains the unmistakable visual style of the original Saint Seiya, movement is a little loose, jumps are floaty and difficult to control, and most attacks lack the "oomph" of other fighting games. Controls are simplified so everyone can enjoy the game, but longtime fighting fans won't find much in the way of combos or tech to practice--this game is really more about reliving the battles and enjoying the series' style and character.
Obviously, the game coming out on PSN today is in English, like my review copy
I was also a little disappointed that the character select screen isn't as full as it looks--each main character's different armor takes up a new slot, so you'll get six different versions of Seiya including his Gold Cloth and Mythic/God Cloth, five different versions of Shiryu, five of Shun... you get the drill. It's great having all twelve Gold Saints, including Sanctuary villain Gemini Saga in both good and evil forms and a handful of Silver Saints, but it it's disappointing to see this giant character roster get filled up with characters I already have, instead of just giving each fighter different outfits. Naruto Shippuden: Ultimate Ninja Storm 3 - Full Burst gave gameplay spotlight to total nobodies like Danzou's aides and Mifune, so it wouldn't hurt to have equally obscure fighters like Bear Geki when lameasses like Hydra Ichi and Unicorn Jabu are already part of the roster. It's the same frustrating thing Dragonball Z games do when they count Goku and his four (five now, I guess?) Super Saiyan forms as five or six different characters.
Aside from the 50-strong(ish) cast of characters, which are unlocked by playing as or defeating them in story mode, you earn points to buy Orbs, which can be equipped and customized to make battles easier for you. Some Orbs regenerate health and Cosmo, or give slight boosts to attack and defense, with strictly-enforced limits on how many Orbs you can equip. Story mode matches also have tons of individual challenges to complete, such as finishing certain enemies off with specific moves or completing the match with a certain amount of health--completing challenges unlocks cards and info you can view in the game's expansive gallery.
It's fun punching out Gold Saints (or Poseidon's flunkies... or Hades' flunkies) with our heroes' signature moves and all, but sometimes these matches get kind of tiring. You'll start a fight as Shun, fight a guy and beat the shit out of him, and then in the next cutscene, Shun will be all "HOW IS MY NEBULA CHAIN NOT HAVING ANY EFFECT," and then (without advancing to the next stage) you have to play as Ikki and fight the guy again. I usually wouldn't bring something like this up, but it happens far too often during the story, especially when you're trying to find a point for the game to autosave, and sometimes you'll have to slog through three or four fights in a row.
Something that really surprised me was how solid the online play was. Saint Seiya is popular mainly in Japan, Europe, and Latin America, so I was not surprised at all to hear players speaking Japanese and French in the lobby (and summarily getting my ass kicked by a guy who played a really mean Hyoga). Online versus plays just as smoothly (in my experience) compared to local versus, and there are a bunch of cool versus modes to keep the action fresh, including "first to three downs," "first hit wins," and "no blocking," so this would actually be a pretty fun game to pass around the controller and fight it out with friends, even those who aren't all that big on fighting games.
Even as a download-only game, Saint Seiya: Brave Soldiers delivers a lengthy story mode, a lot of unlockable content and a fun, casual fighting game aimed squarely at fans of the series. Namco Bandai, knowing that the series is a big deal pretty much everywhere in the world but America, is testing the waters with a digital release to see how the North American audience likes to burn their Cosmo. Much like the US digital release of One Piece: Pirate Warriors, the game is only available in Japanese with subtitles, catering specifically to hardcore fans.
Saint Seiya: Brave Soldiers doesn't do much new, but it does what it should: deliver a fast-paced Saint Seiya brawler with a pretty solid cast of the series' most popular characters. While the fights can get a little repetitive in story mode, the action never strays too far from the series' style. Unfortunately, gamers who aren't fans of Saint Seiya will just find another by-the-numbers licensed actioner with a flashy, yet inelegant battle system. Still... it's nice to see One Piece, and now Saint Seiya games slowly trickling Stateside. Now, to wait for JoJo's Bizarre Adventure...
+ Clean-lined visuals really feel like the series in playable form
+ Unexpectedly great online, especially for a smaller (in the US) title like this
+/- Large cast of characters, but a good chunk are just the same faces in new outfits
+/- Lengthy story mode retells most of the series, but it can get kind of grindy and repetitive
- Despite flashy and faithful special attacks, the combat system can get dull--you'll stay for the Saint Seiya fanservice, not the gameplay