Expose your opponents (in more ways than one) in the latest game from Arc System Works
If you’re a fan of Studio Trigger, you’re probably well aware that an important date is fast approaching. In just a handful of weeks, it’ll be October 4th once again, marking six years to the date since Trigger began airing their first full-length television anime: Kill la Kill. Combining the talents of established creators and young talents alike, this project took the anime world by storm and put the fledgeling studio behind it on the map. It remains an incredibly popular entry in Trigger’s growing catalogue of international hits, though many fans lament the fact it was never continued past its first and only season.
Admittedly, I was never one of them. I had gone into the show with high expectations for it and couldn’t help but feel sadly let down by the end. So when I found out that a Kill la Kill arena fighter for the PS4, Switch, and Steam was in the works, titled KILL la KILL - IF, I initially had no interest. That is, until I found out it was being published by none other than THE Arc System Works, rulers of the anime fighting game scene. With the likes of BlazBlue, Guilty Gear, and Dragon Ball FighterZ under their belt, they can hardly do wrong in the fighter department. Sure, they may have merely published and oversaw development at A+ Games, and it is a 3D arena fighter opposed to their usual 2D fighting specialty, but make no mistake: KILL la KILL - IF feels like an ArcSys game through and through.
Upon starting KILL la KILL - IF for the first time, you’ll find yourself immediately forced into playing “episode one” of the game’s story mode. The story mode places you in the role of none other than Satsuki Kiryuin at the conclusion of the Naturals Election. Facing off against series protagonist Ryuko Matoi, this first mission acts as your basic tutorial for the game, and completing it will unlock Free Battle as well as a few other modes, though you’ll need to progress further in the story to unlock all of them.
Regarding the story, I have good news and bad news for Kill la Kill fans. The good news is that this story mode isn’t a simple retreading of the show’s story. It’s a new scenario written out by the show’s original screenwriter, Kazuki Nakashima, offering an alternate series of events offshooting from the dramatic turn that takes place during the Cultural and Sports Grand Festival in the show. You also play as Satsuki for the majority of this storyline, offering by far the show’s best character a much-deserved spotlight.
The bad news is that, unfortunately, it isn’t very good. If there was one thing I liked about the show, it’s that it had tremendous style to it ― a style that the cutscenes in KILL la KILL - IF completely fail to emulate. They try, sure, but the result is just incredibly awkward. Watching a flat cel of a character cartoonishly fall off the stage at a 90 degree angle is funny in 2D. Watching the same exact thing happen to a 3D model is just ugly.
If that isn’t bad enough, there’s barely any actual story in this alternate telling of events. The story lasts a handful of hours, and most of the cutscenes you’ll see are just various characters finding any reason they can to fight each other. It completely lacks any fanservice. No, not that kind, the other kind. The kind that fans want out of seeing the characters they obsess over interact in new situations. KILL la KILL - IF’s story has next to none of that, if any. At best a character will get a very archetypical line or two before fighting again. While I’m at it, there is in fact less fanservice fanservice than in the show. Characters are now shown in underwear where they were once buck naked, so there’s that, too, I suppose.
Another glaring issue in the game is a disappointing lack of content. KILL la KILL - IF features only eight fighters: Ryuko, Satsuki, the Elite Four, Nui, and Ragyo. Admittedly, this shallow roster is to be expected from a licensed property with a mere 24 episodes to its name. But still, it wouldn’t be impossible to pick out a few minor ones from the Kill la Kill canon. As far as I’m concerned, it’s completely inexcusable that Fight Club Mako didn’t make the cut. I’d much rather play as her than any single member of the final roster.
The stage and alternate color palette limitations are also felt to a lesser degree. There are only six stages in the game, most of which feel and look a lot like one another. Again, this is mainly a problem stemming from the source material. Kill la Kill also suffered from a lack of variety in its environments. That being said, the lack of alternate color options for characters is rather baffling. Each character has their default look, an alternate look based on the show’s OVA, and their own unique palette swap based on popular ArcSys characters. With a confusing lack of options in the game, one would expect them to be selling more as DLC, but that isn’t the case either.
Now, all of that’s pretty negative, but don’t start removing the game from your wishlist just yet. While KILL la KILL - IF does fail to deliver on the Kill la Kill fanservice-y side story shenanigans fans of the show might want, it’s still a game that comes courtesy of Arc System Works, meaning it is a fantastically fun fighter from the moment you pick up the controller.
The mechanics are incredibly simple to pick up. You have a melee attack, a projectile, and a guard break to attack with as well as special attacks that can be activated once your SP meter fills. When certain conditions are fulfilled, you can activate your Bloody Valor, a head to head rock-paper-scissors-type battle that can award different buffs to the winner while dealing damage to the loser. There’s also a guard button for defense and a jump button that can be used to dash in different directions relative to your opponent.
These are, all things considered, pretty simple mechanics. However, there is a tremendous amount of accessible depth to this game’s combat. There are a myriad of different combos that can be strung together from these options. All of them are spelled out clearly and succinctly in every character’s Command List along with very helpful information about each character’s specific strengths, weaknesses, and how they’re meant to be played.
Though the roster may be small, there is a lot of diversity in playstyle from character to character. Gamagoori’s damage output rises the more damage he takes, and he can self-inflict damage to complement that. Nui is a highly technical character best utilized in air combat. Nonon utilizes strong projectile attacks but sports less options in close combat. Each character feels different to play as and must be approached differently when played against.
The only persistent complaint I have about the combat is the camera. The player has no control over the camera. It instead revolves around your opponent, meaning that if your opponent is backed into a corner, you can find yourself facing your character further away but still having to control them as if you are looking behind the back at them. Additionally, certain attacks or characters can outright block your view of your own character. This can lead to situations where you have no idea if you’re being combo'd at all or not.
Camera issues aside, if any of that sounds interesting to you, you better hope you have some friends to play against because the online scene I experienced on PS4 was dead as a doornail. After spending all night plugging away at the story, I went to bed excited to wake up the next day, find a character whose playstyle I liked, and hop online to try them against some real people. When the time came I hopped into Free Battle and began looking for a room.
I furrowed my brow and tried again. Nothing.
I went through all the room search parameters to make sure I cast as wide a net as possible.
Baffled, I checked my internet connection. No problems there. There wasn’t a single lobby to be found for non-ranked matches online. I created my own lobby just to see if there was anyone out there. I waited, and waited, and waited. TWENTY MINUTES LATER someone finally connected. I played three matches with them. I went decisively 0-3.
Ranked battle was a slightly different story. I immediately connected with another user and was again demolished, this time by both my opponent and some of the worst lag I have ever experienced in an online game. After declining their rematch, I sat and waited for another to come along. No one ever did.
It was a real gut check moment that halted all of the enjoyment I’d had playing KILL la KILL - IF. As someone who enjoys playing competitive games, there’s little enjoyment to be had from playing against AI-controlled opponents. It can help you get the basics down, but you won’t be able to play at a higher level unless you’re testing yourself against actual people. KILL la KILL - IF’s online scene is barren, so without a circle of skilled friends to play against, your only option is enduring excruciatingly long matchmaking times only to be matched up with opponents who probably have terrible connections.
It’s truly unfortunate. There’s a great game to be found within KILL la KILL - IF, but it’s being held back by the very property it’s based on. The pool of reference the developers had to draw from in Kill la Kill was just way too shallow. Not to mention that though the series may be popular, it’s nowhere near as iconic or identifiable as its licensed counterparts in the 3D arena fighter genre. The overlap between ArcSys fans, Kill la Kill fans, and 3D arena fighter fans was just way too small. Arc System Works and A+ Games delivered a really solid fighter ― here’s hoping they can do it again with something a bit more marketable.
+ Accessible, satisfying combat with a high skill ceiling
+ Gorgeous combat animations ArcSys fans know and love
+ Thorough, easy to understand Command Lists
+/- Unique playstyles for every character, but an incredibly limited roster
- Limited content and callbacks for Kill la Kill fans to appreciate
- Seriously, they didn’t even include Fight Club Mako
- Disappointingly boring story mode
- Wonky camera positions mid-battle
- Online scene is dead-on-arrival
Are you a Kill la Kill fan excited for KILL la KILL - IF? Have you already played the game? Let us know how you feel about it in the comments below!