2019 hasn’t been the best year for anime games. Following 2018’s Dragon Ball FighterZ, developed by Arc System Works, which seemingly changed the landscape of anime fighters altogether, video games based off of anime seem to be returning to their usual, underwhelming norm, as evident with recent releases such as the disastrous Jump Force and the underwhelming One Piece: World Seeker. What’s disappointing about this is that Dragon Ball FighterZ seemed to represent a sort of maturity for licensed anime games, that the genre had grown past cheap tie-ins and unpolished 3D arena fighters and was finally ready to be taken seriously. For the first time ever, a video game based off an anime/manga series had reached such acclaim that it had even become the highest watched EVO tournament live-stream ever. There are two major reasons for Dragon Ball FighterZ’s success, and one of them is definitely the power of the Dragon Ball franchise and its popularity within the fighting game community, but the other, the more important of the two, was its developer, Arc System Works, one of the most beloved fighting game developers of all time. While Arc is busy working on Granblue Fantasy Versus, they have left the anime community with something to chew on in the form of Kill la Kill: IF, developed by APLUS under Arc’s supervision (and using the animation techniques that made Dragon Ball FighterZ so beautiful), an adaptation of Studio TRIGGER’s incredible Kill la Kill anime series.
Kill la Kill: IF’s story mode initially follows the same story of the anime series and focuses on Ryuko Matoi, a teenage girl who, wielding one half of a scissor blade, travels to a prestigious school to find her father’s murderer. The school, named Honnouji Academy, is led by a ruthless council president, Satsuki Kiryuin, who commands an army of students and teachers equipped with Goku Uniforms that give them superhuman abilities. Ryuko soon makes enemies with Satsuki and following a defeat at her hands, Ryuko comes across Senketsu, a talking school uniform (or ‘kamui’) that can transform her so that her strength can match that of Satsuki and her ‘Elite Four’. What separates this game from just being a complete retread of the anime is that the story mode instead follows the events from the perspective of Satsuki rather than Ryuko before separating entirely from the continuity of the anime and offering an entirely new ending and unlocking a second chapter that allows you to go through Ryuko’s side of the narrative with said new ending.
The story does feel rather condensed in this format and neither offers a satisfying recap of the Kill la Kill anime nor a jumping in point for newcomers as it does rely on your knowledge of the anime’s wider iconography and terms in order to fully appreciate it. The story mode here is far more of a companion piece to the original anime rather than a re-imagining and definitely not a jumping in point for newcomers. However, that isn’t to say that Kill la Kill: IF’s story mode is a complete waste of time, far from it. It’s thoroughly refreshing to jump back into the world of this series and see the characters once again, especially as the first new story since the anime released in 2013, and it does the original series justice with excellent writing.
With some of the expository stuff out of the way now, let’s get to what makes Kill la Kill: IF worth playing: the combat. APLUS has created a gorgeous 3D fighting game with the Kill la Kill world and characters, of which you can choose from the likes of the aforementioned Ryuko and Satsuki (there are 3 versions of each), Satsuki’s Elite Four consisting of Ira Gamagori, Nonon Jakuzure, Hoka Inumuta, and Uzu Sanageyama, and the show’s later villains, Nui Harime and Ragyo Kiryuin, totaling the roster to eight characters. While some may see this number as rather small for a modern fighting game, what blew me away was just how differently each of the cast plays and how much care was taken to represent each Goku Uniform and kamui distinctively. While you have your all-around characters like Ryuko and Satsuki, there are also other very different characters like Gamagori, who absorbs damage bit by bit, and some of his attacks are primarily used to damage himself above his opponents and to eventually double the damage he outputs. Playing this character offers a risk versus reward input that really defines how diverse Kill la Kill’s roster is.
Instead of playing as a traditional combo-based brawler, of which the game has a fair number of characters like that, Ragyo Kiryuin, the anime’s main overarching antagonist, has barely any movement speed at all; however, she deals some of the biggest damage in the game just through her sheer power, yet this contrast only makes her as good as the player that’s controlling her. The lack of a huge roster here has allowed the developer, and now the player, to not only experiment with the cast to see just how distinctive each character could feel but also take advantage of what makes each character so recognisable and beloved in the context of Kill la Kill, and if that still doesn’t satisfy you, APLUS and Arc System Works have confirmed that the always wonderful Mako Mankanshoku will be added for free in a post-launch update along with Ultimate Double Naked DTR (that’s Mikisugi and Kinagase in a mech together).
The controls are nothing outside of what most 3D fighters of this variety offer; each character has light and heavy attacks that can be chained together for combos, a rush that allows the player to get closer to their opponent, a guard break to break enemy guards and a block that sometimes refuses to work given the 3D environments. Each character has a range of super attacks that can be used, such as short-ranged supers, long-ranged supers and guard-breaking supers, each of which are gloriously animated in an almost perfect representation of the anime’s art style, again using the technology developer Arc System Works previously used to bring Dragon Ball FighterZ to life. What’s more impressive here is that not only is Studio TRIGGER’s art in general more expressive and experimental than that of the 90s Dragon Ball Z anime, but the camera work used to bring said visuals to life is almost revolutionary. While FighterZ was mindblowing for what it got away with on a 2D plain, Kill la Kill: IF’s 3D plain adds a whole new dimension to how the characters are animated in this style and, above all else, Aplus games should be commended for just how visually stunning a game they have created. The only compromise this has brought to the game is that the player has absolutely no control over the camera at any point, meaning that when the story mode throws multiple enemies at you at once, the camera will only lock onto one at a time, leading to much frustration when characters like Nonon Jakuzure or Ragyo Kiryuin are locked offscreen with their beam attacks demolishing the player as they’re in the midst of fighting another character. This leads to much wrestling with the camera when you want to take them out one at a time.
Like this year’s Mortal Kombat 11, Kill la Kill: IF feels refreshingly single-player focused. While both story mode chapters total out to about 5 hours overall, and there are obviously ranked and unranked online and offline options, the game also offers a ‘Covers Challenge’ mode, which has the player fighting 100 of the generic cover enemies in an almost Devil May Cry-style hoard mode, a ‘Survival Challenge’ mode that has the player fighting against each of the main roster, one after another until they are defeated, and finally a gallery mode in which the player can use in-game currency (not purchasable with real money, don’t worry) to purchase music tracks from the anime to listen to, character models to gawk at and character art from Sushio, character designer for the anime and artist at TRIGGER. It’s not overflowing with content, and it definitely won’t last you months on end, but it was satisfying for my time spent with the game.
So for those unfamiliar with the anime, I guess I should address the elephant in the room here. Kill la Kill: IF features highly sexualised outfits in the form of its Goku Uniforms and kamui worn by both the male and female cast, living up to that wonderful old anime trait of ‘less is more’ in regards to armour. I’m not about to get into some of the broader themes of the anime in regards to deconstructing the shonen genre of anime and reversing its gender roles, or even the far, far out themes of modern third-wave feminism many others have delved into for this weird, wacky show in which ladies and gentlemen get naked and cut each other to bits, but I do think it’s worth mentioning that Kill la Kill isn’t your average ‘fan-service’ anime, and its use of sexualisation is to convey some of its broader themes, so while I would usually write shameless sexualisation off as a criticism, I do not feel it’s necessary for this game as an adaptation of the anime to be written off that way, even if the game doesn’t contain these broader themes and commentaries that the anime does.
I guess what I’m trying to say is that I’m glad Sony hasn’t censored this game on PlayStation 4 as the game runs at a wonderful 60 frames-per-second on the base system and, as previously mentioned, the game is just absolutely gorgeous thanks to the wonderful animation work done by APLUS and Arc System Works. Another aspect of the presentation I was amazed by was the inclusion of a full English dub from all of the original cast, alongside the Japanese voice track with subtitles. To compensate for this, there is no dedication to lip-synching, which is a small price to pay for the incredible animation and fun voice work on display; however, the inclusion of the original anime’s soundtrack alongside some newer compositions more than makes up for this. It’s so refreshing hearing some of these tunes again after all these years, despite the second opening song, ‘Ambiguous’, being absent, and almost all of the best tracks (including the iconic ‘Before My Body Is Dry’) make an appearance during the game’s story mode, which alone is enough to sell most fans on this experience.
Kill la Kill: IF is an incredibly faithful and dedicated adaptation of one of the most important and influential anime of this decade, and it’s one of the anime that made me and countless others into fans of anime to begin with. With one of the most refined and dense combat systems in a 3D fighter ever, a beautiful presentation that caringly brings a decidedly 2D work into the realm of 3D, a good variety of content that helps it punch through its small roster of characters and somewhat small presentation shortcomings, Kill la Kill: IF is definitely one of the best anime-based video games to release in a while and one that no fan of the anime should even think about missing out on. That said, newcomers should probably come for the fights and the fights alone.
Publisher: Arc System Works,PQube
Platforms: PlayStation 4, Nintendo Switch
Release Date: 26th July 2019