In the last few months, I have played both the GBA and GameCube incarnations of the Rave Master games. Both are fighting games that are based on the anime and manga of the same name. However, despite the enhanced power of the GameCube console, the GBA title was a much more solid game. For more information on the GBA game, check out the review here.
The gameplay in Rave Master for the GameCube is surprisingly limited. There are really only two modes of play: Story and VS. Story mode is the same as any other fighting game?s story mode. You choose a character and go through a connected series of battles that form a storyline. For the exposition scenes, Rave Master uses a comic style format. In other words, there isn?t any animation, just static images with text windows. Each character has numerous emotional templates, and the comics simply bring up the appropriate image that fits the tone of the panel. The primary drawback of Story mode is that there are only five characters from which to choose. I played through each one, hoping that more would be unlocked after doing so, but to no avail. The stories themselves are not incredibly interesting. Haru, the main character, had the only story with any real substance. Elie, the one female choice in Story mode, had a gripping tale about a peeping tom taking a picture of during a period of public bathing. But that is a discussion for another time.
VS mode is slightly similar to the GBA equivalent mode. If you are playing by yourself, you can create matchups against up to three other computer-controlled characters. You can organize teams as well. Friends can also assume the roles of the other characters resulting in multiplayer battles. There are more characters than the five in Story mode available for play in VS mode. Plus, if you remember your Contra, you can unlock a secret character.
I said there were only two modes of play because the final aspect of the game isn?t really a mode of ?play.? There is a Story Edit mode, where you can create your own comics using the stock images mentioned above. This is an unlockable feature not immediately available at the start of a new game. While this mode allows you to be creative with the story and design your own battles, it is a tedious undertaking. Besides choosing the images used, you must enter each line of text manually. With a keyboard, this task would be easier, but the highlight and select limitations of a controller make it quite a chore. The effort put into such an endeavor may not be worth the result depending on your particular temperament. To create the desired battles, it is simpler to just use VS mode.
The actual gameplay itself is a little rough around the edges. As mentioned above, this is a fighting game. Like its GBA counterpart, though, it has more in common with the fighting style of Super Smash Bros than Mortal Kombat. Your moves are rather limited in number. Each character has a weak and strong attack both with and without a weapon. Each character can double jump. Furthermore, there is the ability to block and use special attacks. You have a life meter, a Rave meter, and a ?stock? count, which basically represents the number of lives you have. Each time your life meter runs out, you lose one from your ?stock.? When that runs out, you have lost the match. The same goes for the opponent.
Most characters start each match with their signature weapon. During the match, though, crates will randomly appear on the map. Breaking these open will reveal various items inside. These items could be weapons, Rave stones, or other special items such as extra lives. Each character can equip every weapon. Also, you can drop your current weapon and switch to hand to hand combat at any time. Rave stones give your character special abilities and attacks. I heard there is a detailed description of what each Rave stone does in the manual, but because I use Gamefly, I was out of luck. I was disappointed that it was not simpler to understand what each Rave stone did, though. Some provided easily recognizable effects like a fire elemental to your attacks or a liquid metal defensive covering. Others, however, had effects that I could not divine. Besides these special abilities, Rave stones also allow characters to unleash Rave attacks. With a character?s signature weapon and different combinations of Rave stones, these attacks are devastating and usually cover the entire screen.
The character control was one gameplay aspect that made things a little rough. While the GBA game was two dimensional with different vertical levels to each stage, the GameCube version is three dimensional with only one level to each stage. It is fairly easy to move around this 3D space, but sometimes it is a bit awkward aiming your strikes. Furthermore, all attacks seemed a little slow in response time. I expected weak attacks to be quick jabs, even with the larger weapons as they were in the GBA version. This is unfortunately not the case. At times, I chose to simply discard my weapon and fight hand to hand as this style had better response time. However, without a weapon, your attacks are much weaker, and you can?t use as many of the offensive Rave stones. As game control is a really important factor for me as a player, the idiosyncrasies of the control here disappointed me.
Level design was also fairly bland. I will get to the graphical appearances later in the review. Each level was basically a cube of empty space. The different appearance of each level had almost no effect on gameplay. Even if a level didn?t appear to have a wall enclosing the space, you could still do a wall jump off the edge. As mentioned above, no level went anywhere vertically, which seems to be a focus of design in other fighting games. I believe one level had a pillar in the center that did function as a physical object, but that was pretty much it. A couple levels had guns outside of the fighting space that would randomly spray bullets into the fighting space. That was the extent of level interactivity, though.
The graphics look good, but don?t seem to be pushing the GameCube?s limits in detail. The comic scenes use 2D imagery drawn in the style of the anime/manga. The in-game character models do a good job of translating those familiar 2D images into the third dimension, while still retaining the cartoony feel. The characters move fluidly and the Rave attacks have nice particle effects. Plus, the attack that ends the fight receives some ?bullet time-esque? treatment, which is pretty cool. The levels look good. They cover a variety of settings from a woodland area to a futuristic sky venue to a movie studio. Since there are no real functional differences, though, it might as well simply be a blank box.
The music has a rather childish, cartoony feel also. The musical phrases are bouncy and lighthearted with few harsh tones. Furthermore, there are plenty of ?funny cartoon sound effects.? A fair amount of effort did go into the voice work though. While voices are not used during the comic cut scenes, each character has a library of mutterings performed by the voice cast from the anime. Each character will usually say something with each attack, when they get hit, and when they pick up an item. Furthermore, almost all the characters have an opening and ending taunt or statement.
Overall Rave Master for GameCube was simply an average game. I was hoping for some more modes of play like Ranking mode or the ability to go through Story mode with each character, both of which the GBA version have. I wouldn?t have minded as much if the absence of these features had resulted in amazing graphics, control, and level design, but such was not the case. And Story Edit mode did not make up the difference. There is a ton of unlockable stuff, but most of it is images from the comics and voice clips from the fight scenes. So for all my hard work, you give me pictures I have already seen and sounds I have already heard? True there are a couple new images, but nothing to blow your socks off. There are some unlockable characters though. While I thoroughly enjoyed Rave Master: Special Attack Force on GBA for its simplistic play control and Ranking mode, Rave Master for GameCube didn?t quite measure up to the Rave-olution.