Rave Master Special Attack Force is a fighting game based on the Rave Master manga and anime series. The fighting style of play, which is more arcadey, resembles a closer tone of Super Smash Bros than that of Dead or Alive or Mortal Kombat
Rave Master SAF has five modes of play from which to choose: Story, Ranking, Free Battle, Link Battle, and Training. All of these modes focus on the fighting style gameplay, but Ranking mode adds another level of depth to the process. In Story mode, the player picks one of nine initial characters. Before the fighting starts, a few screens of text and images relate the pertinent story involved in said mode. None of the tales are particularly varied or detailed. After fighting several seemingly random opponents, there are a three rounds of “boss” fights at the end that are the same despite your character choice. After defeating all of the bosses, a few more screens add some closure to the gripping, soul-searing, rollercoaster of a yarn that the player had previously just ridden (for the humor impaired, that was an example of sarcasm).
Free Battle allows the player to prearrange team or individual battles with up to four characters involved. Link Battle lets your friends get in on the action as well but each player will need a copy of the game. There is no single pak link mode. Training mode gives the player the ability to set up matches of up to four players, however, the opponents just stand there and take whatever beating you choose to administer.
The controls for Rave Master SAF are very simple. The B button provides a basic attack. Holding the directional pad in various directions alters the basic attack. The basic attack also provides the foundation for multi-hit combos. The A button causes your character to jump. This reviewer took forever to get comfortable with not using the “up” direction as the jumping mechanism as is the usual case in fighting games. Pressing A while in midair will execute a second jump. Hitting A and B together will initiate a dueling attack. The R shoulder button delivers a strong attack, and again, using different control pad directions and R will vary the attack. The L button summons your character’s battle cry, if you have successfully completed a dueling attack. The Start button, when applicable, executes a finishing challenge, and the select button pauses the game.
Rave Master SAF is a 2d fighting game, similar to Super Smash Bros. There is a gauge at the top of the screen, but it does not denote the life of each player. Konami calls it the Tension Gauge. As you successfully land attacks, the gauge will increase in your favor. In turn, getting reamed by your opponent will move the gauge against you. After you have done enough damage, your portion of the gauge will start to flash. You are now able to perform a finishing challenge. Pressing the start button will cause your character to do a quick little flair move. You are still vulnerable during this flair move. If your opponent lands a hit, the battle will continue, and you will have to reactivate the finishing challenge. If your flair move is unopposed, then the screen switches to the finishing challenge. You see an image of each character and a diagram telling you to press the buttons as fast as you can. After a few seconds of doing this, the game decides who won the challenge. If the player who initiated the finishing challenge wins, then the match is over. If the opponent wins, then the battle continues. Dueling attacks take the character to another quick mini-game break. The player must match a few combinations of control pad directions to win the duel. The victorious player receives the ability to perform a battle cry. Battle cries briefly give your character some form of bonus like enhanced offense or defense. Up to three battle cries can be stored at a time.
One of the interesting aspects of the fighting style in Rave Master SAF is that up to four characters can participate in the same battle. Other fighting games may have a tag team system or when one character falls, another one jumps in. Here, however, all the characters are fighting at once. This approach allows for any team combination from the four players: one on one, one on two, one on three, two on two, and all for one with either three or four players. In Story mode, the game determines the number of fighters and team designations. As mentioned above, in Free and Link Battle, the player gets to choose these parameters.
Ranking Mode incorporates a boardgame aspect into the fighting game. The player creates a team, using points to purchase characters. The game gives you a certain number of points to begin with, however, by playing through Story mode, you can add to your points. There are two bonus stages in Story mode where you fight an endless stream of grunt like characters and can win more points. There is a different grunt for each bonus stage. When you create a new team in Ranking Mode, you can only choose from the two grunt characters. As you progress through the rankings, the characters from the game will be unlocked for purchase. Your new team starts at the bottom of the team rankings at number 50. Each round, you challenge the team ahead of you, taking their place if you win and falling back a place if you lose. The goal is to rise to number 1. Each opposing team consists of various combinations of grunts, player characters, and/or boss characters. Before beginning each round, you must choose your battle team from the characters you have purchased. You can also return and purchase new characters. You have limited space on your battle team and some characters take up more space than others. As you progress through the rankings, you also unlock more space on your battle team.
Once your battle team is selected, your team occupies one end of a small gameboard. Each tile on the board represents a stage location. You alternate turns with your opponent, and each turn you can move one character up, down, left, or right one square. When one of your characters is adjacent to a tile containing an enemy character, a battle sequence results. The battle sequences are similar to those in Story mode, except there aren’t any mini-games like dueling attacks or finishing challenges. The tension gauge represents your character’s life gauge. To win the round, either you must run your opponent’s life meter to a particular level, and they will fall, or you must have more life than your opponent when time runs out. The result is the same for both methods: the losing character is removed from the field of battle. When one side runs out of characters on their battle team, they lose the challenge.
There is a sense of strategy inherent in piece movement because various combinations of characters in adjacent squares can lead to team battles. Lay a trap for your opponent, and it could be two on one, with the game controlling the other player(s) on your team. Move with care, or you could fall into the same trap. As of this writing, this reviewer had not sprung or fallen into a three on one battle. It is also wise to take into account the terrain involved as some stages pose differing levels of difficulty.
All in all, Rave Master SAF is a very entertaining game. Replay value is added through different difficulties and unlockable characters, as well as the presence of linked multiplayer. Ranking mode allows you to create teams with a wide range of players for an almost limitless variety of matches. The one major downside seems to be that the character’s moves list is fairly limited, so it does not take very long to get accustomed to each one. The character models look great in the character selection screen, but lose almost all of their detail and size in the actual battles to allow the player to see more of the level. The sound is nothing special but does not detract from the experience. While Rave Master Special Attack Force sounds like a spin-off a la Law and Order or Harvey Birdman, this reviewer thoroughly enjoyed the rave-olution.