KILL la KILL The Game: IF Review

I wasn’t that familiar with KILL la KILL (the anime nor its manga adaptation) before being introduced to the game based on them. I remember flicking through the first volume of the manga in the newsstand, quite liking the art, but for some reason never picked it up. Now you may ask why I’m reviewing the game, then, if I had no further knowledge of the franchise? I could say that I will have an advantage of not having a weight of a fanboy’s expectations and can evaluate the game purely from an objective standpoint. Or I could be brutally honest and confess that I have a weakness for pretty and barely dressed anime girls – especially if they are put to a reasonable context, too. That’s why KILL la KILL The Game: IF, developed by A+ Games and overseen by Arc System Works, with its showy 3D arena fighting and cast of buxom beauties seemed like a winner to me.

I did my homework and learned that KILL la KILL is supposed to be a satire of the usual anime conventions. We have a cosmic ball of yarn, or a primordial life fiber, if you will, that has traversed across space to reach Earth where its sinister fibers can control people. Of course, bad guys, or in this case, a very bad mother, wants to take an advantage of it. Her daughter, Satsuki Kiryuin, is a stern student council president of Honnouji Academy, administering Battle Royale-style competitions for students under her tutelage. It’s here where the plot somewhat loses me, as everyone seems to wear some sort of sentient clothing made from life fibers. Satsuki dons kamui Junketsu (kamui is a Japanese spirit) that bestows her impressive fighting skills. Enter the series protagonist Ryuko Matoi who comes to Honnouji Academy In a search for her father’s murderer. Ryuko herself wears a kamui Senketsu she has befriended. While Senketsu appears as a super-skimpy school uniform, it talks with a male voice. So, satire? Call me a heretic but I don’t see anything here that would be out of place in any typical anime.

The creator of KILL la KILL anime, Kazuki Nakashima from Studio Trigger, lent his writing talents to pen an alternate take of the original story. What’s surprising, though, is that instead of the heroine Ryuko, the story mode begins with Satsuki. Furious, angry and very shouty, she fights through ten episodes to subdue her vile and dominant mother, Ragyo Kiryuin. In each episode, there’s a lot of perplexing but nonetheless entertaining narrative to sit through until we get to the business. The game’s fast-paced, dynamic fights take place in 3D arenas, not unlike in numerous Dragon Ball and Naruto Shippuden titles, but more energetic, up-close and frenzied. Some of the bouts are fought against single adversaries but often you’ll be facing multiple enemies.

Initial confusion in the heat of crazy, graphic action swooping at a lightning speed all around 3D battlegrounds can easily result in a blind button smashing. Before long, though, the finer qualities of the fighting dynamics start to unfold. There are close, ranged and break attacks that each can be turned into special moves by burning special meter, gained from hits delivered and received. Special moves usually show up as cool cutscenes that neatly fit with the gameplay. Evade is not just for dodging, it also improves overall movement around the arena and enables different attack combos. It’s almost imperative to be on evade most of the time, only releasing it if you want to use normal attacks. When the special meter is full, it can be activated for a Bloody Valor that engages you in a rock, paper, scissors-style standoff against the enemy. If you win it, it can replenish health or special bar or give more attack power. If you win it three times during the battle, it enables a devastating and flashy Secret Art “Fiber Lost” attack that removes opponent’s life fibers for an instant win. At best, free-form combos, special moves and freedom of movement mount up to a cinematic display of frantic anime action where you are (seemingly) in control. At the end of the day, the game mechanics might be still about button smashing but at least you need to know when and what buttons to smash.

Playing through Satsuki’s story will unlock all other game modes; versus and online battles, practice with tutorial, training, survival and Cover challenge modes, and a gallery to view unlocked cutscenes and dioramas with character models, read glossary and play various sound tests. Some gallery items, like expressions and poses for diorama characters, cost in-game currency that can be earned by simply playing. What’s most important is that seeing Satsuki’s part to the end, including defeating a nightmarishly stringy final boss, unlocks Ryuko’s point of view to the story. She will face ten episodes, too, that partially run parallel to Satsuki’s tale but take some deviations along the way and complement the outcome, including an excuse for the alternative storyline. If possible, Ryuko is even shoutier than Satsuki. And angrier. And more foul-mouthed. And more scantily clad with only suspenders covering her perky assets.

If KILL la KILL The Game: IF has felt like an easy mode so far, playing as Ryuko enters its hardcore stage. You could easily kite enemies with Satsuki’s far-reaching and fast ranged attacks, controlling each fight as you will. However, what worked for Satsuki won’t work for Ryuko, because of her shorter and slower ranged attacks. Instead, you have to rush in to challenge enemies headlong. And that’s the reason why the game was started with Satsuki; to ease players in before presenting them the real challenge. While Ryuko might have harder time in her story fights, especially against enemies who spam projectiles until she gets her wicked dual wield scissors, that also makes playing with her more intense, pure edge of the seat stuff. Of course, you can adjust the difficulty if the going gets too rough.

The fighting is great while it’s put into the context with the narrative and character chemistry. Out of it, not so much. Beyond Satsuki and Ryuko (and their different weapon discipline choices), there are only six other characters (again, unlocked during the course of the game) to choose from for other game modes. Sadly, they aren’t as fleshed out as the main heroines. Versus battles, be it against local player or AI, and online games in either player or ranked matches, lack real motivation without bigger picture around them. Survival and challenge modes provide some diversion but defeating the same enemies over and again becomes stale. It’s admittedly due to how strikingly singular the story mode is.

Even though there have been numerous games based on anime series, not that many of them have really made you feel like you’re playing anime. Sega Saturn’s Burning Rangers from twenty years back remains my all-time favorite in capturing the essence of being in anime episode but KILL la KILL the Game: IF comes close. It’s like watching a rousing budget TV-animation where you get to do the fighty parts yourself. All of the game’s edgy, almost sketchy anime art is rendered in real-time, so the cutscenes blend seamlessly to the arena fighting. The soundscape of the anime cast’s frenetic voice acting and catchy, sometimes dramatic J-pop is mixed up so loud that I had to turn down the volume in the fear of harassing neighbors. There are English voice-overs, too, but as long as the original voicework is available, I gladly choose to read subtitles.

KILL la KILL The Game: IF features exciting arena fighting action and silly yet engaging yarn that together form an exclusive episode for the quirky franchise. The presentation is big, bold and in-your-face, creating a handsome package you really want to dig into. The girls never miss a chance to strike a defiant pose and don’t mind how exposed they are doing so, be it in special moves, combo finishers or psyching up before matches. However, with a limited number of playable characters and ill-founded playing after completing the story with the main girls, the sixty dollar asking price might be a bit steep. Still, KILL la KILL The Game: IF is Satsuki’s and Ryuko’s show, make no mistake about it. You really should ask yourself how keen you are to see half-naked anime girls engage in a furious, energetic and fast-paced fight where candid shots aren’t spared. Well, that did sound like a sales pitch. As for me, I went out and bought the manga volumes to complement the game!

Video game nerd & artist. I've been playing computer and video games since the early 80's so I dare say I have some perspective to them. When I'm not playing, I'm usually at my art board.