Fighting games are difficult. Learning a fighting game is like walking into a comic book store for the first time, wanting to start from the beginning, then leaving in tears because you discovered there’s fifty different Batman #1s. But, perhaps the best advice I can give is to learn the fundamentals. Most fighting games can be approached with a basic set of skills that, if practiced and understood, can always be relied on while you figure out the rest. The problem is, choosing a single fighting game to start with is an ordeal, especially as more and more keep coming out, and each one is a new scene, a new set of systems, and a new expense. However, I have discovered a game that is not only being sold at a friendly price, but also happens to have some of the most newbie-friendly play I’ve encountered in a long while. You just have to accept the fact that there’s porn involved, kinda. Don’t look at me like that, I didn’t know either.
It Just Has to be Weird, Doesn’t It?
You might be familiar with a story known as the Romance of the Three Kingdoms. You know, Nobunaga’s Ambition, Dynasty Warriors, so on and so forth. But there’s also Koihime Musou, which is like both of those, except if all the haggard, bearded warlords were women who got naked and stuff. Somehow that became a slightly more wholesome manga and localized anime series, and eventually a fighting game called Koihime Enbu. The fighting game found a following, especially in Japan, and it even landed on Steam a few years back. Now it’s on consoles, with some tweaks and a new character, and it’s called Koihime Enbu RyoRaiRai. That’s a wacky title, but the original source material has the word “throb” in the title, so let’s just move on.
What Koihime Enbu is, boiled down, is a simple, budget-friendly fighting game featuring women based on historical Chinese generals. Each fighter uses a weapon, but it’s a traditional, 2D anime fighter in similar vein to a Guilty Gear or Arcana Heart rather than a Soulcalibur. In addition to the characters having weapons, players can also choose a cutesy, little assist character with which they can use an additional special move. Unlike most other fighting games, Koihime Enbu RyoRaiRai abandons a lot of layers of special techniques and gimmickry, in favor of a single, major mechanic that allows players to (within certain parameters) almost create their own special combos.
Koihime Enbu RyoRaiRai is all about the Hougeki technique, or Fatal Counter. Every character follows a set of universal rules, with light, medium, and heavy attack buttons, along with a “special” button. But, for example, holding forward and medium is always an overhead attack, and holding forward and heavy is always a forward-facing move that propels the character forward a bit. These are also Fatal Counter moves, which if they land trigger a “crumple” state for the opponent. At that point, the Hougeki is triggered, and the player can follow up with other moves, and extend the combo based on what’s allowed.
Generally, what happens is you can use the various Fatal Counter buttons, with certain normal moves in-between, and end with a special move or super. It sounds complicated, and fighting game stuff always does, but what you’re essentially doing there is just pressing buttons to bounce your opponent around once they come back down to Earth, or rebound off the screen back towards you. You’re not linking or cancelling commands together, nor are you making bizarre motions with the control stick (unless you’re using a super). What this means is the intent here is to not only allow a certain degree of freedom to players (instead of having to memorize specific sequences), which opens up the floor to improvisation and simple button presses leading to big damage.
Now, the game itself doesn’t do a great job of explaining any of that. There’s stuff on the screen that doesn’t quite make intuitive visual sense, and that’s a problem that contradicts my accessibility pitch here. But what Koihime Enbu does do is offer some great tools within the training mode. While it doesn’t have the fancy, separate challenge modes of games like Street Fighter, it does have a lot of stuff you can play with within the training mode pause menu, which helps keep you more engaged, and moving onto the next thing a lot faster.
A fighting game is sometimes only as good as its teaching tools, and Koihime Enbu RyoRaiRai excels here in a subtle way. Within the training menu, you simply scroll over to the challenge options, and they’re all just part of a busy menu. But the speed at which you can go through stuff is key. You can initiate a challenge within the menu, and it just starts. There’s no loading, no round resets, no “win” or “fail” state that stops the live gameplay. You can even have the game perform the action for you to watch, and it just quickly does as asked and relinquishes control as quickly as it can. You can even swap characters from the same menu if you want. It’s so fast and seamless, it totally makes up for being crammed into the training menu.
While I’m not exactly a fighting game newbie, I don’t nearly have the free time and ability to learn a fighter as I used to. But because of the above, and Koihime Enbu RyoRaiRai’s inherent simplicity, I was able to pick up on what the game was selling surprisingly quickly, and perform quite well despite my relatively limited time with the game. You can see some proof of that in our brief gameplay footage. It also helps that the default arcade mode AI is generally manageable, and while it does get tough towards the end, it never gets to SNK or Capcom levels of deliberate cheating.
At is cheap price point, with lenient difficulty, solid teaching tools, and accessible mechanics, I think Koihime Enbu RyoRaiRai could be a great way for people who slip into the anime fan/fighting game novice venn diagram to get their feet wet in the genre without having to dive in too deep. As most of the game is about landing single, solid hits (although there are some linkable moves), players can focus on learning the basics, then on learning the very user-friendly Hougeki system to get a feel for things like juggling and wall-bouncing. From there, they can graduate to things like more complicated super motions, cancelling, and all the extra fun stuff that seasoned fighters get into, and Koihime Enbu RyoRaiRai also supports to a degree. Koihime Enbu RyoRaiRai is not a game that will be challenging Dragon Ball FighterZ or Street Fighter V for top spots at EVO any time soon, but it is a smaller, simpler, and cheaper title that fighting game upstarts and fans can use to effectively spread the good word of the quarter-circle.
Koihime Enbu RyoRaiRai review code provided by publisher. Version 1.00 reviewed on a standard PS4. For more information on scoring please see our Review Policy here.