It gets harder and harder to get into fighting games the older you get. Years ago, when our friends had heaps of free time, it only took a moment’s notice to setup local gaming sessions or attend fighting game tournaments. But as time passes, people become more preoccupied with responsibilities, their own families, and all of the duties that come with living an adult life. In that way, online play is a godsend for older gamers, tethering them to nostalgia and a bygone era. Koihime Enbu taps into that innate need with online play, but with a definite old-school feel.
It’s weird though, because the developers seem to be of two minds; there’s no tutorial in sight (often the kiss of death when it comes to acquiring new players), but the basics for all 13 fighters aren’t that difficult to grasp. It’s a three-button system, with low, medium, and high level attacks, and a throw button to boot. In a refreshing change of pace, every input plays out in a similar manner (hadoukens, basically), which don’t detract from the overall complexity. The Marvel vs. Capcom-esque assist system is also dead simple to pick up. To be clear, there is a training mode that allows players to test out various combos, but picking up the basics is a task left up to the player.
The most direct comparison I can think of is Samurai Shodown, albeit with a few more modern advancements. All of the fighting game core tenets are here (wake-up, footsies), as are the standard EX meter and ultimate attack systems. Koihime Enbu’s big focus is on countering, which the developers have gone to great lengths to latch onto. So players will need to pick up on nuances and character animations before they act, creating a stressful and tactical gameplay flow.
When it comes to gametypes, there really isn’t a whole lot here. A story mode is appreciated, but most of the banter is light, meaningless, or draws upon the source material—plus, said dialogue is communicated with brief, static cutscenes. For people who are jumping in blindly without any prior knowledge of the series, you likely aren’t going to get anything substantial out of it (for those of you who aren’t aware, this is a retelling of sorts of the Romance of the Three Kingdoms saga). So when I said “old-school” earlier, I meant it. Outside of arcade, training, and local versus modes, that’s all she wrote.
My time with online play has been filled with disparate experiences. On one hand, the netcode is actually pretty slick, and whenever I get into a game, it runs smoothly. Unfortunately, the operative word here is “whenever,” because the community just doesn’t seem to be all that plentiful at the moment. Maybe more people will pop up over time as the game starts to possibly get more traction, but at the moment, I would plan on relegating yourself to local or solo play first and foremost. It’s all very basic, with ranked and unranked matchmaking, and a title system that tracks your total battles and win-rate. No lobbies is a bummer, but there is a standby mode that lets you train while you wait.
There’s no fancy online ladders or advanced RPG-like systems here—what you see is what you get. With so many fighting games offering up a cavalcade of options and modes, Koihime Enbu is a tough sell. But as someone who remembers when arcade and versus was all we had and a strong foundation was the most important element, I’m completely okay with that.