For the past year, I’ve been asked repeatedly by friends, co-workers and anime convention weirdos if I was excited about the Kill La Kill video game. I’m a huge fan of the anime series and I’m an even bigger fan of the incredible animation studio behind it, Studio Trigger. Under normal circumstances, I’d have been over the moon about this video game, but I wasn’t. I had played the previous game from APLUS Games, an adaptation of another incredibly popular Trigger anime by the name of Little Witch Academia. Their video game adaptation of this beloved anime was, in many ways, a mess. My experience with that game left me cautiously optimistic about Kill La Kill -IF-, hoping for the best but expecting the worst. I’m happy to say that my expectations were absolutely shattered, because this game is absolutely incredible.
Rather than do another adventure game side-scroller hybrid like their last game, APLUS Games opted to turn Kill La Kill into a flashy one on one arena fighter. Despite likely getting some assistance from the fighting game veterans publishing their title – a lot of people will have assumed Arc System Works were developing and not just publishing this game – you’d expect the first fighting game from a sophomore game studio to be marred with issues. That isn’t the case here at all. Kill La Kill -IF- is smooth and flashy, and absolutely deserves to be in the Arc System Works family.
In battle, you have a handful of basic commands. You can do close-ranged attacks, long-ranged attacks, and a charged guard-breaking manoeuvre using the face buttons. Your fourth button lets you jump, but you can also double-tap it to do an aerial homing dash toward your opponent. Prefer to maneuver on the ground? Hold down the block button and input directions to step dash, or tap jump while blocking to dash toward the enemy.
Many arenas fighters would just end it here, giving your characters a handful of attack combos and calling it a day. Kill La Kill -IF- goes further, though, giving characters a variety of attacks while still maintaining a simple control scheme. Inputting different directions while attacking, or performing attacks while mid-air or mid-dash, will give you entirely different attacks and combos. You can string all of these together for some impressive and varied combos. Build up enough meter, and you can even hold down a shoulder and attack button to perform a variety of different special moves.
Each character plays incredibly different from each other. Satsuki utilizes fast and up-close sword combos, Nonon relies entirely on a variety of long-ranged attacks, and Inumuta uses digital clones and teleportation to disorient the opponent and never stop moving. The character roster may be small, but each option available offers a distinct way to dive into the rock-paper-scissors mind games of Kill La Kill -IF-. The constant pressure of deciding if you’ll go for a regular attack or anticipate your enemy with a guard break or even dashing around them to land an unexpected blow is addictive and exhilarating.
That rock-paper-scissors gameplay loop during battle is complemented by a literal rock-paper-scissors mechanic. With enough meter, you can activate an explosion of energy that, if it hits an opponent who isn’t guarding, activates Bloody Valor. This Injustice-style system sees the game shift to a cinematic camera angle where the two characters clash, giving players three seconds to press one of three face buttons that trump each other. You can opt for more health, more damage or more meter, but only the winning player gets their wish. The winner can’t just cash out and leave, though. They’ll automatically continue performing Bloody Valor until the opponent wins, or there’s a same-button draw. It’s an incredible risk-reward mechanic that can either turn the tide of battle or absolutely blow up in your face. It’s just one more thing that elevates Kill la Kill -IF- from a generic arena brawler to an addictive competitive experience.
Kill La Kill -IF- may get things right when it comes to gameplay, but it gets things absolutely perfect when it comes to presentation. Much like the perfectly cel-shaded visuals of Dragon Ball FighterZ or Guilty Gear Xrd, Kill La Kill -IF- features 3D graphics that are coloured and rendered to accurately recreate the art style of the original anime. The results are stunning, with characters moving and attacking with the same crisp fluidity they had in the anime. Sharp menus and UI design complement the incredible art, and a great blend of original music and tracks lifted from the anime give this game one of the best soundtracks of the year. Those delicious jams are matched by incredible voice acting, with full English and Japanese dubs that bring the entire original cast back for one last ride.
All of this crisp presentation power is put to use in the incredible story mode of Kill La Kill -IF-. Rather than opt for a simple arcade mode or a re-telling of the anime, The 10-chapter story of Kill la Kill -IF- uses fully animated cutscenes to tell an alternative story where complicated antagonist Satsuki Kiryuin takes the spotlight instead of series anti-hero Ryuki Matoi. The result is a brisk but creative story that gives one of my favorite anime characters a massive spotlight as the lead, and addresses its own canonicity with some clever inter-dimensional twists.
What impressed me the most about this story mode, though, was the absolute variety of gameplay challenges I was presented with. For all the acclaim that Netherrealms story modes get, almost every fight is a basic 1-on-1 battle. In Kill La Kill -IF-, I was caught in a three-way battle between Satsuki, Nui, and Ryuko. Then, I was forced to fight all four Elite Four members at once. After that, I was tasked with destroying dozens of super-powered grunts while Nui Harime tossed blades at me. Every battle in the four-hour story mode was a blast, and I couldn’t believe it was this game, out of any others, that would revolutionise fighting game story modes so much.
Any gripes I have with Kill La Kill -IF- are minor. There are only two alternate colours for each character, and one of them is a zombie-like palette that every character shares. There’s a huge variety of iconic music in the game, but you can’t choose which tracks to listen to during battle. You also can’t choose which stage to use as a backdrop in the figure diorama mode. And finally, for as much as I loved the multi-man battles in the story mode, there was no way to pick who my attacks were targetting, leading to a few whiffed blows. These things all matter, but at the end of the day, they’re a handful of cons that are outweighed by some absolutely massive pros.