Kill la Kill: IF is the latest 3D anime fighter to grace consoles. Published by Arc System Works and developed by A+ Games, Kill la Kill: IF launched on PlayStation 4 on the 25th of July. The first half of the game’s story takes place halfway through the anime and through the eyes of series antagonist Satsuki Kiryuin. Though the story does cover much of what took place in the anime, much of it is glossed over and prior knowledge of the anime is expected. Though some elements will start off in a similar fashion to the anime, things change pretty severely towards the end. The game is considered canon so it’s recommended to watch the anime first to get the complete picture of the whole thing. Story Mode is highly detailed and a lot of effort has been put into telling the story.

You’ll have changing camera angles, animations, and fully voiced dialogue in both English and Japanese. This isn’t like some anime fighting games that place a static image on screen and are text heavy. The voice acting is spectacular, full of emotion and passion, and, yeah, I played it in Japanese.

Story Mode also is not optional. You must complete the mode to unlock the rest of the game modes. Luckily, Satsuki’s story takes a little over an hour and a half to complete and then you’ll jump into Ryuko’s side of the plot, where characters are locked until the section is completed. That’s Satsuki for modes and Ryuko for characters. The entire thing should take less than four hours. Story Mode does have some unique aspects to it and it is a fun experience, although on the short side. You’ll face characters in story mode that are not featured as playable characters, mostly because they are broken and are an unbalanced mess. You’ll also have some cool and fun encounters that are two versus one. Overall I felt the story mode was great and instead of just being a series of one on one matches, they found some creative ways to switch it up. The cutscenes and animations are some of the best in gaming and the entire game has the most beautiful cell shaded graphics out now.

But how does it play?

Well, Kill la Kill: IF is superior to many arena fighters. Let’s address the tiny roster, ten fighters on disc and two more coming as free DLC. Even though the roster is extremely small, especially during this generation of fighting games that’s loaded, each character is unique and plays differently. Many other fighting games can’t claim that. Even the ones who may look, play, and feel similar on the surface are different. Some characters are beginner friendly and easier to pick up and learn than others, but those difficult fighters reward those who take the time to master them with interesting mechanics and combination opportunities.

You’ll be able to learn these characters in the game’s training section and this will help you out because depending on who you pick and who you fight against, it could determine your playstyle. Each character shines because of their different attributes, from their different mobility options and speeds, health amount, and gimmicks unique to the fighter makes each character shines and mastery of each meaningful. These variety in characters, with such a small roster, enhances and makes these fighters shine. You will be rewarded for putting the time into the characters, whether it’s the easy to learn ones or the more complex ones. This makes the basic training section of the game important because this is where you’ll go to practice and figure out what makes each character different. You won’t find the most complex training section, but it serves it purpose. You could, also, play local versus to try things out.

You’ll fight across a handful of beautiful and varied stages. Every aspect of the game’s graphics are beautiful and I can’t stress enough how great the cell shaded graphics are. Everything is colorful and bright, effects take over the screen, and the accompanying sound effects for each action are great. You’re in for a visual feast. The mechanics for the game allow you to free move around the arena map at will, jump, dash, and side step. Every character has a button dedicated to a short range attack, a long range attack, and a guard break. From here it’s up to you to form combinations and attack your opponent in different ways, ideally by also utilizing the strengths and gimmicks of your character.

Life bars drain very quickly during fights, so you have to be careful how much damage you take and when to use other mechanics, such as Guard Break and Bloody Valor. Guard Break will cost you two bars and will interrupt a combo being performed on you but it takes a while before you can begin replenishing meter, thus stopping people from spamming it and needing to be more strategic. Also, using it stops you from being able to use Bloody Valor because it uses full meter. This puts you in a situation where you either take the heavy damage and active Bloody Valor or sacrifice Bloody Valor to catch a breather. Bloody Valor is a rock, paper, scissors mini game where you can, at a button press, choose to get health replenished, replenish meter, or increase damage.

Your goal is pick what you feel will make a difference in battle and the opponent needs to match it as well to nullify it. If you can successful do Bloody Valor three times, you’ll get access to an instant kill finisher that’s pretty awesome. With most games, this would be thought of as a luck mechanic that lacks any value but Kill la Kill: IF actually makes it a viable, strategic, option. You might think someone wants health, but they actually want more meter to unleash a devastating attack. It’s a chess match on what they want versus what you think they need and the unpredictability makes for a more unique experience.

The stages themselves play a role in the fighting. The size of a stage will benefit a particular playstyle, and will cause you to need to change strategy if your playing, for example, a zoning character on a small stage. Likewise, if your playing as a rush down character on a larger stage, you’ll need to close the distance and this can be difficult if distance favors the opponent. Stages can also extend combos and increase damage with wall and floor bounces. Kill la Kill: IF shows that arena fighters can handle being complex with deep mechanics and uniquely crafted characters. Everything has been designed to be welcoming to new fighting game players, as well as add complexity to fighting game veterans.

Kill la Kill: IF may very well be the new standard bearer for arena fighters. The game suffers from no slowdown, no frame rate issues, and from no gameplay bugs from what I can tell. The whole thing ran flawlessly. Even online, through WiFi, the experience was great. The only issue I had with the game was that sometimes the camera was a hindrance. There were times it worked against me and you can lose sight of your fighter if your in a combo from a larger fighter and the camera moves. Other than the camera, it’s a great game.

You have a few modes to play after you finish the story, and where you’ll spend the majority of your time. You have a Survival Mode, which is a staple in fighting games, and sees you take on as many fights as possible until you die. The difficulty will change from fight to fight and you’ll receive minor health back after each encounter. Cover Challenge is almost like a Musou game as you’ll face several enemies on screen at once. You can choose to either play the variant that has you beating as many enemies as possible within a minute, or defeating 100 enemies as fast as possible, or simply survive as long as possible.

Eventually you’ll have to play each mode if you want to unlock everything because some unlockables are tied to completing modes. Unlocks include character themes, gallery, and in game figures. The figures can have the positions and expressions changed and the music can be listened to there, which I recommend because the music and character themes are great. You’ll also need to use in game currency to unlock these extras but currency is given for everything in every mode. It helps that these other modes are actually fun to play, for what they are.

Next is online, which is where you’ll be spending the vast majority of your time. Let’s address the net code real quick. Kill la Kill: IF runs like a dream online. Nearly every online encounter has been a blast to fight in. Don’t freak out when a match start because character introductions stutter, much like BlazBlue Cross Tag Battle, but after that your golden. You have the option of Casual or Ranked matches. Casual has you face off against a random person, or you can invite a friend. You choose your specifications and limitations, such as what map, what connection speed, etc. After the match, unfortunately, there is no rematch.

You are sent back to the Casual screen to search for another match. I would have preferred the option for an automatic rematch or to go right into another search. Luckily, matches aren’t that long. Ranked Mode will have you fight against someone against similar rank and skill. Everyone starts off with 1500 fiber threads and each win will give you more, and every loss will have you lose some. You always get more for winning than what you’ll lose for being unsuccessful, which is appreciated.

You can set restrictions, in terms of connection, but you never really can tell what the opponent’s connection speed is until after the match is about to begin. Thankfully, as mentioned above, the only runs great and even lower connections offered a pleasant experience. Once again the no instant rematch is head scratching and not even having the option to do a best out of three, is saddening.

Kill la Kill: IF is a gorgeous cel-shaded arena fighting game based off the equally wonderful anime of the same name. The story mode is worth it to play but it’s head scratching so much is locked behind it’s completion, especially the online modes. The fact that it can be completed fast, and adds unique sections, is also appealing but, remember, you need to have watched the anime to get the most out of it.

The gameplay is great, deep, and intuitive despite the small roster and each character looks and feels unique. A great online experience and some unlockables round out the experience. The fighting game genre has a plethora of options and each game is looking for it’s own way to stand out and grab players attention. Kill la Kill: IF may not be as well known as, say, Soul Calibur VI or Mortal Kombat 11 but it is definitely worth your time and money.