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The Queen of Heart '98 (PC) artwork

The Queen of Heart '98 (PC) review

"Watanabe Seisakujo is an interesting Japanese company. Obviously an impassioned collection of individuals, they seek to pay tribute to games that they admire. Apparently, some of those games are of an adult nature, as the group tends to borrow their favorite female characters to use in their own games… their own fighting games. Watanabe Seisakujo aren’t alone in their desire to see cute girls beat each other senseless, though, as all their creations have achieved at least cult-level recogniti..."

Watanabe Seisakujo is an interesting Japanese company. Obviously an impassioned collection of individuals, they seek to pay tribute to games that they admire. Apparently, some of those games are of an adult nature, as the group tends to borrow their favorite female characters to use in their own games… their own fighting games. Watanabe Seisakujo aren’t alone in their desire to see cute girls beat each other senseless, though, as all their creations have achieved at least cult-level recognition worldwide. Their latest masterpiece, Melty Blood, is so popular that some fans were compelled to make an English translation patch. Although The Queen of Heart ’98 never received that treatment (no doubt due to its paucity of dialogue), it definitely put Watanabe Seisakujo on the road to success. Certainly a great deal of its appeal rests with its famous character source material. However, QoH ’98 also places a strong emphasis on playing as a viable fighting game, one that can stack-up against the well-known counterparts of the era.

Still, initially, the game can’t help but garner attention because of its popular basis. The fighters for The Queen of Heart ’98 were lifted from To Heart, which was originally a very adult dating simulation but later adapted into a very non-adult shoujo anime and manga. All twelve girls from the series are lovingly reproduced in the game with painstaking accuracy, even down to details like Remy’s mischievous snaggletooth and Aoi’s band-aid below her eye. Although the characters are relatively small, about one-third the height of the screen, they still feature fluid animations and delightful expressions. Disregarding the now rough looking pixels and overwhelmingly bland backgrounds, The Queen of Heart ’98 offers pleasurable visuals of the most important aspect, the girls fighting in their cute school uniforms.

Without a doubt, though, the girls of To Heart were chosen not only for name recognition, but because each possessed wonderfully peculiar qualities. The best example of this is Multi, the cowardly robot maid. Despite the fact that her limbs can transform into a rocket launcher, machine gun, and power drill; she will turn tail and meekly flee from her opponent, streams of tears trailing through her green hair and into her wake. Then there’s Serika, a self-proclaimed occultist, who will use her pointy hat, broomstick, and magic wand to enchant her adversary into unconsciousness. Even Kotone sticks to her theme. This psychic girl, constantly enveloped in her powerful aura, has added telekinesis to her skills, and she uses her newfound power to hover across the ground and hurl random objects down onto the field of battle. The other characters may not seem as outlandish on the surface, but they also exhibit fantastic mannerisms. The more aggressive of the bunch openly taunt their opponents, some are so polite that they apologize in advance for any pain they might cause, and a couple are so hilariously clumsy that it seems they’re fighting by accident. It’s clear the developers wanted to preserve the girls’ personalities and quirks by integrating them into their weapons and fighting styles.

While the Watanabe Seisakujo guys’ fascination with To Heart certainly shows, their passion for fighting games also comes through. Once again engaging in the sincerest form of flattery, they decided to borrow from this genre as well. Purportedly, The Queen of Heart ’98 uses the highly vaunted Asuka 120% Burning Fest engine and rips partial movelists from well-known games of the day like King of Fighters. For those of us not in the know, though, just be aware that this means the action in QoH ’98 is fast and unforgiving. What starts as a single punch can be rapidly followed by three more. Once your rival becomes airborne, each strike will drive you both higher and higher. But just when she seems free from your grasp, a well-placed double jump will extend the brutal beating. When you both rise to the top of the screen, the final strike hurtles her towards the earth, accompanied by only a horrible bang and her muted yelp. After three seconds, a dozen punishing hits, and a third of her energy bar spent, your opponent can finally rise to retaliate with a combination of her own.

These combinations aren’t just for glorious show either; mastering them is essential to victory. Each fighter has a repertoire of at least twenty moves, all unique in range and execution, and most every one can successively flow into another. With so many possibilities, the challenge lies not only with learning the keystrokes necessary for execution, but also in analyzing positioning and attack patterns to find the most effective combos. For example, you’ll have to know the right moment to switch over from a ground to an aerial attack. You’ll have to learn when to punctuate a quick flurry with a more powerful super skill. And it’s not just a matter of finding these answers once. Every girl has different capabilities, so even you master one character, there will still be challenges ahead when taking control of a new darling.

As tough as the offense is to learn, defense can be just as strenuous. This is entirely due to your limited blocking ability, which is controlled by a self-replenishing meter. As you take repetitive blows, the meter will creep closer to zero. When it’s drained completely, then you are totally open to attack. Balling up in the corner to hide will only facilitate your own demise; you have to come up with more clever way to survive. Obviously, dodging attacks is a good strategy, but you can also cancel out your adversary’s attack. Whenever the fighters instantaneously strike each other in a similar spot, the effects will be mutually negated. Part of this strategy requires great reflexes, but it also means you have to develop an intuition of your foe’s next move, a very difficult skill to acquire.

Studying your opponent will not only help in your defense, however, it’s also one of the quickest ways to pick up new moves, as she’ll be dishing out combinations in generous helpings as well as evading yours. This is precisely why you need to learn them; without the right moves in your arsenal it’s like fighting a flamethrower with a match. Only on the lowest difficulty level, “Normal,” can you squeak by using only simple individual moves. In “Nightmare,” the middle setting, the speed of the action is doubled and your foe can finish you off with four or five massive combinations. Finally, the most difficult rank is appropriately titled “Hell.” Even though the speed isn’t increased, your enemy will show no weakness. Attacks will rain down on you without respite. If you haven’t trained yourself to think three moves ahead and reflexively carry out these orders, then you don’t stand a chance. But at least rewards await those hardy enough to attain proficiency in the later levels, as defeating them will unlock two hidden characters to master.

Even though the challenge provided by The Queen of Heart ’98 can be initially frustrating, it is the quality that carries it to such lofty heights, as it gives the game life beyond just serving as just a novelty item. People who are strictly fans of To Heart will have the bizarre experience of witnessing usually serene schoolgirls throw-down in an all-out brawl, but they’ll also have to practice hard to excel with their favorite characters. Fighting game fans may see familiar moves in not-so-familiar packages, witnessing a bloodless duel among swirling sakura blossoms. For anyone fitting both these descriptions, well, QoH ’98 may be a dream come true. Despite the release of two improved sequels, the ’98 version is still worth checking out today, if only to see the roots of Watanabe Seisakujo’s brilliance.

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Community review by woodhouse (June 18, 2004)

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