Fighting game fans looking for something a little stranger than usual to fill out their library are in for a treat today. Based on the popular Umineko: When They Cry visual novels (which are also available on Steam), Golden Fantasia transplants the cast from their regular, dreary lives as metatextual murder-mystery characters into a no-holds-barred 2v2 tag-team brawl.
While the very first edition of this game came out all the way back in December 2010, this is the officially localised, polished and finalised version of the Cross release, a major expansion which bumped up the size of the playable cast to a respectable 19.
For those unfamiliar with the Umineko series, it's a tricky one to explain. On paper, it's your standard 'rich people on an isolated island' murder-mystery story, which goes quickly off the rails as the possibility of supernatural involvement is introduced. Now, in any halfway normal story, that would signal a genre-switch into 'Aha, a witch did it!' territory. It's hard to argue with once the very prominent witchy antagonist is introduced.
But Umineko isn't normal at all. It quickly pulls things back to the metatextual level, and turns the entire conceit of the series into a time-looping legal battle between the grounded-in-reality protagonist Battler (yeah, I don't get the name either) and his witchy nemesis Beatrice, with the witch attempting to prove - beyond all reasonable doubt - that magic is real and thus confirming her own existence. It's a fight between genres, and a fun read even if it does spin wildly out of control near the end.
Beyond that mess, it's also a followup (with some minor character crossover) to the Higurashi series, and both VN series' have been popular enough to spawn official anime and manga incarnations. Golden Fantasia, then, cuts back on most of the debating, though the Phoenix Wright-esque pose in our header screenshot goes some way to cement the link. Gameplay-wise, the metatextual nonsense is reflected in an alternate use of your super-move bar, to shift the action briefly into 'the Meta World', where vastly more flashy and improbable moves are possible.
It's an unusual mechanic for an unusual fighting game built on top of an even more unusual visual novel series. Still, having played the original, pre-expansion release of the game, I must admit that it's a solid and polished fighter, full of clever little nods and references that only those familiar with the source material will get. And if you're totally new to Umineko? Well, it's just another off-the-wall anime fighting game full of martial artist maids, demon butlers, witches and gun-toting bunny-girls, and a fun one at that.
Umineko: Golden Fantasia is available on Steam now for a quite reasonable $25, minus a 20% launch discount. The original VN series can be picked up there too, split into the initial Question arcs, and the later Answer chapters.