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Kill la Kill the Game: IF review - Fashionable fighting

Ryuko Matoi, Satsuki Kiryuin, and all your favorite Kill la Kill characters come out to play in this gorgeous but occasionally flawed brawler.

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Studio Trigger's frenzied, eye-popping anime series Kill la Kill set the industry on fire when it debuted five years ago. It combined the raw coolness of Gurren Lagann with the impeccable character design seen in previous efforts like Little Witch Academia to fantastic effect, which made for one of the freshest shows to debut in some time. Fast forward to 2019, and it's now getting a video game adaptation by way of the venerable Arc System Works. We saw how beautifully the developer handled Dragon Ball FighterZ, giving life to Dragon Ball's best and brightest and weaving them into an excellent fighting game. The developer has done much the same with Kill la Kill the Game: IF, to great effect. But while it's a polished, enjoyable anime fighter, it still ends up feeling a bit threadbare in a few places.

Dressed to kill

In the future, the students of Honnouji Academy are all but controlled by their terrifying student council members, a fearsome group of five lead by president Satsuki Kiryuin. Under the group's iron fist, the rich of the city continue to thrive, while the poor live in slums dotting the city. The ones in control can remain this way and keep order thanks to a bizarre material known as Life Fibers. They wear supernatural outfits called Goku Uniforms with special powers to enact their will. When transfer student Ryuko Matoi goes up against the Council in a bid to figure out who killed her father with a lengthy half-scissor blade, she sets a lengthy chain of events in motion that result in a big reveal: these people are trying to rule the world through clothing. I won't spoil much else here, but that's the gist of things.

This game adaptation of the massively popular anime follows the show's storyline, but instead of seeing things from the perspective of heroine Ryuko Matoi, you get a chance to look into the mind of her rival Satsuki Kiryuin. This ice queen is extremely powerful, but austere and difficult to empathize with throughout most of the series, so it's refreshing to get a peek behind the curtain and see into her soul a bit, if you will.

As such, throughout the game's story mode you play through an annotated version of the anime about 75% through its original narrative before it breaks off into an intriguing "what if?" scenario. Throughout a flurry of slick anime cut scenes and expository moments, you partake in fight after fight as you hurtle toward a conclusion. If you don't want to take part in the story missions, you can play multiplayer matches, practice mode, or check out all the models and voice clips you've collected throughout your journey. There's a tutorial for you to learn the basics, as well as ranked and unranked online modes to take your talents on the road, too. If you like fighting drones, you can take on survival mode to play against a variety of AI characters to see how long you can last before dying.

It's a pretty barebones selection of modes to indulge in, and it's clear that all the work went into really spotlighting the story moments. Unfortunately, if you're not already familiar with Kill la Kill's basic story, you won't really have much of an idea what's going on, making much of the story inaccessible to you. If you plan on playing, it's worth at least giving the Wiki a read first before jumping in. 

Beautiful brawling

If you're a Kill la Kill fan, you can either partake in the story or take a frenzied sort of glee in taking your favorite characters and matching them up against each other. And doing that is fun at all, but it's a different affair than, say, Dragon Ball FighterZ' 2D setup. Like many of the Naruto fighting games, it's a 3D arena fighter that dumps you into an enclosed space and forces you to duke it out against one or more opponents.

You've got a wide variety of attacks, ranging from a little flashy to over-the-top, bad-guys-don't-look-at-explosions finales, and it's a ton of fun to pull each one off. When you're not hacking and slashing, blocking, sending off charged ranged attacks, or pulling off counterattacks, one of the main components of battle you'll master is the Bloody Valor system, which is integral to combat – if you want to see your character's coup de grace attack, anyway.

When you've charged up a bar beneath your HP gauge, you'll be able to use your Bloody Valor move, which is essentially a rock, paper, scissors game. You'll choose a different move, as will your opponent, such as guard breaks, ranged attacks, and normal attacks. The winner of each round gets a special bonus, such as additional damage. Accomplishing three wins with three Blood Valors will net you what essentially amounts to an insta-kill attack that blends seamlessly with the match's smooth and fluid animations. It's truly a work of art, and Arc System Works really outdid themselves with integrating it in battle. 

While combat is satisfying and flashy, however, there aren't as many complex combos or strategies as you might imagine, nor are there that many combos to use in battle. It won't take long to master them, and once you have they begin to lose their luster a bit, as do some of the later battles. Specifically, the story mode gets a little stale later on as it begins peppering in filler fights with hollow COVERS enemies (living suits) with arbitrary numbers – in one level, you have to destroy 100 of them in addition to defeating another character. It's silly, and slows the pacing down a bit, especially when you're in the middle of a particularly juicy section.

Unfortunately, there aren't many fighters to choose from, though that stems from the fact that there simply aren't that many characters in the show to begin with (outside of its normal protagonists and antagonists who are in the game). Fan-favorite hyperactive ball of chaos Mako Mankanshoku (Ryuko's best friend) and additional characters will be added as DLC, so it's possible more fighters could be coming at a later date.

Looking sharp

Arc System Works absolutely nailed the Kill la Kill aesthetic, from the crisp blues of the backgrounds to the striking red of the text that's splashed over the screen to set the stage and call out characters' attacks. Though the anime came out in 2014, Studio Trigger employed a bit of a rough, hand-drawn look, and the game resembles an HD "remaster" of the anime of sorts, aside from the occasionally obvious 3D model movement.

Each scene features a moment pulled straight from the anime, or at the very least the look of it, since it does diverge in several places from the show's narrative. And the accompanying soundtrack, which is the same music you hear in the anime, sets the scene perfectly.

While the English dub is definitely appreciated (and unexpected), the voices don't often match the characters' lip flaps. Too often, they'll spout off with a sarcastic comeback and their mouths will continue moving a few seconds after the audio ends. It's awkward, especially since I've seen far better sync in the anime itself, so it comes off as a bit lazy here. It's not a huge issue, but it is extremely noticeable. 

Grand couturier

This colorful burst of anime goodness may not be flawless, but it's exemplary for the genre, and another of Arc System Works' great efforts. It's quite short and a bit on the shallow end, but when it comes to presentation and sticking close by to the anime, few titles have done it better. For newcomers, it's best to watch the series first, but for Kill la Kill faithful and Trigger enthusiasts, it's a great weekend rental or purchase.


This review is based upon a review copy of the game provided by the publisher. Kill la Kill the Game: IF is available now PlayStation 4 and Nintendo Switch now for $59.99. 

Senior Editor

Fueled by horror, rainbow-sugar-pixel-rushes, and video games, Brittany is a Senior Editor at Shacknews who thrives on surrealism and ultraviolence. Follow her on Twitter @MolotovCupcake and check out her portfolio for more. Like a fabulous shooter once said, get psyched!

Pros
  • Impeccable anime design
  • Fast, frenetic, and fun brawls
  • Excellent voice acting and soundtrack
  • Fun "what if" scenarios for fans of the series
Cons
  • Shallow fighting mechanics
  • Short campaign missions
  • Lip movements don't sync well
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