Hot off the heels of the surprise smash hit Dragon Ball FighterZ, renowned developers Arc System Works had the anime side of the fighting game community abuzz last year with the surprise announcement of a collaboration with Studio Trigger. The result of that collaboration was Kill la Kill IF, a game that many Kill la Kill fans have waited for since 2013. As an avid fighting game aficionado, the prospect of one of my favorite Trigger properties getting a traditional anime fighter excited me. Once the actual announcement came, my hype diminished significantly. Not only was the game a 3D arena fighter in the same vein as Naruto: Ultimate Ninja Storm, the development of the game was outsourced to A+ Games (Little Witch Academia: Chamber of Time). ArcSys only published the title and lent the same graphical engine seen in FighterZ and Guilty Gear Xrd. Despite the disappointing turn, I still gave it a chance because of my love of the source material and the dual audio option. I didn’t expect much from the game, but IF slightly exceeded my expectations and gave me a pretty decent time. However, some annoying design flaws hampered my overall enjoyment.
Kill la Kill IF features a new scenario overseen by the original anime’s scriptwriter, Kazuki Nakashima. For maximum enjoyment, you’re expected to have gone through the entire anime before playing this game. The story follows the same central players with a lot of the same story beats; however, Satsuki Kiryuin takes the mantle of the main character this time around. The story begins with a faithful recreation of the Naturals Election arc in the anime. However, after Ryuko defeats the Elite Four, things start to diverge from the anime’s plot. The Primordial Life Fiber plays a more prominent role in this story than the original, and the Elite Four are more active on the frontlines. Disappointingly enough, there’s no appearance or mention of the absurd rebel faction Nudist Beach at all in the story. Sadly, fan-favorite Mako Makanshoku doesn’t get enough screentime, as she only appears sparsely in the Ryuko chapter (although she does get one “Hallelujah” speech).
The story itself is nothing special and a bit of a slog to play through. Both chapters take approximately three hours each to complete if you sit through the cutscenes. The cutscenes themselves are merely expository in purpose and don’t have any real substance except to look pretty and poorly tell you what’s going on.
For some strange reason, almost all of KIll la Kill IF’s modes and characters are locked at the start. The only mode selectable at first is Story Mode. After going through the whole story, you’ll have full access to the game’s features. Not being able to jump into Training Mode or VS. Mode (both offline AND online) immediately is such a jarring and borderline nonsensical design choice in a 2019 fighting game. It doesn’t add any real replay value because the Story Mode can be finished in under an hour if you skip all the cutscenes. It becomes a waste of time, especially for those looking to get their competitive kick as soon as possible.
The game’s roster is fairly small, only sporting 12 characters (Ryuko, Satsuki, Gamagoori, Sanageyama, Nonon, Inumuta, Nui, Ragyo, dual-wielding variants of Ryuko and Satsuki, and free DLC characters Fight Club Mako and the Double-Naked DTR). Despite the small roster and the omission of several popular side characters such as Tennis Club Captain Hakodate and “Dosh King” Takarada, the character’s gameplay methods are quirky different enough to fit anybody’s style. For example, Gamagoori can inflict damage on himself to absorb enemy attacks and make his attacks stronger, while Nui sprouts numerous clones to attack the opponent at any distance.
Kill la Kill IF features most of the basic modes that come with every fighting game. There’s a Story Mode, a Training Mode, a tutorial, a VS. Mode (both vs. CPU and 2P), and an Online Mode (casual/player and ranked matches). Additionally, there’s a special mode called COVERS Challenge where you fight dozens of computer-controlled mooks until you drop. COVERS Challenge, while a neat idea on paper, is an annoying mash-fest plagued by a bad camera. The single-player experience overall is pretty mediocre, with minimal modes and an annoying AI that makes Story Mode not fun at all to play.
Outside of the main gameplay modes lie a few neat extras. For the collectors, there’s a Digital Figurine Mode where you can pose your favorite characters in various positions and backdrops. There’s also a gallery where you can watch cutscenes, look at art, and listen to the voice clips from the game and the voice actors themselves. Sadly, they’re all locked behind the in-game currency, so you’ll have to grind heavily through the other modes to get them all.
The gameplay is the part of the game I wish was handled by ArcSys and not A+ games. The basic arena fighter formula is solid enough but needs fine-tuning. For mobility options, there’s basic 360-degree movement, sidestepping, guarding, and air dashing. There are three main attack buttons, a jump button, a guard button, and a button to help trigger special attacks. Every character has different combo threads that you can chain together if you time the attacks right. Basic combat may seem mash-heavy at first, but once you get a basic grasp of all of your character’s combo threads, you can pull off some pretty long and stylish combos to inflict massive damage on your opponent. Getting pummeled? You can use two bars of special meter to burst and send the opponent flying backward.
Please enjoy this charming interview with Kill la Kill IF Producer, Takeshi Yamanaka!! pic.twitter.com/impxafd7An
— Crunchyroll (@Crunchyroll) June 21, 2019
The unique thing about Kill la Kill IF is the special gameplay function called “Bloody Valor.” For two bars of special meter, you can activate it. The game’s fighting momentarily stops, and you’re treated to a rock-paper-scissors minigame of sorts. Much like the series, you’ll see the characters attack each other while talking smack to each other. Winning these clashes will level up your Bloody Valor, granting you a stat boost at level one, an upgraded special move at level two, and an even bigger stat boost PLUS access to your character’s instant kill at level three. Losing the clashes will cause your character to take damage. While very much on-brand for Kill la Kill, functionally it doesn’t add anything to the gameplay. In the single-player modes, you’ll rarely level up your Bloody Valor because the AI, seven or eight times out of ten, will always either tie with you or counter you. Not to mention that it’s a total pace breaker, and the rock-paper-scissors minigame just doesn’t fit.
The matches don’t last very long, and after a while, you might find yourself spamming the same attack button to end the match quickly. The game’s pace is mildly fast, and the controls feel mostly snappy, though the crazy camera may annoy you. The camera is mostly fixed at a slightly downward angle and tries hard to follow the action of the combatants. You have no option to control the camera or center the camera on yourself. While it’s not much of a nuisance in regular battles, it’s a different story in the COVERS Challenge and several of Story Mode’s three or four-way battles. There’s no manual lock-on, nothing to indicate where a character is off-screen, and no way to rotate the camera. How such a basic feature for any action game got omitted in this game baffles me.
In terms of performance, both the PS4 and Switch versions perform almost identically. Both consoles run the game at 60 fps with some slight frame drops close to 30 fps when the screen is busy. The Switch version suffers slightly more drops, but nothing that hinders the gameplay. Speaking of the Switch version, it runs identically on both handheld and docked modes so you can enjoy the game wherever you want without sacrificing performance. There are some lengthy load times in every version, but they’re nothing too crippling. The online modes are barebones, and the netcode is average. The biggest problem is finding opponents to fight due to the small install base. Otherwise, connections are decent but sometimes really spotty on the Switch.
If you’ve played Guilty Gear Xrd or Dragon Ball FighterZ, you’ll know what to expect when you look at the graphics. The game employs the same universally acclaimed cel-shaded style used in those games, blurring the line between 2D and 3D graphics. Every character and all the locales translate beautifully, and it looks even better in motion. Just like FighterZ, there are a lot of direct references to several poses, sequences, and attacks from the anime sprinkled in the game. Despite having not seen the series since it finished its run on Toonami in 2015, I recognized just about every visual quirk they referenced. From Satsuki’s iconic heel click to the big on-screen red text cut-ins, the developers did their homework and did a fantastic job providing glorious fanservice in every sense of the word. Despite the great-looking visuals, some of the animations in-game look a bit unpolished. Thankfully, they’re not too distracting. With a little bit of tweaking, they’d be perfect.
Kill la Kill IF doesn’t waste any time getting you into the Honnouji Academy spirit. After the introductory developer/publisher logos, you’re instantly greeted with Eir Aoi’s “Sirius” (Kill la Kill’s first opening song) at the title screen. That’s not all. Other familiar songs from the anime’s catalog, such as the memetic “Before My Body is Dry” and the chilling theme of Ragyo, “Blumenkranz,” show up throughout the game’s Story Mode. The rest of the soundtrack consists of original character themes by Akiyuki Kubota. Every playable character has three songs each: their standard theme, a remix for Bloody Valor level 3, and even their own specialized victory theme. These extra character-building details, while not necessary, are incredibly welcome and add a nice layer to the fanservice. The original soundtrack is impressive, perfectly matching every character’s personalities and the anime’s style.
— Sketch (#PrayForKyoAni) (@Sketch1984) July 9, 2019
Unlike most anime video games, Kill la Kill IF contains an English dub option. The entire English cast reunited under director Alex Von David to bring the colorful cast to life. Despite being away from the characters for approximately five years, nobody missed a single beat. Hearing clips from the voice actors excitedly talking about their experiences with the show and returning for the game brought a big smile to my face. These little things that exemplify the passion put into their work make me appreciate ArcSys for taking the risk to dub the game.
Kill la Kill IF may not be the next Dragon Ball FighterZ, but there’s still some fun to be had if you can make it through the lackluster Story Mode. You most likely won’t find much long-term enjoyment in this game, but it’s a good game to pick up and play for a couple of minutes at a time. If you’re looking for the next Dragon Ball FighterZ, then you’re better off waiting for Granblue Fantasy Versus or the next Guilty Gear. If you’re a die-hard fan of Kill la Kill or 3D arena fighters, then I’d suggest waiting for a price drop before picking it up. It’s a decent game all things considered, but it’s nowhere near $59.99 decent.
- Accessible, easy-to-learn gameplay with just enough depth for combo experimentation
- A varied cast of gameplay styles for all types of players to use
- Good graphics that capture the essence of the anime
- Familiar visual quirks, music, and voice acting provide tons of smile-inducing fanservice
- Neat Gallery Mode with nice bonus messages from the voice actors
- No lock-on, off-screen indicators, or manually adjustable camera controls for COVERS Challenge and multi-opponent Story Mode battles make those features more frustrating than fun
- Bloody Valor mechanic is a virtually useless, luck-based pace breaker that doesn’t enhance the experience
- Atrociously annoying AI
- The Story Mode is a chore to watch and play through and mandatory for unlocking modes and characters
- Spotty netcode on the Switch version
This game was reviewed with a purchased copy of the Nintendo Switch version. Kill la Kill IF is available now on PlayStation 4, Nintendo Switch, and PC.
Alien.Renegade is a writer and reviewer for Toonami Faithful, a Toonami-styled video editor, and the creator of many Toonami-inspired tracks. You can follow him on Twitter @AlienRenegade