Kido Tenshi: Angelic Layer


Review by · November 21, 2004

Note: This review is based on the Japanese version of the game.

Kido Tenshi: Angelic Layer is an RPG based on CLAMP’s anime and manga series of the same name. The story is a retelling of the anime series, though much of the exposition is abridged for the game. It centers on a 12-year-old girl named Misaki Suzuhara who comes to Tokyo to attend an exclusive middle school. Upon first arriving in Tokyo, she sees a crowd gathered around a large outdoor TV screen. It seems there is some kind of fighting match going on, and Misaki is captivated by the amazing fighting skill of Athena, a champion fighter. A rather odd man named Icchan soon approaches Misaki and informs her about Angelic Layer. The combatants are really toy dolls called angels who fight in an arena called a Layer and are controlled by the mental commands of their human, known as a Deus. Icchan helps Misaki buy her very own angel and thus her fate is sealed. Misaki names her angel Hikaru. Hikaru has red hair and is a lightweight, speed-oriented angel. Somehow, I think this is a nod to Hikaru of CLAMP’s Magic Knight Rayearth series, despite not looking much alike.

In any case, the rest of the story revolves around Misaki and Hikaru battling their way to Angelic Layer stardom. Along the way, Misaki makes friends and rivals, all of who have personality. Unfortunately, the side effect of cramming lots of characters into a fairly short game causes character development to suffer. Some of the rival characters were quite cool and likely get more airtime in the anime and manga than they did in the game.

As far as importer friendliness goes, one can probably get by with basic Japanese knowledge. Since the game is based on a children’s series, there is no overly complex dialogue, and even the adult characters use kanji sparingly. However, the cutscenes can be long-winded sometimes, so they can get boring for the importer who cannot read any Japanese. Also, a healthy grasp of katakana is in order to navigate the menus and get the most out of the gameplay system, which I will explain later.

I quite liked the graphics. During plot segments, the graphics consist of large, detailed, super-deformed sprites in bright colorful backgrounds. The character designs for the people aren’t as highly stylized as those of other CLAMP efforts such as Magic Knight Rayearth or X but are still appealing, if slightly generic. Where the character designs show flair is in the Angels during battle. These action figures wear brightly colored flamboyant outfits. Of course, some Angels are more stylistically appealing than others. During battles, the angel sprites are large, detailed, and animate very smoothly. Sometimes, still shots from the anime series pop up during plot segments to enhance the storytelling. They look nice, if slightly blurry.

The music is nothing special, and there are very few tracks. It’s mostly upbeat synth pop MIDI with simplistic arrangements. None of it is grating, but neither is any of it memorable either. The same few tracks played at various locations, and the few battle themes failed to impress. I’ve not seen the anime yet (I’ve only read some of the manga), and I assume some tracks were lifted from it. I certainly hope the anime series has a more impressive selection of music than this game.

Sound is also standard fare. The various sounds the Angels make during battle are nothing you haven’t heard in most 16-bit RPGs. There are a few instances where some dialogue is voiced; before each battle, each Deus calls his/her angel with a “Pikachu! I choose you!” type of battle cry. As usual, these battle cries are overacted. During plot cutscenes, some dialogue is peppered with voiced lines. Their placement seems quite random sometimes. Also, one of Misaki’s traits is constantly saying “Naa” when she’s unsure of herself, and you get to hear all her distinctive “Naas” in the game. There really isn’t enough voice acting here for me to make a judgment call on it, but what little there was seemed standard fare for a children’s anime series. Either way, if you get easily annoyed by squeaky voiced pre-teen anime girls, steer clear.

Control during exploration can be a little awkward. The environments are at an angle, such as the event rooms in Revelations: Persona. If you’re used to the control scheme in that game, Angelic Layer is no problem. But for those not quite comfortable with the angled, character-relevant control scheme, you can opt to change it so that pressing the angles of the directional pad moves you as such.

Okay, so despite the pretty graphics, we have a weak plot, so-so sound & music, and some control issues. But what kept this game fun for me was indeed the gameplay. Epoch has fashioned a lovely battle engine that really makes you, the participant, feel like a Deus in the Angelic Layer arena.

The battles are a happy blend of a strategy RPG with hints of Dance Dance Revolution. Battles are a 1-on-1 affair with each angel on either side of the Layer. The standard Layer is a flat, grid-like surface (think a rectangular checkerboard), but later on in the game, you’ll fight on different types such as one that resembles a craggy peak where height can affect your angel’s combat tactics.

On your turn, you get to move your angel to a highlighted square around it, as in a strategy RPG. Once you’re on that square, you can either stay put or select a move to do. Your angel has a full roster of moves, both offensive and defensive. The offensive moves are mostly punches and kicks, while the defensive moves are more evasive. Once you select a move or a chain combo of up to five moves, a bar with a window appears at the bottom of the screen (it resembles Squall’s Renzokuken bar in Final Fantasy 8). A green bar then moves from right to left and there are button press indicators in this green bar. And as you may have guessed, you need to press the corresponding button as it enters the window. This requires some coordination and if you miss one button press on a move, it will not execute. Each angel has both hit points and concentration points. Concentration points are used as the angel makes battle moves, though moving along the Layer grid uses up none.

When the opponent angel is on the offensive, red bars appear in the window bar to allow you to either guard, evade, or counter the enemy’s move by pressing the corresponding button when the red bar comes under the window. Pressing A makes you guard, B makes you evade, and R-shoulder makes you counter. However, even if you successfully time your button presses, it is sometimes luck of the draw whether your angel actually guards, evades, or counters the enemy’s move.

Other things to note? The majority of moves are all written in katakana, so in order to get the most out of battles, a good grasp of katakana is needed. Also, battles are not numerous in this game, and you often only fight when you’re ready, which is a nice change of pace from excessive random encounters and such.

Outside of battle, however, things don’t fare quite as well. The game’s world is very small with only two or three small areas you make extensive use of, such as the Angelic Layer stadium and the Piffle Princess toy shop. There is no exploration and no dungeons — the game is mostly just cutscenes and battles. In the beginning of the game, you are basically dragged by the neck for a few major battles, then once you get some freedom of movement, the game allows you to go to Piffle Princess to fight practice battles before a major battle in the stadium. These practice battles are a good thing to do, to really practice button-pressing coordination on your moves. However, I didn’t find the stadium battle AI very good and often won each major battle on my first try. You can only gain levels during the major stadium battles — the Piffle Princess practice battles only yield Angel Points (currency).

Piffle Princess and the stadium are the only places with shops. The shops sell various stat boosting items, defensive materials, and modules for Angels. Defensive materials can protect you against certain types of attacks, and modules are moves you can put on your angel’s roster. There are only a limited number of moves an angel can have. In the menu, there are lots of move slots. Some more advanced moves take up more slots than simpler moves, so choosing which moves to put on your angel is important. You can also win modules from stadium opponents and learn new moves as levels are gained. However, some of the best stuff is very pricey and you don’t win a lot of Angel Points in battles, so you need to watch your wallet. My biggest gripe with the shops is that you can buy stuff, but you can’t sell any of it off. I have a bunch of items in my menu that I don’t use, and I cannot sell them back or get rid of them.

One thing I liked in the menus that I’d like to see in more RPGs is the ‘Hint’ option. If you select it, the game will give you a hint as to your next objective. But because this game is so linear, ‘Hint’ is a superfluous option. Also, you can save whenever you want, unless you’re in a battle or a conversation. Generally, the menus are not difficult to navigate, and you will spend a good amount of time in them to tweak up your angel.

My favorite part of the game comes after you beat the story mode. Once Misaki and Hikaru have attained Angelic Layer stardom, you can access the ‘My Angel’ mode at the title screen. This allows you to create your own angel. Much as I loved Hikaru, I was happy to make an angel geared more to my fighting style. When making your own angel, the game only allows you to use the Hikaru template. Thus, the only alterations you can choose from are a few hairstyles and a bunch of outfit colors. If a more advanced version of an Angelic Layer game comes out, a character creator like that in Phantasy Star Online would be very cool. Each of Misaki’s opponents had very cool and individual looking Angels and I would have liked to make one of my own that wasn’t just a face-lifted Hikaru.

Parameters are the most important thing in your new angel. There are three areas you can tweak: lightweight/heavyweight, attack oriented/defense oriented, and hand/foot (in other words, do you want a greater emphasis on punching techniques or kicking techniques?) The interface looks like this: LIGHT * * * * * HEAVY, and you highlight the middle dots to select how you want it. Yes, it is a very simplistic process, but remember that this is a child’s game.

And to cap it off, you can create your own call phrase for your angel. Once you’ve created your angel, there is an interactive epilogue that you play through. There isn’t much plot in it; it is just a way to try out your angel against Misaki’s prior opponents and earn more money to buy and collect all the stuff in the stores. And lest I forget, your individual angel comes with all the items and modules your final Hikaru had.

At the end of the day, I did enjoy this game, but I have an extremely difficult time recommending it. Unless you are fan of CLAMP or, better yet, Angelic Layer, then this game will definitely be lost on you, especially considering the on-the-rails linearity and the extremely small game world. Even if you are an Angelic Layer fan, you’ll already know everything that happens in the story, so the only real benefits of the game will be the interactive angel battles, creating an angel, and/or battling with friends in the multiplayer mode. I’m not sure those factors alone are worth the price tag. To conclude, I think the RPG did make decent use of its license, as evidenced by the well thought out battle engine, and is generally quite cute and fun, but I cannot shake the feeling that the license would work better as a fighting game with a more extensive angel creation and customization interface.

Overall Score 79
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Neal Chandran

Neal Chandran

Neal is the PR manager at RPGFan but also finds time to write occasional game or music reviews and do other assorted tasks for the site. When he isn't networking with industry folks on behalf of RPGFan or booking/scheduling appointments for press events, Neal is an educator, musician, cyclist, gym rat, and bookworm who has also dabbled in voiceover work and motivational speaking.