Outside of the steady stream of licensed 3D fighting games such as Naruto or Dragon Ball, not to mention the underwhelming Jump Force, it’s not like you have many options to scratch your anime brawling itch. Luckily, South Korea once again comes to the rescue as KOG Games is about to release KurtzPel, an exciting class-based third-person arena brawler.
KOG isn’t new to the genre, having released a couple of action games before, albeit in somewhat different styles. Grand Chase and Elsword were both 2D side-scrolling brawlers and sizable successes. KurtzPel, on the other hand, marks the leap to full-fledged 3D arenas with complete freedom of movement, a dual-weapon system and aerial combos inspired by the aforementioned animes.
Everybody Was Combo Fighting
The Early Access release of KurtzPel shows a no holds barred fighting system where you don’t have more than a couple of seconds of respite per match. Use this break wisely to gather your thoughts and rethink your strategy, since this is a game where player skill is of the utmost importance, against bashing the controls in the hope that some devastating blow appears out of nowhere. Practice makes perfect, as much as unlocking new abilities and items to make your character look good, but also to boost your stats.
KurtzPel begins with a personality test of sorts. If you’re wondering what this has to do with a fighting game… well, you’re correct to do so. Answering a few questions will steer you towards a specific type out of 16 possibilities, such as Observer, Hero, Shy or Leader. This test is based on the Myers-Briggs personality test that you can find online, but in KurtzPel you don’t get any kind of accurate report about who you are and what makes you tick; instead, your results will set you up with a prearranged character with a distinct stance, hairstyle and voice. However, you are not bound to the result and can change this before tweaking your character.
KurtzPel has one of the most in-depth character customization systems that I’ve ever seen in a fighting game. Scratch that – one of the most detailed systems in any online game. You can make your character tall, short, skinny or fat, change several aspects of your hair and dye parts of it, among other things. It’s not quite at the level of Black Desert Online as it doesn’t offer the complete freedom to customize facial features such as the nose and mouth, aspects that are sorely lacking, but you get more than enough to stand out from the crowd.
Eltheca is the hub town where you and other fellow Chasers unite. This label isn’t random; it is in fact inspired by one of KOG’s previous games, Grand Chase. Fans of this 2D brawler will immediately recognize some of the characters and it’s not unlikely that a tear or two will be shed. KurtzPel is set in a parallel universe of Grand Chase and while this may not mean a thing to most players, it’s a pleasant layer of fan service that should be celebrated.
One of the defining traits of KurtzPel is the Karma system. Karmas can be compared to the classes found in other games, determining the weapon and skills that your Chaser takes to the arena. Currently there are four Karmas available, with the first two being unlocked from the start: Longbow (Dance of Wind), Greatsword (Sword Taliah), Staff (Diabolic Witch) and Gauntlets (Blazing Fist). The next in line is the Dual Swords (Dual Souls) Karma, which is self-explanatory.
While you must pick a Karma to begin with, it won’t take long for you to unlock a second one. The big twist is that you can equip two Karmas and switch between them on-the-fly. The best players will even be able to create combos based on cunning Karma switching, but this requires quite a bit of training. Choosing a long-range Karma such as the Longbow and a melee-based Karma like the Greatsword results in a timeless combination that every fan of fighting games should be able to learn and master.
Additional skills can be unlocked when you acquire Karma shards. These can be obtained by your growing affinity with the NPCs in Eltheca, increasing the strategic options in the arena. When you choose a PvE mission, it is tied to a specific NPC and you can sometimes chat with him or her at the end of the dungeon. Picking the right keywords may increase your affinity level with Crim Plie or Lire Eruel, for example, paving the way for rewards such as specific skills or equipment.
Big Brawl in Little Eltheca
Being an instance-based dungeon brawler, KurtzPel is entirely comprised of either PvE boss battles or PvP clashes. In PvE you are tasked with missions that are related to an NPC and may be solo or two-player co-op, with a specific category of real-time missions only appearing at certain times. The only surefire thing is that you will be facing one threatening and usually larger than life boss… well, apart from the Dark Elves Shay and Ney, who are very much normal sized but a tough challenge as well.
The PvE mode may feel a little bare-bones, but it goes without saying that KurtzPel is first and foremost a PvP game. This addition feels like the devs going the extra mile to please a portion of players disappointed by the lack of a story mode. Their intention is laudable and if you are not too picky, you can have a lot of fun with it. Otherwise, you would miss on some stunning boss creatures, so even if you are a PvP player at heart, make sure to learn the combat basics in the story mode.
In this aspect, KurtzPel comes highly recommended, with bosses that are accomplished in every regard. Your foes come in different shapes and sizes, with a selection of attacks that will always require you to stay alert, either up close or at a distance. Some encounters double the danger, with a pair of bosses to defeat – while Dark Elf Karin stays safe in the distance using her magic-based skills, her oversized cougar Black Fang gets up close and personal, with fierce claw attacks to knock you down.
KurtzPel is a looker, there is no denying that, with the Unreal Engine 4 being put to great use. The anime design is clean and well-defined, with models that are far from being overloaded with needless details. The game truly shines when it comes to the dazzling visual effects, a spectacle of color and motion that often distracts you from your mission – arrows raining from the skies, dragon fire, tiny tornadoes… There is no shortage of things going on in each battle.
As soon as you set foot on the arena, you’ll immediately realize just how fast everyone moves and how your ability to use break skills is crucial to interrupt the enemy’s attacks, creating opportunities for your ally to strike. Each class has a unique Karma crystal, a powerful ability that works as a vital comeback mechanic – the meter grows as you successfully attack, but mostly as you take damage, a mechanic that isn’t to everyone’s tastes but that you’ll have to learn to work with to your advantage.
But fighting the AI-controlled bosses in KurtzPel is a walk in the park when compared to the real meat of the game, player versus player. I’m not overstating it when I say that I felt physically exhausted after a couple of deathmatches, such was the relentless pace, eye-watering projectile-based scuffles and brutal melee combat. Current PvP modes are 2v2 and include Deathmatch, Capture the Flag and Conquest, with a custom match system where 3v3 is a new feature.
Deathmatch is exactly what you think it is: two teams of two players unleashing hell on one another, with the team that has scored the most points when the timer runs out winning the match. In Capture the Flag you must keep the flag in your possession for the longest possible, with the victory once again smiling to the team that has more points. Conquest is all about capturing and dominating the middle area of the map.
After some thinking, KOG ultimately settled on a free-to-play business model for KurtzPel, which means that the game must continuously generate enough revenue to support further development and updates. For this Early Access preview I received the Vanguard costume and weapon set, among other items that will be available as paid DLC. Besides looking good, these pieces of gear give your character a few stats boosts, and you can go to the Library to upgrade other equipment or unlock additional Karma crystal slots. Having two locked Karmas – which you can unlock through gameplay progress – stirred up some turmoil, but KOG has stated that this is meant for those players who wish to completely skip the PvE portion and dive in instantly in PvP. How this will work out for the game is still up for discussion, but the community will surely cry foul at the first sign of unbalanced clashes.
KurtzPel still needs fine-tuning to make all the Karmas feel balanced and fair. Nevertheless, that is precisely what the Early Access phase is for, with player feedback hopefully steering it in the right direction. It’s a game with high production values and an experienced and enthusiastic team. Unless something goes terribly wrong, KurtzPel is bound to give other games such as Dissidia Final Fantasy NT or Jump Force a butt-whooping to remember.