Back in the previous generation there was somewhat of a renaissance of the fighting game genre. Street Fighter IV launched and reinvigorated the game, bringing the competitive scene, awesome net code and gameplay in spades. Many other franchises have come along riding the coattails of this revolution, old classics came back in a big way with the excellent Mortal Kombat, Killer Instinct and King of Fighters while new challengers also entered the ring with the likes of Battle Fantasia, Arcana Heart and the subject of todays review, Blazblue.
Whereas the name was new to the scene (at least for the west) the talent behind the game were not, Arc System works were known for the Guilty Gear series, an excellent Anime inspired fighter with impressive visuals, stylish combos and some of the finest character creations in the beat em up genre to date. Blazblue was their new creation and seen as somewhat of a spiritual successor and for good reason, a lot of the elements that I have just mentioned have translated perfectly to their new home and the game features the same kinetic and speedy gameplay that made Guilty Gear so great.
Anime fighting games have a bit of a reputation of being incredibly punishing to learn and digest, especially in the early stages. This is where Blazblue sets itself apart from the rest, it has been built from the ground up to provide an accessible and uncharacteristically friendly atmosphere for new and rusty players. It does this in a bunch of different ways; not only does include the most comprehensive tutorial section from any fighting game that I have ever seen, presented brilliantly with a fully voice acted script and a joyfully tongue in cheek attitude. It also provides an amusing catch up on the otherwise complex storyline but also breaks down all of the different characters ala Street Fighter to teach you their own different mechanics in the game. Normally in any fighting game you could get away with mashing buttons to get a feel for the characters as you learn while momentarily glimpsing at the input screen on the pause menu every now and then but Blazblue revels in teaching you by doing and that is a far more welcome concept in my eyes.
Another one of these accessibility options is the additional ‘Stylish’ mode. This is only present for some select parts of the game such as a choice in the story mode but it is a fantastic way to get someone who is less versed in fighting games to enjoy what the game has to offer. Stylish is a simplified version of the typical game controls but distilled in a way to make any novice feel like they are playing like a pro. Normally a mode like this would be held in distain by the elite who spend time learning the mechanics inside out but to me this brings something that no other fighting game can offer. It offers an experience that allows me to introduce this otherwise bafflingly Japanese game to a friend and allow him/her the opportunity to compete rather than to be trounced into dust by someone who has spent that extra time learning the game. Not only does the Stylish mode offer this but it also gives you a window into the core gameplay and inputs that the non simplified portion of the game presents which is a master-stroke on Arc’s part.
This is not to say that the core gameplay is impenetrable. It is relatively standard fighting game fare. Each of the attacks are mapped to the four face buttons with directional inputs determining the different special attacks and whether you block or not. Each character has a special button which is by default mapped to X. When you press this button it will trigger a character specific ability which can do a number of different things. If you play as Taokaka (cat type person) then this will cause her to pounce at the opponent with the severity and direction controlled with the d pad or if you play as Litchi (big titted anime girl type person) then you can send her staff flying at the opponent to extend combos or to create openings on their defence. This is again a really simple mechanic on paper but adds a lot of depth, giving the player more opportunities for customisation.
One of Blazblue’s most important assets is its presentation. The series is known for its excellent sprites and screen filling special moves and Chrono Phantasma is no exception. Each character stands out from the background perfectly and each have their distinct style so they can never be confused for eachother, this is further exacerbated by alternative colours and costumes. Background stages can range from slightly 3D affairs to lush, vibrant backdrops in all manners of themes, however although these are nice to look at there is usually a lot going on at any given time so these will mostly be completely ignored as a rule.
Presentation is more than flashy special moves and well sculpted anime sprites. Also filling in this category is the soundtrack which can be best described as what I like to call epileptic power metal. Guitars screech and widdle in the background as the fast paced action takes place, it can at times feel a lot like sensory overload, especially if you have stylish mode set to on. It can feel quite liberating on one hand and baffling on the other. Speaking of baffling you also have the story which is the main meat of the experience. The story is presented in still images of the characters as they talk about the goings on and their missions. With twenty eight different characters to choose from things can get a bit long and confusing due to Arc wanting to give everyone a time to shine. What makes up for this is that every lin
e is lovingly voice acted and the still images of the characters often change to reflect moods and stances. It is at this point you can see a lot of the attention to detail and the sheer love that has gone into these creations. I could talk about the plot of the story but I could be here for months as it spans all of the previous games as well as this one and each story can change as there are branching narrative choices that you can make. It is worth your time if you like the universe and typical anime waffle and there is plenty of content here to keep you entertained.