This year is quickly becoming the year of the fighting game. I can’t say we didn’t call it last year, but when Street Fighter IV has already landed, and you have heavy hitters such as King of Fighters XII, Tekken 6, and of course Marvel Vs. Capcom 2 still to come; you know it is going to be a good year for the genre. BlazBlue further enforces this concept by delivering the spiritual successor to Arc System Works’ Guilty Gear series, complete with over-the-top characters and a deep fighting system. This time around though the team has managed to make this entry much friendlier to newcomers alike, plus seeing the game explode on the screen in glorious HD is enough to force fans of 2D gaming into a coma. If you have any interest in the genre, then BlazBlue is definitely a must have. The sharp visuals and complex fighting system make this one of the most rewarding experiences you will play all year.
BlazBlue: Calamity Trigger is unique in several ways, especially if you have never experienced an Arc System Works fighter before. The first thing that will jump out at you are the visuals. Watching the animation on any one of the fighters is mesmerizing. The sheer amount of detail poured into the backgrounds makes the game look like an interactive Anime. On top of that the eccentric design of these brawlers really makes their visual appearance stand out, more so than any other game in its class to date. More amazing than all of that though is the fact that the game never skips a beat, and the onscreen action is wildly intense at times with some of the flashiest combat I have ever seen.
Modes in the game are pretty standard stuff. You have arcade mode where you tackle a set number of opponents, as the difficulty increases incrementally. The story mode feels akin to Battle Fantasia in almost every aspect, including the way it branches depending on who you lose against. The dialogue works well enough for a fighting game, and the option to include US and Japanese voices is definitely a plus. Most of the storylines found therein are definitely a little off-kilter. Of course it can be hard to take a cat lady in a hood seriously these days. In addition there is also a versus mode, both local and online, training mode and a host of unlockables that will take even the most dedicated gamer quite some time to uncover. Everything about BlazBlue reeks with detail and passion. You really know that Arc System Works takes everything they do seriously, from the hand drawn backgrounds to the amount of detail placed into each and every crevice of the game.
The core mechanics will feel familiar to anyone who has played Guilty Gear before it. You have three main attack buttons. For the sake of this review I will refer to them by their Arcade configurations. These are labeled as A,B and C. Each button serves as an attack, and increase in damage as you go down the line. The fourth button, called Drive, basically becomes an easy buttons to perform some of the flashier moves of your character. Basic attacks are simple with combos as easy as pressing A,B and C in succession. This is really helpful for giving unfamiliar players a chance to pull off some impressive combos with simple button presses. It is also worth noting that you can perform several of the special moves by flicking the right analog stick in various directions when playing with the default controller.
Everything else is recognizable if you have played games like Street Fighter before. Holding back blocks incoming attacks, which you can also perform from a crouched position. Tapping up allows you to jump and double tapping forward or back will permit you to perform a dash. The focus in BlazBlue is certainly placed on aerial and fast-paced combat. Veteran players can literally keep their opponents in the air for extended periods of time. This is of course just the basics, and if you play the game on easier difficulties against the computer you should have no problem tackling most of the game. However, the beauty of BlazBlue is that it also offers an advanced array of moves that will take timing, and mastery to truly be able to take your game online.
For starters by holding A and B in conjunction with back to block you initiate what is known as a barrier. This is much more effective when trying to ward off incoming attacks, but it does deplete your barrier gauge. If you manage to deplete this gauge it lands you in Danger Mode, where all the damage you are dealt is doubled. This keeps players from playing on the defensive too much, and makes for more action-focused matches. You can also rapid cancel by pressing all three main attack buttons at once. This advanced move allows players to quickly cancel out of any more they choose, plus giving them a split second of open frame to execute another move and change up the combo.
Speaking of gauges BlazBlue has them aplenty. In addition to the traditional life gauge you also have three other ones to tend to, sometimes four depending on your character. The first we mentioned was the barrier gauge that slowly diminishes as you use your blocking shield. In the middle there is also a tug of war type of gauge that fluctuates back and forth during attacks and blocks. Let it slide all the way to one side and your opponent gets an upper hand. The final gauge should be recognizable, just with a different name. The Heat Gauge serves as your super meter. Fill it up and it allows you to perform super moves as well as the infamous instant kill. Thankfully the instant kills now have three pre-requisites to meet before you can perform them, so no unfair deaths like in Guilty Gear.
BlazBlue does a great job of catering to both types of gamer. Starting out you can get a feel for how things work. Special moves can be achieved by flicking the analog stick, but the more you play the more you learn about the intricacies of the combat system. It also helps that the game plays buttery smooth. There is no lag between inputs, and pulling off super moves, even on the horrendous 360 d-pad, works flawlessly. Of course I highly recommend playing the game with an arcade stick, but even if you are forced to use a standard controller you can take comfort in the fact that the game plays great no matter what controller type you are using.
One area Arc System Works has always excelled at is character. All of the characters in the game borrow heavily from the same pool of wackiness you would find in Battle Fantasia or Guilty Gear respectively. Characters like Carl Clover, who can in fact control his marionette at the same time he is engaging his opponent. Rachel Alucard, who sends out electrical frogs and can control the wind. Then you have the traditional good versus evil feud between Ragna and Jin, the spiritual successors to Ky Kiske and Sol-Badguy from Guilty Gear. The cast is rounded out of the overly sexual Litchi Faye Ling, the enormous Tager, and KOS-MOS lookalike v-13-. All of them bring unique play mechanics and style to the table, and most importantly are all a blast to play with.
In addition to single player BlazBlue also offers the quintessential online mode, which has become standard among modern brawlers. In our online sessions the game has a moderate crawl at the beginning of the match, possibly while it is synching, and then plays out without a hint of lag. This is made even more impressive considering how fast paced the game is. My move inputs were spot on, and I lost mostly because of my skill rather than a failure to compensate for lag. You can also record online matches and save them to a replay theater. This is extremely helpful for those wanting to learn the intricacies of the combat. You can slow down the action frame-by-frame, and watch how the entire match played out.
BlazBlue: Calamity Trigger is the type of game fans usually get only once a generation. The sheer amount of passion and care that was taken to ensure balance, accessibility, and enjoyment is nearly unmatched. Sure the preposterous characters and quirky dialogue is not for everyone, but I still recommend anyone who has ever enjoyed a fighting game to pick up this gem. I can see this one becoming part of the tournament circuit, and I cannot wait to see some of the top-tier players online; in replays mind you, I certainly don’t want to be humbled by them. BlazBlue is the true definition of how to create 2D visuals that rival those of the current crop. I cannot recommend this game enough for fans of 2D fighters or fighting games in general.