BlazBlue: Calamity Trigger. The latest epidemic to hit the fighting game genre, comes in the form of the #1 2D arcade fighter from Japan, in all it’s high definition glory. Can this game surpass the ghost of Guilty Gear’s past, or will it fade away in mediocrity? Nah. BlazBlue is legit. Read our review by clicking below!
Review by John “Chacranajxy” Sacranie
Guilty Gear fans are a patient bunch. For years, they’ve put up with Arc System Works’ incessant re-releases of the same basic game, shelling out for the handful of tweaks and meager additions packaged in each successive edition. And while the company has put out a few other titles over the years that have ranged from good (Hokuto no Ken) to painfully mediocre (Sengoku Basara X), anyone hoping for a genuinely new take on Arc’s mainstay franchise hasn’t had a lot to look forward to. Well, Guilty Gear fans, your day has finally come, because Arc’s BlazBlue is the successor you’ve been waiting for and an all-around phenomenal fighter.
Let’s get the obvious out of the way: this game is gorgeous. Carrying over the trademark art style that marked past 2D Arc titles, BlazBlue impresses with an unprecedented quantity of visual doodads and overall splendor. Everything from the intricately detailed backgrounds to the stylish character designs simply oozes quality. Indeed, screenshots of the game could pass as modern art, and thanks to the slick animation, it’s still one of the most graphically proficient games ever crafted when in motion. BlazBlue’s aural presentation is similarly excellent, sporting a pitch-perfect soundtrack that, like Guilty Gear, is skewed towards metal. The game also offers you a choice of English or Japanese voice acting, but while the English is good for a chuckle or two, it becomes grating in a hurry. On the other hand, the Japanese track is very solid and all of the dialog and sound effects are as crisp and clear as you’d expect.
But as aesthetically pleasing as BlazBlue is, the gameplay is where it truly separates itself from the pack, even though it might not be immediately apparent. Guilty Gear aficionados should be quick to notice a few striking resemblances between the two games. For starters, Blaz retains the breakneck speed and crazy acrobatics that defined Guilty Gear’s duels. It’s not uncommon for two opponents to spend a huge chunk of the match off the ground, dashing and exchanging blows in the air. The pacing is dialed down just a tad from Guilty Gear and feels a little less spastic as a result, but it’s still blisteringly fast and should be a refreshing change for those who have spent most of their year with Street Fighter IV. Just like with its predecessor, the effective use of combos is critical to playing BlazBlue well. Thankfully, the combo system is far more intuitive now with simple combos being absurdly easy to figure out and pull off. With a little practice, you’ll know exactly how to use combos to take advantage of a situation or punish your opponent’s mistakes, and it’s incredibly gratifying to do so in an actual match. But let’s be clear — “More intuitive” doesn’t mean “dumbed down.” There are still more than enough devastating combos and tactics reserved for high-level play, so newbies won’t be button mashing their way to victory against even a moderately skilled player.
And make no mistake – while the learning curve isn’t quite vertical, BlazBlue is still aimed squarely at existing fighting fans. If you think this is the title to introduce your know-nothing friends to the genre with, well… it isn’t. The biggest obstacle for newcomers as well as the icing on the cake for veterans will be the sheer quantity of mechanics tucked into the combat engine. On the defensive side of things, you have the Barrier Gauge. When it’s filled, your character can use the Barrier Block move to reduce the damage taken while guarding, but doing so will gradually drain the gauge. You can also use the Barrier Burst to force back an attacking foe who has you cornered, but it will empty the gauge altogether. You’ll need to be judicious with your barrier usage, because when the gauge is emptied, you’ll enter a “danger” state where you’ll take more damage from attacks than before. The other key element of defense is the Guard Libra, which is a bar that measures how often you block relative to your opponent. If you play like a coward and defend too much, the Guard Libra will crush your barrier and leave you open to a devastating attack. See a pattern? While the game gives you the tools to defend yourself, it still pushes you to take the offensive every chance you get rather than encourage cowering in a corner. BlazBlue isn’t about turtling or running away – it’s about slicing your opponent to bits as quickly as possible.
Fun to look at, better to play.
The offensive game has just as many complexities to it, like the rapid cancel which lets you stop your current attack and immediately begin a new one in an effort to dish out as much pain as possible in one shot. Using it will cost you 50% of your Heat Gauge (basically the super meter), but it’s a completely valid technique for skilled players. Additionally, you can sacrifice half of your Heat Gauge to quickly counter an enemy’s attack while you’re blocking and open them up to further attacks, which is another move that veterans will find the most value in. And, of course, you can even use the gauge to pull off ultra-flashy super moves, which are known as Distortion Drives. Amazingly, none of the myriad nuances feel unnecessary or tacked-on – every mechanic feels like a well-reasoned inclusion with a clear application in a match. And to be fair, you don’t need to be an expert with these mechanics to have a good time with the game. Mastery is a must for high-level play, but you won’t be forced to spend hours studying the intricacies to survive your first match.
If you’ve been paying attention up to this point, it should be evident that BlazBlue borrows more than a few pages from Guilty Gear’s combat system. And given Blaz’s comparatively tiny cast of 12 characters, you might understandably be a little concerned that the game is just another marginal update. Worry not, because the characters are where this game truly shines. At the most basic level, there’s incredible diversity amongst the cast. Sure, you have your standard speed character with Bang and hulking brute in Tager, but there’s also an abundance of oddities like Hakumen, who emphasizes one-shot attacks and countering; and Nu, who plays keep-away by filling the screen with projectiles. Where the characters become really creative, though, is with the drive attack. This command – which gets its own button along with light, medium, and strong attack – is a character-specific move with some sort of unique property. For example, Ragna’s drive attack can steal life from an opponent, Jin’s drive lets him freeze his enemy and score additional hits, and Rachel can use her drive to control the weather to her advantage. It might sound like a minor addition, but once you learn how to use these moves effectively and work them into your combos, they completely change how the game is played. In fact, it’s this mechanic that lends each character their own distinctive fighting style and allows for some of the most unorthodox and intriguing combatants to appear in a 2D fighter. Suddenly, that “paltry” roster of 12 characters offers up a shocking amount of variety and really makes the game feel fresh and exciting. So while it might look like Guilty Gear, sound like Guilty Gear, and even play a bit like Guilty Gear, BlazBlue is still its own unmistakable brand of awesome.
The lineup of offline game modes is pretty standard fare, for the most part. The arcade, versus, score attack, and training modes are all self-explanatory, but BlazBlue also comes replete with a story mode that proves to be a surprisingly compelling diversion. The concept is pretty simple: you start by choosing a character and then play through what’s essentially a visual novel… but with fighting. The choices you make during dialog sequences and your performance in fights determine how the story progresses and which ending you eventually receive. While it might not sound terribly exciting, this mode does a remarkable job of fleshing out BlazBlue’s characters and universe while managing to stay interesting thanks to the superbly-translated and often humorous writing. Admittedly, story mode won’t appeal to everyone, but it makes for a refreshing break from the typical fighting tournament trope that every other game seems to parade around. Unfortunately, the rest of the single player offerings are fairly barebones with typical modes like tournament and survival inexplicably absent, but the story mode is pretty lengthy and the game’s numerous unlockables should keep you playing feverishly for quite a long time.
Seriously, guys. It’s good.
Luckily for wannabe warriors wanting to take the fight online, BlazBlue’s network mode is the ideal for fighting games. The lobby system is astoundingly robust and lets you have up to six players in a room, only allow players of a certain skill to join, only allow people with a certain connection speed to play – y’know, the kind of stuff that fighting fans want but almost never get. There are also a number of more minor amenities like the ability to save a replay of your match after every fight. Actual gameplay performance is stunningly good, and the matches I played were almost entirely lag free with nary a hiccup, even when playing with opponents overseas. While it remains to be seen how well the game will play once it’s released into the wild, everything points towards BlazBlue having one of the strongest online suites of any fighter to date.
Ultimately, if you’re a fan of 2D fighters, you should be heading out to buy BlazBlue right this minute. Don’t rent it. Don’t borrow it. Buy it. And to sweeten the deal for those on the fence, Aksys is even offering a very impressive LE package to early adopters that will net you a 42 track OST and a training DVD full of useful strategies and combos for every character that should make you a real contender in no time. And none of these fantastic extras will cost you a cent extra, because the LE is tagged with the same price as the regular edition. But even without the allure of bonus material, BlazBlue’s refined and incredibly enjoyable combat system earns it a rightful spot on any self-respecting fighting fan’s shelf. Arc spent an awfully long time toiling away on their latest opus, but the result is an absolute masterpiece and a marvelous follow-up to Guilty Gear.
– John “Chacranajxy” Sacranie