Now in Amazing 2D!
Just as I was beginning to fear that we were heading inexorably toward casual-gaming Armageddon, the almighty 2D fighter genre returned from near death to do battle with the Four Horsemen of the Gaming Apocalypse, the harbingers of safe, painless, and easy gaming for the masses.
[image1]Hordes of exer-gamers, would-be karaoke stars, brain-dead brain-training junkies, and gaming grandmas all gnashed and gnarled at the gates, but earlier this year Street Fighter IV appeared and brought hope—and d-pad weary thumbs—to millions still desperate for a good ol’-fashioned arcade-style rumble. With the release of BlazBlue: Calamity Trigger, we now have a second holy champion fighting for truth, justice, and the hadouken way.
Following in the footsteps of their heavy metal beat-down title Guilty Gear XX, Arc System’s BlazBlue tones down the campiness, whittles away the redundant character types, refines the fighting mechanics, beefs up the play modes, and lays claim to the best online play yet seen in a fighter. BlazBlue is a leaner, meaner, more serious game than its predecessor, improving on what’s come before it in almost every way.
One of BlazBlue’s boldest moves is to keep the roster down to a mere twelve fighters. By doing so, Arc System has been able to give each character a distinct look, skill set, and strategy, delivering a wonderfully balanced and varied experience—nearly impossible to do in the first entry in a fighting series. Every character is worth playing, with not a throwaway or novelty in the bunch.
At first blush, BlazBlue can be a lot to take in for a newcomer. There is no tutorial, so you’ll have to learn by diving right in. Thankfully, the A.I. difficulty level is kind to the uninitiated, and if you’re playing locally with friends, the basic moves are all intuitive enough to figure out in minutes. Even on the highest difficulty setting, the A.I. is never very far beyond your abilities even if you stick to using just the most basic attacks.
[image2]Only when you take your skills online will you realize how insanely complex and awe-inspiringly fast this game can be. Much like Guilty Gear XX and its four subsequent revisions, high-level BlazBlue gameplay is all about the combos. Learning the ins and outs of branching combos, infinite throw loops, and crouching v. standing v. air combos takes serious effort. If you’re not willing to put in the time, you’ll probably stay offline.
For those who do put in the effort, you’ll discover an incredibly deep fighter. Each character is versatile enough that you’ll constantly be discovering new ways to fight with and against each one. For example, an air combo that works well against one character will not necessarily work well on another, and the standard ground combo you’ve developed for one situation won’t work against all opponents. BlazBlue encourages you to constantly adapt your strategies to suit the situation and your opponent, and the fight mechanics are fluid and responsive enough to keep up.
There are two modes for online play, ranked and player matches. In ranked matches, you’re matched against a single opponent of approximately the same skill level. It’s fast and easy to find a match, and the game does a good job of finding appropriate matchups. In player matches, you join lobbies with up to six people, which also include useful customizations and handy spectator and replay options.
In both online modes, lag is imperceptible and everything runs surprisingly smoothly. The only major issue is that you can only join a player lobby that’s currently between matches—presumably to avoid lag issues mid-match—so it can be an exercise in patience trying to find an open slot. In over 20 hours of online play, I experienced only a few hangs and absolutely no skips, unseen hits, or any other unfair consequence of lag, even while playing opponents as far away as Japan.
[image3]BlazBlue continues Arc System’s hand-drawn tradition. Part steampunk and part future-Renaissance, BlazBlue mixes Victorian, Baroque, science-fiction, and fantasy aesthetics seamlessly. Arc System has created a coherent and deep world with a compelling visual style all its own. The game’s menu screens and status bars continue the motif, blending ornate floral designs with futuristic virtual GUI layouts. Complimenting the visual pastiche, the soundtrack tosses together shredding guitars, harpsichord lines, and choral pieces.
In a surprising twist for a fighting game, Arc System has given great attention to story. Rather than just depend on its visual presentation to build the world, Blazblue also includes a rich and complicated story and history. The plot is revealed piecemeal as you play through each character’s storyline. The individual stories weave in and out of one another in unexpected ways, encouraging you to return to earlier plotlines in order to make sense of what you learn later.
Further fracturing the story is the fact that you must follow all possible branches of a storyline by winning and losing each fight and by choosing different paths along the way, a task that could easily take 20 hours or more. The storyline in BlazBlue is either brilliantly convoluted or hopelessly harebrained, depending on your tolerance for time travel, ancient gods, government conspiracies, cat-people, airships, boobs, vampires, ninjas, and lots and lots of spiky hair.
BlazBlue doesn’t reinvent the genre, but that doesn’t keep it from being one of the very best console fighters in recent memory. That it follows so closely on the heels of Street Fighter IV means that this is one of the strongest years for console fighting games ever. While BlazBlue is unabashedly brutal online, there’s more than enough offline content to keep beginners busy until they feel skilled enough to brave online play. BlazBlue doesn’t apologize for its complexity, but it does make everyone feel welcome.