A renaissance has gradually taken place over the past year, as the traditional fighter has begun to come back into fashion for a new generation of fans to enjoy. With American arcades in heavy decline it’s something of a wonder that fans have been on the receiving end of a consistent wave of excellent fighters, and they should count their blessings that developer ARC System Works (Guilty Gear, Battle Fantasia) would even cater to the niche bracket at all. Ever since last November lucky Japanese gamers have fallen in love with their latest release known as BlazBlue: Calamity Trigger, which has rightfully been described as the spiritual successor to their widely acclaimed and offbeat Guilty Gear series, and now that the home console versions have arrived, non-arcade fans can at long last discover if the anticipation was worth it.
Let’s be clear on one point; if you liked the developers previous titles, chances are you’ll like BlazBlue. A completely new franchise built for the high-definition generation, the game features totally new and equally outrageous character designs drowned in layers of gothic-inspired anime overtures that should please every self-respecting otaku (is there such a thing?). The spastic flair that envelope the screen is hardly in short supply and certainly do much in satisfying even the most attention-deficit person, and the onscreen fighting action happily coordinates with the vibrant flashes and various effects with an better emphasis on simplistic, responsive, and approachable gameplay that even rivals the learning curve of Guilty Gear.
These fundamentals of course celebrate straightforwardness of offensive and tactical mechanics with an very basic control scheme with three core attack buttons A, B, C (light, medium, heavy) and “D” or “Drive” button that provide special character-specific abilities like command counters, movement, and health regeneration for that certain edge in battle. Other advance techniques also are thrown in for good measure such as Rapid Cancels, Barrier Bursts, and Guard Libra; these are just some of the things that keep the balance-tuning monotony at bay, and though it a might be a lot to initially take in, they’ll probably be the last thing on your mind when the battle begins.
A key asset – and rightfully so – with BlazBlue is its stunning illustrated graphical presentation, beautifully rendered in both hand-drawn character sprites and impressive 3D backgrounds. Continuing its ‘inspiration’ from the Guilty Gear franchise, the character work and portraits feature incredibly meticulous and detailed artwork, complete with chaotic particle effects and screen-filling flashes and seizure-inducing power moves that should please its ready-made and ADD-raddled fanbase. That’s not an insult, as few companies can straddle the difficult world of the familiar and bizarre so easily as Arc Systems, and connoisseurs of crazy cat ladies and oozing slime monsters (to say nothing of mecha-angels, giant swords, and lots of bishomen) should find much to love here.
If there’s any complaint I have, its that there’s often simply too much happening on the screen. Arc System Works takes the kitchen sink approach to visual design, literally throwing as much onto the screen as often as possible, probably hoping that some of their visual goodness manages to connect with players imagination amidst the hopelessly generic character designs and special attacks. The same goes with the soundtrack, which (like Guilty Gear) is filled with your standard cheese-metal and dramatic flair, yet fails to make an impact or separate itself from anything we’ve heard before, both emotionally and musically.
As benefits any good fighter, there’s plenty of variety as you have the standard Arcade, Versus, Training, and Score Attack modes to play with and master. The biggest additions though is Story mode, which tries admirably to make sense out of the world of BlazBlue – I could explain some of the plot to you but there’d be little point in me doing so as the layout is heavily text-based overlaid with dialogue that can either be heard in Japanese or English and can be read in either Japanese, English, or Korean, certainly a far cry from most would’ve hoped for.
The network mode in contrast makes up for many of the story mode’s various shortcomings no matter what console you play it on (both Xbox Live and PSN), with immediate online matchmaking components and netcode synchronization that’s easily one of the best and more fluent online experiences I’ve ever seen in a fighter, made even better with the option to save replays of prior battles. In this day and age good online multiplayer is a necessity, and its here that BlazBlue is a triumphant success. Its worth mentioning the game controls beautifully on both Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 consoles, and those fans stuck with stock gaming pads should rejoice in knowing the game’s four-button gameplay is well-suited for the masses.
All things considered, BlazBlue: Calamity Trigger is exactly what fans of the Guilty Gear franchise were expecting, with few surprises outside of its high-definition visuals. Despite its over-dramatized storyline and somewhat generic anime aesthetic, overall the game is a refreshing romp into the absurd and features a surprisingly solid combat system that’s robust enough to really explore and enjoy. The online multiplayer is superb, which should help give the game a considerable shelf life once players complete or grow tired of the various story and arcade modes. Ultimately, the experience really comes down to your appreciation of the genre and the subject matter, which for the developers legion of fans will probably be looked upon as a blessing. A new franchise is born, and its one worth looking into.