BlazBlue: Chrono Phantasma (originally pronounced: Chronophantasma) is Arc System Works’ continued ambitious tribute to gothic cyberpunk fiction and anime motifs, neatly wrapped into an otherwise solid fighting game.
Ever since I played Calamity Trigger all the way back in 2009, the franchise has gradually carved out a nice little niche for itself in arcades and tournament circles, being one of the few remaining torchbearers for traditional 2D-style fighting games while other mainstays have catered to more casual tastes. Chrono Phantasma is the third canonical release of the bizarrely frantic and exuberant weapon-based soap opera, an enduring sentiment indeed.
If you’ve played the recent predecessors, then you should feel right at home with the gameplay here. Because it’s not so much of a sequel but rather a considerable update. The necessary changes are focused on essential tweaks and character rebalancing, along with a small handful of new contenders (both in-game and downloadable) that rounds out the total roster to 24.
The control scheme of three attack buttons (light, medium, heavy) and “Drive” button for unique character-specific abilities remain intact, but new mechanics accompany the basics. Overdrive (A+B+C+D) freezes the match timer and temporarily grants the activated user enhanced attacks and strength – with the effects lasting longer the lower your health bar is. While a simplified Crush Trigger system (A+B buttons) replaces the previous Guard Crush setup (Guard Primers and Guard Libra) in a attempt to speed up the gameplay even more. For beginners, a button mashing-friendly “Stylish” mode is there to help too.
Dedicated players will appreciate the retuned formula, but for everyone new to the experience, there’s a lot to take in. From the opening cinematic onward, you’re treated to an absolute graphical fest of screen-filling effects, flashes, and biblical glyphs. Equally amazing is that Arc Systems somehow managed to cram even more vibrancy among the chaos just for dramatic flair. To match the abundance of flashing sword clashes and excessively devastating finishing moves, there’s some updated stages and a new soundtrack of rearranged themes that try to tie everything together.
Most probably won’t notice, but the existing character sprites have been retouched (advertised as redrawn) ever so slightly. To be honest the changes aren’t that distinct as the improvements are limited to movement animations and victory poses, while all the sprites in general has received a modest bump in sharpness – take it or leave it.
Like the previous games, there’s no shortage of variety with the expected arcade, score attack, and versus modes. The additional offline modes will test the hardened gamer like the Abyss Mode, where you’ll fight and level up to reach the depths of Kagutsuchi, and the Unlimited Mars Mode which pits you against ten opponents that are more powerful and whose abilities exceed even the highest difficulty settings (Hell). For those who want to brush up on their skills and learn more complex techniques, Tutorial, Training, and Challenge Modes are also accounted for; a valuable asset if you plan taking the action online.
Speaking of which, Network play is another area where Chrono Phantasma shines. Since the netcoding is largely carried over from Calamity Trigger and Continuum Shift, we really couldn’t find anything to complain about despite the mediocre matchmaking settings. Lag was almost nonexistent and pretty fluid unless the desired competition includes international players. Even better is the lobby system, which doesn’t force you to wait for the winner, instead you pick a room and you can take on anyone who’s readily available.
I have to respect Arc System Works efforts, but I cannot get past the available Story mode, in fact I detest it altogether. The ongoing saga is now split up into three main subplots that inevitably converge to a true conclusion, with most of the narration coming off as a visual novel (notice how I didn’t say graphic) with a ‘lot’ of reading and matches inconsistently thrown in if you do forget your still playing a fighting game. A catch-up session in the form of “Teach Me Miss Litchi” hardly fares any better for non-anime fandom, between typical the Japanese radio-style humor and Chibi characters, it’s really hard to follow if you’re genuinely interested the mythos surrounding BlazBlue – admittedly, a Wiki page will explain things more concisely without putting people to sleep.
BlazBlue: Chrono Phantasma is exactly what you’d think it is, a thoroughly improved fighting game for manic followers and anime lovers alike. Even though it’s more of an evolution than a true sequel, there’s still plenty of content that the truly competitive gamers will lose themselves in, despite having the cheesy and often embarrassing voice acting and choice of enduring a tragically boring Story Mode. Regardless, fighting fans are sure to enjoy the frenzy.