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Game in Review – Blazblue: Continuum Shift

Basic info:

Rating: T

Genre: Fighting

Number of Players: 1-2

If you played the first Blazblue, you’ll probably be getting this one.  For those who haven’t, it’s easy to look at Blazblue’s box art and pass it off as yet another waste-of-space anime title.  However, by doing so, you’d be passing on a fantastic game.

This isn’t another JRPG, I swear.

Blazblue (pronounced: Blaze Blue, or if you feel the need to get into the katakana bureiburu) is, simply put, one of the best fighting games ever created.  The game is immensely polished, it’s art-style and creativity are unmatched, and its fighting system is complex, but easy to understand for new players.  Though, due to its heavy anime influence, its target audience is much smaller than its fighting game cousins (Street Fighter, Tekken, Smash Brothers) that shouldn’t stop those fighting fans who aren’t into anime from at least giving this truly exceptional fighter a try.  At its core, Blazblue is an imaginative 2D fighter with a truly diverse and balanced cast of characters.

Continuum Shift builds upon the solid structure of its predecessor, Calamity Trigger by tweaking characters for further balance (there is a promise of an additional rebalancing patch in the future), adding three new characters (Hazama, Tsubaki Yayoi, and Mu-12), adding four new stages, new music, new modes, and everything a $40 “sequel” should offer.

Blazblue features the typical modes and options that fighters have these days.  Arcade mode (single player), Score Attack (fight for points and unlockables), Versus mode (offline matches against a friend or the computer), Training (where you train against a dummy), Challenge (a set of ten combos that you must perform with each character), and Network (online play).  The online support for Blazblue is close to perfection.  Provided the connection is decent, there is virtually no-lag in most matches.   You are allowed to save, upload, or view other player’s and your own replays of matches.  There are leaderboards and ranked matches with “d-cards” that track your most used character, win rate, sub character, etc.  There are player matches with the ability to join or host a room of up to six people with varying rotation options among other customization options.  In addition, there is also Legion mode (a strange and challenging RTS/Fighter blend of sorts) and Story mode (more on that later).

To put the basic gameplay into incredibly simple terms, Blazblue pits two of the fifteen (eighteen through DLC later with the additions of Makoto Nanaya, Valkenhayn Hellsing, and Platinum the Trinity) available characters against each other; those two characters fight until one character’s health bar depletes fully, and the survivor is declared the victor of the round.  Wait, stop.  I can hear the complaining already:  “What?  Only eighteen characters?  Super Street Fighter IV has 35 characters, Super Smash Bros. Brawl has 38!”  Allow me to address that complaint right now.  Blazblue has a more diverse cast of fighters than either of the aforementioned two.  I would go as far to say that Blazblue has the most diverse cast of fighters out of any fighting game ever.  While Ken, Ryu, Akuma, Gouken, and Sakura from Street Fighter may play pretty differently, they all have a fireball (hadoken), they all have a hurricane kick (tatsumaki senpakyu), and they all have a dragon punch (shoryuken).  Similarly, Smash bros. has Link and Toon Link (boomerangs, bombs, arrows, and swords), Falco, Fox, and Wolf (blasters, side-b dashes, landmasters), Ness and Lucas (PK fire, projectile absorb, bat/stick attacks) etc.  Again, while those characters may play differently, the basic idea behind them is moderately similar.  A Link player could pick Toon Link and still do exceptionally well because they are so similar.  Blazblue has none of that.

Please select your character!

Not one character in Blazblue’s incredible cast plays even remotely similar to the next.  That isn’t to say that it is hard to pick up more than one character right off the bat.  Certain characters such as Ragna, Jin, and Noel are easy to “pick-up and play,” whereas others such as Litchi, Hazama, and Arakune are definitely more advanced in terms of gameplay.  It’s a well-balanced cast in that sense that offers love to the new players, while having the complexity that will amuse veterans to no end.

Expect to see these three online very often.

Difficulty-wise, I would place Blazblue in the “middle” in terms of how easy it is to learn in comparison to other fighters.  Not being as simplistic as Smash Bros., Blazblue has the traditional arcade inputs (such as quarter-circle forward + a button) that give complete novices nightmares (but don’t worry, after some practice you’ll be pulling them off like a pro).  Conversely, it is not as demanding as, say, Street Fighter, as the game puts zero focus on difficult links (how people do one-frame links consistently in that game I will never know).

The attack buttons are laid out plainly as A, B, C, and D.  A, B, and C are weak attack, medium attack, and strong attack respectively.  D is the “drive attack” for each character, which is something that helps make Blazblue so unique.  To put is plainly, the drive attack is what makes each character “special.”  For example, Rachel can throw projectiles or summon minions to attack her opponents for her with the A, B, and C buttons.  However, using her Drive, she can also use her wind manipulation ability to keep opponents away, control her projectiles/minions, or rush to her opponents for a surprise attack.  It’s a simple system, that leaves much room for creativity.

The combo system flows very naturally, allowing for new players to pick it up and instantly string weak attack, medium attack, heavy attack together at the drop of a hat.  Furthermore, each character features a “beginner mode” which, quite literally, automatically strings difficult combos together for the player at just a few simple button presses.  “Serious” fighting game fans shouldn’t let the “noob-friendliness” of the game bother them, however.  The fighting system is plenty complex for those who really want to delve into it.  Throws, barrier blocking, break bursting, rapid canceling, negative penalty, guard primer removal, distortion drives, astral heats, instant blocking, and more are all actions performed with a few button presses that add an extreme amount of depth to the fighting system, should you choose to truly learn it inside and out.

The story in Blazblue is exceptional (especially for a fighting game), if not a bit convoluted.  There are no characters with completely ludicrous reasons for their actions (I’m looking at you, Ibuki from Street Fighter.  “I know!  I’ll ditch ninja school and join the fighting tournament to meet cute boys!  Teehee!”  As you can imagine, she has a huge impact on the story of Super Street Fighter IV).  All characters have a legitimate part in the overall plot of the story from serious characters such as the unwilling assassin Tsubaki and the observing force Rachel, or the sillier characters such as the over-enthusiastic ninja Bang and the hyperactive and scantily clad squirrel-girl Makoto.

Her opponents wield pistols, swords, throwing knives, and sharp claws.  She’s clearly dressed for the job.

The story picks up right where the previous installment (Calamity Trigger) left off: Hazama was revealed to be Terumi, Calamity Trigger’s “true” main antagonist.

Hazama is one of the “bad guys.”  You can tell by his suit.

It will be near-impossible to understand for those who haven’t played the first game, so if you’re in for the story, at least read a plot summary before picking this game up.  The story mode is delivered mostly through static speaking images akin to Ace Attorney, but at times the game cuts to (incredibly mediocre) anime scenes courtesy of the always disappointing animation studio: Gonzo.

Hazama in Gonzo quality!  *Ding!*

For those totally uninterested in the story aspects of this game, Blazblue tries hard to still make it worth your while.  You get various unlocks in the gallery, comments from the creators of the game, and more.  I don’t want to spoil anything, but trust me when I say Blazblue’s story is complex and confusing, but ultimately satisfying provided you explore it enough to understand it.  There are some shocking moments, and there are some twists, but they are done very well (a fighting game has better plot twists than you, Modern Warfare 2; feel ashamed).  The story in Blazblue is lengthy and may be confusing to some, but is well-worth the time investment.  I know people who have never actually played the game, but read Blazblue wiki to get information on the story, simply because it’s so well done.

Blazblue is certainly not for everyone.  It is an anime-style fighting game which instantly gives it a limited audience, as those who aren’t fighting fans will almost definitely pass it on, and those who dislike anime will likely pass it on.  But because of that, I respect the game creators for not “selling out” and sticking with what they clearly love.  Luckily for me, I like both fighting games and anime, so this game is really great for me.  Anyone who is even remotely interested in either fighting games or Japanese animation, or someone who is just in the mood for a game that is something different, should definitely consider giving Blazblue: Continuum Shift a try.

The Final Verdict:

Presentation – 9

To say that Blazblue is insanely imaginative and ambitious in its art-style would be an understatement.  Attacks of characters (especially Arakune and Rachel) look outlandish and flashy.  However, the anime art, 2D sprites, and general craziness may not appeal to everyone.  Also, Gonzo is bad as usual.

Gameplay – 9.25

The fighting system is complex, yet simple.  Fights are fast-paced, they flow well, and the drive system adds a layer of uniqueness to each character.

Sound – 9.25

The voice acting is overall pretty decent, but the announcer is laughably bad. Sound effects are crisp and clear, however the real gem in this game is the music.  The music in this game is so good. Condemnation Wings (Tsubaki’s theme) is in my top 5 list of my favorite video game songs ever.  I played a Blazblue song (Marionette Purple – Carl’s theme) in the car one day and my mom asked what the song was because she liked it so much.

Graphics – 8.75

Blazblue sets out to prove that 2D is not dead yet with its detailed sprites and colorful backgrounds, but some of the astral heats look downright terrible.

 

 

Replay Value – 9

With so many modes, online support, and new characters plus rebalancing through future patches, this game could easily take many hours from your life.

Final Score: 9 (not an average)

Next planned review — Marvel vs. Capcom 3: Fate of Two Worlds

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