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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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Basic info:

Rating: M

Genre: Action-RPG

Number of Players: 1

I’m going to say this right away: I was a huge Mass Effect fan.  Having played through the game over five times, exploring the different classes, seeing the consequences of my choices, and experiencing the amazing world (or galaxy, I suppose), Bioware gave me more than my $59.99 worth.  When Mass Effect 2 came out, I was downright ecstatic.  I was confident Bioware would deliver a sequel even better than the predecessor, and, for the most part, I was not disappointed.

The game begins as most sci-fi games seem to.  You are Commander Shepard, flying through deep space on your ship, the Normandy, with your trusty crew.  It isn’t long before the peaceful and joyous ship-ride is interrupted by a mysterious enemy that takes down the ship in a few minutes flat.  The lucky members of your crew escape, but you aren’t one of them.  Instead, you are blasted into deep space, and to make matter worse, an explosion takes out your air-tank.  Shepard then proceeds to suffocate and die as the cutscene fades to the title: Mass Effect 2.

The game ends within 10 minutes.  You die in the opening.  Just kidding...sort of.

Quite an opening, no?  This game starts off with such a breathtaking opening cinematic that it’s almost impossible not to fall in love instantly.  Billions of credits ($) and two years later, Shepard is resurrected by the “Lazarus Project” which is funded by Cerberus, a shady pro-human organization.  Whether you like it or not, Shepard works with Cerberus throughout Mass Effect 2, as both Shepard and Cerberus see the real threat to the galaxy: the Reapers.

While the story is technically about an intergalactic threat, it is really driven by the diverse and amusing cast of characters you meet along the way.  You may love some, you may hate others, but what Bioware really exceeds at with Mass Effect 2 is character development.  From the second I saw “Subject Zero” A.K.A Jack, I could tell I wouldn’t like her at all.  I talked to her to learn what she was about, but she mostly annoyed me with her attitude.  After getting to know her better, she really opened up to me and told me about what she wanted to do before our team took on the real threat.  This is known as a “loyalty mission.”  The game’s way of rewarding you for getting to know your crew better by having them offer you some of the coolest missions in the game.  Through her loyalty mission I learned many things about Jack, and suddenly, I didn’t hate her anymore.  When a game makes me go from hatred for a character to genuine fondness, I will praise it for it got through to me despite my prejudices against the character.

Jack is such a nice girl if the hair-style is any indication.

Each member of your ever-growing crew has a fascinating story to be told.  From the fast-talking scientist Mordin to the calm and collected Samara, the characters are compelling and fun to talk to. The characters are all flawed in one way or another, and that adds a humanity to them that is rarely seen in video games.  Having characters in a video game that are so interesting you actually want to talk to them is a feat that is scarcely achieved.  This is all made possible by Bioware’s cinematic conversation system.  Not only is it amusing to watch, but playing through the game a second time and seeing how making different choices impacts the game is awe-inspiring.  The story is truly about you and the choices you make.  Bioware has mastered the art of storytelling, and Mass Effect 2 is proof of it.

Presentation-wise Mass Effect 2 is a gorgeous game.  The texture pop-in issues the first game had are completely gone.  The frame-rate issues the first game had are completely gone.  The cinematic look and brilliantly executed facial animations are back and better than ever.  Mass Effect 2 is a simply stunning game graphically, and deserves extra praise given the size of the world.

The whole game looks as good as the wallpapers.

The largest and most controversial change Mass Effect 2 has made from its predecessor is the new gameplay mechanics.  Mass Effect 1 was an action-RPG through and through.  There was tons of looting, stat building, skill trees, exploration etc. which fall under the RPG category, and there was also much shooting gameplay (though much of it was pause-and-play style due to all of the abilities at the player’s disposal) which fell under the action category.  Mass Effect 2 drops many of the RPG aspects from its predecessor in exchange for a more action oriented game.  There is virtually no looting, exploration is severely cut-down, you gain experience for completing missions only and not for killing enemies, there is a very limited selection of weapons (usually 2-3 per weapon type), and the once-complex skill trees have been streamlined immensely to the point that your squadmates have a maximum of three abilities as opposed to Mass Effect 1’s ten or so.  While many of the changes are welcome, I do miss the old skill trees.  Mass Effect 2’s crew feels pretty simplistic combat-wise, and much of the strategy needed for success in the predecessor is lost as this game becomes more action-oriented.  That isn’t to say the combat in this game is bad, it is just more similar to a third-person shooter than it is to a RPG now.

A thing of the past.

Third-person shooter fans will feel right at home in Mass Effect 2.  The cover system is seamless, guns feel powerful and fire accurately, and there are many heavy weapons to choose from that make the moderately limited weapon selection feel more diverse.  This is all done with a “Mass Effect spin” as biotic abilities and tech powers spice up typical battles to make them seem completely different and original, while still maintaining a familiarity that invited action game fans to jump right in.  There is a slightly larger emphasis on hotkeying now, which detracts a bit from the pause-and-play factor of the last game, though you can still pause-and-play all you want, should you choose to do so.

Of course, good gameplay doesn’t matter if the AI is brainless.  Luckily, the AI in Mass Effect 2 is very intelligent.  Krogans charge while biotic specialists stay in the back.  Tech specialists damage your allies with incinerate and pester you out of cover with their combat drones.  Vanguards try to run up-close and deal devastating shotgun blows.  It’s all done so well, that fights feel hectic, challenging, and a lot of fun.

Mass Effect 2 is exceptional in nearly every aspect.  While RPG fans may be disappointed, there is so much fun to be had in this game that the minor issues are hardly worth complaining over.  The gameplay is smooth, the enemies are smart, the story is near perfection, and the whole game has a certain epic feel to it.  Who could possibly want more?

The Final Verdict:

Presentation – 9.75

From the clean cinematic look, to the fantastically animated facial expressions, this game is truly a sight to behold.  If I were to nitpick, the hairstyles seem abnormally stiff, and there are some clipping issues at times.

Gameplay – 9.25

This game plays just like a top-notch third-person shooter.  The AI is smart, and making the right decisions with  what moves to use could mean the difference between life and death.  RPG fans may feel a bit alienated, however.

Sound – 9.75

The music ranges from “meh” to “good.”  However, this game has, hands down, the best voice acting in any video game ever.  Jennifer Hale, Martin Sheen, and Yvonne Strahovski are particularly noteworthy in my opinion.

Graphics – 9

Everything looks great.  The texture pop-in and frame-rate issues are gone.

Replay Value – 9.5

There are many different classes, different romance options, different choices you can make, and much more.  This game encourages you to play again and again, and you will want to do just that.

Final Score: 9.5 (not an average)

Thanks for reading this review!  I hope you liked it!

Next planned Review – Blazblue: Continuum Shift