Inside Pulse 12

Review: BlazBlue (Microsoft Xbox 360)

BlazBlue
Genre: Fighting
Developer: Arc System Works
Publisher: Aksys Games
Release Date: 06/30/09


Ah, Arc System Works. Makers of weird fighting games with pretty graphics, bizarre mechanics, and (discounting their licensed games like Hokuto No Ken and Sengoku Basara X) strange characters, they hold a big place in the hearts of many fighting game fans, mostly due to the success of their Guilty Gear franchise. We’ve been a few years without a true Guilty Gear installment, having instead received the aforementioned licensed titles, the 3D action/strategy game Guilty Gear 2: Overture, and the 3D fighter with 2D mechanics Battle Fantasia, but none of these games have quite set the world ablaze like Guilty Gear did. Now, Guilty Gear 2 is a completely different animal, so it’s not unreasonable to believe that fans simply weren’t interested in the sort of game it is, and Hokuto No Ken and Sengoku Basara X didn’t see a stateside release, but Battle Fantasia, by all indications, seemed to be ignored almost entirely by fighting game fans. For whatever reason, whatever Guilty Gear did that wowed players, Battle Fantasia simply didn’t do it. Well, Arc System Works isn’t giving us another Guilty Gear just yet, but they’re taking another chance on building a new franchise with BlazBlue. It’s another completely different franchise that’s vaguely reminiscent of Arc System Works’ most identifiable franchise, but it’s easily the best effort at recapturing the magic to date, and while it’s still lacking in a few key areas, it’s a fantastic start that most fighting game fans will enjoy immensely.

Not only does BlazBlue have a story to it, but that story is actually pretty involved for a fighting game. It seems that scientists from an organization called The Library have discovered gateways to another dimension, and apparently all of them release bad things into the world. The characters in the game have, to varying degrees, experienced these bad things and are fighting one another because of them, either directly or indirectly. As stories go, the story in BlazBlue is surprisingly in-depth for the genre, and each character has their own storyline path with multiple branches, giving you a good amount of storyline to discover and experience. There are also a whole mess of game modes to play around with, including the standard Arcade, Versus and Training modes, a Story mode that allows you to go through everyone’s story, a Score Attack mode that allows you to try for a high score, Online play with Ranked and Player matches, and a Gallery to view cinematic stills you’ve unlocked through Story mode. BlazBlue is packed with things to do, and for folks looking for something to keep them coming back to the gamr after the novelty of beating on the computer wears out, there’s still lots of stuff to keep you occupied.

Visually, BlazBlue looks outstanding, as do most Arc System Works fighting games. The sprites are clean and high-resolution, and feature little pixelation. The special moves are vibrant and the lighting effects dynamic, and the environments are lively and full of personality. Each character is incredibly animated and the animations are fluid and string together well, leaving the entire gamr looking fantastic. The visuals aren’t quite as pretty as those in King of Fighters XII, but they’re fantastic all the same. The backgrounds are rendered in 3D with the odd 2D sprite running around in them, which gives the game an interesting feel to it, similar to King of Fighters Dream Match “Ëœ99, except that the 3D here is a good bit more impressive than it was in that game. Aurally, the music is predominantly composed of some swelling orchestral tracks and guitar-heavy metal tunes, which fits the theme and sounds incredibly awesome, as always. The voice acting is offered in both English and Japanese, again, both of which are well done, and it’s nice to see the choice available for those who want both. The sound effects consist of, as you’d expect, the sounds of someone smacking someone else in the face with any one of a number of different devices and objects, and as such, they’re very fitting and sound great. The audio is also full of little touches, like characters who hate each other saying different things as they attack in battle, that make the game feel significantly more impressive than it seems at first glance, making it feel like more than the sum of its parts.

If you’ve ever played an Arc System Works fighting game before, congratulations! You know how BlazBlue works. If you’ve somehow managed to avoid the Guilty Gear franchise entirely, well, it works like this: this time around you’re given four attack buttons, in weak, medium, strong and “Drive” flavors, which you can use in tandem with other buttons or directions to chain together combos and special moves and such. You’re given twelve characters to choose from here, each of whom has various normal and special moves at their disposal. Once again, in Arc System Works fashion, not all special moves are always universal across the buttons, meaning that a fireball motion with your weak attack might throw a projectile, while with the strong attack it might do a dashing move or something else, or it might not even do anything at all. Special attacks and their effects are dependant upon the character in question, meaning some characters have odd bars and such they have to monitor in addition to the normal bars on-screen, and other characters afflict odd status effects on opponents, among other things. You’re also given the normal “super moves”, here called Distortion Drives, which are executed once you fill your Heat (Super) Meter at the bottom the screen half way or more. Everything is fairly intuitive in any case, so you should be able to figure it out with little effort if you’ve played a fighting game, or even better, an Arc System Works game before.

BlazBlue wouldn’t be much of a new game if it just cribbed liberally from other Arc System Works games, though, so it comes equipped with some new systems for you to learn and master. For one, characters have Barriers they can deploy in addition to their normal guard, which negate blocking damage and increase enemy pushback at the cost of some of your Barrier meter, just under your life bar. The Barrier, by itself, allows you to defend against chipping damage against multi-hit attacks, but you can also use a Barrier Burst if you’re desperate, which essentially pushes back the opponent, costs them significant momentum on the Guard Libra meter (more on that in a bit), and can put them into Barrier Crush state, which essentially stuns them. Running out of Barrier meter, or using a Barrier Burst, you go into Danger status, where you take additional damage from attacks. When your Barrier is simply depleted, this is temporary, but after a Barrier Burst, it’s permanent until the end of the round, making the tactic extremely dangerous. The Guard Libra system is also fairly new, and its purpose is simple: as you block attacks, the Guard Libra meter decreases against you, and as your opponent blocks, it rises in your favor. When the meter fills for one player or the other, the opposing player enters Barrier Crush status, as noted above, which essentially means that BlazBlue is specifically tuned to punish turtlers, and THANK GOD for that. There’s also Instant Block, which is like the Parry move from Street Fighter 3 where you can block the move, reduce the damage received, and counter attack the attacker, Counter Assault, which allows you to knockback an attacker as you block their attack, and Rapid Cancel, which cancels an attack and allows you to launch another attack for big combo damage, at the cost of some of your Heat Meter. Finally, BlazBlue has Astral Heats, which are essentially instant death moves that can be used in the very last round of a match if the opponent has twenty percent or less health; they’re flashy, but often useless in regular battle unless you like showing off.

There are twelve characters for you to play as, each with their own unique style of play and mechanics to master, both online and off. Offline, as noted, you can blow through Arcade Mode, which just tasks you to defeat ten enemies in succession, Story Mode, which reveals the story of the game world through branching paths and still cutscenes, and Score Attack Mode, which asks you to earn high scores by blowing through opponents. Arcade Mode is also where you’ll unlock a good bit of the content in the game, as this is where you can unlock Unlimited versions of characters, which are basically souped-up versions of regular characters, as well as Astral Heats for characters who don’t have them by default. You can also view the Galleries for characters you’ve completed Story Mode with, as well as use the Training Mode to practice combos and timing for moves. Online, you can play in Ranked or Player matches, as you’d expect. Ranked Matches only allow you to search for other players to improve your rank, while Player Matches allow you to customize a ton of options, including round time, player capacity, player level, whether or not characters can use Astral Heat, whether or not Unlimited characters can be used, and more. For the player looking for depth to their fighting games, BlazBlue will give you plenty of that, thanks to its numerous modes and strong online component.

Assuming you can get past the fairly steep learning curve and small roster, of course. Now, if you’ve played Guilty Gear or any of its sequels, you understand that BlazBlue is going to have a steep learning curve; special moves are not assigned to a series of buttons, but rather PER BUTTON, meaning that a fireball motion may have an effect with one button but not with any others, or that it may have two completely different effects depending on the button, and this is quite routine with Arc System Works games. What this means to the player, however, is that learning a character can be exceptionally complex, and some characters may simply be beyond your learning curve. That’s not a condemnation in a game with thirty or forty characters, but with twelve characters, if the player is only comfortable playing with six or eight, that’s limiting. The game frankly seems needlessly complex, as the various combo systems and mechanics are certainly interesting enough to carry the game on their own, but making characters who can control robots or blow people around with wind to turn the experience into a bizarre fighting/strategy game seems fairly unintuitive and unnecessarily complex. Further, as we’ve noted before, twelve characters is a low amount of characters for a fighting game released in 2009, and while it allows for a decent amount of per-character balance (not that this is true of BlazBlue if the tier ranks are any indication), it doesn’t really justify the asking price of a sixty dollar game. The game is also a bit over-the-top with its flashiness, and comes off looking like its trying to hard to be impressive when it only seems ostentatious. Finally, while there are interesting new additions here like the Guard Libra system, most of the mechanics in BlazBlue are either lifted entirely from Guilty Gear or other fighting games, and while the end result is pretty in-depth, it’s not terribly original.

For fighting game fans or fans of Arc System Works games, BlazBlue will more than likely be worth the sixty dollar investment, as it is a pretty solid game, if not a stellar one. The presentation is excellent, if a little over-the-top, there’s a lot of content in the game between the different game modes and the large, multi-path stories, and the game mechanics are mostly excellent. There’s some significant depth to the game mechanics, and both online and off, there’s a lot of fun and challenge to be found in the game. Unfortunately, the game can potentially be impenetrable to neophytes, between the weird gameplay mechanics Arc System Works is known for and the strange characters, and the low character roster makes the game feel shallow. Further, the overall game feels needlessly complex and unoriginal, like a cobbling together of fighting mechanics from other games into an impressive experience rather than its own thing. Make no mistake, BlazBlue is a good time, and it’s one of the better fighting games to come out this year, but it’s really not for everyone.

The Scores:
Story/Game Modes: GREAT
Graphics: GREAT
Sound: GREAT
Control/Gameplay: GOOD
Replayability: GOOD
Balance: GOOD
Originality: POOR
Addictiveness: GOOD
Appeal: MEDIOCRE
Miscellaneous: GREAT

FINAL SCORE: GOOD GAME!

Short Attention Span Summary:
BlazBlue is very impressive and a good bit of fun for experienced players or fans of fighting games in general, but neophyte fighting game fans and anyone who shies away from Guilty Gear in general may find it to be a bit too impenetrable to get into. The game is both visually and aurally impressive, if a bit too “loud” at times, and there’s a sizable amount of non-character related content in the game. A sizable amount of modes, a solid multiplayer component both online and off and a decent amount of storyline paths and extras to unlock will keep you coming back for more if the game is something you’re interested in. Unfortunately, the game feels almost aggressively counter-intuitive at times, between Arc System Works’ need to make the default controls completely different from every other fighting game in existence and the fact that several characters feature what can politely be described as bizarre play styles. Further, the game feels shallow and unoriginal, thanks to the low character roster and the fact that many of the mechanics in BlazBlue have been seen in other fighting games. With some additional tuning and some more characters added into the mix, BlazBlue would have probably been outstanding, but as it is, it’s a fantastic game for fans and competitive players, but could quite easily be impenetrable for everyone else.