The Short Version: A pretty clever design for a 2-D fighter. Do people still play those?
The Long Version: First off, I’d like to thank the site’s backend for making me think that my draft of this had been deleted, then restoring it as I was about to copy paste another draft I started from scratch. TECHNOLOGY!!
Hardcore fighting game fans are a scary lot. They use bizarre, arcane terms to describe their techniques, measure the timing of moves by going over animation frame by frame, carefully noting windows where the character is unhittable, or the move can be canceled out for a fakeout followed by an unbreakable airborne combo that leaves you bawling “B-but I was blocking!” Now, I’m not quite obsessive enough for the ultra alpha tension burst EX custom c-c-c-combo breaker stuff, but I am old and crotchety enough in gamer terms that I’d rather stick to SNK cash in offal than say, Soul Calibur V: Jugs Of Fate, or Tekken: Hair Of Iron Points Tag Battle Orgy. Lately, it’s getting rarer and rarer to see anything actually new debut in 2-D brawler format, though- mostly it’s remakes, sequels, and retro collections.
So, yeah. I suppose I should make a point after all that introductory yammering. Guilty Gear was a wonderful, beautiful breath of fresh air when it came out, and I still have an attachment to XX, but for some reason, each revision seemed to feel cheaper and lamer even excluding the likes of Dust Strikers and Isuka. Then Guilty Gear 2 came out, ditching the X’s, and pretty much everything else that gave the series its appeal in favor of a full 3-D mass combat… thing.
A while later, Arc System Works basically threw their hands up and said “Ok, we call do-over on Guilty Gear!” When they found out publishing doesn’t work that way, they decided instead to make over an RPG project into a fighting game and called it BlazBlue: Calamity Trigger.
And it was good.
Irritatingly though, the only people who want to play it with me are those who already owned it and suggested it to me. (Or have a system I don’t. D’ohhh.) And when I try to describe it to people, I can’t not begin with “It’s like Guilty Gear.” Because, well, it is and it isn’t at the same time. It has the same graphical style, similar music, and the disc smells about the same. Both center around a roaming badass in red who carries a blunt looking sword and harbors a grudge against a blonde authority figure in blue uniform. There’s a classy vampire, a gigantic but gentle cyborg warrior, a shady, amorphous blob fighter, a leggy Chinese girl, and a ninja who tries way too hard rounding out the cast. The fact is, short of actually picking up a controller and actually getting into it, it really, really comes off as a Guilty Gear ripoff.
But here’s the thing that makes BlazeBlue shine: the controls. In a move I’m surprised hasn’t already been tried, your command buttons are light, medium, and strong attack, with the fourth assigned to ‘Drive.’ Drive is basically your catch all Do Something Cool button and isn’t always a direct attack. For example, Rachel Alucard (why is spelling Dracula backwards still considered clever?) summons a wind in whatever direction you press in conjunction with D, moving her projectiles around, speeding up her dashes or increasing her jump height. Litchi plants her staff in the ground and other commands can be used to recall it, hitting the enemy from behind, or letting her stand on it, do pole vault attacks… so on. Basically, Drive ensures that all the character play distinctly different from each other and can be played more strategically. Certain characters work better laying down traps, others are better at the direct approach. It’s not quite as ‘duh’ as Smash Attacks in SSBB, but it does free you up a bit when your set-ups are automatic and from there, you can follow up as you please.
That said, it is a tad more masher friendly than Guilty Gear in my opinion. Starting out, I found myself using Taokaka’s Crazy Kitty pretty much non stop when I wasn’t bringing out her rather brutally unbalanced claw swipes. The catgirl can zoom around the screen in pretty much any direction, and Nu-13 is pretty much broken with her Sword Summoner moves (though she is a boss, so…)
OBLIGATORY CAST LIST:
Ragna the Bloodedge: Calling him a ripoff of Sol isn’t entirely fair, but… He wears red, is a wanted man, has a horrible secret monster thing in him, and has stolen a very powerful artifact The Man wants back. Also called the Grim Reaper because his sword can unfold into the ‘Blood Scythe’ and absorb opponents whole. Actually, now that I think about it, he’s more of a Trigun ripoff since he’s got an Axe Crazy brother who cut off his arm and is a genuinely nice guy other than the attitude you’d expect from someone with 60 billion double-dollars on his head. His Drive attacks absorb HP from the opponent (though he takes a little more damage than normal because of this.) Oh yeah and he’s also a vampire. Woo.
Jin Kisaragi: You know how Ky from Guilty Gear and Sol were hinted to kind of have a ‘thing?’ Jin is kind of like Ky, if Ky was completely nuts and obsessed with his ‘brother’ in kind of a Fatal Attraction “If I can’t have Brother, nobody will!” way. Is amazingly cheap and likes doing drive by’s in his fucking Ice Car. His Drive freezes opponents for a followup.
Noel Vermillion: She’s like a buffet of Japanese fetishes- a soft spoken, amnesiac, flat chested, miniskirted, thigh highed, gun toting blue eyed blonde who really seems to have no business being a soldier for the NOL (aka The Man.) She’s assigned to bring Jin back to base after he goes AWOL to try and bone his brother. I kind of get the impression they were trying to get rid of her. She’s also secretly a clone of Ragna and Jin’s missing younger sister. Her Drive is Chain Revolver, which makes her trail blue after images and acts as the starter for her combo strings.
Taokaka: In any other game, Tao would be ‘That Character’ who’s an island onto themself for having nothing to do with the rest of the cast or the greater plot. She’s a catgirl in a big parka with paw-like gloves on the ends, and pretty much nothing else but panties and suspenders to hold the panties on. In spite of having a face like a fucking Jack-O-Lantern, she’s naive and pretty much completely adorable. She’s the strongest member of the Kaka clan who live in the slums under the city Blazblue takes place in, and would be a mighty adversary if she didn’t have the brain of a housecat. Her Drive is appropriately enough, called Crazy Kitty and lets her zoom around rapidly, claws out.
Rachel Alucard: A sophisticated young vampire girl who seems to know pretty much everything going on because she’s been watching the story’s events from outside of the time loop they’re stuck in. She’s a ‘trap’ fighter who plants lightning rods, electric toads, explosive jack o’ lanterns and crap like that around the ring then uses her Drive to use the wind to push things around. She is so… very droll.
Arakune: He supposedly was a scientist who gained all the knowledge in the world, then was turned into a squirming mass of insects. His speech is garbled because of this, but basically he’s saying “Hello, I’m the Awkward Character. You’ll find me a pain in the ass to use, but the computer will be molesting you with my insect swarms all day long.” His Drive puts a nice shiny target on you, allowing him to fling bugs at you at will til he takes a hit or the ring disperses. Is loved by…
Litchi: You know, as a Jam fan in Guilty Gear, I thought I was gonna like her, but she’s totally different in that instead of being shrill, she’s whiny. She’s a doctor in Orient Town on a quest to cure Arakune, and cares enough about him that she doesn’t seem to want to give up in spite of the fact he’s basically transmogrified into the bad guy from Spirited Away at this point. Has a huge rack, so Tao constantly gropes her and calls her Boobie Lady, and resident ninja ‘badass’ Bang is in love with her rack as well. And maybe her. Not sure there. Her Drive was mentioned above and revolves around using her panda hair clip to telekinetically command a bo staff.
Carl Clover: The Kid. Small, weak, but fast, with the added ability to command a puppet he seems to think is his sister with Drive commands, effectively letting you play two character on screen at once. Actually, really interesting to play as. But not really that interesting a character. Moving on!
Iron Tager: I have to be honest, screenshots of Tager in his weird rigid stance almost turned me off this game entirely. He’s basically Potemkin with better posture and red skin. He works for Sector Seven (a group who’s into science instead of magic), and when not hunting down the Autobots, is their secret weapon. His Drive abilities revolve around his electromagnetic gauntlets, and he’s actually capable of magnetizing the opponent to draw them into his punishing grapples.
Bang Shishigami: A ninja of love and justice, out to avenge his fallen master and destroyed homeland! Bang Shishigami! Basically his powers revolve around being awesome. He can change the BGM to a vocal version of his theme song when he performs Bang Install. Pretty… awesome, huh? His Drives are all autoguarded counter punches that light the enemy on fire. Burning Bang, indeed. His Story Mode paths are all pretty hilarious as he promptly forgets his mission of revenge and chases Litchi around.
“Haku-Men”: The quotes ain’t mine. The mid boss of the game (usually), he’s a samurai (sort of) in faceless white battle armor wielding a gigantic sword that looks like it’s been snipped cleanly off at the tip since it ends square. Is a fighting game boss, so he’s very strong and has good reach, but doesn’t seem too ungodly powerful as a non boss. His Drive techniques are counter based. I think. I don’t use the guy much.
Nu-13: I guess it’s no surprise that if Noel is a pile of otaku fetishes that another clone of Ragna’s sister would pretty much take the rest of the stack. So Nu is an emotionless albino girl with an eyepatch who wears floating battle armor made out of swords, throws swords around with reckless abandon, and generally just shits swords and saws and blades all over. She’s pretty ridiculous even in her ‘normal’ form since she has long reaching, 8-hit normal moves supplemented by her Sword Summoner Drive which, as it sounds, lets her make swords and blades appear out of thin air, right behind, above, or below the enemy with little warning. Really, her super moves are kind of lame compared to how much she can do just mashing C. The only time Nu really emotes is around Ragna, at which point she gets completely moist at the idea of them stabbing each other. Even if it’s for plot reasons, her zeal for being murderfucked by her brother is pretty unnerving.
All in all, this is probably the best new 2-D fighter I’ve played in some time, not that there’s a huge amount of competition. I was never much of a Street Fighter guy, and KOF XII was a disaster, while the once-novel Guilty Gear series keeps making itself more and more redundant. Not to mention it’s just cruel to keep adding adjectives onto the end of XX without finally giving us a Guilty Gear XXX to crack jokes about. Even the story mode is pretty good, and for once there’s a legitimate excuse for all the different story paths to coexist in spite of contradicting each other. (That being that there’s a stable time loop going on and in fact, ALL outcomes happen, just not at the same time on the same loop!)
I suppose I also ought to comment on the PSP version since I got it with some trade-ins after I was impressed with the console version. It’s one of those strange creatures that technically has all the content of the main edition, plus an extra mode, but still comes up feeling just a little short. Animation’s less smooth, especially in backgrounds, and the resolution’s been toned down leaving everyone a bit jaggy, but really no worse than Guilty Gear. This does kind of hit the girls the worst though, as Noel and Rachel in particular look like they’ve had the eyeballs of an SNES RPG character transplanted onto their faces because I guess they needed to touch them up and make them stand out more. Unlocking things as DLC or through story modes has been weirdly removed and now you have to grind for points to spend in the ‘BlayzeBloo’ Shop, which is a little annoying and kind of pointless. I’d rather just get the bonus art and unlock the Unlimited characters by beating Arcade mode with them as usual. The new mode, Legion, is pretty cool though. You make your way across a map fighting ‘armies’ at each symbol, fighting one or more characters at a time survival style, and when you win, you get to add a character to your own army. Bosses and bonus items spice things up a little, too. It’s basically a hybrid of a Soul Calibur quest mode map and Survival Mode, and did well enough it’s supposed to return in the console port of Blazblue’s sequel, Continuum Shift.