If Street Fighter 4 was the game that revived the 2D fighting genre on consoles, then BlazBlue is like the fountain of youth that brings the genre back to its prime and ensures that it is not going anywhere soon. Coming to us from Ark System Works, the same developers behind the Guilty Gear franchise of fighting games, BlazBlue is a fast paced and furious 2D fighter that simply oozes with style and character, just like the Guilty Gear games before it.
Let’s get one thing out of the way here really fast before you get caught up in all of the whirling praise that I’m about to drop on this game. The extent of your enjoyment from BlazBlue will almost entirely depend on how much time and effort you decide to put into it. If you’re the kind of person who just likes to jump right into a game, learn everything as you go through the game’s story mode, and then try to kick some ass online, you’re going to get stomped on and probably will end up being that guy who complains about people using “cheap” characters and tactics. If however, you’re the kind of gamer who is able to take the time to learn their character inside and out, practice in training mode until their combos are perfect, and can learn how to defend against those cheap characters and tactics, then you’re going to find a lot to love about the complexity and depth of BlazBlue.
Now that we’ve covered who will and who won’t enjoy BlazBlue, let’s get right into the game. All twelve of BlazBlue’s characters are immediately unlocked right when you start up the game, which may be a little disappointing both for those who prefer a wide variety of characters to choose from, and those who like to have some unlockables in their fighting games. To be honest, this is probably BlazBlue’s biggest issue. You can defend its small roster of characters by saying that each of the individual characters are some of the most unique characters you’ll find in a fighting game, and that’s also true, but it still doesn’t change the fact that you’re playing against the same 12 characters over and over again and it does start to get a little stale once you realize what each character can do.
Did I mention just how crazy these characters are though? We’ve got a black blob with a mask that can hit its enemy with an attack that will allow it to summon swarms of small creatures, a freakishly powerful little vampire girl who can throw electric frogs and control the direction of the wind, a huge hulking professor that can make you magnetically attracted to him so that it makes it hard to stay away from his humongous arms, a hilariously over the top ninja who actually has his own theme song play when he activates one of his super moves, and that’s not even half the roster.
As far as the actual gameplay goes, BlazBlue is pretty much a direct copy of the fighting system from Guilty Gear. You have three main attack buttons, labeled “A”, “B”, and “C”, and then you have a button called “D”, which acts as the Drive button. Drive attacks are essentially one button special moves that are specific to each character and provide the foundation of the way that character is played. For example, Taokaka’s drive allows her to zip around at high speeds with her claws out. This unique drive coupled with Tao’s unique ability to triple jump and double air dash allows her to perform ridiculously long and complex aerial combos that have her bouncing from one end of the level to the other while juggling her opponent along the way.
On the defensive side of things you can also utilize a barrier shield that negates chip damage and causes your opponent to get pushed back whenever they attack it. Of course, the barrier meter depletes as you use it and once it is gone you will enter a danger state where you take a lot more damage from every hit. If you ever get caught in a long and damaging combo, you can also throw away your barrier meter and activate a barrier burst, which will immediately blast the opponent away but will put you in danger mode. Again, all of this should feel very familiar if you’re a Guilty Gear fan.
(BlazBlue - Hakumen vs Litchi, from Gamespress)
While the meat of the enjoyment to be found in BlazBlue comes from playing other people online, the game also has a very robust single player component as well. Aside from the usual Arcade and Time Attack modes that you’ll generally find in most fighting games these days, BlazBlue also has a massive story mode that is like an entire visual novel by itself.
Though each character has his or her own story to tell in Story Mode, the general idea of the plot is that a reportedly ruthless wanted fugitive named Ragna the Bloodedge was sighted in the 13th Hierarchical City of Kagutsuchi, and vigilantes from all over have started to flock towards the city with the hopes of collecting his bounty, his power, or simply his life. Of course there’s obviously more to it than that with a backstory involving two Wars of Magic, a tyrannical organization, rebellions, and plenty more for those willing to dig deep enough to discover it.
When you choose a character in story mode, you essentially play through their perspective and guide them through their journey by making choices regarding where to go, whether you should start a fight with someone or not, and what to say to certain characters. Eventually though, fights will break out, and the story will either continue, end, or go on a different path depending on the result of a fight. For example, let’s look at one of the crossroads for the character Litchi. When you come to fight Ragna and beat him normally, after the fight Ragna will question why you went easy on him and the story will progress from there. However, if you were to beat Ragna with a Distortion Finish (that means beat him with a super move) then that whole post-fight dialogue will be completely different since you went all out against him and you’ll progress to a different ending.
Overall, the story mode is a fantastic addition and is a great compliment to the arcade mode, which still manages to give a little insight to each character’s story. People coming off of Street Fighter 4 will be happy to know that while the last few fights in arcade mode are very tough, they never feel cheap like Seth did.
Despite its accomplishments with the single player though, BlazBlue’s greatest strength is its online mode, which has been 99% lag free for me no matter who I’ve played against. The game somehow is able to synchronize the two players’ games before the match begins so that things look like they’re going to be really laggy and choppy, but then quickly smooth out right when you start playing. It feels like amazing technology and I hope that all fighting games will adopt this kind of system in the future.
In addition to being almost entirely lag free, BlazBlue also has detailed stat tracking that tracks your wins, losses, disconnects, and assigns you a level based upon not only the quantity of players you’ve beaten, but also the quality. If you just want to play with a group of friends, there is also the option of creating a room where you can have observers watch you play as they wait for their turn.
So when all is said and done, the big question at the end of the day is: Is BlazBlue better than Street Fighter 4? Honestly, I don’t know yet. All that really matters is that both games are fantastic and any fighting game fan should pick them both up and decide for him or herself.