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BlazBlue: Central Fiction (PlayStation 4) artwork

BlazBlue: Central Fiction (PlayStation 4) review


"If your game's glossary has more than 470 terms in it, maybe your game's story is convoluted."


BlazBlue: Central Fiction is the fourth and final game in the current BlazBlue story, barring an enhanced Extend version that is supposedly not coming (we'll see how true that holds in a year or two). Appropriately, the game continues the series' tradition of iterating with sequels, rather than reinventing, and the result makes this feel like the most complete BlazBlue package yet.

BlazBlue: Central Fiction (PlayStation 4) image


This latest entry will feel familiar to series veterans. The varied and complex gameplay that fans have come to expect is back, along with a couple of new mechanics. First is Exceed Accel, a new type of special move that can be performed during Overdrive (a sort of “super” mode that returns from the previous game). By pressing all four attack buttons while Overdrive is active, each character can perform a brand new combo that deals a nice chunk of damage. This attack, which immediately ends Overdrive, can be powered up using Central Fiction's other big new mechanic: Active Flow. It activates when a player plays aggressively. While in Active Flow, the Burst gauge (the meter responsible for Overdrive) refills more quickly, and attacks deal more damage. These new systems are easy enough to understand on their own, though they add to an already complicated system of meters, context-specific statuses and commands, and unique character Drive abilities.

New characters are just as important as new mechanics for fighting game sequels, and Central Fiction doesn't slouch in that department, with five new playable characters, not counting the two DLC characters. All together, the Central Fiction roster checks in at an impressive 35 chracters with the DLC. My personal favourite newcomer is Hibiki Kohaku, who appeared as a non-player character in the story of BlazBlue: Chrono Phantasma. He's a quick and sneaky ninja character who gets in close for quick combos with his dual swords. Hibiki's Drive is Double Chase, which creates a clone of Hibiki that rushes forward. Each of his Drive moves can be altered to switch Hibiki with his clone. For example, standing still and pressing D will send the copy forward to attack while Hibiki stays in place. Pressing forward while pressing D will perform the same move, except it's Hibiki who will rush forward and his clone who will stay in place and disappear once the move is complete. The opponent can't tell which Hibiki is the real one until the move is complete.

BlazBlue: Central Fiction (PlayStation 4) image


The other non-boss newcomer is Naoto Kurogane, the protagonist of the BlazBlue: Bloodedge Experience light novels, whose design contains some clear references to series protagonist Ragna the Bloodedge. Naoto doesn't let the fact that he's from a different universe stop him from appearing in this latest BlazBlue game. Naoto is a mid- and short-range fighter whose Bloodedge Drive uses his own blood to create weapons. Each Bloodedge attack has a charged version with a longer reach that crushes the opponent's guard.

One of the more fun and complex new characters is Nine the Phantom, who appeared in a restrained form in the story modes of all previous BlazBlue games. Now she's free to wave her boobs wherever she pleases (seriously, they're front and centre in every scene). Strictly speaking, Nine doesn't have a Drive. Instead, she possesses two slots to stock spells, which she powers up with her light, medium, and hard attacks, each of which corresponds to wind, water, or fire. Combining up to three of these elements (including multiples of the same element) creates different spells with different strengths and effects. This gives Nine a huge pool of moves to draw from, and makes experimenting with her a ton of fun.

BlazBlue: Central Fiction (PlayStation 4) image


Izanami finally makes her first appearance as a playable character as well. She's a boss character who can freeze time. Her Drive activates her “magatama” (which is, of course, not actually a magatama, because this is BlazBlue and nothing is ever actually anything) to change up her move set. While it's active, she can fire it as a projectile, though it will take a few moments to return to her after it fires. She can't block while her magatama is active.

The final new playable character, who is unique to the console version of Central Fiction and is the only character who isn't unlocked from the start, is the powerful Susano'o. His drive, Takegami, works like the power up system from the classic arcade shoot-em-up, Gradius. As he lands regular attacks, a cursor moves along a line of eight locked icons, each of which corresponds to a move. When the Drive attack lands, it unlocks or powers up the move corresponding to the cursor's current placement. Certain specials can only be used once certain moves are unlocked, and they only stay unlocked until the end of the current round. One of Susano'o's specials allows him to chain together every move he has unlocked, one after the other. Under perfect conditions, this can take more than half of the enemy's life bar, though pulling that off is incredibly difficult.

BlazBlue: Central Fiction (PlayStation 4) image


BlazBlue puts a lot of effort into building its world, and these new characters mostly fit nicely into the story. Even Naoto doesn't feel shoehorned in too much. It's just a shame the story is an incomprehensible mess. Since the start, the series has been flooded with names and terms that are basically impossible to figure out from context. The in-game encyclopedia has more than 470 entries, you'll find, and terms like “grimoire” that don't refer to grimoires and “cauldron” that don't refer to cauldrons certainly don't help. Even if you don't understand many of the details of what's going on, unique character interactions at the start of each battle help to at least give the feeling that there's a cohesive world and a rich network of characters who play off each other.

At least, that was true in previous games. Those interactions aren't subtitled, so they don't mean as much to non-Japanese speakers now that the game completely lacks an English voice cast. That's right: for the first time in the series, there are no English voices in or out of combat. This is disappointing, as much of the personality of the cast of characters isn't adequately communicated when the player can't understand what they're saying to each other.

BlazBlue: Central Fiction (PlayStation 4) image


The story mode is hurt almost as much by the lack of English voices. As always, it's a visual novel that's dozens of hours long, with very little gameplay. That's a lot of reading. I got through the three previous story modes by listening to it like an audio book, since almost nothing happens on screen. That's no longer an option.

The story itself is, as discussed above, a hodgepodge of lore and nonsensical terms. There's a 30-minute recap of the stories of the first three games, but that can only accomplish so much. Abandoning the separate character stories of the other three games, Central Fiction follows one linear story with various sub-chapters and non-canon gag stories unlocked as you progress. The story mode does have what feels like a proper ending to Ragna's tale. Whether it's satisfying is something to ask someone who didn't give up on understanding everything two and a half games ago.

BlazBlue: Central Fiction (PlayStation 4) image


This probably isn't the best place for new players to start if they're really looking to follow the story of the series, but BlazBlue has been and continues to be a fantastic 2D fighter, regardless. There's a text skip option, so you can simply fastforward though the story to unlock Susano'o and never look at it again, and that won't prevent you from getting a lot out of Central Fiction. You can thank the effort put into the story for giving us a three-act Arcade mode as a side effect. Most characters get three different mini-stories in Arcade mode (which are generally easier to follow than the overarching narrative, as they're focused on single characters) with three different sets of scripted battles and story scenes.

On top of Arcade mode, there are several other single-player modes, with the most interesting of the lot being the Grim of Abyss mode. This mode lets you find and equip various grimoires to increase your stats and gain new abilities, the better to take on gauntlets of foes. You can also level up your characters for use in this mode. It adds a few fun RPG mechanics to what is typically a straight-up fighting game and makes for a nice change of pace.

BlazBlue: Central Fiction (PlayStation 4) image


Of course, the meat of any fighting game is its multiplayer, and Central Fiction doesn't slouch there. Arc System Works games have been using some pretty solid netcode for a while now, as well as a lobby system that involves a tiny custom avatar and a set of battle machines in an arcade setting. You can also decorate your own room for private matches. It's a fun way to present online multiplayer that will be familiar to fans of BlazBlue: Chrono Phantasma or Persona 4 Arena: Ultimax. Winning matches earns you in-game currency that can be spent on gachapon machines, to win new customization items for your avatar, player card, or room.

The story is a mess (though, honestly, who was expecting anything else at this point?) and the lack of English voices is a disappointment, but BlazBlue continues to be one of the best 2D fighting game franchises on the market. It may not feel as fresh and new as certain other fighting game sequels, which come out less frequently and overhaul their gameplay enough to feel like completely separate games, but Central Fiction is an extremely refined game built on the foundation laid by BlazBlue: Calamity Trigger, eight years ago this month. This may or may not be the true finale to the series. We'll see if BlazBlue: Central Fiction Extend comes, despite series producer Toshimichi Mori's claims that this is it. For now, this is peak BlazBlue and that's just great.

4/5

Roto13's avatar
Staff review by Rhody Tobin (November 14, 2016)

Rhody likes to press the keys on his keyboard. Sometimes the resulting letters form strings of words that kind of make sense when you think about them for a moment. Most times they're just random gibberish that should be ignored. Ball-peen wobble glurk.

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