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BlazBlue: Continuum Shift (Xbox 360) artwork

BlazBlue: Continuum Shift (Xbox 360) review

"I sank hours of my time into the game and nearly every precious moment was spent zoning out or wishing that I could play something else. I didn't care when the ninth consecutive opponent fell at my feet with barely a whimper. I didn't much care when the next one soundly thrashed me, either. Everything was pretty enough along the way to that thrashing that I very much wanted to care, to let myself fall in love with the whole experience, but somehow I couldn't because nothing had managed to hook me."

I've always heard that BlazBlue games are awesome, so perhaps you can understand if I feel somewhat disappointed after playing BlazBlue: Continuum Shift. Though most critics seem to agree that the game belongs somewhere in either the "Very Good" or the "Super Fantastic" camp, I personally found the whole affair underwhelming. That reaction left me asking what I consider the obvious question: what is it that leaves me reluctant to continue playing a game that so many others obviously enjoy?

A few potential answers promptly presented themselves, but I was able to dismiss them almost immediately. I never played the game for more than three or four hours at a time, so that hardly qualifies as the sort of binge that would prevent me from playing a title that I would otherwise love. The genre isn't the issue, either; I've enjoyed pretty much everything from Street Fighter to Soulcalibur to King of Fighters to Mortal Kombat. Finally, the visuals clearly aren't to blame. Have you seen the artistic design? It's often breathtaking.

Eventually, I settled on the true culprit: apathy. I sank hours of my time into the game and nearly every precious moment was spent zoning out or wishing that I could play something else. I didn't care when the ninth consecutive opponent fell at my feet with barely a whimper. I didn't much care when the next one soundly thrashed me, either. Everything was pretty enough along the way to that thrashing that I very much wanted to care, to let myself fall in love with the whole experience, but somehow I couldn't because nothing had managed to hook me.

Apathy is the silent enemy that nearly every game faces at one point or another. Most fighting games deal with that threat by providing players with reasons to keep playing once the visual luster wears off and the default modes have lost their appeal. BlazBlue tries to go that route, but the developers seem to have been at a loss when it came time to figure out what might work. The "Training" mode certainly doesn't qualify. It serves the obvious purpose of allowing you to improve at the main game, which is important if you do happen to have fallen under the game's spell and you want to master every character in the roster or compete competitively online, but it has no real value to someone like me who was still looking for a reason to care. Fairly standard "Challenge" and "Versus" modes don't do much to ignite interest, either. That left me with no option but to pin my hopes on the "Legion" and "Story" modes. As it turns out, that's not much of an option.

"Legion" had the potential to be the most interesting diversion. When you start playing, you'll find yourself presented with a bunch of colored bubbles that represent battles with one or more computer opponents. You can choose how you advance along a spiderweb of those bubbles. Each time you win, you can add another team member to your squad. As you battle tougher and tougher opponents, collecting health refills and other buffs along the way, you'll come closer and closer to claiming a map for yourself. It's a cool idea, but hamstrung--as in the "Arcade" mode--by battles that are either too easy or ridiculously difficult. It's just not satisfying to steamroll five groups of enemies, build up a team, then go up against a group of three enemies and lose most of your team battling one miserable opponent who also happens to be nothing more than a more powerful version of the same enemy that you've easily bested several times in the past. No matter how you do the math, that adds up to a complete waste of your time.

The "Story" mode could have been a nice way to make up for the disappointing "Legion" mode, but it's a complete mess for reasons all its own. When you first begin playing, you'll have to sit through a bunch of mythology that's genuinely interesting and accompanied by some neat artwork. It fires up the imagination, but there's no payoff beyond that. After hearing about a rebel known as the Grim Reaper who goes up against a corrupt ruling class (a promising premise, to be sure), you'll find yourself following a story about that hero as he tells a pipsqueak of a girl to shut up, fights a small boy, gets knocked out, wakes up on an island and has a dream about a tuna fishing boat. That's... less promising.

The humorous banter and silly plot twists feel completely out of sync with the interesting setup that the game just spent 5 minutes establishing. I'd expect and welcome the contrast that the sudden levity provides in a Disgaea game, or in some other comedy, but here it's a total mood killer.

The uneven dramatic approach in the "Story" mode is accompanied by a diminished level of visual polish that makes the whole affair seem like an afterthought. Most of the story is told using a handful of character portraits and a mountain of spoken dialog. There's a lot of voice work, actually, and most of the delivery ranges from "competent" to "very good" even though the actual lines are complete cheese. There also are issues with the text translation, which is sprinkled with simple grammatical errors and typos. The worst offense of all, though, is the sheer amount of time that you'll need to spend if you attempt to read through each of the inane conversations. I felt like I was playing a hentai game, only without any character depth and without the potential incentive of naughty artwork. Though you can tweak the settings so that it's easy to skip through the many pages' worth of dialog by mashing buttons, that rather defeats the purpose of diving into the mode in the first place.

Even if you can forgive the game for such stumbles, there's one final problem with the "Story" mode: its interface. As you begin playing, you'll see the option to proceed along 15 story paths, but only one of them is unlocked. Once you advance far enough in that one strand, you'll eventually fight someone. Hopefully, you'll win. Then more dialog will probably follow and you'll finally be taken back to the menu, where you can now either continue along your current route or select a new one that branches off from the events that you just read about. Jumping around makes it difficult to follow anything that's happening, so I elected to continue reading about the first character. For some reason, the game took that to mean "Repeat everything that you just read." I didn't like it the first time, so I'm not sure how a second time through it can improve anything.

BlazeBlue: Continuum Shift is a fighting game, though. Who cares if the "Story" mode is a disaster? It's all about the punching, the kicking, the pummeling. That's a reasonable response to many of the criticisms that I've just leveled against the game, I know. I also know from checking around online that a lot of people who have fallen in love with this title haven't been drawn by the story. They're enamored by the deep and balanced combat system. They're delighted by competitive possibilities. For the right sort of person, that's obviously a compelling reason to stick with a fighting game. The real issue as I see it is that until you invest the time and effort that is required to reach the point where you can appreciate everything that the game reportedly does best, you'll likely be as disappointed as I was by how average everything winds up feeling. That's a difficult experience to endorse without a heaping helping of disclaimers.


honestgamer's avatar
Staff review by Jason Venter (October 20, 2011)

Jason Venter has been playing games for 30 years, since discovering the Apple IIe version of Mario Bros. in his elementary school days. Now he writes about them, here at HonestGamers and also at other sites that agree to pay him for his words.

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