"Through revisions, balance updates, and mechanics changes, the game has gained its own brand of complexity. However, it's still quite the fun time whether you're the type who just wants to get in there and button-mash, or you’re someone looking for a deep fighting game containing a cast where absolutely no character plays the same and all of them come with their own individual sets of tactics."
In 2009, Arc System Works, most famous for its Guilty Gear series of games, unleashed BlazBlue: Calamity Trigger on an unsuspecting North American populace. BlazBlue started out as a more simplified, more accessible, yet also more tactical take on Guilty Gear's style of fighting. While the engine included a “Drive” button that allowed your characters to do awesome things without forcing you to memorize a ton of button inputs if you wanted to dependably execute those moves, it also featured a cast of characters which played unlike the rosters of any fighting game to date. There were passive powers, screen traps, and extra meters which led to alternative techniques not normally seen in the genre.
More so in BlazBlue than any other fighter, characters' designs belie their personalities and fighting styles, running the gamut of every anime stereotype one can could think of--and going outside the box from there. On the one hand you have the two fated rivals with spiky hair and huge swords, the catgirl who can hit you a million times before she hits the ground, and the innocent gunslinger girl with an air of mystery about her. On the other hand you have an amorphous blob, a monster of a man who uses a grappling style and has built-in tractoring, and the loudest, most justice-filled ninja you will ever meet, complete with a super attack that permanently changes the background music to the most energy-filled speed metal you've ever heard in your life. If nothing else, BlazBlue takes your conventional fighting designs and derisively scoffs at them before throwing them out of the window. This approach might not be for everybody, but I'm personally glad it exists.
Through revisions, balance updates, and mechanics changes, the game has gained its own brand of complexity. However, it's still quite the fun time whether you're the type who just wants to get in there and button-mash, or you’re someone looking for a deep fighting game containing a cast where absolutely no character plays the same and all of them come with their own individual sets of tactics. Building on this great fighting core is BlazBlue: Continuum Shift Extend, which adds more balance updates and mechanics changes, adds characters from the last update which were previously only available as DLC, and is also the first fighting game in quite some time that actually bothers to place enough immediately accessible content on the disc that you’ll feel like you’re experiencing a full-fledged console package.
Boot up the game and you'll see a list of modes--single and multiplayer--which literally takes up the entire vertical length of the screen. Tutorial Mode contains a fully-voiced school which walks players through every nuance of the fighting system, step by step. Challenge Mode asks players to pull off every character's moves and bread-and-butter combos throughout a variety of missions. Given the complexity of today's fighting games, all of them should offer the two modes I just mentioned. There's no excuse anymore.
The supplemental modes are pretty nice too. Score Attack encourages high combo counts and technique, challenging players to rack up their score over several fights. Abyss plays like the survival mode from Guilty Gear X2, with bonuses and round-skipping galore, and the ability to upgrade and customize the statistics of the characters you use. Unlimited Mars takes its cue from Soul Calibur V's Legendary Souls mode where you fight against brutal AI. There's a gallery which allows players to unlock, view and listen to all of the game's assets, and finally, the Story mode is actually three games' worth of visual novels broken up with occasional fights, containing branching paths and multiple endings for the game's cast. Arcade and Versus modes are naturally included, and the game supports online play, which has always been a series hallmark in terms of its performance and features. Go online and you'll find silky-smooth netcode, including lobbies and a spectator mode.
Taken on its own terms, Continuum Shift Extend is an incredible product. Unfortunately, the matter of its history must be raised; its status as a “full-package” is the latest of several steps that were required to actually reach this point. Since the original Calamity Trigger, BlazBlue has seen portable versions spanning multiple titled revisions, and multiple console versions as well, each having received multiple free patches and pieces of paid DLC over the years (the four extra characters featured here originally cost a pretty penny). Trying to keep up to date with the game's balance revisions and character is a near-rage-inducing endeavor, and I have had to pity more than one BlazBlue-loving friend as they constantly shifted from platform to platform in search of the latest fully-featured version. This isn't even counting the arcade revisions Japan has to deal with. It hasn't been pretty by any means.
I say all of the above to tell you this: whether or not Continuum Shift Extend is a good buy depends entirely on how many versions of BlazBlue you've already experienced to date. If you're new to the series, or someone (like me) who picked up the original Calamity Trigger and called it a day, then this is a great purchase. Even if you don't run into people to play this against locally, the online runs like a dream. And if by some twist of fate you don't have a broadband connection, there are enough modes here with actual decent AI that it stands on its own as a time sink of immense proportions.
However, if you're one of the BlazBlue faithful who have decided that you've finally been burned too many times by Arc's practices, no jury would convict you. Make no mistake--this is really just the disc we should have gotten in the first place.
Freelance review by Jason Grant (March 28, 2012)
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