"Ragna the Bloodedge has a problem. He’s just arrived in town, but they’re already after him. Everyone. Soldiers, vigilantes, and even a few heroes. You can’t really blame them, though. When you’re systematically wiping out the government - especially a dictatorship as corrupt as the Librarium - things aren’t going to be easy. Considering how much destruction and death he’s caused, it’s no wonder there’s such a huge bounty on him. He can handle the stares and terrified gasps from the common folk,..."
Ragna the Bloodedge has a problem. He’s just arrived in town, but they’re already after him. Everyone. Soldiers, vigilantes, and even a few heroes. You can’t really blame them, though. When you’re systematically wiping out the government - especially a dictatorship as corrupt as the Librarium - things aren’t going to be easy. Considering how much destruction and death he’s caused, it’s no wonder there’s such a huge bounty on him. He can handle the stares and terrified gasps from the common folk, but the constant challenges and threats are getting annoying. It’s not only about the money, either. Some of his enemies are after the grimoire he wields, a device of supposedly limitless power. Others want to use him. And his brother Jin…well, Jin just wants to kill him. Sibling rivalry at its finest.
It’s not all about him, though. Even if Ragna is the protagonist, his perspective is only one facet of a surprisingly well-crafted story. The world of BlazBlue is a turbulent one, still recovering from a recent war. The consequences are far-reaching; an entire nation was wiped off the face of the map, the survivors from both sides are ruled by a power-hungry government, there’s a massive rift between the social classes, and the combination of magic and technology has changed mankind forever. You’ll get to see all of this through the varying perspectives of the cast. It might not look like much at first - there are only twelve characters, a fraction of the amount found in most fighters these days - but it’s one of the game’s biggest strengths. Despite the limited roster, the branching plotlines are intricately connected; it’s only after you’ve played through a few of the characters’ stories that you get an inkling of what’s really going on.
While Ragna’s quest takes center stage, there are plenty of insights into every fighter. In a game with vampires, ninjas, cyborgs, squiggly insect monsters, swordsmen, gunslingers, magicians, and catgirls, getting a coherent story out of it all seems impossible. Amazingly, BlazBlue pulls it off in style. It’s fascinating how well the characters’ designs and their stories work together. Some of them are obvious, like Bang’s attempts to reclaim the glory of his lost homeland with what he considers heroics. Others aren’t so straightforward; Noel’s issues with her past and self-worth, Tager’s struggles with his beliefs, the truth behind Carl’s motives, and Taokaka’s origins are all significant aspects of the overall plot. The biggest revelations - especially Rachel’s role - require a bit of effort to uncover. The Story Mode is an extensive piece of work; you won’t get to experience everything for a given character until you give the other fighters a try. Considering how you have to lose some fights for a full completion, replaying can prove tedious.
But for those of you that want to skip straight to the fighting, the Arcade Mode is all you need. The combat mechanics aren’t exactly what you might expect. Rather than having the usual weak, medium, and strong attacks, the game just assigns the buttons with the letters A, B, and C. An A attack might be just a quick elbow jab, while a C attack could be a devastating sword slash. Depending on how you move the directional pad, you can come up with variations of the same move; a simple punch could become a charged shove, a sweeping kick, or an overhead slap. It’s the Drive “D” attacks, however, that make the difference. Each character comes with his or her own special abilities that work in tandem with their playing style. Ragna’s Gauntlet Hades and Dead Spike not only look badass, but they steal a bit of his opponent’s health if they connect. That can prove useful, given his abysmal defense stats. Bang‘s lack of range might be a disadvantage, but his fiery punches can parry and counter some of the most powerful moves in the game. Noel’s Chain Revolver ability augments her already insane combos; spamming the D moves lets her pistol whip her enemies to death in a matter of seconds.
These mechanics don’t focus on the flashy attacks, though. Sure, they’re great to have and make other 2D fighting games look like trash, but they’re not what’ll keep you alive. The system places more importance on linking the attacks into longer combos. The order and timing of your button inputs is crucial; a mere punch might make the difference between your target getting flung across the screen or trapped into a flurry of follow-up attacks. The combos mechanics are surprisingly easy for newcomers to pick up, but difficult to master. It’s not all designed for regular players, either. There’s a ton of other technical features lurking beneath the basic A-D attacks. Every character has supermoves and instant kills - Bang’s ultimate move is so epic that it gets its own theme song - that feature everything from scythes to laser rifles. There’s also a wealth of strategic options, like countering, air dashing, rolling, move canceling, and tactical falls. The Barrier Burst special maneuver acts as a last-ditch effort; those few precious seconds of invincibility can save you from death, but leave your defensive capabilities broken for the rest of the fight. Do you use it to evade some nasty combo, or will you save it in case you face something worse later on? You’ll have to learn these things quickly. Even if the first few enemies are pushovers, the AI is well-versed in every aspect of the gameplay mechanics as well. The technical features of the combat are what make the fights so much more than a simple exercise in combo memorization.
That’s why you’ll need to practice. A lot. The Training Mode can work wonders with the sheer amount of options and ways to tweak a given battle, but you’ll probably spend more time tackling the obligatory Versus and Score Attack modes. The online multiplayer is what really matters, though. There’s a lot to try; you can either go in for a quick battle, or customize a match with specific rules, like limitations on supermoves, voice chatting, and friend invites. What makes the online gameplay so great isn’t the amount of choices, but how smooth it is. With a game that places utmost importance on timing, it’s no wonder that the designers put so much effort into making it as lag-free as possible. Few fighters have been able to pull off a good online multiplayer, but BlazBlue does it well. The same goes for the Gallery, too. Between all of the tons of artwork, videos, replays, dialogues, trophies, and all the rest of the unlockable content, it’ll be a while before you finally get your hands on everything.
That’s just in the game, by the way. The initial version of BlazBlue is a limited edition package, which comes with three more bonus discs. The first of them is a Blu-Ray that features basic tutorials, combo videos, and strategy advice for each character. While hardcore fighting game fans probably won’t need them, these presentations can be immensely helpful to any struggling newcomers. There’s a good chance that you’ll see some tactical insight for your character, or some useful combo that you want to integrate into your playing style. But if you’re looking for some simple pleasure, the other two discs feature the game’s soundtrack. It’s a decent blend of heavy metal, opera, and orchestra instrumentals, with the rare exception of Taokaka’s jazzy tune. There’s nothing particularly memorable, but they blend in well with the fast-paced gameplay.
Besides, the voice acting steals the show. Aksys spared no expense in bringing in some of the best talent from the field of anime dubbing. The writing itself is decent, but the execution is what keeps it from being bland. The attention placed on the dialogue and cutscenes is impressive; anything that comes out of Bang’s mouth is pure comedic gold. No other fighter can say, “Now…jump into my MANLY CHEST!“ and get away with it. Not to mention how Taokaka is obsessed with everyone’s breasts, or how she calls Litchi “Boobie Lady” at every opportunity. Ragna doesn’t just say his specials, but roars them. Even the in-game interactions are well done; the pre-fight conversations, mid-battle one-liners, and win quotes are all character specific. You might be too stunned by the animations to notice, though. This game is slick. Really slick. Just give Noel a try and watch how her combos flow into each other without a hitch. Or how Hakumen can shift his sword stances with the grace of the legendary hero he’s supposed to be. The levels are equally as stellar; you’ll fight as dusk settles over the town, with the neon lights clashing with the fading sunset. Fighting in Rachel’s stage doesn’t get awesome until she starts manipulating the wind, sending rose petals flying in all directions. The sheer amount of detail in the design of these characters and levels demonstrates the effort Aksys put into making this game great.
You know what the funny thing is? People want to compare this to the Guilty Gear games. Understandable, given that they’re designed by the same people and use similar mechanics. But let’s be clear about one thing: BlazBlue is an amazing game in its own right, regardless of being deemed a spiritual successor. The cast might be relatively small, but it’s a tight-knit one; there’s a whole lot more to its world than initially meets the eye. The story is lengthy and surprisingly well-written, and the voice acting is stellar. The combat mechanics are a solid combination of combo and tactical options, with a dash of insane supermoves for good measure. While there’s a nice variety of gameplay modes and unlockables, the online multiplayer is what will keep you coming back long after you’ve gotten through everything. The presentation sets a new standard for 2D fighting games; no other fighter can pull it off with the same kind of style. The bonus discs are a nice incentive, even if their content has probably been leaked online anyway. That doesn’t matter, though. If you have any interest in 2D fighting, get this game. Aksys has arrived on the PS3, and it's made one Hell of an entrance.
Community review by disco (July 05, 2009)
Disco is a San Francisco Bay Area native, whose gaming repertoire spans nearly three decades and hundreds of titles. He loves fighting games, traveling the world, learning new things, writing, photography, and tea. Not necessarily in that order.
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