"Somehow, this deceptively simple fighter with fewer than 10 moves per character has the depth of an ocean. Even the story mode is deceptively complicated, and all the more rewarding for it. Moreover, the combat is complex, and the characters are interesting in battle and out. Blazblue is a fighter of the highest caliber, and a truly rewarding experience."
If you're reading this, you've probably got a few fighting games sitting around, so pick one out. Turn it on, go to the training mode, and look at the move list for your favorite character. How many moves do you see? It's not uncommon these days for fighters to drown you with humongous move lists, making gameplay into an exercise in memory. That sort of thing has its place, of course, but if you were to do the same exercise with Blazblue, you'd find less than 10 moves per character. And then there are only 12 characters, so at first glance, the game seems very small.
Of course it goes without saying that it's easy to jump right into a game with so little memorization. Feeling competent is pretty easy right from the start, combos are as simple as mixing up your standard attacks, and you can become comfortable using your chosen character's handful of special attacks very quickly. There's genius in the way that Blazblue's facade of simplicity makes you feel right at home immediately.
And yet, to call Blazblue shallow would be a mistake.
You may not have a vast arsenal of separate named moves at your disposal, but those you do have are remarkable for their utility. If an attack has more than one hit, it can often be cancelled in the middle of its animation, allowing you to alter the flow of your combos drastically on the fly. Moves that once sent your opponent reeling across the screen can be stopped before that final huge hit, allowing your combo to continue. What each ability does becomes less important than what each individual hit in each move does, it's important to be able to use it all. As your aptitude increases, the game becomes about improvisation rather than memorization. Two people playing the same character can have vastly different fighting styles.
Two people playing different characters will obviously have different fighting styles as well. The reasons why might seem obvious, but there's also the fact that in addition to a unique moveset, each character also has their own unique battle mechanic. There are the standard weak/medium/strong attack buttons, but the fourth face button is for drive attacks, and that's where things really get interesting.
Ragna, the game's main character and brooding loner with a secret heart of gold, has drives that utilize his sword, the soul eater. Generally, they're just more attacks that add to his combo abilities, but they have the added bonus of draining the opponent's health. It's fairly typical stuff, but compare that to the appears-twelve-but-is-actually-ancient vampire girl Rachel. Her weapon is some kind of living umbrella cat monster, and her drive allows her to control the wind. She can summon gusts to subtly shift her opponent's position, setting them up for a big hit, or she can send herself rocketing across the screen. These also aid in her combos, but in a completely different way, giving her the ability to adjust the position of both characters rather than additional hits.
Beyond enhancing the battle system, drives also help to clearly differentiate each character in the story. Tager is the huge, slow, grappler of Blazblue, and a cyborg besides. His attacks are largely electricity based, and rather unique in a world dominated mostly by magic. Everything changed when a monster called the Black Beast nearly destroyed the world, leaving a substance called sethir lingering everywhere. The upside is that sethir can be used to create magic, the downside is that it kills people in large doses. So everyone has moved to special protected cities even while they continue to use it to benefit themselves.
From there, the game's story splits into a number of threads so large that it's basically impossible to summarize. Each character has their own storyline to play through. Each of those stories are further divied into a number of separate routes to find based on both dialogue choices, and whether you win or lose certain key battles. It's almost as if there's exploration included in your fighting game, and the story mode is actually rather involved and lengthy. Sure, every single path isn't immediately material to the central plot, but the occasional comedic story routes make the experience even more rewarding.
Somehow, this deceptively simple fighter with fewer than 10 moves per character has the depth of an ocean. Even the story mode is deceptively complicated, and all the more rewarding for it. Moreover, the combat is complex, and the characters are interesting in battle and out. Blazblue is a fighter of the highest caliber, and a truly rewarding experience.
Freelance review by Josh Higley (May 08, 2010)
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