2009 is truly the year of the fighter. With the release of Street Fighter IV from Capcom, many other game developers are trying to match the popularity that Street Fighter IV has generated. One developer, Arc System Works, is taking on that daunting task and with positive results is proving to be a contender for fight game of the year. That game is called BlazBlue: Calamity Trigger. From my time with BlazBlue, it is easily one of my favorite fighters that I have enjoyed in awhile. From the story to the game play this game has a lot to offer. Let's start with a story, that for once in a fighter, makes some sense.
As everyone knows, most fighting games either have no story line what so ever or it doesn't make much sense trying to inter connect the main story line with each individual fighter. Here's the main story line to BlazBlue in a nutshell. Humanity was on the verge of extinction from a creature of Darkness called the "Black Beast". The world was saved by six heroes who wielded "Armagus", a fusion of magic and technology, to defeat the Beast. After the war, an organization called the Novus Orbis Librarium Armagus (the Library or NOL) was created to govern the world with the use of Armagus. A great deal of dissent was caused by the Library, partly due to Armagus' use in nearly every facet of society, and the widening socioeconomic gap between those who could and couldn't use Armagus.
It's this segregation of society that eventually caused The Ikaruga Civil War, when people of the Ikaruga Union rebelled against the NOL. After the war, the Library imposed a harsher rule on the world, punishing any rebellion against the Library with the death penalty. In 2199, several years after the Ikaruga Civil War, a branch of the Library was utterly destroyed by an SS-class traitor named "Ragna the Bloodedge" in an attempt to destroy the entire Library. The NOL, hoping to stop him, immediately put the largest bounty ever for anyone who could capture him. Interestingly, Ragna possessed a powerful form of Armagus known as the "Azure Grimoire" also known as the BlazBlue. This led to the Librarium, as well as the Ikaruga Union and other fighters, to be after not just his bounty, but also his grimoire. That's the main story line and the one that interconnects each fighter. As you play as different characters, the story line will play through their eyes, which makes each character's experience different from each other and often interconnecting with each other. What makes BlazBlue different from the other fighting games is how they integrate the story line with the game play.
BlazBlue is as standard as any fighting game out right now, with some extra modes not see in most fighters. There is of course the standard Arcade, Story, Training and Gallery Mode. Added in to BlazBlue are also a Score Attack and Replay Mode, more on those modes later. The control scheme is really different from what I am used to using. For the most part, all basic attacks are on the face and shoulder button, while special attacks are mapped to the right analog stick. Like with all fighting games, BlazBlue's fighters have some of the most unique super moves called Distortions. Each Distortion is different from fighter to fighter, ranging from status boots to over the top combos. For me this set up felt a bit weird, so luckily BlazBlue does support my SFIV fight stick. If you have that or any other type of arcade stick, I say go with that, but be prepared to do some reconfiguring the button inputs. Another aspect of the game play that I had mentioned earlier was how the story integrates into the game play. This take the form along the lines of a pick your adventure styled books. With some characters, choices appear on the screen, letting you decide how the character reacts to the situation. Picking one may lead to a fight, or may lead to the end of a branch of the story. I haven't seen this done before in a fighter, so it feels really good to see some innovation to push the genre forward.
On one hand, BlazBlue is a traditional 2D fighter, but what's not traditional is the graphics and sound. Each character is hand drawn and rendered in 720p resolution, meaning that this game looks great in motion. From movements of the characters to the flashy distortion special moves, this game is full of eye candy. Although the cut scenes are not animated, the anime style characters still look good and help move the story along. The music accompanying the game is a mix of metal and classical fused together sounds great. The main theme song Iconoclast by KOTOKO sounds really great as does the rest of the characters theme music. Like with all anime and anime inspired video games, BlazBlue suffers from poor English dubbing. Luckily there's an audio option to have all the dialogue in Japanese, which is really good if you don't like English dubbing.
Now after going through story mode there is still much replay value in BlazBlue. The Score Attack mode is where you take a fighter and go through each of the 12 fighters and rack up as many points as you can in each round. Replay mode is somewhat new to the fighting genre, recently being introduced in the newest update to Street Fighter IV. BlazBlue takes that and adds on to it. While in a match, online or offline, you press a button that will record your match where then you can replay and review it. This feature, to me, is really cool with the fact that it can almost act like training footage to study on other players. It can be even saved directly on to the hard drive and can be later uploaded to YouTube for everyone to see. As for the online multiplayer, this game easily impresses.
BlazBlue takes a cue from SFII Turbo HD Remix, and uses a quarter match format. Up to five people can be in a lobby, decide who fights first and can customize the match rules. This truly captures the feel of playing in an arcade with other people, calling next when someone loses a match, talking to other players while waiting for their turn discussing tactics on how to take the winner out. Another feature that is only exclusive for BlazBlue on the PS3 is the ability to remote play on the PSP. At first I was skeptical that it would work, but after testing it out, it plays out alright. You would have to make sure that if taking your game on the road, the wireless signal at a hot spot is strong enough or there will be some lag. Will you use this feature? Honestly, not really, but it's worth mentioning because it makes use of the remote play feature of the PS3/PSP and shows that it can be done and used to further enhance gameplay.
As a game, BlazBlue was so good that I had to breakout my fighting stick that has been only used for Street Fighter. Sure it has its odd ends, yet it's the way that BlazBlue takes them and makes it work for them. It has made such a really big splash in the genre that EVO is considering adding BlazBlue to list of fight games they use for their tournaments. I really enjoyed BlazBlue and I do really hope to see more, either in a form of a sequel or in DLC.
- Mike V.