It feels like I’ve been playing Blazblue forever. It says a great deal about the series’ longevity that its first incarnation, Calamity Trigger, was released on the PS3 and the long dead PSP nearly 6 years ago, and its looks to continue for a while yet with a new update, Central Fiction, due out soon, in Japan at least. Its developers, Arc System Works, is now juggling 3 other fighting game series too and has established itself as THE developer of quality anime 1 on 1 fighting games. So are they spreading themselves too thin, and do we really need another Blazblue game at the end of 2015?
Blazblue Chrono Phantasma Extend brings the normal rebalancing of returning characters from previous editions, but also features several new or revamped gameplay mechanics. There has been a healthy total of 7 new characters added since Continuum Shift, the character sprites have been redrawn and the musical themes have been re-arranged which all help bring a refreshing lick of paint to the overall presentation. The game has always looked great, but on PS4 it really has become a treat to look at and listen to, especially if you’re a big fan of Japanese style rock, and quite frankly, who isn’t? The characters are beautifully drawn and animated and the new characters are typically unique in their look and fighting style. This has always been a blessing and a curse for Blazblue, as each character is so different to use it offers huge depth and variation, but also means it’s quite a commitment to learn a new character. Unlike games like Marvel vs Capcom where anybody can pick up most characters and do something cool, Blazblue expects a little more time and effort in order to get to know who your using. I’ve been playing the same character since Calamity Trigger and it’s hard to consider swapping when you know how much time it will take. Luckily, the tutorials and training modes are very clear and thorough, and although I find myself often going back to them due to the sheer amount of systems and techniques, they are well presented and quick to navigate if you know what you want to learn. New systems include Overdrive, which assist the player to string moves together into all important combos, and Crush Trigger which help break down a blocking opponent at the expense of a quarter of your Heat metre.
There are the usual variety of game modes on offer, with a solid online mode being the most enjoyable, as is usual in most fighting games, unless you have a mate to play with on the sofa next to you. The games I played were pretty good, without a huge amount of lag and certainly as good as the majority of other fighting games. The arcade mode is good for honing your skills in a less unforgiving environment, and the story mode has been overhauled but is still the somewhat confusing and overwhelming series of cardboard cut-outs with strangely moving mouths. It’s hard to be too critical of story modes in fighting games when it’s not really the real reason for playing them, but games like Mortal Kombat have shown how much a good story mode can add to a game, and it’s a pity that Blazblue’s isn’t as interactive or as watchable as it could have been. The story is fine if you can follow it, but it seems a shame that an anime game features so little animation in its story.
Arc System Works should definitely be commended for keeping an aging series fresh and vibrant by delivering this thorough and worthwhile update. Despite also having their hands full with the Guilty Gear Xrd series, Persona 4 Arena and Under Night In-Birth, they have done more than just add a couple of characters and giving old ones new colours. They have truly made this a worthwhile purchase, especially if you’ve missed an instalment or two, or have never owned a Blazblue game at all. Its possibly not for everybody, as a certain level of practise and commitment to the game is necessary to get the most out of it, but for those willing to give it the time and attention it deserves, it will provide endless hours of varied, intense gameplay and glorious visual and audio delights.
The only doubt, and it seems a shame to end on a mini-rant, is that due to the developer’s frankly bizarre treatment of European gamers, this game will be superseded by the Central Fiction update almost as soon as its released. Chronophantasma Extend was released 6 months ago in Japan and 4 months ago in the US, which is a similar story to the other games from Arc. Guilty Gear came out in Europe several months after Japan and America as a PSN download only and has received no DLC support so far (what can be worse than empty character select slots?). Persona 4 Arena was simailarly months behind finding its way to Europe.
Ultimately though, it says a lot that at a time which has been described by many as the 2nd golden age of fighting games, Blazblue still remains as exciting and relevant in 2015 as it was in 2009. If you enjoy fighting games, you should already own a Blazblue title, but even if that’s the case, this game should almost be considered essential.
Reviewed on PS4