Since fighting games have come back into the main stream, it seems like all I hear lately is "I want a high-def 2D game that gives me a diverse set of characters, promotes aggressive game play and has solid netcode." Well, ARC System Works and Aksys Games have answered your prayers, kids—enter BlazBlue: Calamity Trigger.
Rebel 1 - ACTION!
Over the past six or so years that I've been active in the competitive fighting game scene, I've always tried to give Guilty Gear a chance, a game that BlazBlue is often compared to, but it never seemed to click with me. For whatever reason with every release there seemed to be this barrier of entry that I couldn't get around. Perhaps it was the cast of characters (I never could settle on a main), the complex game play system or maybe even the fact that the competitive scene was so far ahead it seemed hopeless to get into it.
I assumed I would have a similar experience with BlazBlue, but after playing it over the past two months or so I can say that is not the case. With it's rich HD 2D graphics, interesting set of characters each with their own unique "Drive" moves and easy to pick up combo system I found myself looking at the clock and wondering how 6 hours had already passed each night I would play it.
Yes, you have been warned, this game is very addictive. As mentioned before, the game heavily promotes aggressive game play, so once you learn a few combos and mix ups with your character, you will start to see that there is seemingly an endless amount of rush down options at your disposal.
For instance, when I first picked up the game I settled on Ragna to get a grip on the game play system and after learning about his simple B button to C button chain combo I soon realized either on block or hit I could continue with numerous other follow ups to continue to pressure my opponent. Following C with D, his two hit Drive move, I could either cancel out of the hit and dash in or simply cancel the hit with quarter circle back and D which acts as a defensive barrier to give me a little breathing room before rushing back in.
This is just one simple example of how you can mix up and pressure your opponent with Ragna. You will find similar strings and set ups for virtually every other character in the game that you will continually want to add to and refine. The fact that there are so many ways to approach and engage your opponent—ground dashes, air dashes, Rapid Canceling special moves; the list goes on and on—is just one of the many reasons I've been interested in the game for this long. No staring contests in this game, it's all about the rush down in BlazBlue.
It seems people can be a bit intimidated by BlazBlue with all it's air combos, life bars and meters, but the game is a lot easier to pick up than it looks. Most aspects of the game, with exception to the wake up game, are fairly easy to understand and execute.
BlazBlue uses a 4 button layout for attacking, A B C and D. Buttons A through C are more or less normal attacks that each have variations depending on which direction you press on the joystick while attacking. D is your character specific Drive move that has it's own properties that are vastly different than the other three buttons.
Throwing is a big part of BlazBlue and is performed by pressing B + C. This feels pretty awkward at first due to the button layout and having been trained for so long to press another set of buttons to throw in Capcom games. However, the throw break window is fairly large in this game so it doesn't take too long to get used to breaking throws.
As far as movement is concerned, you have a ground dash, back dash, super jump, double jump and air dash. All of these different movement options allow you to attack or retreat from your opponent in many different ways.
To give you a quick break down of the HUD in this game, at the top of the screen you have your life bar, and below that you will see a Barrier Gauge. You can hold back and A + B to perform a push block, which will give you some space between you and the attacking opponent, and as you do this the Barrier Gauge will deplete. You can also press all 4 buttons to perform a Barrier Burst that will use up your Barrier Gauge completly. This is more or less a combo breaker to get you out of damaging combos and give yourself another chance to bring back the round in your favor.
In the middle of the screen between the two life bars you will see a guard meter. As you block your opponents attacks, this meter will fill up and once it reaches max you will be guard broken and unable to defend against attacks for a short time.
At the bottom of the screen you will see your Heat Gauge which acts as your super meter in this game. Once the meter reaches 50% you can either perform a Distortion Drive (super move) or a Rapid Cancel. A Rapid Cancel allows you to cancel out of a special move much like a Focus Attack Dash Cancel in Street Fighter 4 or a Roman Cancel in Guilty Gear and is executed by pressing A + B + C upon impact of a special or normal move. Once the Heat Gauge is at 100%, in certain situations you perform an Astral Finish which is more or less an epic super that finishes off your opponent.
Once you are knocked down you can quick rise, which is an important and advanced aspect of BlazBlue. You can also quick rise forward or backwards depending on where you want to position yourself on the screen.
Negative Warning is another interesting game play aspect that actually penalizes a player for being too defensive. if you run away and turtle too much you will see red streaks along your character and the text "Negative Warning" will appear on the screen. At this point you will end up taking more damage than before so be sure to stay active and always be pressuring your opponent to avoid this status change.
What really makes BlazBlue so special and fun to play is it's unique cast of characters. This is really the first time where I've been very torn on who to pick up and play considering no character in BlazBlue plays like any other and yet they are all so interesting and full of depth.
As mentioned earlier, each character has their own unique set of Drive moves which adds a lot to their individuality and game play. Ragna's Drive allows him to steal life from the opposing player and bust out some insane juggle combos in the process. Rachel can control the wind which will manipulate not only her move set but the positioning of the other player on the screen. Arakune can curse his opponent which allows him to send bugs flying all over the screen that in turn set up some very dangerous combos and corner traps.
So as you can see, even though there is a basic game play system in place, no one character plays the same and you really have to rethink how to approach each character when you pick up someone new. This adds a lot to the replay value of the game and also makes knowing match ups extremely important if you want to be a competitive player.
When starting out with BlazBlue, I personally recommend that everyone pick up Ragna at first to get a feel for how the game works. He is fairly straight forward with some very easy combos so you will find yourself able to compete right off the bat once you have a couple combos and mix ups down with him.
After sometime with Ragna I started to branch out and I have now settled upon Arakune. Due to his insane zoning abilities, high/low mix ups and a virtually inescapable corner trap I figured he would be a good choice for me. What can I say? I love cheap characters in fighting games.
I started to rack up the wins with Arakune using the tactics I learned from the tutorial DVDs included with the game, but before long I started to run into some very skilled V-13 and Rachel players who made me realise that there are no free wins in this game. Even with Arakune, one of the most powerful characters in the game, there is still a serious need to understand every aspect of the opponent and what they are capable of.
Right now I am trying to refine my Arakune game, but looking forward I would really love to pick up Rachel. After that, who knows? Like I said, every character is worth sitting down with and learning some basic combos and set ups.
Raising the Bar - Online Matchmaking and Netcode
I've been lucky enough to spend a lot of time playing BlazBlue online and it is truly one of the most impressive aspects of the game itself. Of course, the most important thing is: does it play smooth online? After playing people on the West Coast, East Coast and even out in Japan, I can say that in my experience so far it plays much smoother online than any other fighting game released on console thus far.
Keep in mind it wasn't always this smooth. When I first started playing online, anyone who wasn't on the West Coast seems to have a bit of lag, but since Aksys Games has rolled out an updated patch for the game everything runs much better. Once you start your match online, the pre-fight load screen will look like it's lagging a bit, but once the match starts it's extremely smooth. I'm not sure what they did with the netcode in the update but it works and that's all that matters.
As if smooth online play wasn't enough, BlazBlue contains more options for creating lobbies and playing others online than any other fighting game out there right now. The lobby system allows to create custom rooms and rotate through and play everyone that you invite, but as an added bonus, those who aren't playing can spectate and chat about the ongoing matches.
Another interesting aspect of the online play is you can reassign your spot to another player even if you are up next to play. So for instance, if you have a fat win streak but receive a phone call, you can give up your spot to another player and let them battle it out with someone else in the lobby while you handle your business. This is just one example of the many innovative aspects of BlazBlue's online match making system.
When playing a Ranked Match, you can simply have the system search for an opponent for you. Once the system finds the opponent you will see their "player card" that displays their main character (character who is chosen the most), win ratio, level, number of incomplete games among other interesting details about the opponent. After the match is completed, win or lose you will be presented with details of the match such as who landed the first attack, whether or not you used your barrier burst and how close you are to the next level.
Let's not forget that you can save replays of your online matches as well. This is not dependent on your rank or anything else - every last match that you play you can save to your system. This is obviously an extremely welcome feature within BlazBlue in that not only can you view epic matches that you won, but also analyze matches that you lost and figure out where you need to improve.
All in all, BlazBlue has raised the bar for online play for a fighting game. We can only hope other developers are taking note of all the options within BlazBlue's online match making system and implement many of the same features into future fighting games.
As enjoyable as it is to battle it out with others, there of course is always the need to practice your combos on a dummy, and that is where training mode comes into play. Much like the online match making system, the training mode in BlazBlue goes above and beyond what is typically seen in a fighting game.
The amount of options available to you is pretty overwhelming at first; there are about 6 different pages of options within the training mode. This will allow you to manage the training dummy to prepare you for all sorts of different situations that may occur in a real match such as tech rolling forward or back wards or escaping an attack string that is not a true combo.
You can also set the dummy's life to either recharge or simply completely deplete so you can see how many combos it takes to actually kill off the opponent. Once the training dummy dies off, there is a quick pause and they will be at full health again. Subtle aspects of the training mode like this will help players refine and develop their game in the long run.
By now you may be thinking to yourself "Wow, Haunts, you sure do know a lot about this game for only playing 2 months!" but I will admit I did not figure out most of this on my own. The limited edition version of BlazBlue comes with a phenomenal set of training DVDs that were put together by the pros over at DustLoop.com.
Each character has their own section for strategy, combos, explanation of moves among other little tid bits of information to help you level up your game. To my knowledge, nothing like this has ever been released for a fighting game on this level.
After watching each characters video it's very easy to jump into the game and start using them the way they should be played. This helps a lot with getting right into the game and feeling comfortable with your characters move sets so you do not feel the need to just mash out attacks hoping for the best. This is just another example of Aksys Games going above and beyond for their fans and their dedication to bring new players into the fighting game scene.
Although I am sure creating these DVDs was an insane amount of work, I hope other developers follow Aksys Games lead and provide similar tutorials in the future. Whether tutorials are offered in-game or on a separate DVD, this is a crucial aspect of being able to easily pick up and play a fighting game such as BlazBlue.
Although BlazBlue is an excellent game, just like any other fighting game in it's first iteration, it is not with out its faults. The main aspect that needs to be improved is character balance. There needs to be some changes made to some of the top tier characters such as Arakune and Rachel or maybe some buffs added to some of the lower tier characters such as Tager.
I am not an expert at the game but I can already see that some characters such as Tager have a very, very difficult time competing with these top tier characters due to their incredible zoning abilities. Again, I am still relatively new to the game so I am not sure what specific changes should be made to remedy this, but there are some areas that need to be tweaked to balance the game.
Also keep in mind this is more of an issue with high level game play. At a a low level or even intermediate level of play it will be hard for most people to see these imbalances between characters so don't let this stop you from picking up the game.
I also would love to see more characters added to the roster. Even though each character is a lot of fun and is very unique, the over all roster is fairly small compared to most fighting games. Adding new characters can always mess with game balance, but with such a small roster in BlazBlue, a handful of new characters would be a welcome addition.
One last, small gripe is about the sound effects, which I personally find to be a little over-the-top. The English voice acting is fine, but there is a sound effect for virtually everything in the game. For instance, anytime you land a counter hit you will hear a woman yell "COUNTER!". With BlazBlue being such an aggressive game, counter hits are a very common occurrence so this can get a little annoying after a while.
Overall BlazBlue is the complete package when it comes to fighting games: interesting and enjoyable set of characters, smooth online play, solid user interface and a robust set of options. Throw in the tutorial DVD and soundtrack and it makes it difficult to think of what else ARC System Works and Aksys Games could add to improve the game.
BlazBlue is also a welcome departure from what else is currently on the market with it's fast paced aggressive gameplay and 2D graphics. So if you're looking for something fresh and new to add to your fighting game collection go out and pick this up as soon as possible so you don't miss out on the limited edition version of the game.
iPW SCORE: 9/10