Blazing the Trail!
It’s pretty fair to say that BlazBlue is a title that flew directly under the radar this year. With almost no pre-release buildup or trickle-fed announcements, this blip on the radar seems at first to be just another arcade-style fighter imported from Japan. However, once you boot up BlazBlue, you find out that it is a lot more than just another fighting game. This 2D fighter pretty much has the total package when it comes to what you would expect from a fighter: deep combat system, beautiful graphics, and comprehensive online modes. And, in addition to all these great facets, BlazBlue even has something extra: a comprehensive story!
The world of BlazBlue is set in the future, after a group of six warriors prevented the world from ending. These warriors came from another world, using a special type of magic to stop the world’s demise. These warriors freely shared their knowledge of the magic arts with the world, but the knowledge was confined to a special Novus Orbis Librarium, and it became only accessible to elite members of society. This created a huge imbalance of power, and those who were able to access the magic texts contained in the Librarium turned into would-be dictators, wielding incredible power. After several failed uprisings, it seems that all hope has been lost for the citizens of this world, until a singular warrior, known as Mr. Grim Reaper destroys part of the Librarium and uses a previously unknown power known as BlazBlue to restore order to the world.
One of the coolest parts about the story (other than the simple fact that it exists in a fighting game) is that each character’s story has multiple endings, and you’ll have to make different choices in the game in order to experience all of the possible resolutions to each character’s story. Luckily, the game lets you know which paths you have followed to experience each ending, and you can view a percentage of how much of each story you have experienced. Even after beating one story twice, I was only able to get to 65% of one character’s story, so there is plenty for the single-player fighter to experience here.
The robust single-player experience certainly was a welcome surprise, and will certainly delight fighting fans everywhere. However, the real selling point of this title has to be its combat system. Describing it as deep is almost laughable, as the amount of combos, special attacks, and magic moves that each character can perform is staggering. Like old-school arcade titles, there are four main simple attacks: weak, medium, strong, and drive attack. The drive attack is your character’s signature simple move, but like the other single-button attacks, it can be built upon with some fantastic results.
The combo system in the game is ridiculously deep, and every time I played with a certain character, I was able to discover a new and interesting combo. Simply staring up the game and experimenting in the training mode can provide some serious entertainment, and there is just so much to discover in this title that you can easily lose hours just discovering the intricacies of just one of the game’s characters. In addition to regular combos, special attacks, and distortion drives (which are unique combos that build on each character’s drive ability), you can also execute Astral Heat attacks, which are like BlazBlue’s version of fatalities.
These special attacks can only be performed in the last round of battle and only when your opponent’s HP is below 20%. As long as you know the proper button mashes, you will be treated to a cinematic attack that will blow you away. Of course, the Astral Heat attacks do come with a little bit of a catch; you will not be able to access them in the beginning and will need to unlock them as you progress through the game’s other modes.
In addition to the Story mode, BlazBlue has several other modes. You’ve got the fairly typical versus mode, training mode, and even a score attack mode which challenges you to meet or exceed certain scores against pre-determined characters. However, the standout mode in addition to the story mode has to be the game’s online mode. Dubbed Network Mode, the online component to BlazBlue is deceptively simple. Once you have successfully connected to the BlazBlue network, you can choose quick match, which allows you to jump right in to a match (either ranked or unranked). However, if you choose the second option, custom match, you will be treated to a whole host of special features that create what other fighters this generation have not been able to: a real arcade experience.
When you are creating a match, you can choose to create special tournament rooms that have up to six spots. You can fill these spots by looking for players online and inviting them, or inviting your friends. While the seats are being filled, you can decide on the rules, rotation style, and even a recommended skill level for potential players who might join the room. When you are ready to go, then you can begin playing, tournament style, until a winner has been found. This mechanic really recreates the feel of being in an arcade and taking turns in impromptu tournaments with friends, and I was more than impressed with this aspect of the online mode.
Although the story, online modes, and amazingly deep combat should be enough to get any fighting fan into this title, there is yet another element to this game that makes it just that much more awesome: the visuals. The game features a hand-drawn anime-style look, much like the upcoming King of Fighters XII, but with an absolutely remarkable amount of detail. Characters move around the play area with very fluid movements, and the background is constantly in motion. Just looking at the game feels like watching a high-definition anime movie, and I was amazed with just how detailed all of the fighting animations were. Of course, this makes perfect sense when you take into account that each character was hand-drawn and animations consist of close to 2000 individual frames. The game is easily the best-looking 2D fighter this generation, and it definitely stands up tall next to even the most acclaimed 3D fighters.
BlazBlue may have not had the pre-launch notoriety that other fighters like Street Fighter IV and Soul Calibur IV enjoyed, but it definitely measures up to these titles, and it proves that there are still some new ideas left in the fighting genre. The fighting system in BlazBlue is the deepest I have seen this generation, and the level of exploration that is possible within the combat is something that is rare indeed. The story mode was also a welcome surprise, especially considering this is a genre where most titles are content to just keep the story relegated to a few sentences before fights describing a ridiculous premise. I was even impressed to see BlazBlue’s stunning 2D graphics, which prove that you don’t have to go 3D in order to have graphics that wow both technically and stylistically. BlazBlue is a title that every fighting fan should take notice of, and I wouldn’t be surprised if it sets a new standard for current-gen fighters.
RATING OUT OF 5 RATING DESCRIPTION 4.9 Graphics
Beautiful 2-D sprites are the most detailed I have ever seen, and the animations are ridiculously fluid. An amazing game to behold visually. 4.5 Control
Controls are incredibly deep and will take you weeks, not hours or days, to master. Even if you are a Street Fighter veteran or a Tekken pro, expect some serious challenge from the control. 4.5 Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
Characters are fully voiced during drama scenes, and both the English and the Japanese voiceovers are excellent. Background music is superb as well. 4.4 Play Value
Like most fighters, the real replay value here is in the online and versus modes. However, the multiple endings in story mode do make them worth coming back for at least a few times as well. 4.7 Overall Rating – Must Buy
Not an average. See Rating legend above for a final score breakdown.