BlazBlue: Calamity Trigger Review
Maybe it's the fact that the release of Street Fighter IV finally got some decent arcade-style controllers into people's hands, but the floodgates seem to be opening now for fighting games on the Xbox 360. For most of the last ten years we've seen one release every few months and no one took it seriously because the Xbox 360 controller is just poorly designed for so many fighting games out there. But now that people have replacements, games like BlazBlue can find a real audience on the 360.
If you're into anime-inspired, 2D fighting games, then this is going to be yet another in a long line of excellent titles that started back in the 90s with Capcom and SNK classics but has been continued in part with the Guilty Gear series. And it's that developer, Arc System Works, that has put together this new property and turned it initially into what they do best: a fighting game.
BlazBlue has twelve playable characters, a number that seems minuscule nowadays compared to the 20+ and even 40+ seen in some fighting games, but with this being entirely new content from the art to the design to the combat, it feels decidedly fresh and original. The fighters here haven't been seen a dozen-plus times in other titles, and their abilities and look are new yet also seem familiar. Arc System Works have done a fantastic job of making a new fighting game that plays like one you already know the basics on, which is a pretty interesting feat considering how particular fans of the genre can be.
I love fighting games but I've never been good enough to succeed at competition-level play, so I can talk about the balance of the characters up to a certain point but soon have to consult the experts. What I quickly found was that the characters all fight fairly differently yet come together in a solid balance with original, unique combos that don't feel like they arbitrarily have to be put together. Here, with a little experience in the genre and some experimenting, you can quickly put together some solid combos and a pretty good offensive overall without having to consult the in-game command list right from the start. But that's for people who've played these games already - for the rest, it's going to be a little more difficult to get going.
BlazBlue has quite a few interesting features, like super versions of some of the characters that are playable in the story mode as well as the full range of training, vs., and arcade modes. It's also got online play that is about as good as Capcom's latest online fighting engine does, which is to say that with a good connection between both players, you'll nail combos and set up impressive attacks easily. With anything less, the experience is degraded but not by quite as much as you'd expect for a game that requires reaction times like this.
The story in BlazBlue, like so many fighting games before it, is still kind of weird and awkward. It's got branching plots, multiple endings, and unique stories for each character, and some of the more, well eccentric fighters have some fun stuff included, but I still had a hard time following or really caring. (Full disclosure: I'm not a fan of anime, so that might be the problem.) One thing I liked was the ability to switch the audio between Japanese and English voices.
When it comes to how the game looks, it's difficult to make fighting games with 2D hand-drawn characters and 3D backgrounds look right. Many of them look exactly like, technically, what they are: sprites with no depth fighting on a very 2D plane in a 3D world that doesn't seem to fit them at all. Sure, once you get into the action it's easy to ignore that disconnect, but so many games doing this over the years have seemed this way to me and it's a little jarring when you just sit back and watch it for a minute. That effect has been minimized about as much as we can expect with BlazBlue, and its high-quality, 720p-native sprites fit in well with the solid, detailed 3D backgrounds.
My favorite part of BlazBlue is that it's not addicted to speed like so many fighting games over the years have seemed to be. With the ability to break the opponent's combo at the cost of reduced defense later and the chance to play an interesting mix-up/block game along with using multiple jumps in mid-air, the slower pace of the combat isn't boring - it's just a little more strategic and less twitchy. Don't get me wrong, though: on the scope of all genres, this is still a relatively fast-paced game that will test your coordination, reaction time, and accuracy with its litany of moves. But it doesn't also expect you to do it while at a blistering pace that only the pros can move at.
One disappointment for me is that only the Limited Edition of the game comes with content that everyone should have access to. The biggest part of it is an instructional DVD that includes some great strategy for each of the game's twelve unique characters, giving you not only tips on how to set up powerful combos, but doing it in a way that helps new players understand the overall focus of each fighter. The problem is that these videos aren't included in the original game, as I think it'd be extremely helpful for content like this to be an actual integral part of these games. BlazBlue isn't exactly accessible for someone new to the genre, but these videos would have really brought some of the learning curve down.
Despite a few disappointments and my own personal disconnect with the style of many Japanese artists and game designers, I found BlazBlue to be a fantastic new entry in a genre that veteran players can be so picky about. Arc System Works has delivered an impressive amount of fun and strategy along with a dozen-plus interesting and original new combatants, and put it together in a package that works just as well offline as it does online. If you're a fan of side-scrolling fighting games, you owe it to yourself to get this. And if you're not, this might just be the game that gives you a nice, fresh start to the genre.