Although somewhat delayed (took your time Honeyman!) as promised I have for your eager eyes a review of Arc System Works' latest 2D brawler for you to read and digest.
N.B Hereafter I shall try to update more regularly as I've written about 8 reviews in rough already and may put them up in pairs or something like that. Anyway, on with the review!
Swords and fantasy. When it comes to these things Western people tend to think of characters such as those depicted in the Soul Calibur series. An eclectic mix of characters from around the world, it really stimulates the imagination and not more so than thinking of samurai and 'the way of the warrior'. It should come as no surprise that when Japanese think of the same things they probably have the same romantic ideal about European knights. Therefore it will come as no additional shock to learn that although Blazeblue has knights and a very folklore feel about it that this latest 2D offering from Arc System Works ticks the right boxes for the aforementioned. However, enough romanticising, let's look at the game.
Firstly, let's get the major gripe out of the way. Yes, ASW made Guilty Gear but Blazeblue is not an unofficial sequel to this. Blazeblue marks its own territory proudly among 2D fighters and finds its own place comfortably. The game provides you with 4 attack buttons that you the standard light, medium, and hard attacks to use plus a button for the drive attack. This attack is interesting in that it differs for each character in regards to what it allows them to do (i.e Ragna sucks the life from his opponents, Jin freezes them in their tracks, Noel combos with her guns,etc.) It contributes to making the characters even more unique than they already are and players will no doubt find their own 'main' character they will train up with as they play. Add to this the ability to do standard combos, aerial combos, special moves, throws and supers and you have a 2D fighter that provides you with many options to mix up the combat.
Also added to the game are moves known as Astral Finishers. These can be initiated when in the last round, both players have 20% or less health left and are a 'flashy' way of finishing off your opponent (such as Ragna's where his sword, the Azure Grimoire, turns into a scythe as he hacks away and finally sucks the opponent's life essence into non-existence). It's a nice addition as they never dominate the match and, like their name, are satisfying and impressive finishers to a hard-fought match. Players can also use move cancels that consume 50% of the heat gauge but allow for bigger combos, a faultless defence that means you take no chip damage from special and super moves and a burst attack that allows you to break out of a combo but you then take higher damage for the rest of the match. As you can see there are many tools at your disposal to use in play making Blazeblue more than just 'a Guilty Gear rip-off'. Enough waxing lyrical about the gameplay, let's look at the graphics.
Frankly speaking, Blazeblue on a HDTV is beautiful. You can tell that ASW have spent a large amount of time creating the look and feel of the characters and backgrounds in Blazeblue. Although rendered in 3D the backgrounds blend exceedingly well with the characters that battle before them and there is plenty to see from the port of Kagutsuchi to the rose garden of Rachel's castle to the premises of The Library (an institute of knights in the game's world). Backgrounds aside, the characters themselves are highly detailed, well animated and have their own unique looks about them (from Ragna's red overcoat and balck hakama, Litchi's 'original' Chinese dress to whatever Arakune is meant to be). They are as pleasing to the eye as they are to see in the heat of battle and are not only exciting to watch as they strike and are struck but even to watch as they move whilst doing their idle animations. It is testament to the 2D medium that such pretty and aesthetically consistent games such as Blazeblue are still made and show that 2D is far from dead just yet.
Those who want more from Blazeblue than just fighting can enjoy the game's story mode which fills in some of the back stories and additional details of the game's characters and introduces some additional side characters into the mix too (of which one or two would not go amiss as additional characters in the playable roster (Hazama and Kokonoe come to mind.)) Although the obvious thing to say would be that a fighting game does not need a story to be great it helps to add longevity to the game and who can blame a company for trying to do something new or innovative for an established genre? After all, players don't have to play through the story mode but it is a nice addition none the less.
The game also has a the standard modes of arcade, versus, training and gallery where can view game art, character endings, both game intros and listen to the game's soundtrack (for all the Daisuke Ishiwatari fans as he composed it) as well as what is a main staple of today's next-gen games, network play. There appears to be an ongoing debate as to whether fighters can ever be fairly played online with issues over lag causing maneuvers that require split-second timing to be messed up and prohibiting decent play. People will be happy to hear that the netcode in Blazeblue is great as it only ever seems to lag on the match's startup and very rarely after that. Players can also setup a room where they can invite friends and strangers to bring their best or just spectate if they like (I've already added a couple of people to PSN as a result of playing good and friendly matches online with them.) Options such as time, number of rounds, whether to have unlimited characters, Astral Finishers, easy input moves, preference of player level and so on can all be selected before creating the room and you can really tell ASW have worked hard to make sure the online experience is not a wasted one.
Although it may seem I am singing Blazeblue's praises to high heaven there are potentially some downsides. On the one hand good for fighting games, Blazeblue may seem too technical and inaccessible for people only accustomed to Ryu and Ken in Street Fighter (and shame on you!) The size of the roster needs to be brought into question too. Although the roster is very unique it is still only 12 characters and when other fighting games can have rosters of 30-40 characters you can only hope that ASW will only build on this number in future sequels (fingers crossed!) Add to this that people may only stick to Ragna, Jin, Noel and one or two other characters as the remainder may seem inaccessible and already the playable roster is sliced in half (players should at least give them all a try, however.) It is also a shame that although a combo and strategy Blue-Ray disc came with the Limited Edition version of the game not everyone will pick this up, hence causing an even larger divide between beginners and pros in play (there is the option to do moves via simple direction presses on the right analogue stick, however.)
Detracting elements aside, players and fighting game fans alike should be happy that ASW have not only released a fine 2D fighter but have added enough new elements to make Blazeblue feel fresh enough to not just be more of what has gone before but a great addition to the fighting game genre. Comes heartily recommended and like the game's name, Blazeblue indeed!