It seems as though the good old fashioned 2D one-on-one combat game is having a bit of a renaissance of late. With the likes of Street Fighter IV sticking with the tried and tested formula to great effect, re-releases of classics like Marvel Vs Capcom II as DLC, and the upcoming third instalment of the comic book/videogame crossover battler on its way, it would seem as though gamers can’t get enough of this old-school combat.
So, when a game as promising as the oddly titled BlazBlue: Calamity Trigger arrives, it’s time for the Street Fighters and versus games of the world to put up their guards and prepare for an attack.
Similar in many ways to the excellent Guilty Gear, BlazBlue is a visually striking anime-infused title that offers quite an impressive amount of depth under the deceptively easy to pick up gameplay.
Featuring 12 characters, all of which are radically different, this is a fast-paced classic-style fighter that packs in quite a few unique features, but also carefully takes time to include the basics we’ve come to expect from the genre.
The game itself has various modes, including the standard Arcade mode, which pits you against ten other combatants in quick succession, and the story mode, which tells a short tale of some of the characters available in the game. The multiplayer features the usual Vs mode on the same console and full online support, with ranked matches.
The story of BlazBlue is, for this reviewer, a little poor. The game centres around the main protagonist, Ragna the Bloodedge, also called the Grim Reaper. He wields a powerful magic called the Azure Grimoire, and is fighting a one man battle against the Novus Orbis Librarium, or NOL, for short. This powerful body has put a bounty on his head, and this has attracted all comers to the city of Kagutsuchi, the game’s setting.
The story mode attempts to flesh out more of the back-story of the game’s world and characters, and although sometimes interesting, it’s all a little badly translated and nonsensical. And even though there’s an option to ‘skip’ the cut-scenes, so you can get to the action, the game doesn’t actually skip these, but instead fast-forwards through the reams of text. What’s the point of calling it skip, then?!
Of course, the story mode is but a tiny element of a game like BlazBlue, and it’s the core fighting that’s important. It’s here where BlazBlue really hits home, and as I mentioned, everything is so easy to pick up, other fighters should take note.
BlazBlue doesn’t force players to remember finger bending combinations to perform special attacks, and although there are some basic manipulations to handle, many of the special moves are achieved by pushing a single button, or tilting the right analogue stick.
Far from making the game too easy, this simplistic approach to special moves actually helps make the game even more rewarding and in-depth, as the focus isn’t on whose hands are more flexible, but instead on who has the greater grasp of their character’s abilities. It’s a true crucible of skill, and really opens up the one-on-one mechanic.
Sadly, this openness does come at a price, and whilst on the whole BlazBlue is impeccably designed, with well thought out and implemented characters, there are some, erm… calamities when it comes to careful balancing.
Most characters in the game offer a good, rounded challenge, and each has significant strengths and weaknesses, but there are a couple that stand out as cheap and unbalanced additions to the roster. The major culprit being V-13, who has to be one of the cheapest characters the genre has ever seen.
This character is truly ridiculous, and requires almost no skill to use. Her attacks are all powerful and hard to avoid, her specials can knock off most of your health, and using the attacks, because of the simple special system, is far too straightforward. This is a character seemingly designed from the ground up for button mashers. Other characters also venture into this territory, including Noel, whose simple combos are the bane of many an online player’s life and, to a lesser extent, Haku-man, whose massive sword can almost reach half way across the screen.
The main problems with this imbalance are demonstrated when playing online. If you try BlazBlue against other players you will lose track of how many times you’ve been creamed by players using V-13 and Noel, trust me. It’s inevitable, unless you’re a truly hardened veteran of the genre.
This does add more challenge, of course, and a feeling of true victory should you win, but with such unbalanced characters and cheesy specials, it does damage the game’s online appeal. After all, if you’re playing a friend in front of the same screen, at least you can smack them up in real life to compensate.
When titles like Street Fighter can manage such flawless balance (a reason why the original SFII is still played in tournaments today), there’s really no excuse. Fighting games are all about balance, and it’s a sin to upset this.
Still, this lack of balance in a couple of characters is the only real gripe that I have with BlazBlue. Everything else about the game is well delivered, and the depth of the gameplay is truly impressive. This is a game that’ll have you learning new tactics and uncovering new tricks for months to come. Mastering the counter system, which can interrupt your foes’ attacks, and making full use of the game’s blocking system will also take time, but once nailed, will turn you into an almost unstoppable force online.
With deep gameplay, excellent visuals and a varied and interesting set of characters, BlazBlue: Calamity Trigger is a great scrapper. Is it better than Street Fighter IV? Not quite, and I still consider Marvel Vs Capcom 2 on the best of the best, but this is a worthy title for any collection, and one that’ll, no doubt, be heralded as a classic.
BlazBlue: Calamity Trigger is out now and available from the Den Of Geek Store.