Dare we hope for a proper next-gen Darkstalkers game? Rare, through Double Helix, brought back Killer Instinct, after all.
But let’s not focus on Capcom. Blazblue: Chronophantasma is coming to the West in a few months, and it’s time to celebrate the best fighting franchise of the past console generation, and the only one to push out three full games in that time.
It seems hard to believe that Arc System Works produced Blazblue: Calamity Trigger just five years ago. It seems hard to believe that Arc System Works produced Blazblue: Calamity Trigger -the spiritual successor to their previous cult fighter Guilty Gear– just five years ago.
In the time since then, they have completed two full sequels plus extended and arcade versions and multiple portable titles in the series for a total of eight titles.
That represents a lot of asskickings. And not only has the series been able to put more games on the shelf than its AAA competitors, but Blazblue bests other fighting games in almost all areas that matter. All except mainstream success, that is.
So what I’m going to do here is I’m going to break down some of the ways that Calamity Trigger and its sequel, Continuum Shift, represented the ideal evolution of the classic 2D fighting game genre and how big-name developers could improve their own games using the same principles.
Then I’m going to share some thoughts on the upcoming game. The wheel of fate is turning. Rebel One. Action!
One of the observations made about Calamity Trigger was its low playable character count; a mere twelve. Compared to recent Street Fighter games that have built a cast of dozens over the years, it’s pretty small.
But considering the immense depth and diversity that Blazblue offers, it’s Capcom’s cash cow who should be taking notes. I mean, how many Shotokan-style characters can they cram in before gamers start asking for some new movesets?
There is absolutely no character in Blazblue that looks, behaves, or plays anything like any other character in the series (aside from Mu-12 and Nu-13, who are really the same character).
A lot of creativity went into conceiving each fighter, and it shows. For example Rachel Alucard has the power to control the weather and she fights by controlling space.
She can set up multiple lighting rods around the stage and she can “detonate” them with lightning bolts at any time. She can also alter the wind, which she can use send to send a floating projectile at an opponent, then change its direction for multiple hits.
She also has the ability to send out a hopping electrified toad to act as a moving land mine. Putting these kinds of attacks together can make for a very strategic fight.
A lot of creativity went into conceiving each fighter, and it shows.
Each character has unique traits such as these that can be creatively combined for something different in addition to the usual combo memorization and projectile spamming.
Hobo ninja Bang Shishigami has special attacks that include an assortment of nails with various effects, including giant ones he nails into the background that he can use to boost through the air.
Speaking of boosts, if he lands all four hits of his Fu-Rin-Ka-Zan attacks during a round he can go into a super mode, which is accompanied by his very own theme music for the win. Touches like these are a big part of what makes these games such a joy to play.
Furthermore, while the AI is certainly challenging at times, it seldom feels unfair. A lot of fighting games have opponents programmed to counter your attacks by reading your inputs because it’s an easy (*cough*lazy*cough*) way to increase difficulty artificially without actually having to put any thought into AI behavior.
This can make for a frustrating and inauthentic-feeling single player experience, but Blazblue avoids stooping to that level.
If I told you that one of the best stories of the last gen was in a fighting game, would you believe me? Most fighting titles are content with just a few static images and some text to close out their “story” mode with maybe a little trash talk in between key fights and gamers just shrug it off as “it’s a fighting game; what do you expect?”
Well, Blazblue taught me I can expect more.
Another benefit of having less characters is that they can all have individual multiple intersecting stories within the main plot. Each character not only has a fully-voiced story, but the player is offered multiple paths in each one.
You are often offered choices and, depending on what you choose, the story takes different turns. In Continuum Shift , there were three possible endings, the “true” one if you made the right choices, a bad one if you chose poorly, and an amazingly bizarre comedic ending (my favorite)if you made a choice that sent the entire plot off the rails.
The story is presented in visual novel form, which is a low-budget style popular in Japan (popular as in representing about 70% of all PC software sold) where the characters are shown as a series of static images rather than animated, but are fully voiced.
The English voice acting has a ton of personality, and the scripts are littered with hilarious little references and in-jokes. It helps if you are a fan of anime humor in the first place, but I suspect even newcomers to that scene could appreciate the over-the-top satirical goofiness even if they aren’t as familiar with what was being satirized.
Blazblue is known as the hardcore fighters’ fighter, but I have a confession. I’m not actually that good at it. In fact, I’ve never even ventured online I’m so sure I’d get so completely destroyed. So listen to me very closely and believe me when I say I play this fighting game mostly for the story. Think about that for a minute.
Some other fighting games like Injustice: Gods Among Us are integrating good stories to balance the gameplay and online features, but there’s still a ways to go in the genre overall before the stories can be a premiere feature like it is here.
Something for the Fans
When I bought Continuum Shift Extend having played Calamity Trigger a couple years prior, I remembered that I adored the story from the first game, but I couldn’t for the life of me remember what the hell happened in it.
Blazblue’s story is nothing at all if not convoluted and crazy, as it deals with not only many characters, but with a lot of space and time loop stuff and other science fiction weirdness.
You think you know unlockable concept art? Not until you’ve seen Blazblue’s unlockable concept art.
Well, the sequel had me covered. It actually collected the key events from the first game’s story into a lengthy addditional single narrative story mode (complete with fights) to catch players up.
This was a brilliant and much appreciated way to ease me back into the Blazblue universe and it’s the kind of feature that puts this series above the rest.
In addition to that, there is a ton of extra content for fanatics to dig into. Teach Me, Miss Litchi is a series of comedic vignettes featuring chibi versions of the cast explaining various aspects of the Blazblue universe to the perpetually perplexed resident catgirl, Taokaka. It’s adorable.
For the cynic in us, the game also rewards failure. When you got the “bad” ending in any character’s story in Continuum Shift, they got sent to Help Me, Professor Kokonoe; another chibi presentation where the sarcastic mad scientist character lectures them on their failure.
This leads to some of the funniest and most hilariously self-referential moments in a game already noted for its outlandish humor.
You think you know unlockable concept art? Not until you’ve seen Blazblue’s unlockable concept art.
Playing the game nets you points that you can then use to unlock various content, and I found myself in love with getting every available piece of it. You literally never know what you were going to get, and I couldn’t wait to find out.
Okay, so Chronophantasma. It’s nice to see that they’ve stuck with the theme of game titles that sound like At the Drive-In lyrics, at least. Adding four new characters to put the total well into the 20’s was a natural choice, but seems to have come with a price. That price is the individual storylines; arguably my favorite thing about the series.
While I’m not pleased by this news, there are supposedly three separate storylines to play through and that sounds pretty interesting. Given Arc System’s penchant for creative features, I’m going to withhold raging until I’ve played it.
These guys have done a crapload of creating in the past half-decade, and I’m willing to give them the benefit of the doubt. Streamlining the story seems to be the only way to proceed efficiently with the growing number of characters.
But what I am going to rage about is that additional characters are available at launch…for a price. Yes, I am aware of the irony that I am writing an article about how AAA fighting games need to be more like Blazblue when that series is instead becoming more like them.
In Continuum Shift Extend Kokonoe protested her exclusion as a playable character, and was consoled by assurances that the devs were saving her for a time when people were tired of the series, but would buy it anyways just to play as her once she was available.
Well, instead they’ve decided to charge extra while we still want more. Faith in humanity: destroyed. If she had her own story mode I’d bite, but come on.
Still, the PS3’s days are numbered, so I’m very much looking forward to experiencing what Chronophantasma has in store for me before I move on to the next console generation. If Arc System can give me as much as they gave me with the first two games I’m more than willing to overlook the day one DLC hijinks.
After all, they’ve made three full games in five years with only one “Ultimate Edition” in Continuum Shift Extend. Compare that to the fact that the original Street Fighter came out in 1987 and only has three proper sequels, with the rest more or less consisting of add-ons and mods to those core titles or spin-offs.
So let’s watch this action-packed trailer for the new game and get psyched while we await the localization of this insanely Japanese fighting game full of great characters, rockin’ music, incredible finishing moves, a mind-bending story brimming with charm and offbeat humor, and most of all creativity. And pay attention, big shot fighting game developers; you might learn something.