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Zugzwang
7:06 PM on 05.11.2014

In a perfect world, I'd like to think your internal monologue when purchasing a new game – a new game you've been looking forward to and want to support with your money and know you will enjoy – should not be Christ, why am I doing this to myself? Maybe there's always an element of self-flagellation that comes with “treating yourself” – malarial child soldiers are starving, after all, and probably falling behind on their literacy milestones, but it's fine, buy your toys. If Kiev gets besieged by rock golems we'll be sure to tap your expertise – and that kind of Catholic-somatic response is fine if that's your bag, but again, ideally, buying a video game should evoke something other than levels of self-hate usually reserved for Phillip Seymour Hoffman's IMDB page.

This is what it means to buy Blazblue: Chronophantasma, though, because over the last three iterations, wherein the subtitles have become increasingly hideous word-fug, actual new content has slowed to a trickle, and asking prices have hovered at retail or damn-near, Arc System Works has trained me to regret giving them money for a thing that I like.

Incessant sequelitis is one of the most common criticisms leveled at fighting games, and yes, sure, fuck that and all the Ultimate Super Arcade Edition+[font=Times New Roman, serif][/font]: Cranialaphasia cash-grabs, how dare they, the bastards, yadda yadda. But if we're looking at it from the ground level, the nonstop iterations are a byproduct of the genre's arcade roots, and are necessary. Desirable, even. When your business model involves coaxing a large community of obsessives into dogpiling your arcade cabinet, you have to consider that in a few months time they're going to break it. Some dead-eyed waif skirting the tippy-top of the autism spectrum is going to shovel enough money into your glow-box to realize the Requisite Grappler Character's innocuous anti-air special, paired with their backdash-cancelled crypto-Tatsumaki, infinitely loops 75% of the cast in the corner. Well fuck. Now suddenly the tournament scene is dominated by the Requisite Grappler Character mirror, and Twitch streams of your game look like fat identical twins pensively eye-fucking each other while trying to decide what end of the subway platform leads back up to Grand Central. Your meta-game has stalled, and suddenly your coffers are drying up. An effort must be made here. The loop needs to be nerfed, but more than that, the established tiers need to be up-ended, the old bread-n-butters need to be futzed with. New characters added to shake things up. New levels and moves thrown in to keep things fresh. As a fighting game fan, I like this shit. This shit is not the problem. The problem is that there's a right way to do it and a wrong way to do it.

I understand why comment sections are in the business of giving Capcom perpetual shit (Decapre? Decapre?Did I spit in your child's mouth or something? Are you asking me to? Is there any way to interpret this character other than a formal invitation to spit in the mouths of your children? Is everyone a little worried that this is suddenly about me now?), but with the latest Street Fighterupdates, they're the only publisher with a distribution model that lets people upgrade games they already have. This was supposed to be one of the big selling points of electronic distribution, and it's about damn time publishers stop balkanizing their own player base with endless, incompatible re-diddlings of the same engine. If you're one of those people who goes on Ultra SFIVthreads bitching about how Capcom needs to stop “milking it” and “just make SFValready”, you clearly a) have a somewhat compartmentalized definition of what “milking it” means, and b) want to be charged more money for less content. Stop typing and come play Blazblue. Know real pain, child.

But obviously I keep coming back for more. I went through the quiet social death of asking a clerk for a copy of whatever-the-fuck-their-calling-this-thing-now – had to say the name of this game out loud to another adult and tell them I wanted to pay money for it. Chronophantasma. Like an ancient Latin incantation that magically stops anything from touching your penis ever again. I clearly must be getting something out of all this.

This is going to sound bad, but part of the appeal is knowing this series would've completely owned my life when I was 14. The elaborate world and substantial lore, the gorgeous mechanical design and intricate art direction, the gratuitous partial nudity (which I wouldn't have thought was a thing, but then anime), all the earnest shonen protagonism. Holy shit, my world would've been over. Which isn't to say I'm somehow above all that now, I'm just at a point in my life where a video game is asking me to consider Jin Kisaragi's substantial inner turmoil and I just cannot be fucked. We've all got baggage, guy. Ride your goddamn icicle and learn to forgive.

The main reason I keep coming back is because Blazbluehas got to be one of the most lovingly crafted games on the market. And that's a love not just of this world and its characters (which I have tacitly admitted to not caring about), but love of the 2D fighter as an artistic and technical endeavor (which I do). Perhaps their output is all too weeaboo for some, but in a lot of ways Arc System Works feel more the spiritual successor of SNK than SNKP does lately, providing a cultish, highly stylized, and technically daunting counterpoint to Capcom's broadly appealing output. Spreading rococo-levels of extravagance over everything from the huge, insanely detailed hand-drawn sprites to the ornately filigreed menus, providing some of the most gloriously out-there character designs since Kusaregedo first hauled his grotesque bulk onto character select screens, and generally taking the genre to gaudy new heights, Arc has created a tremendous loveletter to the genre, all while perpetrating some of the shittiest sequel distribution and DLC practices in the industry (Color packs? You're going to hide half the characters' colors behind five $2.49 pay walls? Ah, but I see the lime green and jaundice yellow combo is available from the get go, how very generous).

So yes. I guess I'll go play it now.



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