It has been the year of fighting games. Dragon punches, quarter turns, blocks, double jumps, ultras, aerials, health bars, tag teaming, crossovers, and a whole lot more means it's practically 1997 all over again. Know what else that means? Incremental upgrades to a game with only a little added to make it new.
Well, that's the jaded attitude. Even the rather fantastic Super Street Fighter IV was technically an update, not a true sequel, and that is remaining true to Capcom's method of updating fighting games. ARC System Works is guilty as well, as any fan of the Guilty Gear series can attest, with annual updates and changes printed on a disc and sold for full price. And here we are, late July, with BlazBlue: Continuum Shift now available for the American market. Straddling the line between update and sequel, there is a lot of new content. However, where it really counts -- balance and new fighters -- it can initially feel a little anemic with only three new characters. But is it? Surprisingly, with BlazBlue: Continuum Shift, there is much more than meets, well, the drive.
Hit the jump for my review.
BlazBlue: Continuum Shift (Xbox 360, PlayStation 3)
Developer: ARC System Works
Released: July 27, 2010
If you don't know, the BlazBlue series is the spiritual successor to ARC System Works' previous franchise, Guilty Gear. A vivid 2D fighter, BlazBlue is a very aerial, very tactical fighter that runs very, very fast. With specialized blocks, throws, counters, and numerous meters to be aware of, there is a lot going on. Thankfully, the game is actually fairly easy to pick up, as it is a four-button fighter, with A, B, and C indicating weak, medium, and strong attacks. Then there is the D button. Completely unique to each character, the D, or Drive move, can be as simple as a freezing ice attack from Jin, restoring health with Ragna, or entering a combo phase with Noel, but going all the way to controlling a 7-foot-tall disembodied doll with Carl Clover. It's a neat way of making a very diverse fighting game with a small roster, and for the most part, each character is unique. Probably the best part of BlazBlue has been the dynamic roster of fighters, offering a whole slew of playing styles.
Some of the overarching techniques have changed a bit. The Guard Libra system has been replaced with the faster Guard Primer system. The Barrier Burst system, too, has been changed, allowing you to perform them in a much more flexible manner and not causing health penalties. They are a little bit more complex, so you'll definitely want to read up on when to use them and how affective they are now. Astral Heats have also been changed in an attempt to use the match-ending super move more often. All of these changes are nice, but they were not anything I immediately paid attention to when I booted the disc up.
For those struggling to learn the characters, a more robust tutorial is now available. The Challenge mode also helps, guaranteeing that any player with a few hours on their hands can learn some of the more complex moves and combos in the game. It's a nice addition, and a great place to figure out a character's intricacies.
As in all updates to fighting games, there have been some balance changes. While most people will not notice the changes, high-level players will find that formerly low-level Bang is now the best character in the game, and vampire-lolita Rachel has been broken, among other refinements has been made. It's not exactly the best balancing act, but considering it took ARC System many games before Guilty Gear became anywhere near balanced, it's at least nice to see Continuum Shift get a little closer to balanced perfection. However, again, probably 90 percent of players will not notice a difference, and it doesn't limit the fact that BlazBlue is a very fun and flashy game.
With only three new characters, a lot has been made about whether they justify a full new title. Each of them are pretty unique, and they actually do mix up the roster and round things out nicely. Hazama is a snazzy-dressed villain who fights with a serpentine hookshot to launch himself around the stage. Tsubaki is a ginger-haired rich girl with delusions of purity, and her Drive, in which she charges up for selected attacks, makes her a great beginner character. Finally, Mu is the evil robotic form of series favorite Noel. With a Drive that launches turrets, she's a very tactical character and surprisingly versatile. They are all unique and interesting, and should satiate players who complained that the first BlazBlue's roster was too small. I like all three of these new characters, and they fit the BlazBlue universe fantastically.
Interestingly, BlazBlue: Continuum Shift is making proactive attempts at downloadable content that no other fighting game has attempted. There are currently a few DLC options to change the announcer or to get palette swaps of the fighters, as well as “Unlimited” versions of the characters. A first for any fighting game, Aksys and ARC System Works will be selling downloadable characters in the future, starting off with squirrel girl Makoto at an undisclosed price. Impossible to review with the DLC right now, it begs a lot of questions. How many new characters will come? What if they are expensive? What if they break the game? These are all questions any fan of the game will want to take into account. It's an interesting new method of distributing characters, but could have a lot of backlash from the fans. Anyone afraid of dropping change on this game will need to be aware of this.
So what else is on the disc? Well, besides the new characters, the much-derided/beloved story mode is making a return. For those who didn't play this mode in the first game, the Story mode forces players to play as each character in the game, and will offer different choices for the characters to make. With gag endings, true endings, and endings for each failure, there is a lot to go through for each character alone, and it's all justified through the idea of “Continuum Shift.” It's all sorts of complicated, and probably the most over-the-top and insane plot line seen in any fighting game. While it's much better designed to unlock everything (no more vague requirements to 100-percent the story for a character, now it's just winning or losing at the right times), I found reading pages and pages of text over static images to not be very fun. This mode is really only for those who find the insanity of the BlazBlue universe worth knowing. Really, it can get quite dry reading about the emotional interludes some of these drama queens can go through, and it's so confusing without some online guide explaining things.
Thankfully, there are some things that redeem the Story mode. First, the plot of Continuum Shift is a true sequel to the first BlazBlue, so if you were a fan of that game, then you'll love finding out what happens after the events of Calamity Trigger. Gain a character's final ending, and you'll get treated to a fully animated cut scene. Second, in the same vein of the hilarious “Teach Me, Miss Lichi!” chibi animated stories, there is now the “Help Me, Professor Kokonoe!”, an equally chibi, equally fourth-wall-breaking visual novel. If you get a bad ending for a character, you'll be treated to the bitchy pink cat-lady Kokonoe deriding the decisions your character has made, as well as offering cryptic advice on how to push the plot forward correctly. It is by far the best story element of the game, and fans will want to see them all.
That's another thing. BlazBlue is very self-aware, and while it is extremely over-the-top and ridiculous with an inane plot line, it is also occasionally a very funny game, which is surprising for a fighting game. The Engrish announcer, while not as good as the original, still enunciates “REBEL 1, ACTION” in a voice worthy of a chuckle. All of the character art has been redrawn, and there is plenty of artwork to unlock as you play the game. There is loads of fan service here to see, and this is especially nice for those who care about all of the superfluous stuff in the game.
Online multiplayer makes a triumphant return, meaning online battles will be as fantastic as ever. Unfortunately, Legion Mode, in which players collect fighters and progress through pathways to fights governed by different rules, is a simple distraction, and honestly doesn't seem to offer much to the game. Most people will pass on it.
The big question that anyone coming into BlazBlue: Continuum Shift will have to ask themselves is if Aksys and ARC System Works have offered them a game worthy of 40 bucks. The three new characters really do offer a lot of gameplay, and while compared to a game like Super Street Fighter IV, they don't seem to offer much, in reality the three shake up and expand the BlazBlue gameplay. Continuum Shift really is the definitive BlazBlue game, and at $40, it's really not too harshly priced. The DLC issue could become a problem, especially if Aksys and ARC System Works exploit players by withholding characters from the game and pricing them highly. As a much more balanced game than the already fantastic original, offering plenty of new side content and insane plot options, I would say this is a risk I would recommend anyone to take. A fantastic and fun fighter this is, anyone looking for a distinctly Japanese and over-the-top fighting game will want to check this out.
Score: 8.0 -- Great (8s are impressive efforts with a few noticeable problems holding them back. Won't astound everyone, but is worth your time and cash.)