I’ve been playing fighting games longer than some of you have been alive. Do you know which fighting games are most intimidating for me to approach? Nope, it’s not 3D fighters like Tekken or Virtua Fighter. No, it’s definitely not anything from SNK. And naw, it’s not anything off-the-grid like Jackie Chan’s Fists of Fire.
It’s anime fighters.
“Anime fighter” is a loose term for a sub-genre of fighting game that don’t just have a Japanese animation inspired direction, but also a game play stereotype that consists of quick dash movement and complicated … maybe even convoluted … system mechanics.
It’s that latter stereotype that makes them difficult for someone that comes from a more “grounded” foundation like Street Fighter to wrap my head around. With BlazBlue Cross Tag Battle, out June 5 in America for the PlayStation 4 and Nintendo Switch, Arc System Works is making an interesting attempt to both give fan service to their long time supporters and make the subgenre accessible to people like me.
What you’ll like
The biggest reveal of Arc System Works’ attempt to open up anime fighters to newcomers comes in how it designed the controls. The staple attacks, and the majority of any big combo string in the game, are tied to just two attack buttons: A-Attack and B-Attack. Both buttons also have their own auto-combos, which will come out when mashed — an common Arc System Works design.
A third button, Clash, does three different things depending on what you’re doing with the joystick. On the ground and pressing no direction, it activates a special attack sequence that involves your partner. If you’re pressing down and Clash, you get a sweep. If you’re in the air and press Clash, you get a special move. If you perform a special motion with the joystick and press Clash, you get a Distortion Skill (aka “EX Special” if you play Street Fighter, or “really powerful version of a special move” if you don’t). It’s a versatile button.
Swapping in the secondary character is tied to a fourth button. Character swapping in other games often involves either two button inputs, or a special type of input such as holding a button down for so many milliseconds. Here, it’s just tapping a button.
The fifth button handles assist attacks. This isn’t as unheard of as the other examples, but there are three different assist attacks that can be performed depending on where you position the joystick while pressing the assist button. I’m accustomed to assist types being something you choose before the match starts and having to commit to a strategy surrounding it. Here, all assist options are available to you at all times.
Even dashing has been turned into a one input feature. Almost every character’s forward movement is a full run. There is no walking forward for most of the cast. However, dashing in every other direction requires a double tap. This is a huge tell to me that Arc System Works wants to encourage a lot of forward momentum.
When a mechanic in BlazBlue Cross Tag Battle goes beyond requiring a single input, it rarely gets more complicated than two button presses.
Pulling back to look at the bigger picture here, Arc System Works doesn’t want execution to become a barrier. Sometimes this can be a bad thing in fighting games, especially when there are moves whose advantages should require a payment in execution dexterity.
During my time with BlazBlue Cross Tag Battle, I don’t feel that’s an issue. Arc System Works is trying to pull the focus away from making executing something complex feeling good and more on making the core of all fighting games — making the right decision at the right time — feel more intuitive.
BlazBlue Cross Tag Battle has a lot of interesting mechanics, and I don’t have the word count to discuss how they all work. But there are two defensive mechanics that really made a huge difference in how much I wound up enjoying BlazBlue Cross Tag Battle matches. And they aren’t even necessarily revolutionary in nature, but some modern games seem to either avoid them … or screw them up.
First of all, we have legitimate push blocking. I know. I can hear the “whoop-dee-do” coming from the fighting game veterans, but game designers have been screwing up this mechanic in their recent releases.
Push blocking enables the defensive player that is in block stun, the little moment of time where you’ve blocked an attack but can’t react, to shove the opponent back and away. In a game where forward momentum is aggressively endorsed and block string can keep rolling along with the help of liberal assist attacks, being able to strategically time shoving the attacking player back to buy a window of reprieve is damned near mandatory.
And that’s exactly what the push blocking here does. It doesn’t just sort of keep the offensive player in the same position (ahem Marvel vs. Capcom: Infinite ahem), and it isn’t replaced with an incredibly risky reflect (cough Dragon Ball Fighterz cough). If I push block at the right time, it shoves everything off of my character and gives me just enough time and space to counter or attempt to reset the position.
Then there is Cross Burst, which puts a player’s defensive options on a whole other level. When a character is in either a block or hit stun, the defending player can spend their Cross Gauge to call in their secondary character. Then they’ll hit the offensive character out of their combo. The character that just dropped in becomes the new playable character.
As the defending player, a successful Cross Burst means that you not only have to tag in your secondary character, but you inflicted damage on the opponent and gave yourself the momentum swing. It’s also an insurance policy against extremely huge, potentially broken combo strings … for which I assure you, any game of this nature that’s early in its life cycle usually has (and I’ve seen a few posted online).
What’s more interesting to me is that Cross Burst forces a read situation for both players during a combo, a time and place in fighting games where traditionally the offensive player is just performing an execution exhibition for sneaking in the right hit at the right time. The offensive player doesn’t necessarily want to bust out their full, optimal damage, corner carrying 40-plus hit combo if they see their opponent has a full Cross Gauge and a secondary character. The offensive player may want to modify that combo so it ends earlier, sacrificing the longer combo for being in an advantageous position if the defending player executes a Cross Burst.
On the defensive side, a read needs to be made on whether the offensive player is going to swing for the fences and go for the full damage long form combo, or if they’re being baited into a badly timed Cross Burst.
It reminds me a bit of the parry system in Dead or Alive 5, where combo strings would have tiny gaps where the defending player could sneak in a high/mid/low parry, putting both players in a rock/papers/scissors situation where traditionally it wouldn’t exist.
Except with Cross Burst, you’re not trying to make a three-pronged high, mid, low read. You’re both trying to make an intelligent decision on whether the offensive player should keep their combo going. I love these situations, and it’s what makes fighting games really entertaining to play.
Interesting character roster
BlazBlue Cross Tag Battle has the usual fighting game tropes: small characters lack range, but they are really quick. Large characters are slow, but they have long range attacks, throws, and in some cases even absorb hits. Mid-range characters fall somewhere in the middle.
Where the character differences get interesting is in some of the quirks of the individual game cast sets. Persona specifically seems to be the oddest of the group, with characters tending to not have accessible air launching normals, their invincible reversal acting as a parry, and their hit boxes extending a great deal beyond their hurt box thanks to their personas. How much these differences play into their main series, I’m not sure … but it’s definitely intriguing.
If you’re more of a modern fighting game player, you may think matches finish too quickly in BlazBlue Cross Tag Battle. Here’s the thing: I’m old. As an older fighting game player, and a tournament organizer, I definitely welcome the quicker pace of BlazBlue Cross Tag Battle’s matches. I embrace a return to a pace where one or two significant mistakes spelled doom and ended the contest quickly, so we could move along to the next match. I never understood the desire to drag out the inevitable when someone is being blown out. If a match takes a long time, it should be because both players are evenly jockying hard for the win, not because the better player has the endurance to chip away all of the worse players potential comebacks.
The flip side of this coin is that BlazBlue Cross Tag Battle is not structured as a rounds-based competition. So when the writing is on the wall, and you’re done for, you’re pretty much washed out in a few seconds. This is one of the very few modern fighting games whose pacing benefits from players adopting a 3 out of 5 games per match setup as opposed to the standard best 2 out of 3.
Nintendo Switch support
It’s a small thing, but Nintendo Switch support should be default for all fighting games going forward. Although maybe not for the reasons that are obvious. I’m going to toss some contradictions your way, so heads up!
On one hand, a lot of what makes the Nintendo Switch great as an all around games platform makes it a horrible platform for fighters. It’s difficult to find good stick support for the Nintendo Switch, and its wireless/WiFi intensive, which are big no-no’s for fighting games.
But the portability of the platform makes it the best training tool on the planet. I’m sitting at my desk writing this review with a Nintendo Switch copy sitting right next to me. Someone posts a crazy combo or a piece of tech from BlazBlue Cross Tag Battle’s beta on Twitter, and I can simply turn my Nintendo Switch on and try it out.
Am I testing tech out in the optimal environment? No. That would be on my PlayStation 4 with a stick/controller. Can I carry my PlayStation 4 fighting game set up everywhere I go? Can someone tell me about some crazy set up in BlazBlue Cross Tag Battle, and I can pull my PlayStation 4/Monitor/Stick out of my bag to try it right on the spot? I can only do that with the Nintendo Switch, and that’s incredibly helpful!
What you won’t like
To make the long story short (too late!)
I’ll accept that part of the blame for my not liking the story mode in BlazBlue Cross Tag Battle is because I am long passed the stage where I can swallow average anime tropes as interesting entertainment. But lord, the story mode is just weighed down with so much cliche dialogue padding and uninteresting developments. I won’t spoil anything here, but it’s a lot of characters either stating the obvious to each other or repeating the obvious thing someone just said to them.
It’s 15 minutes of story stretched out into a few hours of dialogue that goes no where and adds very little. That’s valuable time on this Earth I am very upset that I won’t be getting back.
For those of us that only dabble with anime fighters, BlazBlue Cross Tag Battle is a potentially addictive gateway drug. That accessibility is likely going to garner groans from veteran anime fighting enthusiasts, especially when it comes to simplified inputs, and all the elements that generate a shorter-than-usual match.
If you’re one of those veterans … well … you’ve made up your minds already. Hopefully you chose to dig a bit deeper into this game, though.
Because BlazBlue Cross Tag Battle is an anime fighting experience that allows for constant aggressive offensive and defensive reads, wrapped in accessible execution that makes slightly complex mechanics easy to grasp. If this can add more fresh competition to your world, embrace it.
BlazBlue Cross Tag Battle is out now for the PlayStation 4, Nintendo Switch, and PC. Arc System Works provided Stephen Kleckner with a retail copy of both the PlayStation 4 and Nintendo Switch version of BlazBlue Cross Tag Battle for the purposes of this review. You can send Stephen hate mail over this review, but he’ll probably be ignoring it. He’s likely too busy goofing off in training mode on his Switch instead of checking his mail.