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Hey there guys and gals and welcome to yet another review. Tonight I wish to examine a stylized anime fighting game with a strange group of characters having at it in story that actually has an amazing amount of depth and substance, which is actually kind of lacking in other games in the genre. This is BlazBlue Calamity Trigger.
Now I know that this game has been on the market for a couple of years now and that the sequel has already been out for about a year (with an update coming in the form of DLC and a handheld port to be released within the next few weeks) but with a world as wondrously strange and confusing as the BlazBlue continuity, players should be given a taste of what the original is like before getting the sequel. Besides, the game is in a way getting a new life in the form of a recent Xbox Live Games on Demand release. That and I actually don’t have the sequel.
The BlazBlue series comes from the same masterminds at Arc System Works that brought us the incredibly awesome Guilty Gear franchise and this new series is in many ways seen as a spiritual successor in the minds of fans (mostly because of similar art style, characters and game mechanics).
Does Calamity Trigger mark the beginning of a great fighting game dynasty that is worthy of the torch that Guilty Gear passed on to it?
Hmmm. Describing the plot of BlazBlue is going to be rather tricky considering that the development team has created such a vast mythos (especially considering that this is only the first entry in the series) for the world of BlazBlue that a good bit of knowledge about its history is required to understand what is happening. Hell, even then it is confusing. But I’ll try to explain it the best I can.
In a time long past (which I suspect could be between BlazBlue’s and Guilty Gear’s timeline), the world was under attack from a demonic entity known as The Black Beast, which ravaged the entire planet and nearly wiped out the human race. The Black Beast would have surely won if it was not for the effort of The Six Heroes, who happen to be beings who have the ability to wield magic.
The Six Heroes would help the humans create Ars Magus, a unique combination of magic and science. Ars Magus was not only used to defeat The Black Beast but eventually help form the Novus Orbis Librarium (also known as NOL or The Library), a governing body in charge of policing what was left of the planet.
However as time went on, the NOL became corrupted and began to mistreat those without the power to use Ars Magus. This lead to the Ikaruga Civil War, which was basically the NOL slaughtering the people of Ikaruga and the NOL to evolve into a complete dictatorship.
The story begins a few years after the events of the Ikaruga incident, well it’s now December 2199 AD if you want to be exact about it. A rebel known as Ragna The Bloodedge has been destroying NOL facilities with the use of his immensely powerful Ars Magus known as the Azure Grimoire. Because of this, he is considered to be incredibly dangerous and has the highest bounty of any criminal in the world. This brings us to the 13th Hierarchical City of Kagutsuchi. Ragna has arrived and is ready to destroy yet another valuable NOL site. However, this time is going to be more of challenge. Not only are there some formidable vigilantes seeking the bounty on his head (for there own reasons) but also some powerful figures that want him dead, again for various reasons and a few that merely see him an obstacle (or pawn) of their own objectives.
Sorry if that is a little long winded but the The Black Beast, Ikaruga Civil War and The Six Heroes are really important plot points that need to be understood by the player, considering that they happen to involve certain characters and their motivations. That and I think the mythos is rather interesting, so I wanted to share it with you all.
Now what do I think of the story? First of all, the characters are great. Of course we have the two main characters Ragna who is a solid badass character who wants to destroy the fascist system and Jin, the socicopathic hero of NOL who has gone AWOL to kill a certain someone for a….. second time? Both of these guys are fantastic characters and serve as a great contrast two one in other, not only in terms of their fighting styles but also in terms of their personalities and motivations, making them perfect rivals. Oh and they’re brothers, which makes it that much better. But we also have some other great characters like a young vigilante who wants to use the Asure Grimoire to “free” the marionette that is in his control, a rotting symbiotic creature bent on absorbing as much Ars Magus as possible, a hyper active cat-girl who becomes a bounty hunter to raise money for her village, a ninja who wants revenge for the Ikaruga Civil War and a vampire princess who is sick of watching the events unfold from the sidelines, are only half of the crazy characters (well the ones that do the fighting anyway) sound in BB:CT. It isn’t just the odd-ball quality that the these characters have that makes them great, it’s the way in which they interact with another and develop through each of their story arcs. They really do become characters that are not only interesting but they are also characters that we can connect with, care about and even root for. That is something that you just don’t see much of in fighting games. There are even some great inactive side characters that add to the plot as well.
However, although the story is great and a lot of effort was obviously put into creating the game’s world, it is all of the different BB universe specific terms and references to it’s history that are littered throughout the story that will make the experience pretty confusing at times, even when you use the plot summary as a reference. Luckily, you can reduce this confusion after unlocking some cute little chibi doodle style cartoons that will literally teach the player just about everything they need to know about BlazBlue, its inhabitants and its world.
(Ragna getting ready to kick some ass)
So, we have a great (if not slightly oddball) but kind of confusing story. Let’s continue to see how BlazBlue’s stacks up, shall we? First off, I just want to say that yes it does use the same style of hard rock/metal music that you would typically hear in the Guilty Gear series. However, with BlazBlue the composers decided mix things up and add on some other styles like Jazz and orchestra and even more sugary popish stuff and an epic J-Pop song is used brilliantly in the opening cutsence.
Oh and the voice acting is absolutely fantastic…… and it’s in English! Yes, unlike the Guilty Gear games, BlazBlue has actually been dubbed in English with some very talented actors (who have acted in different anime varying from Code Geass to Digimon) being placed into the roles.
Fun Fact: Some of these actors also lend their talents to other fighting games. Patrick Seitz (the voice of Ragna the Bloodedge) is also the voice of Scorpion and Shao Kahn in both Mortal Kombat Vs DC Universe (he is also Deathstroke in that game) and Mortal Kombat 2011, as well as Bob in Tekken 6. David Vincent (the voice of Jin) plays Marshall Law in Tekken 6 and also one of the custom voices in Soul Calibur IV. Michelle Ruff (the voice of Carl Clover) is the voice of Street Fighter IV’s and Marvel Vs Capcom 3’s C Viper. Speaking of Street Fighter IV, Jamieson Price (the voice of Iron Tager) was the announcer for that game and also the voice of Quan Chi in Mortal Kombat 2011 and Algol in Soul Calibur IV.
I will admit that I did find the use of the original Japanese voice tracks in the Guilty Gear games did have a certain charm that made them unique but I certainly like listening to the dialogue in a language that I can understand because the subtitles in BlazBlue are pretty small. But don’t worry all of you purists/otakus out there, you will be able to chose the original Japanese track if you want to. Just select it from the language options. Speaking of which, you can also choose English or Japanese or even Korean or Chinese subtitles. Although I do find it odd that there weren’t any European languages thrown in there as well.
(They're an interesting looking bunch huh?)
Graphically, BlazBlue isn’t showing off any of the marvelous 3D seen in games like Super Street Fighter IV and Marvel Vs Capcom 3 but what it does show off is some of the best use of 2D artwork I have seen in any game. Levels (or should I call them arenas?) are absolutely stunning and look as though they were pulled out of an anime film with high production values. Every background is filled with such a great amount of color and life (well-animated background characters) and detail that you really aren’t going to see in any other 2D fighting game. Whether you are brawling in the streets of Kagutsuchi, scrapping through a village of cat people or having at it in the halls of the Librarium, You are simply not going to see another 2D fighter with this much polish in terms of arena design, although you would need to be playing on a HD TV to fully appreciate the amount of effort that the animators put into them. But it still looks stunning without one.
Speaking of needing a specific TV, I find it rather annoying that certain pieces of text (and parts of the background) tend to get cut off because of the games wide-screen format.
Cutscene wise, well we don’t have too many that are actually animated but the ones that are, are of the finest anime quality and really feel as though it is a high valued Japanese blockbuster. The rest of the scenes are either done with still pictures with voice tracks and dialogue boxes or still character images that talk to one another (kind of like Ace Attorney but with voices). Using the text, images and voice actors to tell the story is the same approach that the (wait for the obvious answer) Guilty Gear series (how many times did I reference it now?) but rather than only using a single still photo to represent the characters, they are represented with themselves. What I mean by that is, their representation is their character models, although they don’t move much besides moving their lips or taking physical damages or switching to a different pose. It isn’t much in terms of movement but it does add a certain goofy and light-hearted charm that I can appreciate for what it is. The only real compliant (and it is a bit of a minor one) is the small text but the audio makes up for that. Well, most of it.
One last thing I should mention about the game’s visuals is that I really do like the character designs. I mean I really like the look of Jin’s and Noel’s NOL uniforms. They are this odd blend of military, police and royal guard uniforms that is simply cool. I also like the Victorian/Steam Punk look sported by Carl. Taokaka is an interesting take on the anime cliché that is the catgirl. The bugs that crawl around in Arakune’s rotten body are a nice touch. V-13 sports the Captain Harlock look one-minute and then turns into a blade covered cyborg the next. I like the monster meets machine motif of Iron Tager’s design. Ragna looks like the typical RPG protagonist with spiky hair and a big ass blade. Rachel’s Goth look is pretty interesting. Bang has a rad rag-tag ninja style. Hakumen looks cool as a demonic white knight. Oh and I like Litchi’s…. glasses.
(Alright! It's Sol-Badguy Vs Ky Kiske! Wait…. what?)
Now comes the discussion about the gameplay aspect, which as well know are the most important in just about every game. Before we cover all of the different play modes, I would like to discuss the fighting mechanics. I just want to start that discussion off by saying that each of the 12 characters have their own distinct fighting style and move set, so don’t worry about seeing certain moves get rehashed. Diversity is always welcome. Especially in fighting games.
With that basic little info nugget out of the way, lets dig deeper into the mechanics. Of course each character will have the standard weak, medium and strong attack (different types of punches, kicks and weapon slashing) that are a part of any fighting game but unlike other fighting games, you can do a character specific extra powerful dive attack with the press of single button at anytime during the fight. Trust me, the dive attack comes in handy. And of course the character specific special moves are there as well, although I should say that with most of the characters, they don’t really require pressing a mind-bending button combination to pull off. The same can be said of the Distortion Drives. In a nutshell, the Distortions are BlazBlue’s version of the Ultra Combo. To pull off these combos, you need to have your Heat Gauge (which fills as you attack and take damage) set to at least 50%. However, I should say that the Distortions become more elaborate and deal out more damage if your Heat Gauge is set at a higher percentage and you can also get more points (and further progress the story) by using it as a finishing move or what is called a Distortion Finish. I guess I should say that the developers added a special trick that helps noobs get through the game without too much difficulty and that is the ability to pull off all of the specials and Distortions by merely moving the right thumbstick. But the instant kill moves (Astral Heats) can not be done this way. Astral Heats can only be pulled off during the final round of the fight and after your opponents health is reduced to lower than 20%. Oh, and the button combinations are longer and you have to unlock each character’s AH by clearing Arcade Mode with that character. They are also just as elaborate as the instant kill moves in Guilty Gear. Speaking of other Guilty Gear similarities, you can also perform high jumps, mid-air moves and dash attacks. Oh and you can also do some nifty throw moves and block. Blocking is important. Can’t forget to block.
The more complex aspects of the fighting system include being able to roll to avoid attacks after being knocked down, which oddly enough you can also do while in mid-air. You can prevent staggering by mashing buttons. You can perform counter hits while your opponent is in the middle of an attack. If can perform a clash, which is basically using an attack of your own to cancel the opponents attack, although neither side will take damage. You can also perform what is called a rapid cancel. Rapid cancels are done by pressing the strong, weak and medium attack buttons all at once to cancel your attack. This can be useful when you want to change your strategy but be warned. Rapid cancels take away 50% of your Heat Gauge. I should also mention the Guard Libra. The Guard Libra is another special gauge. This one though is a special barrier gauge that allows you to put up a special barrier as you are blocking. This can be used to push your opponent back or even for powerful counter attacks. But they only last until the gauge runs low. All of these techniques my sound simple to use but they require a solid sense of timing and quick thinking in order to pull off. If you’re more of a novice player going up against a master of this scheme, you are in for a world of hurt.
This is a truly great fighting system. Not only can new players easily hold their own in (most) battles against the CPU by following the basic blue print, the more experienced players can use the more complex techniques to have some really intense bouts, which makes this both a great choice for average fighting fans and those who frequent the tournament scene. Although, things like the right thumbstick technique is a little cheap and could result in unfair spamming.
Let the discussion of the play modes begin. Story Mode is BlazBlue’s main draw (well, besides the solid fighting engine of course) and for good reason. Not only do all 12 members of CT’s roster have their own unique story but each story happens to have three different possible outcomes. These outcomes can either be the real ending, the bad ending or one that is a little more humorous. Each of these endings are reached by meeting different objectives. Now, this was done in the Guilty Gear (there’s that name again) series as well but here the objectives are a little less how should I put it? Obscure. Instead of having to pull off Instant Kills or complete the fight after losing a certain amount of energy or powering up to a certain extent, you can unlock endings by doing things as easy as defeating an opponent with a Distortion, make certain plot choices or merely win or lose the fight. I should note that to get 100%, you have to lose each fight. Don’t worry, you can save your progress, which is another leg up from Guilty Gear.
The stories themselves are really quite strong and give us some new information about each of the fighters, as well as some tidbits about the world’s history. Not only that but the stories are very well written (and acted as I said before) with plenty of action and dramatic moments and of course strange bits humor that make the characters more well rounded and likable.
I also like the addition of the True Story, which is made up of the real events leading to the game’s sequel. I have to say that this was a smart move, since with all of the characters you tend to see in fighting games, it is sometimes hard to tell, which of the goings on are actually supposed to happen to properly set up a sequel. Although this more of an elaborate fourth path for Ragna more than anything but he is the main character (not to mention one of the more interesting characters) after all and the anime cutscenes were a really nice touch as well.
Before completing the discussion about the Story Mode, I should say that the amount of swearing and weird sexual references/innuendo I felt was a bit odd for a T rated game.
Of course you have the standard Arcade Mode that is featured in all fighting games. Here you fight your way through the rest of the roster (well all but one) and fight the boss at the end. Now, I have already mentioned that the game has a Story Mode but that isn’t to say that the Arcade Mode isn’t without it’s own story telling devices. Of course, you have the usual instances of victor to loser smack talk at the end of each fight and a character specific ending (both staples of arcade fighting games). But there are also some nifty instances of an exchange of dialogue between you and your opponent (four times in total) when certain linked characters find themselves in a confrontation. This is definitely a nice touch and is reminiscent of Street Fighter IV’s rival sequences or the destined match ups seen in Soul Calibur II but instead of having an elaborate animation for the meeting, it is simply the two characters standing in their usual poses as dialogue boxes pop on the screen. This isn’t too high of a negative mind you, but it would have been nice to see some more movement.
Of course you also have the standard Versus Mode in which you and a buddy or CPU can choose a fighter and an arena and have at it. Not much to say other than that. Just get some friends together at your place and enjoy.
(Is this really how this cutscene looked? Either way, it looks great)
Score Attack Mode is an odd meshing of the Arcade Mode and the traditional Survival Mode that most other fighting games have. You work you’re way through the entire roster to eventually reach and ultimately defeat the final boss but here you don’t get any continues. Loose one fight and that’s it. However, the goal isn’t to merely reach the end, it’s to reach the end and gain as many points as possible (ah points. The dick measuring contest of the video game world) by spamming special attacks. Of course the right thumbstick (which the developers recommend) comes in handy here and on surface you would think that this would make playing Score Attack easier but it doesn’t. Score Attack is still harder than the other modes since specials also now become easier for the computer AI to spam as well and considering that the AI in Score Attack is faster than that of the other game modes, these fights usually result in a rather quick (put sadly still painful) mud-hole stomping. It’s definitely an interesting concept and more talented players are bound to the enjoy the challenge and the ability to brag about their winning efforts on the leaderboards but I think everyone else would rather stick with Versus, Story or Arcade Mode.
There is also a Training Mode but it doesn’t really serve well as a tutorial. It’s mainly just beating on a defenseless CPU opponent, as you pause the game and look at your move-set for answers. It would have been nice for the moveset to be integrated on the screen during the drill but I guess it’s not all bad. It is still a fairly decent way to learn how to play the game, if you happen to have the move list handy, rather than just pausing the game. While I’m on the subject of the move list, why is it that every time I look up the moves on the pause menu or in the instructional booklet that the letters A, B, C and D are used instead of the actual buttons? I had to look up the controller configuration before I knew which buttons I actually had to press, which was actually fairly confusing at first.
As far as extra features go, there is a well rounded Online Mode which allows players to take part in Ranked Matches, so you can face off against opponents who match your skill level, as well as a Replay Theater which allows you re-watch all of your proudest moments of gameplay over and over again. I can’t say anything about Online other than that. Sorry, but (like I have said on many an occasion) I don’t have a Gold Membership, therefore I can’t play online.
But I can remind you that that there is also a lovely Gallery that is filled with some kick-ass artwork, cutscenes and of course an audio section with the full soundtrack and all of the English and Japanese voice tracks. Of course, you have to unlock these things but you will have a good time doing it.
(I am Hakumen! The end has come!)
So, that was my (incredibly long apparently) review of BlazBlue: Calamity Trigger. Is it absolutely perfect? No. There are a few things that don’t quite work in the game’s favor, like the lack of a proper tutorial, special spamming and the wide-screen presentation. But its solid story, amazing artwork, twisted sense of humor and accessible yet deep and complex fighting system (the fact that they made the Guilty Gear mechanics easier yet also expanded upon them is a great feet I must say) makes it pretty damn close!
Final Score: 9/10