By: Matthew Striplen
As a licensed full-time nerd, I love me some video games. I also love some anime, but sometimes two mediums should not be mixed. BlazBlue: Chrono Phantasma combines perhaps one of the most intensive 2D fighting games with what is essentially an anime miniseries. Fighting games traditionally don’t need a story to be compelling, and sticking a full blown show in the middle of that is sadly the first of many aspects that don’t make sense.
For the fighter portion, BlazBlue does many things right. Tight, responsive controls paired with flashy combos make for a rewarding experience. BlazBlue features two different control schemes: one called Stylish for beginners and an advanced mode called Technical.
Stylish is super simple, allowing players to unleash devastating attacks by merely button mashing. Technical mode, however, requires tons of practice and ninja-like reflexes. Like most 2D fighters, each character’s move set takes time to memorize, not to mention the sheer amount of unique abilities that prolong this process. Some characters even have move sets that deviate from the system used by most others, so be prepared for tons of practice. Despite the massive amounts of memorization, I like the variety and differences in how each character handles.
Overall, BlazBlue is a pretty good looking game. Each character is extremely detailed, as well as the backdrops. Also, the story mode makes use of a more cartoonish animation style to better convey tongue-in-cheek comedy. I have absolutely no complaints about the character or environment design.
I do, however, have some beef with how the characters move, or rather, how they don’t. This is only an issue in the story modes. Instead of fully animating the scenes, which are quite extensive, the animators only animate the mouths or eyes to express speech and blinking. To simulate emotion or other movements, each character still will either be suddenly switched out with a new one, or have the image bounce along the ground to convey walking. This looks incredibly cheap, especially since such a huge amount of time is devoted to the story sections.
The soundtrack is pretty typical J-Pop and J-Rock, so if you like those genres, you’ll enjoy the music. The player has the option to choose between Japanese and English voice actors, which is a pleasant surprise. Both casts do a nice job, with the notable exception of the English Rachel Alucard‘s companion Gii and Taokaka. They can be pretty obnoxious.
Since BlazBlue is essentially two games in one, I’ll address them one at a time. Let’s start with the fighting game.
BlazBlue splits up its game modes into several folders, the first being Practice. The game starts you out with an extensive tutorial, which covers everything from basic maneuvers to competitive level tactics. One of the problems that pervades the entire game is how the storyline obscures what is actually happening.
That may sound strange, but the characters are so crazy and distracting that they make learning everything more complicated than it would be if I were merely reading a manual. Next comes training, which is standard for most 2D fighters, followed by a challenge mode. This enables players to further polish their skills. I found this to be the most useful for learning for two reasons. First, the wacky characters are absent, so you won’t get side tracked. And second, the player is now free to learn any character, instead of only the main protagonist Ragna the Bloodedge.
Most of the player’s time will be spent in the Battle folder. The arcade mode follows an individual’s storyline, while VS mode provides duels without the story context. Score Attack is pretty self explanatory, but the final two single-player battle modes, Abyss and Unlimited Mars, are more unusual.
Abyss forces the player to fight a huge stream of single-round matches. Your damage is carried over, so be careful. The most unique function is the inclusion of RPG-like stat boosts that become available after winning enough rounds. Unlimited Mars is by far the hardest mode. The player fights a tournament against the hardest opponents the computer can throw at you. Even after several hours of practice, I was slaughtered in mere seconds by the first enemy.
The online multiplayer mode is very standard for modern games. Ranked and unranked matches are available, including leaderboards. BlazBlue also provides a lobby where players worldwide can meet, chat and battle while being represented as their avatar.
For as hardcore and awesome as the fighting portion is, the story mode makes just as large of an impression, except in the opposite direction. Two extensive modes are available: the standard story mode and a review session called “Teach me more, Miss Litchi!” Since I was unfamiliar with the BlazBlue universe, I started with the review.
The sessions are dramatized by the characters trying to re-teach a particularly stupid individual, Taokaka, the history of their land. As with the tutorial, the information provided by the review is obscured to the point of being incomprehensible by the actions of the characters. I was left more bewildered than when I began.
The game even encourages the player not to bother watching the review and simply play the previous titles. Not to mention, there is an extremely uncomfortable encounter in the second review segment involving Ragna’s brother, Jin. He’s obsessed with Ragna, even to the point of sexually pursuing him, quite aggressively. Real quote: “Brother, when you act like that, I get so excited.” Or how about, “Brother, do you like them younger than you? Well, I’m younger than you, so it works out.” I could go on for quite a while. It’s awkward, distracting and unfunny, especially in a segment designed to educate the player on franchise lore.
The main story fares little better. Characters still manage to obscure the most of the main points. Again, many comedic elements are in poor taste or are simply not funny. Additionally, all story segments require the player’s input. After each line is delivered, the player must signal the game to deliver the next line. I would have rather just watched a show instead of having to scroll through the story myself. This, coupled with the nearly still images of the characters, made me lose interest pretty fast.
BlazBlue: Chrono Phantasma should really be divided into two parts: a fighter and an anime. A fully fleshed out anime already exists, which leaves me puzzled as to why the developers would leave such an unpolished story portion in the game.
For all the weaknesses of the story, I was greatly impressed by the actual fighting. The intricate yet obtainable controls and attacks make for innumerable possibilities. Plus, the different game modes and unique move sets ensure tons of replay value. If you enjoy 2D fighters, BlazBlue is definitely a good choice; just don’t bother with the story sections.