"What the fuck is a 'Rebel' and why are there more than one of them?" - fellow writer Loz upon seeing me play this game the first time.
|Gah! The colors!|
Ah, fighting games. Along with FPS's you have become the next cash-cow genre for game developers.
With your constant patches, updates, and new, mostly unnecessary characters, you make sure that you'll throw out three different disc versions of the same game and charge us an arm for every single one of them. Alas, I am not here to rant about the evils of contemporary game developers, I am here to review one of the many ways the clever bastards suck money out of my wallet. And holy fuck they managed to make me feel good about it.
For the uninitiated, Blazblue is the spiritual successor to the Guilty Gear franchise, which was developed by Arc System Works and enjoyed it's fair share of popularity in the fighting game scene as the more obscure alternative to your Street Fighters and MVCs. The games, both BB and GG, are animated in a trademark crisp, clean anime style that made other sprites look lazy in comparison, with the notable exception of the Street Fighter Alpha series, which were on par with them. And of course, the action is/was almost as fast-paced as the Marvel vs Capcom franchise. Sadly, Guilty Gear ended its run (though I hear rumors of a new game) a few years back, leaving many fans sad and heartbroken. Then along came Blazblue and people went apeshit. Mostly because they hated it. Of course, a few revisions later, the addition of around 6 new characters and four different console revisions of the sequel, the fandom calmed down and here we are now. My review will cover pretty much everything from the first game to this latest revision, since the changes are minor, anyway.
|My first true 'fighting games' love.|
So, as per usual, my standard criteria apply for this game: Graphics, Sound, Gameplay, and Story
Graphics: This being the latest, and hopefully final revision of the second entry in the series, I had hoped for the sprites to be as sharp as they could be, however, it seems that they toned down the graphics quality a bit on the sprites to allow for no lag during the very graphically intense combat. However, the rendered backgrounds are looking their best and do a good job of providing a lot of distraction for spectators should they tire of watching the players duke it out (seriously, every background has at least 7 different things going on at the same time). Still, I would have preferred no pixels on my sprites, but anything for the sake of smooth gameplay. Graphics: 8/10
|Tell me it's not beautiful and I will smear crap on your door.|
Sound: Daisuke Ishiwatari is back on soundtrack duty and instead of going for Guilty Gear's fast and loose style, which itself was his tribute to the classic rock and metal bands he's so fond of, he's taken a more character-centric approach to the tracks in the game. Seeing as this game's characters personalities are actually fleshed out in-game, their respective tracks are meant to complement them and once you get a feel for each character's motivations, you can see that Ishiwatari-san has done a good job at composing, once again. Certainly, there are still electric guitars and aggressive drums running rampant in the music, but he's added violins and organs where appropriate and given each track a coherent structure with each instrument having it's place in the track and not just throwing shit at the wall to see what sticks.
As a side note, not sure if he took on this load again for this series, but I believe that when he wrote GG's soundtrack, he played most of the instruments himself. He might never write a rock classic, but I have a great deal of respect for this man's composition ability, at least for fighting games. Sound: 8/10
Gameplay: This is where the game really shines, as well it should, since it's a damn fighting game. The action is very fast-paced, placing somewhere right between MVC and SF. It's fast enough to make fights look flashy, even if it's just button-mashing, but not so fast that you'll lose sight of your character every time you're launched in the air. As for fighting mechanics, the first game did away with the old punch/kick/slash/heavy slash system of Guilty Gear and instead turned it into the three upper buttons being used for low to heavy attacks and the X button used for a 'Drive' attack that is unique to each character, making every character a very different experience (this was before MVC had the wonderful idea of using a similar layout, and possibly around the same time as Tatsunoko vs. Capcom). Some of these 'Drives' are merely combo aides, while others serve to hinder your opponent's mobility and others are additional attacks with status effects such as freezing, electrocution, etc. The game also has the more technical staples of fighters such as cancels and special guards, but that's not something the layman needs to be aware of.
Almost forgot to mention the new characters (read: DLC that is now finally included with the game). As the latest additions to the roster, we have the squirrel-girl Makoto Nanaya, who plays an aggressive close-range game, and might have been, in fact, inspired by Marvel's own Squirrel Girl character. Valkenhayn R. Hellsing, a badass-grandpa butler who turns into a werewolf and has somewhat slow, if devastating combos and played an important part in the in-game history. Platinum the Trinity, probably my least favorite of the newcomers, whose character design is inspired by the 'magical girl' anime genre (Sailor Moon would be the best example I can give the non-anime fans) and has many nonsensical and cutesy attacks designed to keep the opponent guessing. And finally, Relius Clover, a mad scientist who uses a mechanical puppet made from his wife to do most of the fighting for him. A very technical fighter, and trickier opponent. All of these characters, save for Makoto, were a big part of past events in the story, and their newly-added story paths give a lot of insight into these 'legendary' warriors' personalities.
Final note on the gameplay, the rounds last about as long as an even match in Tekken or even Street Fighter, which is to say, it might actually run you anywhere from 40-99 seconds per round if the skill difference isn't monumental, or if no special characters are being used. All thanks to refined damage buffering, which won't allow you to kill someone in two combos, thus ensuring everyone gets a fair chance at a comeback. Gameplay: 8/10
|Makoto, seen here about to engage in some magnificent wardrobe malfunction.|
|Valkenhayn. Probably about to prepare tea.|
|Platinum. Just, fuck.|
|Relius Clover and Fluctus Redactum: Ignis, AKA, his wife.|
Story: This may come off as a surprise, but this game actually has a detailed story mode, and you have no need for supplementary materials to find out things about a particular character. All the story elements are touched upon either through a character's path, or in little extra segments that are non-canonical where the characters themselves take a break from the fighting to explain every little aspect of the Blazblue world, from history, to social structure, etc.
I will say this much, however, the story is mostly character-driven, since the plot is a convoluted mess involving an infinite time loop and a lot of magical techno-babble, but it works, if you have the patience for it. I have played this game since the first one and I have seen the characters grow from trite anime stereotypes, to somewhat-respectable characters with motivations and very human flaws. Of course, it was still made in Japan, for Japanese animation enthusiasts, so don't expect a Pulitzer-winning piece of literature here. Still, if you've always wondered what would it feel like to play through a fighting game that didn't just say "You've entered a tournament to decide the world's strongest warrior, here's some people that you must now fight" (not that there's anything wrong with that), then I recommend you give this game a shot. Bottom line is, the world has a very extensive mythology ready to be perused by the player should they wish it, and that's more than most other fighters can say. Story: 6/10
Final Thoughts: I love this game. I love Guilty Gear. I love it when my characters are more than just mere caricatures or stereotypes. But above all, I love having a good button-mashing fest with my buddies. I think the reason why these games (BB and GG) weren't more recognized is because the characters aren't as wacky (which is horseshit, since these characters are the very definition of bizarre) or just don't fall into an immediately recognizable fighter type (like chick-with-the-huge-boobs, or Asian #1, or Bruce Lee clone, or guy who does that Hadoken-type thingy), or just aren't famous and there's no motivation for you to use that character. For example, MVC has some of the most recognizable characters today duking it out for the heck of it. Shit, who wouldn't want to see Ryu and Wolverine kick each other's asses? Or Megaman and Iron Man? And it's actually easier to get good at than most other fighters! My point is, the style appeals more to the anime crowd, but underneath all that is a fighting game that should be standing shoulder to shoulder with MVC and SF, but isn't. And that makes me sad.
Fefi Score: 9/10