The allure of the fighting game genre has always been based on one solid fundamental: the thrill of beating the crap out of your opponent with your righteous pixilated fists. Usually thrown somewhere in between the beatings is a stagnant premise, bland character development and limited gameplay that to the more discerning gamer takes away some of the luster of the action. This is the formulaic pitfall many fighting games stumble into which ultimately – and deservedly – dooms them to obscurity. ARC System Works BlazBlu: Continuum Shift for the Playstation 3 and Xbox 360 breaks away from this self-destructive mold, offering compelling characters and story as well as gameplay.
BlazBlu: Continuum Shift is a 2D fighter set in a dystopian world of magic and science. The story itself takes place in the aftermath of the events from the previous game, BlazBlu: Calamity Trigger. With the timeline no longer stuck in an infinite loop thanks to the intervention of the game’s leading heroine Noel Vermillion, and to a lesser extent the actions of the leading hero Ragna the Bloodedge, the world has been thrust into a state of instability known as a Continuum Shift where the timeline can branch off into numerous alternate versions of itself. It is the player’s job to find the true timeline or ‘true ending’ by playing through the storylines of each character and unraveling the many possibilities of the Continuum Shift be they good, bad or flat-out ridiculous.
The next installment in the BlazBlu series brings some significant revisions to gameplay. While the core mechanics remain unchanged – the weak, medium, strong and Drive attacks (A, B, C and D buttons respectively) and character specific techniques executed by the D button – the developers have focused their revisions on making the gameplay more user friendly. The controls are more responsive than they were in the previous game; combo strings now come out faster with the command inputs and the characters move more fluidly with the controls. A new, easier to understand blocking mechanic called the Guard Primer system has been introduced: characters are now given a set number of points called guard primers and modifications to some of their move sets that allow them break guard primers. Once a character’s guard primers are depleted, they enter a stunned state called ‘guard crush’ which leaves them open for attack, and following the release BlazBlu: Continuum Shift II on May 10th, 2011, the game’s first patch, unbreakable grab commands. The biggest change has been to the Barrier Burst system, now renamed Break Burst. Players begin with one Break Burst each and gain an additional one when they lose a round. Unused bursts can be saved and carried over into the next round, though a player can only have a maximum of two. Bursting also no longer puts the player in the Danger State as it did in Calamity Trigger (damage the player receives while in this state is doubled) but instead depletes half of the characters remaining guard primers. This modification to the burst system is a great asset as it allows experienced players to put more strategic thought into their moves and beginners to use their bursts without feeling punished for making a mistake.
Along with these gameplay changes are a slew of new features. Six characters have been added to the cast since the games initial release and first patch – Tsubaki Yayoi, Hazama, Mu-12, Makoto Nanaya, Valkenhayn R. Hellsing and Platinum the Trinity – each one with their own unique play styles and abilities. The rest of the cast have been updated with new moves, distortion drives (special attacks), and various tweaks to their gameplay that open up new combos and strategies. Of course it wouldn’t be a true sequel without an equal amount of unlockable goodies to go with all the gameplay revisions. Players will be well entertained uncovering all new artwork, animated cut-scenes and achievement/trophies available in the game.
More single-player options have been incorporated into the sequel to allow beginners to become accustomed to the gameplay and veteran players to further hone their skills. Introduced are two new modes: Legion mode and Challenge mode. Legion mode has the basic set-up of a tactical RPG – you start off with your chosen character and proceed to move along a branching map challenging ‘armies’ of other characters in single round combat; should you win you get to add one of characters from that army to your own. Your characters heal only partially between battles, and with each victory the remaining armies on the map will go up one level in difficulty (B-rank to A-rank, for example). Challenge mode is like a combination of Training mode and a tutorial section: it gives a detailed explanation of each character’s strengths and gameplay tactics as well as a list of combos for the player to attempt and practice.
Even with all the extra features and revisions put into the game its storytelling facet doesn’t suffer. The premise is as well-conceived as its predecessors, rife with plot twists and character development not typically found in the convoluted storylines of most fighting games. It preserves the players’ interest, guiding them along through every scene up to the climactic – and definitely surprising – true ending. The story’s appeal is further bolstered by its new artwork – the stage backdrops are given new vibrancy and added detail while the character select art is drawn in a more distinct style that befits the series numerous anime and Japanese culture references. The game’s audio features are equally as impressive, boasting smooth and high quality sound effects and a solid heavy metal soundtrack with several new track add-ons.
There are some glaring flaws in gameplay though, particularly centered on blocking. In the initial release, an instant block (a block performed the instant an opponent lands an attack) was much easier to perform and the chip damage a character received was miniscule – the downside to this was that a character under heavy combo pressure was barely pushed away from the opponent, making it difficult to escape and counterattack. The patch attempted to rectify this by increasing the push-back from blocking blows and increasing the amount of heat (the gauge that determines when a distortion drive can be performed) gained while on the defensive. While good intentioned, the revision only made the blocking system worse off than it was before – instant blocking now occurs less frequently than it did before while the chip damage increased noticeably. The most frustrating change is the increase in block stun in both normal ground and aerial blocks, lengthening the time a character can shift out of the blocking animation into another stance – which only brings the game back to the previous problem of the lack of options during heavy combo pressure. Aside from using a character with a dragon punch – an effective but easily baited move even in casual gameplay – players either have to rely on the barrier guard system that deteriorates over time or take the time to study when to use normal blocks to yield the least amount of lag time, the latter of which might be too much hassle for the casual player.
One issue the series has continued to neglect is character balance. Having an overpowered character or two in a fighting game isn’t unusual – in fact, it’s rather par for the course within the genre – but ARC systems takes it to new extremes. Certain characters can literally bounce you along the edge of the screen and eat away at a quarter or even half of your life bar with nearly minute windows of opportunity for you to escape; other select characters take a more long-ranged approach and just poke you from across the screen once or twice before spending the entire match zipping across the stage until the timer runs out in their favor. Sure, corner juggling and turtle tactics like those are always going to be alive and well in fighting games, but the ease at which these characters can do it with little to no consequences has to be called into question. Even the patch that was suppose to readjust character balance just passed the OP batons to other select characters while giving the rest of cast the raw end of the deal (reduction in combo damage, combo string removals, etc.).
But what’s worse than the guarding issues and unbalanced gameplay: the announcer. The announcer is the bane of the BlazBlu series, from the deadpan, monotone voice in Calamity Trigger to overly-chipper, mousy voice speaking over the soundtrack in Continuum Shift. It’s the only portion of the audio features that deserves criticism and as well as a mute option attached to it. Whether the developers intentionally hire the worst voice actor to be the announcer or that it’s just a matter of coincidence is neither here or there – such an aggravating voice shouldn’t be in the game, and hopefully in the far-off third entry in the series the announcer will have some talent.
What the gamer can take away from BlazBlu: Continuum Shift and the various revisions added on to it over the past year is that it’s a game that can satisfy the casual player and arouse the interest of a dedicated player. It’s few flaws aside, it’s a great fighter with great graphics and gameplay features with more revisions and add-ons already in development.
New gameplay mechanics are user friendly and allow for quicker pick-up and play.
A variety of new features that guarantee a more entertaining gaming experience.
A compelling story with aesthetically pleasing artwork and audio features.
Faulty guard system.
Horrendously overpowered characters.
- A horrible announcer.