Thursday, April 17, 2014

Fighting Game Camps: Blazblue: Part 2


Not a whole lot of people in Blazblue are absolutely in the right, with the exception of Bang.  Ragna hates the NOL, but they’re not all evil.  Hakumen wanted to destroy Ragna, but only because there was a possibility Ragna might destroy the world.  Everyone has their own goals and ideals, and that is a driving force of many fights.  However, the following characters are quite clearly not in the right at all.

The most ineffectual villain in Blazblue is a black morphic mass of bugs called Arakune.  He’s another neutral evil villain that wanders the underground areas of Kagutsuchi (he’s probably photosensitive) and indiscriminately eats anything living he comes across, especially Ragna with his Azure Grimoire.  He doesn’t help the main villains and is more of an environmental hazard, kind of like how I assume you have to watch out for angry killer crocs in Australia.  He does have a bounty on his head though, so the NOL definitely wants to get rid of him.

He wasn’t always an ugly abomination against nature though.  Arakune used to be a scientist in Sector Seven named Lotte Carmine.  Carmine studied the boundary, but at some point got too close to it.  Being a mere human, the boundary slowly warped him into the blob he is now, and many characters state that there’s no saving him now.  He can’t even speak coherently anymore except for a couple of brief moments.  Instead his dialogue is constantly cut off like a radio that keeps losing its signal (you can take the blanks out of his text in the options of the second game).

Believe it or not, those spaces are actually acted out.
Arakune is a mindless monster.  Strong, but with a single-track mind.  The real villains of Blazblue have plans.

The first game’s final boss is Nu-13, the 13th Murakumo Unit programmed to guard the NOL’s cauldron behind the underground Sheol Gate.*

Nu attacks everyone who comes near the cauldron due to her programming, with the exception of Noel, who she attacks because Murakumo units are programmed to make sure there’s only one in existence at a time through elimination (don’t ask me why).

For Ragna, however, Nu has another plan.  She has her own Azure Grimoire from a different Black Beast Sector Seven once made, and she believes that, out of love, it is her destiny to fall into the cauldron with Ragna and fuse their grimoires with the cauldron’s power to become the Black Beast and pass through the boundary into the past to cause the original disaster in a stable time loop.*

That she “loves” Ragna I believe is because they have a “life link.”  It’s only briefly touched upon in both games, but Murakumo units are somehow able to link their lives with another person so that neither can die as long as the other lives.  I’m pretty sure it’s why Nu returns in Chronophantasma.  How in the hell Ragna established a life link or how you even do so is never explained.

In every timeline Takamagahara observes before the end of the first game, Nu falls into the cauldron with Ragna, triggering the calamity.  In the  game’s true ending, she fails when Noel saves Ragna from falling in.  Takamagahara prefers that outcome, and thus the Continuum Shift happens.  In the sequel, Kokonoe puts Nu’s core, the Idea Engine, into one of the earlier units, Lambda-11, and wipes her memory to make her an obedient servant.

The reason Noel was there to save Ragna in that timeline was because she was given a special assignment to find the missing Jin Kisaragi, and through the manipulation of events, she was led to be in the right place at the right time to save Ragna from falling into the cauldron with Nu.  It’s (probably) all thanks to the person who gave her the assignment in the first place, the NOL’s Captain of the intelligence department, Hazama.

Hazama is a very brilliant, but timid character.  He’s not much of a fighter, but his information on practically everyone in Kagutsuchi makes him useful, and he uses that information to help.  He has a personality kind of like a cryptic old wise man, not unlike Jubei, and he gets himself on friendly terms with the rest of the cast over the course of the game.  He's only a villain by technicality.

Just kidding.

Actually, Hazama is really Yuuki Terumi.  Terumi is a ghost that was trapped in the boundary alongside Hakumen, but was freed by Takamagahara in a last-ditch effort to stop the time loop.*  Also like Hakumen, the body he’s using isn’t exactly his real one.  It’s an artificial one made just for him.  The closest thing he has to a real body is his spirit form, which can travel between timelines and dimensions.*

Terumi can be considered the villain of Blazblue.  Before he even put his evil plan in the second game into motion, he is a driving force in the plot.  He’s the one who did something to Nine before she disappeared, he’s the one who possessed Jin to make him burn down his home and cut off Ragna’s arm, and he’s even the one who created the Black Beast and the Azure Grimoire!

To clarify, the Black Beast wasn’t made from Ragna and Nu fusing, it was a cauldron experiment of Terumi’s that went awry and he had to go into the past to fix as one of the six heroes.*  What’s more, the Azure Grimoire Ragna and Nu have are fakes, or replicas.  Terumi has the real, original one, and it has the power to nullify theirs!

The reason he was doing such experiments in the first place was in order to find a way to destroy the Amaterasu unit, which is essentially a god that lies somewhere in the endless void of the boundary.*  With it gone, the very fabric of reality would be destroyed.*  Coincidentally, Takamagahara wants the Amaterasu unit gone as well, believing that with it gone, the world will lie in a state of dormant existence within the boundary in which humanity won’t be able to hurt itself.*

At some point, Terumi figured out a way to get rid of Amaterasu through Noel, or rather, Mu-12.  Mu was apparently somehow selected as the “Eye of the Azure”, which allows her to inherit the unlimited power of the boundary without overloading and allows her to navigate through it so that she can locate and destroy Amaterasu.*
Once he got rid of Bolverk to get to Noel’s original programming, Terumi put her in his own cauldron (fueled by the souls of all the local NOL officers, mysteriously missing in the first game) and gave her the power she needed to awaken as the “sword of the god slayer, Kusanagi!”

Damn I wish.
This all might make Terumi out to sound like some sort of genius, and I suppose he is, but he hardly acts like calm, intelligent geniuses you might expect.  Quite the opposite, in fact.

Terumi is despicable.  He is sociopathic, has absolutely no empathy and uses what he knows to mentally destroy, taunt and demean others.  He has a lot of fun, but he’s not like the Joker in that he thinks what he does is all a big joke.  He just thinks being an evil asshole is hilarious.  To be fair, the joy he gets out of it all can be infectious, thanks in part to a great performance by Doug Erholtz.

An excellent example of how much of a manipulative bastard he is comes from how he gets Tsubaki, one of Noel’s closest friends, on his side.  Tsubaki is a prestige member of the NOL and comes from one of 12 noble families called the Duodecim.  She follows the NOL’s orders without question, believing in the order they provide, but when Hazama gives her the order to kill Noel, her best friend, and Jin, her childhood friend, she hesitates and questions taking such drastic measures against two of the NOL’s best.

Because only Rachel, Ragna, and Terumi’s allies know who Hazama really is at that point, he’s able to abuse his position of power.

Taking advantage of the visions Tsubaki gets from her special weapon, the Izayoi, of a timeline in which Noel doesn’t exist and Tsubaki (as well as Jin) is happier, Hazama tells her that what she sees is the real world, and that Noel was never supposed to exist in their timeline in the first place.  He plays up her family’s pride and convinces her that it was the right thing to do by insisting that Noel has only made everything worse and was the reason in the first place Jin went after Ragna and deserted the NOL.

Then when she walks away, he delivers this little line to himself:

“Heh ha ha ha ha ha ha ha!  Oh man, the look on her face!  Well, this might be the first time you impress me, First Lieutenant Garbage.

Oh shoot, I forgot to tell her.  Jin Kisaragi finds out about Ragna the Bloodedge anyway, and First Lieutenant Tsubaki… Well…

She dies!  Aaaaahahahahahaha!  Ah well, no big deal, I suppose.  I didn’t lie to her, after all.”

He loves going on long speeches like that.

He pretty much has made everyone hate him.  Ragna hates him for cutting his arm off, Kokonoe hates him for betraying her mother, Rachel and Hakumen hate him for being such a huge threat, and he eventually pisses everybody off at one point or another.

I wonder why the text boxes don't just translate his laughter as "Trololololol!"

I think part of the reason he does this is because it’s hinted that he has had to live through all the time loops from the first game and he retained his memory of them just like Rachel does, meaning he’s had to live through the same thing over and over (hinted to be over 400 times) to the point he just got sick of it and decided he doesn’t care what happens to anyone or the world.*

Another contributing factor may be that he needs people to pay attention to him.  It’s somewhat vaguely stated that Terumi becomes more anchored in his current timeline and more powerful when people originating from the timeline (i.e. not Hakumen and Rachel) acknowledge his existence, and it’s pretty hard to ignore him when he’s such a friggin’ troll.*

His fighting style is even frustrating to his opponent when used well.  His weapon is Ouroboros snake chains that can grab on to thin air and his opponent.  That means he can erratically fling himself all around the stage like Spider Man before even trying to strike, at which point he can deal some really heavy combos utilizing a pair of knives he keeps in his jacket and the snake chains to toss his opponents around.

But Terumi couldn’t do everything on his own.  Unknown to some characters, much of his success can be attributed to his masked partner Relius Clover.

Relius is obsessed with the secrets of the world.  He is blinded with the pursuit of knowledge and considers anything that can be observed a test subject, living or not.  He objectifies everything in the worst way, but doesn’t get entertainment out of suffering like Terumi does.

He’s called the “Mad Puppeteer”, and rightfully so.  Relius is a technical genius.  He works in the NOL’s experimental R & D department now, but he used to work for Sector Seven, where he created the Murakumo units and the two Nox Nyctores Nirvana and Ignis. 
In order to make those Nox Nyctores even better though, he had to sacrifice his daughter and wife, respectively.  He gave Nirvana to his son, side character Carl Clover, just so he could see what would happen as Nirvana slowly suppresses his emotions, kind of like Bolverk.

Poor little Carl doesn’t even know it’s doing that to him.  He treats Nirvana like his own sister and always calls her “Eva”, her real name, while everyone who knows it calls it Nirvana and keeps telling him to stop using it (it doesn’t help that only he can talk to her).  But he loves his sister far too much for that, and he hates his dad like you wouldn’t believe.  Hell, Relius doesn’t even refer to Carl by name if you make them fight.  He refers to him as “the boy.”

Lastly there’s phantom.  There’s not much to say about Relius and Terumi’s mysterious magic-using support.  All he’s really done in the story is warp time and space, making areas where Takamagahara can’t see and teleporting other characters.  It’s very strongly hinted that it’s really Nine, and judging by its hat, (s)he probably is.

The Other Guys

Really I’ve gone over the majority of Blazblue’s cast already, which is rather impressive for a fighting game because that means the majority of them are plot relevant.  Not like King of Fighters or Street Fighter, where only a handful of characters have any impact on anything in the main story.

Even so, the “other guys”, so to speak, aren’t pointless.  They may not help with the main plotline directly, but their interactions with the ones that do help make them more interesting and excluding them would be detrimental.

Litchi Faye Ling, for example, is a former scientist at Sector Seven, but now spends her days in a district of Kagutsuchi called Orient Town, where she runs a local clinic.  She’s one of the kindest, gentlest, most motherly women you’ll ever meet.  It’s no wonder Bang is so smitten with her, but Litchi’s goodness is also kind of a fault.

When she’s not working at her clinic, Litchi is dedicating herself to finding a way to help Arakune.  She knew (and possibly loved) Lotte back when he was human and wants to do whatever it takes to try and bring back the man she knew.  Even after Kokonoe, Tager, and Arakune himself told her to kill him, she persists and at one point had to beg Ragna not to kill him.  It’s kind of sad, really. I think even Kokonoe takes pity on the poor woman.  It’s like choosing to put your pet down.  It’s not easy.

Litchi is known to the locals in Kagutsuchi, but especially known to the Kaka clan.  The Kaka clan is a clan of cat beastkin made from Jubei’s DNA that live in the lower levels of Kagutsuchi, where the sun barely shines.  Litchi occasionally visits to teach or play with the Kaka kittens.  Because of their location, the Kakas are always under the threat of Arakune, but they have a protector by the name of Taokaka.

Tao is good friends with Litchi, and during the course of the first game she even befriends Ragna and Bang while searching for the criminal “Rawrgna” for the reward money.  One would ask why she doesn’t just book Ragna when she sees him.  The answer is that, in addition to the previously-shown crappy wanted poster, Tao believes Ragna isn’t Rawrgna because Rawrgna is supposed to be a bad guy, and she nicknames Ragna “Good Guy” because he bought her dinner once.

Tao has brain damage.*

To her credit though, she was smart enough to tell the kittens about the franchise’s real hero.

Finally, it would be a crime to forget Noel’s squirrel beastkin friend Makoto.  She, Noel, and Tsubaki all shared a room at the NOL academy and became the best of friends in what I consider one of the best friendships ever established in gaming.

Carl used to be nice.

All three of them are very protective and supportive of each other and trust each other with all their hearts.  They stayed that way even after they went their separate ways when they each joined a different branch of the NOL.  Noel is Jin’s secretary, Tsubaki is with a squad dedicated to eliminating traitors and Makoto works for the intelligence division.

Tsubaki and Makoto both make appearances in the first game, but don’t fight until the second, and boy can they fight.

"You have a pretty mouth on you.  But I hope it has room for my fist because I am going to ram it into your face!"

In the designs of Blazblue’s characters, I personally see a combination of Guilty Gear and SNK games like The King of Fighters.  From The King of Fighters are a lot of characters of varying age that seem to appeal to a specific kind of person, and most of them seem to be designed to be “cool” in their own way.  Relius is a good example.  He kind of reminds me of Goenitz in the way he casually fights, walks and wears that cape.

The Guilty Gear part comes in visually, with all the positively ridiculous outfits everyone wears.  Daisuke Ishiwatari is involved with Blazblue, but doesn’t seem to have as much involvement in the character creation this time around.  I can’t confirm anything, but director Mori Tochimichi seems to be the one with the most influence over the characters, and if that’s the case, he’s opened a whole new line of impossibly awesome designer clothes.

All of them, like Guilty Gear, focus on being cool before being practical, which naturally brings up a lot of questions when you think about them too much.
Why does Hazama have two belts?  Why does Tager have two zippers on his front?  Why doesn’t Noel’s uniform have a back?  Who the hell made Makoto’s revealing ensemble?  Why in the hell does Bang wear an outfit that leaves his torso completely open?

I’m pretty sure if I were to ask Tochimichi, his answer would be “-ルだから!”

Look at the size of Carl's zipper!

But one thing the characters have that Guilty Gear doesn’t have are English voices.  Blazblue is a big collection of all the who’s who in anime and game voice acting, and every actor was practically typecasted into their role.  AKSYS must have one hell of a voice director because all of them give their best performances that never falter, even with all the mounds of diverse dialogue they have to act.  Jamieson Price was practically born to play smart guys like Tager, Cindy Robinson was practically born to play cute animal girls, and Julie Ann Taylor was practically born to play older, wiser women.

But the best performances come from Patrick Seitz as Ragna and the aforementioned Doug Erholz as Hazama.  Seitz can change his expressions and tone on a dime with perfect comedic timing and sarcasm, while Erholz can do much the same in a more evil, taunting way.

But as fun as the characters are, they’re somewhat hindered by the plot.  As you may have noticed, Blazblue is complicated.  Really complicated.  So complicated I wrote 18 pages explaining it, and that’s not even everything.  I’ve heard it was originally conceived as a JRPG, and it wouldn’t surprise me if that were the truth, considering all the world building it does.  The story mode of the console versions has more plot and dialogue than it does fighting.

There’s nothing wrong with that if the writing is effective, of course, and it is.  Even if the fighting is downplayed a little, I’m always up for an epic shonen romp full of hammy dialogue, and because it gives more time to establish the story, the characters are very well-rounded and the series is filled with all manner of heartstring-tugging.  The issues all come back to the dang plot again.

Look at all of the asterisks.  This is a series that obsesses on being vague and cryptic, and the games themselves really don’t explain the cosmology of its world.  The way the world’s civilization works is easy enough to figure out if you watch the bonus material on the disc (more on that later), but once you bring the boundary and time travel into a narrative, things get really messy really fast.

It took me hours of research, playing the games at least three times over, and practically taking notes to make a lick of sense about what goes on in Blazblue’s story.  Remember when we just beat up bad guys at fighting tournaments?  Those were the days.

What in the holy hell does that mean?!

I must admit though, once you wrap your head around the concept behind the time looping and observers in the first game, and the Continuum Shift in the second, it’s a lot easier to comprehend what is actually happening and the story is much more enjoyable for it.  It’s a shame the time loops and Takamagahara are only vaguely hinted at in the first game and Continuum Shift has to go back to explain stuff the first game didn’t make clear.  I’m really excited to see what happens in Chronophantasma if I ever get a PS3.

You might almost forget that Blazblue is even a game rather than a visual novel, but rest assured, beneath all the story it piles on, the fighting is still the core of the experience.  Stay posted for part 3 when I go into greater detail on Blazblue’s finer aspects.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Fighting Game Camps: Blazblue: Part 1

Covering Arc System Works’ second fighting game megahit Blazblue is a challenge.  Not because of the way the game plays, that’s easy enough to describe.  The hardest part about explaining Blazblue is the story.  Anyone who says fighting games lack story can officially go to hell, because they have not played the story mode of the Blazblue series (or read my previous posts).

The home console versions of the games have their own extensive story modes with far more text and story than the minimal story presented in the arcade versions, and I consider them one of the main draws of the game.  It’s a visual novel with fighting game gameplay, and I love well told stories with epic shonen fighting.  However, though I do like it, Blazblue has one of the most complicated, convoluted stories I have ever read, and I have played all but one Kingdom Hearts game and Virtue’s Last Reward.

One of the reasons for this is because Blazblue is not unlike Final Fantasy 13 in that a lot clarification on what anyone talks about in the game is in ungodly mounds of text-filled supplemental material outside of the main story, and even with that there are some things the games have flat-out admitted are hard to explain, abstract at best, or not going to be explained until a sequel.  It doesn’t help that it involves time travel, which instantly makes any story at least twice as complicated.

I like it when games save answers for the sequel to make a franchise feel interconnected, like it was all planned in advance, but there is such a thing as taking it too far, much like Kingdom Hearts has been nudging the edge of.

Because of this and the fact that I’m only covering the first two Blazblue games, there are some speculations and assumptions I have to make for this post.  Therefore, every time I make an uncertain statement about Blazblue’s story, I will mark it with an asterisk “*” at the end of the sentence.  Think of the asterisk as shorthand for the phrase “I think," or alternatively, "or some crap like that."
Here are a couple of examples for reference:

Atsushi Inaba is the god of gaming.*
Ubisoft could firebomb a pound full of innocent puppies and still not be any worse than they are now.

I hope that cleared things up.  Other writers fear Blazblue’s plot and offhandedly call the story nonsensical, but not I!  I am going to make coherency out of this!

If anyone wants to clarify or correct any marked point of this post, please let me know in the comments and I’ll correct it.  I only ask you refrain from giving me any corrections pertaining to something revealed in the recently-released third game, Chronophantasma.  If you do, I will delete your comment.  No spoilers please.


Before getting to the main plot, it’s important to know the Blazblue world’s history.

Several years before the events of Blazblue, the world was completely and horribly decimated by a giant monster called The Black Beast.  90% of the world’s population was destroyed and the beast covered the entire world’s surface with seithr, an airborne magical substance that’s deadly and even mutagenic in high concentrations.

In the end, the black beast was defeated thanks to six powerful beings known as the six heroes.

After a mysterious hero named Bloodedge sacrificed himself to keep the beast at bay for a full year, the survivors of the earth developed special weapons that used seithr as an energy source with the help of one of the heroes.  Those weapons came to be known as ars magus.  With the ars magus and the most powerful ones called the Nox Nyctores, humanity defeated the Black Beast and rebuilt society in what is known as the first war of magic.

Because the Seithr concentrated too highly in points of low elevation, much of the world was rendered inhospitable, so 13 towering cities were built to allow living where seithr concentration is low.  A new world government called the Novis Orbis Librarium was also formed to keep order and control the use of arms magus.  The NOL (also called the Library), led by the Imperator Librarius, regulates great sources of power, like ars magus and the grimoires (no, not books) that allow ars magus to be used, to keep them out of the wrong hands.
Though there are 12 others, the first two Blazblue games take place in the 13th Hierarchical city of Kagutsuchi.

10 years later, the colony of Ikaruga (which houses six of the Heirarchical cities) rebelled against the NOL, believing the NOL’s dictatorship to be getting too strong and leading to oppression.  Because both sides used Ars Magus, this conflict is known as the second war of magic, or the Ikaruga Civil War.  The war famously ended when one of the NOL’s top officers, Jin Kisaragi, personally killed the leader of the rebellion named Tenjo.  By putting an end to the war, Jin became known as the Hero of Ikaruga.  After the rebellion, the NOL naturally put an even tighter control on ars magus, and there doesn’t seem to be any kind of equivalent to the NRA.

That much is certain and referenced several times in the games, but here is where things start to get murky.

The NOL at some point started performing experiments with “the boundary”, an abstract other dimension that seems to act as the epicenter of the fabric of time, where all the timelines of the world lie.*  I suppose you could say it’s kind of like the gate in Fullmetal Alchemist, an abstract mass of infinite knowledge and power.

The NOL learned how to harness and study the power of the boundary using special devices called cauldrons.  Powered by a great many souls, cauldrons draw power from the boundary and have allowed the NOL and their scientific rival Sector 7 to make powerful weapons, such as the most powerful ars magus , the Nox Nyctores, in something of a supercharging process referred to as “smelting.”

Sector Seven (whom I’ll get to later) used cauldrons to make Boundary Interface Prime Field Devices, also known as Murakumo units.  The Murakumo units are a series of robots originally made for exploring the boundary, but were later also designed to be weapons.*  All of them are modeled after the same person and apparently they can age like a person.  They all use several swords as their weapons and combine them with gravitational and spatial manipulation to really mess up anyone their master doesn’t like.

In the present day, at the time of the first game, Calamity Trigger, the same series of events have been playing over and over.  Time has been rewinding itself and then playing out differently thanks to Takamagahara.

Though who made it or when is unknown, Takamagahara is an ultra-intelligent AI that exists beyond the fabric of space and observes the different variations of the portion of time they keep in repetition, starting with its creation/activation and always ending with main character Ragna falling to the first game’s villain, supposedly causing the apocalypse.*

Takamagahara is the shadows.

Yes, the stories in Blazblue: Calamity Trigger are actually a series of possibilities that happen over and over again.  Takamagahara keeps turning back time with different results in order to prevent the great catastrophe (the calamity trigger) that happens, which I will explain when I get to the characters.*  It’s kind of like when you keep going back to an earlier save to try something different in a game, and like a game, Takamagahara can’t interact with the world directly.  It can only influence causality, similarly to how people imagine god works, but it doesn't consider itself as such.

Look what you diiiid!
They’re unsuccessful until a wild card is thrown in in the game’s true ending, resulting in a continuum shift (the second game’s title).*  In Continuum Shift, only the true endings tell what really happens, the story is more linear, and Takamagahara cannot predict what will happen because it’s their first time observing it.  Instead, they can only come up with what could happen and process every possibility, which I believe is what the bad endings in Continuum Shift represent.

With that bit of heavy-handed exposition out of the way, let’s move on to the heavy-handed exposition about the characters of Blazblue.


The main character of Blazblue is Ragna, also known as Ragna the Bloodedge, also known as the Grim Reaper.  When he was an orphan, the church Ragna. his brother Jin, and their sister Saya grew up in was burned to the ground by Jin, after which Jin cut Ragna’s arm off and kidnapped Saya.

Taking a liking to Ragna, the vampire Rachel gave Ragna the Azure Grimoire, also known as the Blazblue.  It is the most powerful grimoire there is that seems to tap into the power of the boundary, known as the Azure.  The Azure Grimoire became Ragna’s new arm, which you’d think would be great, but because the Azure Grimoire is practically a dense concentration of Seithr, the Black Beast’s evil power lies within it.  He had to be trained to control this power by Jubei, one of the six heroes.

When his training was completed, Jubei bestowed upon Ragna the jacket and weapon of the great hero Bloodedge, which helped him develop his nickname of Ragna the Bloodedge later.

Ragna despises the NOL.  So much so that he has gone around the world destroying NOL bases and their cauldrons, which has given him the biggest bounty in the world on par with Vash the Stampede.  Thankfully though, only a select few people (and by that I mean playable characters) actually do anything because A: nobody wants to get involved with the NOL and B: the wanted posters aren't very accurate.

You would think that would make Ragna a very badass, gruff archetypical criminal character akin to Soul Badguy, and he is, but Ragna is actually very often the butt of jokes in Blazblue’s comedy (as shown above).  God seems to want him to suffer and he always plays the sarcastic straight man loner around all the weird characters in the game.  Of course, like any game hero, he also helps people when they need it, even if he hates them as a person or it’s not his business, but he does it all with a sarcastic attitude.

He’s also scares of ghosts.

In the first game, Ragna has a vendetta against his brother Jin Kisaragi, who himself obsesses over killing Ragna.  Ragna was on the way to destroy the Cauldron at Kagutsuchi’s NOL branch, so getting to kill Jin was a nice side bonus.*
But believe it or not, Jin is actually one of the heroes of the story.

Growing up, Jin was adopted into the noble Kisaragi family and attended the prestige NOL academy, where he was the student council president and one of the most respected students, eventually rising in the ranks of the NOL and earning the name of the Hero of Ikaruga after he ended the Ikaruga Civil War by killing Tenjo.

It’s kind of hard to see him as a hero though, when he burned down the church he lived in with his sister and brother as well as cut off Ragna’s arm to make him into the bitter criminal he is today.  But did he really?

In Calamity Trigger, when Jin hears that Ragna is in Kagutsuchi, he immediately rushes out to go and find him.  He doesn’t tell anyone where he’s going, doesn’t pack his things for a trip, he just runs out there, prompting the NOL to go out and find him, eventually labeling him as a deserter.  That was stupid.  He couldn’t even leave a sticky note?

He didn't even take an airship to Kagutsuchi, and because the lower levels of the earth are uninhabitable, that means he had to walk across the mountains to get there!

I prefer E. Hondas.

Well, there’s a reason Jin isn’t in the most sound of mind in the first two games.  Jin uses the ice-shooting Nox Nyctores Yukianesa, which has slowly corrupted his mind and made him go crazy, but he never realizes it until the end of the second game, when he takes control of Yukianesa so that he controls it instead of it controlling him.*

I would just get a new sword if I were you, Jin.  This one clearly doesn’t have your best interests in mind.

Even without Yukianesa’s influence, Jin is shown to be a very aloof, stern and kind of stuck-up person, quite fitting of his use of ice attacks.  As stated though, that often changes when he sees Ragna or the other hero, Noel Vermillion, who looks exactly like Jin & Ragna’s sister Saya.

Noel is an extremely shy and kindhearted officer in the NOL who was originally discovered amongst the ruins of the city of Ibukido, which was blasted off the face of the earth by the killer satellite Nox Nyctores, Take Mikazuchi.

After that, she was adopted into an aristocratic family and lived life like a normal person.  She attended the NOL academy, got decent grades, made friends, and was eventually assigned as Major Jin Kisaragi’s secretary, even though Jin clearly hates her.

That makes her sound like your average everydude hero who gets involved with some devious plot, but there’s more to it than that.  The second game’s plot revolves around her.

Completely unknown to her until revelations in the second game, Noel is actually the 12th Murakumo unit, Mu-12.  Mu is different from the other Murakumo units in that she was somehow chosen as the “Eye of the Azure”, essentially meaning she is able to fully tap into the Boundary’s power without limits or repercussions, can navigate the boundary’s endess void and can anchor the existence of something from outside the timeline simply by acknowledging it.*  Her dual pistol Nox Nyctores, Bolverk, have kept her emotions in check, keeping her from losing control and reverting to her programming as Nu.*  When she loses Bolverk in the second game, she does just that so that she can be used as a weapon by the main villain, who I’ll get to in the villain section.

By the end of the second game though, Ragna forces her back to normal in a way I don’t even know how to explain.  You’ll have to play it yourself.

Assisting the heroes through the whole ordeal is the very enigmatic vampire Rachel Alucard.

Darkstalkers again, huh.
Rachel is the head of the Alucard family and seems to live in a mansion that exists beyond the boundary, unaffected by Takamagahara’s time looping just like Rachel herself.*  This is because she is an observer.  Observers are special beings tasked by Takamagahara with observing the different possible timelines, basically acting as an extra eye for it so long as she doesn’t interfere, not that Takamagahara could do much to an observer even if she did.*  Additionally, observers are special in that they’re able to cement someone from another timeline into the one they’re in by simply acknowledging their existence of being from another time.*  To get around, Rachel has a teleportation ars magus that hasn't really been expanded upon.

Even though she shouldn’t, Rachel interferes in the timelines a lot in the first game, but gets away with it by being really cryptic and not explicitly stating anything.  She just gives characters a nudge in the right direction.*  In fact, even though Ragna is the hero, he's largely clueless about the bigger picture.  It's like he's just another part of the timeline and only knows about what's right in front of him, and he's aware of that.

Rachel's interference comes to a peak at the end of the game when she prevents the heroes from being obliterated by Take Mikazuchi by using the ultra special shield system Tsukuyomi.  After that, Rachel resigns from her position as an observer, but seems to keep her powers, which she uses to help.

But none of these heroes are cool in the face of one who excretes awesome from every pore of his body.  Though Ragna is designated as the main character, I wouldn’t call him the main hero.  The real hero is the hammer of love and justice!  The one who resents evil and protects the innocent!  The other hero of Ikaruga!  Bang Shishigami!

We might as well name every other character "Not Bang", but then they'd be hard to distinguish.
I was originally going to place Bang under the “other guys” section, since he’s not very plot relevant, but he’s the hero, dammit!
Bang was on the side of Ikaruga during the Ikaruga Civil War and was the apprentice of Tenjo himself.  Naturally, since Jin killed his master, Bang believes him to be a cold-blooded killer and his sworn enemy!  When he’s not out fighting evil and collecting bounties on criminals as a vigilante, Bang spends his time watching over a district of Kagutsuchi called Ronin-Gai, where he and his fellow ninjas all take refuge.

Bang is what would happen if Yukimura Sanada and Kim Kaphwan raised a kid and only let that kid watch shonen anime, sculpting him into the physical manifestation of the essence of shonen itself!
He fights with honor (he never sneak attacks even though he’s a ninja), cares for his friends like family, never kills, refers to himself with “I, Bang Shishigami,” instead of just “I” and shouts!  His every!  Line!  He cares not for his own safety so long as he is able to save someone else, he always helps those in need, and if he had any more fire in his soul, it’d take 10 minutes of a fire hose fully blasting him to put him out!

He doesn’t even need no fancy Nox Nyctores!  Unlike most of the other characters that wield weapons, Bang does most of his fighting with his bare hands, only using his special nails for a few special attacks and his astral heat (more on those later).

He’s so badass he gets his own theme song!  When Bang successfully hits his opponent with his burning heart move 4 times, he undoes the four seals that keep his power contained, allowing him to use Fu Rin Ka Zan!  It’s kind of like the chakra gates in Naruto.

And kind of like this.
When Bang uses Fu Rin Ka Zan, he glows with an awesome power and gets a huge boost in speed that lets him dash in any direction around the field, all while Japanese rock band Jam Project sings about how awesome Bang is, which is to say, the most awesome character in Blazblue!

“Shishigami ninpo forbidden art!  Fu! Rin! Ka Zan!”

Aaaaand the world pushes him around.

Don't worry.  He pays it back.  In the only way he knows how.

The Six Heroes

In order to really go into detail on the other characters, it’s important to go over the six heroes that originally defeated the Black Beast, as they all play into the plot to varying degrees.

The most prominent of them in the story is the masked warrior Hakumen, a very cold, no-nonsense, motivated samurai-like fighter with a really strange armored outfit.

This is because it’s not his real body, it’s a special body called the Susano’o unit his soul was transferred into by Sector Seven leader Kokonoe after he somehow got his soul stuck in the boundary.
His real body is a Jin Kisaragi from another timeline, who was sent into the past by the boundary at some point and fought the Black Beast as one of the six heroes.
After that, he got caught in the boundary again, but this time was sent into the future of the timeline he was in, where Kokonoe works as his observer and installed a way to control the unit’s ability to teleport across space, forcing Hakumen to do what she wants.*

Eventually Hakumen resists the teleportation, but then Kokonoe just seals him in one of Sector Seven’s labs to keep him under control.  This doesn’t last very long when Rachel busts him out and becomes his new observer instead in the sequel.

Hakumen hates The Black Beast and in the first game is determined to kill Ragna because he believes that he will become it.  You could never tell that Hakumen is supposed to be Jin, because this is a version of Jin Kisaragi that’s much more mature.  He has hints of arrogance, but he fights in the name of what he believes is right.  He really is an entirely different person from Jin, which is an important part of his character.

It's not all that well explained, but apparently in order for him to be anchored to the timeline by an observer, he has to match what the observer objectively observes him as.  In other words, he must convince himself entirely that he is the hero his observer thinks he is and not Jin Kisaragi.*

But Ragna has yet to completely lose control of his Azure Grimoire, thanks to his training by the expert swordsman Jubei.

Jubei is a beastkin, a human-animal hybrid created to combat the Black Beast.  Beastkin have increased sensory and physical abilities as well as much longer lifespans than humans, which is why Jubei is still around at the time of the games.

I’d ballpark Jubei to be in his late forties by human standards.  He certainly acts like it.  He’s very laid back, friendly, speaks with a southern accent, and has yet to fight in the games even once (onscreen).  I assume that’s because he’s retired.  He wants a strong future generation, so perhaps he wants that generation to fend for itself.

Jubei was married to another one of the heroes, Nine.

Nine was the one who taught human civilization how to use magic effectively.  Being a witch herself, she was one of the best magic users to ever live.  Nine and Jubei had a kid named Kokonoe, but she will be explained in the Sector Seven section.  What exactly happened to Nine isn’t explained, but it’s strongly hinted one of the villains did something to her.

To cover the alchemy side of things, the heroes had Trinity Glassfield, the kindhearted nerd.

Only seen in flashbacks, like Nine.
Unfortunately, at some point in the past, Trinity got into the boundary and was forced into a body housed by two other spirits, both of which have more control over it than her.  That being is known as Platinum the Trinity, and she uses the nox nyctores Muchourin, which lets her materialize matter at the cost of her memories.

Trinity Glassfield is only able to take control of Platinum’s body for very brief periods of time and it wears her out.  In the second game, she uses these precious minutes to deliver a rather cryptic message to Bang after Jubei sent the other two personalities to find him.  She said something about that giant nail on Bang's back and that Jin Kisaragi is not the enemy.  That may be clarified in Chronophantasma.

Believe it or not, Rachel’s butler was one of the heroes too.  Valkenhayn R. Hellsing is and always will be Rachel’s devoted servant and would face the fires of hell if it meant making his lady happy.  He’s been a butler for the Alucard family for god knows how many years, so you know he’s a man dedicated to his job.

Like Jubei, Valkenhayn is a beastkin, and can thus live for hundreds of years.  Unlike other beastkin though, he has the unique ability to shift from human form to wolf form, the fangs and claws of which are his only weapon on the field, not that he fights much.

He becomes playable in the second game’s expansions, but Valkenhayn isn’t very plot relevant and fighting is kind of against his nature.  He’s a lot like Guilty Gear’s slayer in that even though he can kick ass, he’s too polite and proper to want to.  If he has to fight, it’s likely because it’s for Rachel’s benefit.  In fact, in one of his endings for Continuum Shift Extend, he goes through an incredible, bloody battle in “The Valley of Death” (offscreen) just to use the perfect microwave to make the perfect scones for Rachel.

Rachel sleeps through the entire fight and then says the scones are too stale, to which Valkenhayn doesn’t mind in the least.

The last of the six heroes is Terumi.  I’ll have to get to him in the villains section.

Sector Seven

In addition to the NOL, it’s important to establish Sector Seven.  While the NOL wants the world to run by magic technology, Sector Seven wants science to reign and for Seithr to be eliminated for good, just like the days before the Black Beast came.  Sector Seven is run differently as well, having a council of like-minded scientists as opposed to the ranks led by the Imperator at the NOL.

Like I stated before, Sector Seven has done its own experiments with the boundary and has quite a few accomplishments of their own, having created the Murakumo units and their own atomically-powered ars magus imitations that don’t require seithr.*

Sector Seven is led by professor Kokonoe, the daughter of Jubei and Nine.  Kokonoe seems to hold her mother in esteem, but hates Jubei for leaving them.*

Kokonoe is… Kind of a bitch, I’m not going to lie.  She’s pushy.  She doesn’t care how it gets done, she just wants it done and she has a short fuse.  She’s really not that big of a jerk at heart, and she does genuinely care for some people, but when doing business she means business.  I’m sure we’ve all had a teacher kind of like Kokonoe at some point.  Except our teachers don’t have a stockpile of nuclear missiles.

Until her DLC release for Chronophantasma, Kokonoe has never had to fight.  Personally I think making her playable is a bit of a downgrade because one of the things I liked about her was how she didn’t need to be strong to be effective.  She had her smarts.  Then again…

Her muscle is provided by The Red Devil, Iron Tager, an incredibly huge super cyborg of her own creation that she can pretty much control at will.

Not that she needs to.  Tager may be a strongarm, but he's also a real genius.  While he’s not a mechanical genius on the level of Kokonoe, he knows a lot about science, the boundary and everything about how the world of Blazblue works.  He’s kind of like Beast of the X-Men.
He and Kokonoe work really well together and often discuss the best course of action in a mature way.  Kokonoe occasionally uses Tager to test something against his will, but Tager has explicitly stated that he does what she says because he trusts her with his life.

From what I understand, Chronophantasma adds another fighter from Sector Seven, but I haven’t played it yet.