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, who thinks what he does is all a big joke.  Terumi 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 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 outright 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.

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 was only involved with the music, so it wasn't him this time.  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 our plots simply had us 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.

See part 3 here.

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