Thursday, April 24, 2014

Fighting Game Camps: Blazblue: Part 3


Daisuke Ishiwatari comes back to compose again, so the battle music consists largely of lots and lots of guitar riffs.  However, the music isn’t always as “metal” as in Guilty Gear.  Instruments like the piano and violin are used almost as often as the guitar is for a more sweeping soundtrack that combines orchestral music you’d expect from a fantasy JRPG with the guitar rocking you’d expect from Guilty Gear, which is a brilliant combination.

These tracks are what you get with all guitar:

This is what you get with mostly violins and piano:

And this is what you get with both:

Queen from King of Fighters 11 would not feel out of place.


Blazblue’s control system is pretty standard stuff if you’ve played other fighting games, especially Guilty Gear.  There are four attack buttons: light, medium, heavy, and drive.  You use all of them with different directional commands for special attacks & super attacks (“distortion drives”) and chain them together to make combos.  The barrier move from Guilty Gear is back, this time with its own meter, and grabbing is done by pressing the B & C buttons at once.  The attack buttons all do pretty much what you’d expect from a fighting game, all except for that drive button.

The drive button works differently for every character.  Some like Ragna and Jin basically have it as a fourth attack button for particularly powerful attacks, but many others use it drastically differently, making it a big part of how differently each character plays.

How differently the drive button is used (other than for certain special attacks) is best explained through example.

Tao’s drive makes her charge at her opponent, at which time she can use the three other attack buttons to jump around to confuse her opponent.

Hazama’s shoots his snake chain, at which time the player can press the drive button again to propel him to where the chain stopped.  His drive button also lets him go into a stance in which he can then use the attack buttons to do any one of three special attacks.

There’s also Carl, who uses the drive button to control Ada around the field, and his dad uses Ignis for his special attacks.

Hakumen is certainly unorthodox.  He doesn’t have a special meter like the other characters.  He has a magatama that slowly refills through time and countering with his drive button.  He needs those magatama points in order to use any of his special attacks, which is made up by them all doing a lot of damage, making Hakumen a character all about patience.
Supposedly Hakumen’s move style is based off of The Last Blade, a short-lived SNK fighting game series some Ark System Works designers worked on.

There are so many different playstyles in the characters I couldn’t possibly list them all.  Like Guilty Gear, Blazblue makes up for its relative lack of characters with extreme diversity.  Also like Guilty Gear, each Blazblue character has an alternate form called an Unlimited form, but whereas the alternate versions of characters in Guilty Gear are little more than alternate move sets, Unlimited forms are basically upgrades into cheap, overpowered boss characters.  In fact, Unlimited Hazama, Ragna, and Mu are all used as boss characters.

Oh no!  It's uber troll!
The combat itself has a free form feel to it.  Many characters have the means to move around the stage & place stage obstacles (Rachel especially), and almost everyone can double jump and dash.  This is also seen in the ways characters can be tossed and tripped around the stage, which can add a further layer of strategy for combos.

For example, one of Bang’s super attacks has him throw an umbrella over his opponent that rains nails over that area, essentially creating a wall of damage.  Obviously they can step out of the way, but if they’re hit by Bang’s burning fist attack, they’re sent flying backwards straight into it.  Bang is also able to set his nails in the air so that they can give him a boost in his air dashing, which is especially useful when he starts dashing around the place while using Fu Rin Ka Zan.
Rachel has projectiles that create poles in the background of the stage that she can detonate to electrify anyone near them, in addition to two special attacks that linger on the field for her opponent to keep an eye on.  You don’t see that kind of field usage in Guilty Gear or Street Fighter unless you count Testament’s traps.

The second game and its expansions added a lot of gauges to put a cap on some of these playstyles, whereas they mostly went unchecked in Calamity Trigger.  Carl was given a gauge for how much damage Ada can take, Rachel’s gauge only lets her use her drive a certain number of times and needs to recharge, and Relius has a gauge that decreases every time he attacks using Ignis that can only be recharged by recalling her.

Even with such factors, it isn’t that complicated and making combos is still somewhat easy.  Blazblue is kind of newbie-friendly, especially if you use the stylish mode in the second game, which simplifies the controls much like Tatsunoko vs. Capcom’s nunchuck configuration.  Some characters, like Hakumen, really don’t work well in stylish mode, but it’s a good option for those who want to play casually.

Playing alone also makes pulling off Astral Heats a lot easier.  Astral Heats are flashy, powerful finishing moves you can only use when your opponent is low on health and you have a full super meter.  When playing the second game by yourself, you can refill your meter once per match by taunting, which is very convenient because you shouldn't expect to see one in a real match and they are very satisfying means of finishing one, provided they connect.

On top of all the character diversity and the combat, one of the biggest draws is not in how Blazblue plays, but in its level of detail.  Arc System Works really put the HD systems to work with a high number of special character introductions, beautiful 3D backgrounds character-specific attack dialogue, and extra touches that weren’t needed, but go a long way in speaking a lot about the world and its characters.

Lots and lots and lots.

There's a lot of fun to be had from observing passive animations like walking and ducking, because every single frame is loaded with the artists’ love.

Rachel's ducking animation.
They even cared enough to have a specially-made sprite for every character hit by Relius' Astral finish, where he binds and traps them in his lab for experiments, sometimes even with character-specific dialogue.

Also, almost everyone calls their attacks.  Fighting games are already somewhat known for their characters calling their attacks (“Hadouken!  Power Wave!”), but Blazblue takes it to the absolute max.  If it has a name, they’ll scream it, excluding when they fight characters that change their battle dialogue.  This game’s hamminess knows no bounds, and I love it.

“Critical Super Flash!”

“Taokaka Boom!”

“Laetabilis Cantana!”

“Infernal Coils of the Dragon Serpent!”

“Break Shot!”

“Inferno Divider!

Bonus Material

The console versions of the Blazblue games are packed with bonus material.  So much so I feel it deserves its own section.

Each game has an art gallery, both of which are enormous.  The sequel has more art content than King of Fighters 13, and that’s saying something.  They character art displayed are in all sorts of styles from all manner of artists.  Some are from fans and others are from famous artists (Soul Eater’s), but most of them are official art, ranging from comic book covers to magazine art to all the illustrations from the story mode, some of which have a little comment from the person that drew it.  The entire thing, especially in Continuum Shift Extend, is staggering.  If it wasn’t obvious before, the art galleries will hammer home how much Ark System Works loves drawing their characters.  I have to admit it’s kind of unsettling how much of that art is of the female characters though.

But it goes beyond that.  There are also several extra hours of comedy attached to the main story.

The first game has Teach me, Miss Litchi!, a series of skits in which Litchi teaches Tao (and the player) about the world of Blazblue, oftentimes being assisted by other characters stopping by her clinic.  All of it is done in an adorable chibi form no anime fan could hate.  The second game has a sequel series, Teach me Miss Litchi: Reloaded.

Subjects of the lessons include how the NOL works, the vigilante system, the dark war, and the Nox Nyctores.  In addition to being informative about the very thought-out world of Blazblue, they have a strong dose of humor, silliness, fourth wall breaking and sequel baiting to make them worth watching.
Even better if you can read the Japanese on the blackboard.

Continuum Shift introduced a similar section called “Help me, Professor Kokonoe!”  In Continuum Shift, there are three different kinds of endings: A true ending, bad ending, and gag ending (Calamity Trigger has these too, but not for every character and it’s less clear which ending is which).  When you get the bad ending, the character is sent to a special area in the boundary where Kokonoe must give them advice on how to get the true ending before they can leave.  Like Teach Me Miss Litchi, it’s done in adorable chibi form and is full of fourth wall breaking and silliness.

In another little detail, I love how every character opens up the segment by reciting the title the title.  Some yell the title with different emphasis on certain words and such, but others say it in their own way.
Ragna: “Help me, Professor… Kokonoe?”
Valkenhayn: “Verily, I do beseech you for aid, oh livid Kokonoe.”

As for the gag endings, they’re best described as such: if you don’t know you’re in one you’ll swear the game completely and totally lost its mind.  They are full-on parodies of different genres and the characters of Blazblue itself, sometimes lasting as long as 20 minutes because of how elaborate they are.  They transcend the silliness of the chibi skits, because at least those have the characters stay in character.  The gag endings are ludicrosy of the highest order.

To give you an idea of what they contain, the following is a summary of what happens in just one of these gag endings.

Taokaka is talking to Bang in Litchi’s clinic when suddenly some of Bang’s ninjas come in to tell them that the evil magistrate Valkenhayn has monopolized all the tapioca manufacturers in town, causing everyone in the village to choke to death from thirst!  Together with Bang, Carl, and Tsubaki, Tao travels to the evil Magistrate’s lair to confront him, where he reveals his evil plan to get every snack, pastry and sweet in the world to give to Rachel for the perfect teatime!

But it turns out Tao is a modern-day evolution of tapioca, the Tapioca Queen! The power of the tapioca fills Tao with the ultra super-saiyan boost in strength she needs to destroy Valkenhayn and liberate the tapioca once more!

But my favorite gag ending is Makoto’s, where the cast of Blazblue act out her big family after drawing the roles from a hat.


They probably wouldn’t be nearly as funny without Aksys’ localized writing, for which they deserve an award, if not a nomination for one.

Personal Fighter of Choice: Bang Shishigami

Swift as the wind and as still as the forest!  Hotter than flames and more magnificent than a mountain!

Other Media

Like any popular Japanese fighting game franchise, Blazblue has various spin-off material, including manga, audio dramas, and an anime.

Out of the audio dramas, the most noteworthy is one titled “Wheel of Fortune”, which details Hakumen’s backstory, clearing up a great many things he says in the games regarding the timeline he’s from.

A series of light novels titled Phase Shift detail the backstories of the six heroes, including how Terumi’s artificial body had its own identity without him, why Nine has her nickname (there are eight before her), and details about what the hell happened all those years ago that only get the occasional mention in the games.

Young Valkenhayn in the upper right.
None of these were released in America.

There’s finally explanations for all this bull and we Americans don’t even get it!  What the flying funk, people!

The spin-off manga is titled Blazblue: Remix Heart, and tells the story of Mai Natsume, a boy from one of the royal families who was somehow turned into a girl.  It’s…… Well it’s the worst kind of manga.  I'll leave it at that.  It hasn’t been released in America either, but trust me, we aren’t missing much.

What has been released in America (but not on DVD yet) is the anime, Blazblue: Alter Memory, which you can watch on Funimation’s website.  Blazblue seems like an ideal game to adapt into an anime, but I don’t think this one was handled very well.

The anime lasts for 12 episodes and retells the events of the first two games.  Right off the bat it hinders itself by covering Calamity Trigger in only two episodes, going straight to the timeline that broke the time loop without any buildup to the battle with Nu.  True, Continuum Shift has much more plot to it, but the anime had the opportunity to expand on the first game.  Instead it seems to try and get it over with as fast as it can, cutting out all the characters that were introduced.  At the very least they could have spent the first episode detailing one of the time loops to show what's going on.

That's all we're getting!

Not that it would’ve helped all that much anyway.  Even when you get to the Continuum Shift part, most characters’ stories go unexplained for any new watchers, the animation is often sketchy and the fight scenes are over in a flash.
Alter Memory was even voted by Japanator as the worst animeof 2013, and it’s not that bad.  There was a lot of obvious drek that’s objectively worse, and I do think hardcore Blazblue fans will find a few things to take out of Alter Memory, like some neat added scenes and story changes (Hazama has a more effective way of ruining Noel’s emotions in the anime, as opposed to simply talking her down in the game).  The environments are accurate to the games, and the music is taken straight from them too.

I doubt that.
On the whole though, you’re better off playing the game’s stories. If they dub Alter Memory into English and give it the same kind of localization as the games, it may be a little more fun, but that won’t be any time soon.

As I said in the Guilty Gear post, there was also a live performance of Guilty Gear and Blazblue’s music.  I don’t think I need to go over how much I would have wanted to be there again.

Best of the Bunch

There have only been 2 games released, each with different versions.  If you want the one with the most content, you want Continuum Shift Extend, which comes with the DLC characters released for the original Continuum Shift, Relius, and story modes for all of them along with game balance tweaks.  You can get Extend on the 360, PS3, or PSVita.

The Vita version of Extend is the best portable Blazblue offering, but I also recommend Continuum Shift 2 on the Nintendo 3DS, if you don’t have an HD system.  Continuum Shift 2 has some downsides it’s gotten a lot of flak for: Relius isn’t included, the DLC characters don’t have story modes, the 3D is poorly implemented, character sprites are less detailed, there’s no online play and you have to use the directional pad instead of the circle pad.  However, stylish mode works just fine with the 3DS’ D-pad, and since every bit of story and (slightly compressed) voice acting from the original Continuum Shift is all crammed into the 3DS cartridge, it’s a good alternative for the players who only want the story and the great bonus content.

Backgrounds aren't 3D, but don't need to be.

The first game shouldn’t be skipped over either.  Continuum Shift is better in every single way from Calamity Trigger, but Calamity Trigger has its own entertaining story bits and gallery, and you can find it really cheap on both the HD systems and on Steam for PCs

Comes with the usual Steam Community stuff.  I want that Bang Emoticon.

It’s hard for me to pick favorites when it comes to the fighting game franchises because I love them all for one reason or another, but with its strong aesthetics, detailed story, bonus material, and Bang, Blazblue can be considered one of them up there with The King of Fighters.  If you’ve read all of this to the end, you’ve probably pieced that together already.

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