Here we are at last. What is set to be the last BlazBlue in a long series of confusingly named titles with fantastic 2D anime fighting prowess. I still remember nearly breaking my thumbs playing the original on the Xbox360. Calamity Trigger was not to be taken lightly. Then followed the 3 other titles with additional releases for extras, artwork and DLC. It started to become common to have a release followed a year later by an ‘extend’ edition which also ended up heavily discounted when the next title came along. I’ve played them all but lost track of the story 2 games or so ago, thankfully you don’t need any of that knowledge as the addition of RWBY, Persona 4 Arena and Under Night means we have a new cross over story that even I’m curious about.
All of this is getting ahead of myself of course but this is just to give you some context to how I went into the beta. The game series has felt a little tiresome and the most interesting aspect of this so far was the RWBY new characters. Persona 4 characters being thrown into the mix (I played Arena to death back in the day) and Under Nights craziness added to the interest but it wasn’t quite a selling point for me when I can still play the titles on the past generation consoles. So I went into the beta for BlazBlue: Cross Tag Battle expecting to be underwhelmed but hopeful for a functional fighter. That isn’t even close to what I experienced, I was blown away.
Lets get the grumbly rant out of the way. It’s not off to a great start this beta. Us Brits had to wait a week for to play while the US has had nearly a week to get to grips with both the VS/Trial and online Beta. Grumble grumble. It’s also scheduled for release in Japan a month ahead of us (May 31st to be precise) so unless you want spoilers you’re going to have to pick and chose your online content for a while. The games going to be at EVO2018 which I know surprised me but personally I’m excited for what we’ll see some pro players do with the game. Anyways it’s here now lets just try to get on with it.
Japanese voices are always a good start for anime fighters but the dub option is there for those that prefer the original RWBY cast and given my experience online a lot of people still do prefer the english voices. Personally I couldn’t get into RWBY until the original episodes were dubbed into Japanese so it’s a good addition for me to hear those japanese voices back (no I don’t know why either). Also those Persona4 voices were absolute hot garbage in the english dub and definitely not for me, sorry but that’s a fact and a very real reason why I never could play Persona 4 Ultimax with the sound on.
Seems like for better or worse Dragon Ball FighterZ has now opened the gates to the chibi character based lobbies being used for the start of fighting games now. Yes I know they’ve been around since the dark ages but previously these were only for online lobbies and now seem to be for everywhere. Granted this one is already better for not forcing an online connection from the get go but it does bring the question, why bother at all? Then again when you load BlazBlue: Central Fiction your welcomed to 101 menus (3 different arcade story mode options for example) so this simplification is a better solution to new players. That and technically you can access the menus instead of walking around. Obviously once you realise this it makes navigating the content a lot easier and there’s a surprising amount of it given this is only an open beta.
It’s a shame there’s the lack of a separate fighter name option. It’s hardly a deal breaker but it was so refreshing playing Dragon Ball and not being stuck with early PSN ID. Anyways I guess I should get on with the tutorial! Ah tactics mode is the tutorial? That’s likely to throw a few people from the get go surely? It’s also really beginner friendly, going to the detail of explaining health bars but also getting into the technicalities of head/body/lower damages. It also helps to explain the new systems which at first feel a bit messy but very quickly become very tasty. Arc System Works are still the king of the tutorial but this isn’t quite as overkill as Guilty Gear Xrd thankfully.
At the time of writing I am completely sold on the control system. Very pickup and play for new players with the classic 2D fighter layout of ABCD and now an extra P button. This translates into having light attack, heavy attack, cross/tag attack, switch/tag out and partner assist buttons. Both light and heavy have simple combos similar to Marvel Vs Capcom Infinite and Dragon Ball where you can tap the same button over to get a small but useful basic combo. This not only allows new players who aren’t typically up to speed with anime fighters get to grips but also allows a great foundation for building new combos.
The cross button takes a little getting used to. When pressed your character will do a heavy attack that if hits causes your partner to run out and in essentially an in-game cutscene they beat your enemy for a few hits and if you time pressing the button again does extra damage. It seems overkill for this to mapped to a single button until the game starts to explain this also doubles as a low trip attack, stronger special move attack and also allows the Cross Combo and Cross Burst specials (allowing your partner to do extra attacks while your on or leaving the screen). The basic throws, guard and recovery systems from other BlazBlue titles are present and welcome. The new Resonance Burst is the balancing comeback system allowing you to power up, your super bar to refill and attacks to be stronger when your partner is down and your still facing two opponents. It also starts off more powerful and lasts longer if you’ve filled a tiny tag bar up through the match up to that point, using combos and tag attacks. What this results in is a system that actively encourages you to use your partner a lot more than I expected.
There are still instant kill Astral Heat special move anime spectacles (it’s a BlazBlue game it would be criminal if they were absent) but they are now ten times harder to do. Not only do you have to be in Resonance Burst mode but you must have 9 super bars. The default max is five so this means that you have to build up your tag attacks enough to get your resonance burst to the max it can be before you activate it, build up your super to 9, still be in resonance burst mode and then your input attack has to connect. Essentially these become a nice little extra but I’ve not seen a single one of these happen in normal matches only against the AI when trying to actively triggering it.
Now that I’ve waffled on about the various systems and how they work long enough, how does the actual game hold up? Well for one this music is AMAZING! I expected the same level of BlazBlue musical attire, a sort of soft heavy metal with lots of electric guitar and tracks that aren’t just quite remembered. What I was not prepared for was a track listing of not only really well remixed and picked tracks from BlazBlue of past but some fantastic new mixes of the best Persona 4 Arena tracks (that I adore enough to have on vinyl), terrific tracks from Under Birth and some clever little nods for the RWBY cast with some tracks lifted from the series. Even nice touches like an Astral Heat win from Ruby triggering the RWBY opening theme as the winner music.
The crossing over of the series has also clearly been crafted with a lot of love. There are little skits at the start of every fight as is custom for any anime fighter but what surprised me most was how many of the possible teams have specific lines for their team up. It’s a real shame there are no subtitles for these but hopefully the full version will include them. Even the winning screen is full of these touches with the text typically including interaction between the two fighters. Some characters naturally lending themselves to a team up but even bizarre mixes resulting in new ways to attack. It’s a classic Marvel Vs game thrown into an Arc Systems Work blender and pulped into pure bombastic anime.
The characters fit right in, even when you think they wouldn’t. The combos, personas and unique abilities have been streamlined to fit the system. Essentially a Persona 4’s character combo now has the persona show as part of the flow of the attack rather than a dedicated separate attack button. It’s the same with the BlazBlue cast and their weapons. Rather than pressing a button to use that aspect you simply press a light/heavy attack and it’s used as if it were a classic Marvel Vs game. It even lends itself to having some visually amazing specials that just flow naturally and while it simplifies matters (such as a persona being knocked out) BlazBlue: Cross Tag Battle is such a well balanced game that it just feels like it’s coming together naturally.
This game is just so purely anime in the best ways! I can’t help but smile while playing. If Dragon Ball FighterZ is the best instance of a Dragon Ball fighter then BlazBlue: Cross Tag Battle is lining itself up to be the best instance of an anime fighter. It’s full of cheesecake that doesn’t lend itself any favours but it’s chock full of brilliance to make up for it. Fast loading, a really stable system for the engine to run on and net code that is great. The only thing the online was missing so far is an indicator of how many frames are being dropped but this was fairly obvious as you can see the network indicator before each match.
Am I blown away by this beta? This is definitely the same feelings the Monster Hunter World and Dragon Ball FighterZ open beta events gave me. I’ve gone from watching preview footage with a passing interest to wanting to pre-order it right now. When I’ve finished writing this I’m going back to play more of it. It’s that good.
If your interested in BlazBlue you’ll love it, it’s more of the same with extras to make it fresh and new.
If your interested in Persona4 you’ll love it a lot, it’s the sequel to Arena we never got.
If your interested in Under Night In-Birth Exe:Late[st] then you’ll love it begrudingly, this is perfect to give that classic more attention.
If your interested in RWBY you’ll love it to bits, it’s another title with your favourite characters.
If your interested in fighters, then you’ll love this. It’s at EVO for a reason. It’s that good.
BlazBlue: Cross Tag Battle will be out on the PlayStation 4 and Nintendo Switch in Europe on the 22nd of June 2018.
(The cheapest I’ve found it is Base.com where they are selling it for £25.85 and has the same launch date 22/06/2018 which makes the 4 waves of DLC considerably more tolerable which is why it wasn’t mentioned it above)
This is 2040 words on a beta! I don’t think I’ve had a change of heart this drastic in years!