Guilty Gear creators Arc System Works have, after churning out sequel after confusingly titled sequel to the fighting franchise they're best known for, started fresh with BlazBlue: Calamity Trigger, a 2D fighting game that's wholly original.
BlazBlue's blend of high-resolution, gorgeously animated sprite based fighters and three dimensional backgrounds makes for a stunning presentation. Pretty though BlazBlue may be, the brawler has a depth that belies its 12 character strong roster, a bizarre cast of fighters slashing through an equally bizarre story line.
Should you educate yourself in the library of fighting education that is BlazBlue: Calamity Trigger?
A Deep Dozen: BlazBlue's roster may not have the numbers of Street Fighter IV, Soulcalibur IV or Tekken 6, but for a new franchise, twelve fighters is pretty respectable—especially when each character is so unique. No two characters play alike, with some having character specific health bars or custom interface icons that expand upon Arc's already deep fighting system. That variety comes with a price, though, as players who feel comfortable with protagonist Ragna may be bewildered when trying out Arakune or Carl.
You Are Soooo Good Lookin': Everything in BlazBlue, from its characters to its backgrounds to its win notifications, is overstuffed with lovingly rendered detail. The amount of work put into character animations is simply stunning, even if a few characters animate slightly better than others. BlazBlue's stages, which expertly mesh NPC sprites and 3D environments offer plenty of eye candy. Whether you personally enjoy the game's art style, however, will be up to you.
Lag? What Lag?: Taking BlazBlue online via Xbox Live feels surprisingly like playing someone in the same room. We had a few spurts of lag at the very beginning of our online matches, but once the action kicked off, the experience was unexpectedly smooth.
I Like To Watch: The game's online fighting mode supports up to four spectators, a mode I found key to enjoying my online experience. After watching more experienced BlazBlue players go at it as a spectator, I better understood how some of the fighters played, all the while getting an eyeful of the game's visuals without the distraction of having to fight for my life.
Shortcuts: By default, BlazBlue's control set up allows special attacks to be mapped to the right analog stick, making the learning curve less steep, letting the player enjoy more of the game's flashier moves. Hardly revolutionary, but it makes getting up to speed on the unfamiliar fighting system with a stock gamepad that much easier. For better balance online in online matches, this option can be toggled off in game settings.
We Got Modes: The console port of BlazBlue: Calamity Trigger comes with a wealth of options, including an expanded story mode, a match replay theater, unlockable galleries and more. One-on-one fighting may be the draw, but if you're simply soloing, there's no lack of modes to explore. I quickly grew tired of the dialogue and voice acting in the game's storytelling, but fans willing to put up with BlazBlue's fiction will be rewarded.
Tutorial Required: BlazBlue may be a new franchise, but that doesn't mean that Arc System Works has catered to the new player with some of its design decisions. The mechanics have a relatively steep learning curve, thanks to a roster that's arguably too diverse, too stuffed with crazy characters. Even the naming conventions attached to the fighting system—Heat Gauges, Barrier Bursts, Astral Heats, Distortion Drives—seem designed to confuse the player unfamiliar with the game's language. Even the rounds are called "rebels." Fortunately, the limited edition version of the game comes with an extremely helpful tutorial DVD. Buy it. Watch it.
Everything Goes To 11: Sometimes, there's just too much going on. Too much in BlazBlue is over-designed, resulting in visual confusion that's often hard to filter out. The cast of characters, while pleasantly wacky at times, is heavily populated with a level of unwelcoming bizarre that might have turned you off to the Guilty Gear series in the first place.
BlazBlue: Calamity Trigger is ultimately a fantastic product, hopefully the start of a long-running franchise that can be added upon with new characters, refined move sets and improvements to the interface. The technique is there, with a fighting system that requires some serious investment, as are the visual fireworks that give the game its unique graphical appeal. Whether BlazBlue's anime aesthetic choices are something you'll find appealing will be a matter of personal taste.
Under the skin, it's a wonderful game.
BlazBlue: Calamity Trigger was developed by Arc System Works and published by Aksys Games for the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 on June 30. Retails for $59.99 USD. Played through Arcade Mode and Story Mode with multiple characters on Xbox 360, tested online Multiplayer modes via Xbox Live.
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