It’s no secret that I’m a fighting game aficionado. Hell, on the 360 alone I own Virtua Fighter 5, Dead or Alive 4, Street Fighter 4, Soul Calibur 4, King of Fighter 1998, Garou: Mark of the Wolves, Fatal Fury Special, Street Fighter 2 Hyper Fighting, Super Street Fighter 2 Turbo HD Remix, Naruto: Rise of a Ninja and UFC 2009. I’ve also got King of Fighters XII preordered. On both consoles. And I’ve got to say, I’ve had more fun with Blazblue: Calamity Trigger than with any of the above. This may be the best fighting game on current-generation consoles. Perhaps more importantly, it’s actually being recognized for it by the gaming public.
For those not in the know, Blazblue comes from Arc System Works, the same crew behind the Guilty Gear series. It shows, too. Blazblue borrows a large number of gameplay elements from its predecessor. The battles are significantly faster than those found in a game like Street Fighter, offering radical air combos, speedy dashes, and cancels. Faultless Defense, which allows you to terminate chip damage, and Bursting, which forcibly blasts an enemy off you mid-combo once per round, both return as well. The lengthy list of gameplay elements leaves Blazblue with a relatively steep learning curve, especially for people not already acquainted with fighting game controls. For a veteran, it isn’t too hard to handle and the pay-off comes in the form of greater tournament potential. Past the numerous balancing features, it does handle normally, with a variety of moves done by pressing one of the four face buttons, in unison with directional motions. The major difference, control-wise, is single-button special moves. Some characters launch projectiles, do counters, or do huge attacks simply by pressing a button. It does not make the game overly easy, though, and helps out a bit in terms of accessibility.
Like Guilty Gear before it, the single biggest, most important thing about this game is the incredible amount of diversity found in the character roster. Not to call out Street Fighter IV as a bad game (I actually reviewed it well), but Ryu, Ken, Akuma, Gouken, Sakura, Dan and Sagat have pretty similar move sets. You don’t have that in Blazblue. Hell, you don’t even have two characters that fight similarly. While the concept is certainly refreshing, and even though the characters are very different from each other, there are numerous striking similarities to Guilty Gear characters. Just watch this match video from Guilty Gear XX Accent Core. Now watch this match video from Blazblue. Note the similarities. Frankly, almost the entire cast shares that degree of similarity with a Guilty Gear character. Tager fights like Potemkin. Carl fights like Eddie. Nu-13? Dizzy. Rachel? Testament. And so on. The cast is relatively small, though, with only twelve total playable characters (compared to twenty-five in Accent Core). Clearly, this hasn’t really held me back from scoring the game exceptionally high, but it’s worth noting.
As you’d expect, Blazblue has more than a barebones arcade mode. People not used to just throwing down will be pleased with the relative intricacy of Blazblue’s story mode, which has standard Japanese (in)sensibilities and numerous endings for each of the characters. There are also time attack and survival modes and such…but who cares about that?! ONLINE MODE IS WHERE IT’S AT! And it’s absolutely spectacular. It’s virtually lag-free, has a quality ranking system and has the nice “quarter match” modes. This is, perhaps, the best online mode in a fighting game, ever. It truly, completely upstages Street Fighter IV.
Until Super Street Fighter 2 Turbo HD Remix hit the Live Arcade and PSN, Guilty Gear XX and its numerous rebalances were the best 2D fighting games around in terms sprite size and quality. The 2008 Game of the Year doesn’t get to hold its “best 2D graphics” title for too long, though. Blazblue thoroughly upstages it, with high-quality HD sprites of its own, with non-terrible animation. I was tempted to give it a perfect score in the graphics department, but the animations are not quite as good as they could be. They aren’t terrible, but they lag behind games like Street Fighter III and the upcoming King of Fighters XII. Still, the sprites are something to behold. Surprisingly, the sound follows suit. Blazblue takes a page from SF4’s book, offering up both original Japanese voices, as well as a redone English option. The English voices are unusually good. Even in the heavily-voiced story mode, I am yet to sigh and shake my head at the quality.
At this point, Blazblue should be on a lot of Game of the Year shortlists and, for me, is the best game of 2009 to this point. If you were lucky enough to get your hands on the Limited Edition version of the game, complete with tutorial DVDs and the full OST, then you already know how great this game can be. For everyone else, make sure to buy the streamlined version when it comes out later this month.