BlazBlue: Calamity Trigger Review: Watch Out For The New Guy
Introducing a brand new 2D fighting game is a challenging proposition for any game company given the current state of the market. As it stands right now, most fighting games have shifted to full 3D (and some back to 2D) and are in their fourth, or tenth, or even twelfth iteration. And that’s just on the development side of things, the even tougher sell is to the fans. The gamers that play fighting games are a devout bunch, clinging to franchises that were birthed over 15 years ago, and while there’s nothing wrong with that, bringin a new game into the fray is almost like committing an act of war. There has to be a lot of power behind an entirely new game that’s going to make an impression on the market, and on the fans, but Aksys Games’ Arc System Works developed “BlazBlue: Calamity Trigger” is the first game in a long time that has a shot of winning over some of those fans.
“BlazBlue” doesn’t try to redefine the fighting game formula, nor does it try to make it more “accessible” by dumbing anything down what is traditionally, one of the most complex game genres. No, it takes a firm stance as a solid title in a genre that sees fewer and fewer releases every year, and, aside from your occasional sequel release, is on the verge of becoming extinct. Fortunately, “BlazBlue” does have a rich history of games to turn to for inspiration, direction, and the dos and don’ts of fighting, and all that education, coupled with a development team known for their creative vision results in a unique title that could go head-to-head with any of those long running franchises.
The game’s developer Arc System Works’ reputation should preceed them courtesy of their famed “Guilty Gear” series. It’s a franchise known as much for its unique and inspired art style, as it is for its entertaining gameplay, and, after even only a couple minutes with “BB” it’s apparent that they didn’t slack on any aspect of their newest title. From the sound to the controls, “BlazeBlue” is a game worthy of the Arc name.
“BlazBlue” offers a fighting game unlike anything to hit this console generation, and you can instantly tell that from the game’s art style. Each of the game’s twelve characters is hand-drawn, and beautiful. They battle over 2D/3D backgrounds set in the game’s alternate reality city known as the 13th Hierarchical City, Kagutsuchi. All of the movements, animations, and special moves are tailored specifically to fit each character, and when in motion, “BlazBlue” runs smoothly, and has the air of an animated cartoon – back in the days when people still did the animations by hand, and not using computers.
Once you stop drooling over the beauty of “BlazBlue,” the most important part of a fighting game is the controls, and how well they handle. If a fighting game is too complex, or too easy it’s likely to turn off hardcore fans, while at the same time, not opening the door to potential new ones. “Calamity Trigger” manages to hit the sweet spot between technical and accessible that allows for fans of other, significantly more complex fighting games, to be able to play with their friends (they’ll still kick their asses, but that’s besides the point). There’s a simple four button system for attacks - weak, medium, strong, and dive that control all aspects of the game. Each attack is altered when coupled with a direction, and stung together to create more powerful moves. It’s less buttons than your standard fighter, but in this scenario it works, because every character is unique and doesn’t necessarily have a designated punch and/or kick attack. While “BlazBlue” does discourage button mashing on multiple levels, it will allow someone who may not be directly familiar with the title to pick it up, and maybe even land a few hits. And, if you manage to get in a bit of practice you’ll be pulling off the 20-hit combos, and Astral Finishes in no time.
Beyond the controls, are the fights themselves. There’s nothing ground-breaking here; aside from being fully customizable, the matches are two rounds, one-on-one (no teams here), with a set time limit, and the overall goal of beating your opponent to a pump (but you already knew all that). In order to put an end to them, each character has a small arsenal of special moves, mostly depending on their backstory, as well as Devastation moves that require a Heat charge (displayed on the bottom of the screen and built up by attacking), and match ending Astral Finishes that need to be unlocked for most characters. As for the nitty-gritty of the matches – the hit-detection is tight, the characters seem fairly balanced for the most part (Hakumen’s got one hell of a reach though), and there’s something for everyone in terms of fighting styles.
Variety is the spice of “BlazBlue,” at least when it comes to the characters. There’s a little something for everyone in this game, and no matter what your fighting background is, there will be a character that you feel comfortable with playing as. From vampires to vigilante superheroes (complete with his own theme song) to boobie obsessed cat/human hybrids, there’s going to be a character you associate with, and will have no problem representing you in the game.
By definition the feature set of a fighting game is fairly limited, as the emphasis of the game is always on the matches, and “BlazBlue” has all of the obligatory modes - Arcade, Training, Network (online), and Story - that should keep you quite busy. The Arcade mode is a straight head-to-head style, where you compete against ten computer challengers, or another actual human being in the same room as you. Training offers you the ability to practice and hone your skills until you feel comfortable going up against another opponent (only to have that confidence crushed after one match). However, if you are actually good enough to compete against other people, then the Network mode is where you’re really going to get you money’s worth in “BlazBlue.” It offers up to a six person online unranked matches (read: rooms), and one-on-one ranked matches. Think you’re good? Here’s where to prove it. After all that, there’s the Story mode… and that get’s its own paragraph.
Of all the things that “BlazBlue” does right, the story mode is perhaps the game’s biggest short-coming. In true “Guilty Gear” fashion the tale told by “BlazBlue” walks the line between fantastical, and nonsensical, and it’s the story mode that suffers. Boiled down, the basic gist of the story is that something bad happened a long time ago, and a group of six heroes stopped it, but, years later, it’s about to happen again, and almost everyone in the game is either out to stop it, or take advantage of it. The story’s main character is Ragna the Bloodedge, just your everyday, pretty boy, mass murderer with a troubled past, and the NOL (Novus Orbis Librarium Armagus) are out to capture him. He carries around an extremely powerful Azure Grimoire making him a target, and the center of the game. The story has just about everything mixed into it; magic, war, technology, ancient animal civilizations, cyborgs, and vampires, but it’s all really just there to allow for some relation of the variety of characters included in the game. And for that I applaud Arc, but they really went out of their way on this one. Should you become a fan of the game, or simply like to know the backstory for a certain character, then running through the story mode is a must, but it can become a little tedious after a while, especially since each character has a branching storyline which will drive completionists out of their minds (it takes multiple play-throughs to hit 100%). It’s a nice addition to the game, and sets a solid base to build everything else on, but the developers skewed more long-winded-rpg instead of keep-it-simple-fighter. It doesn’t hurt the title too much, as long as you aren’t looking for a deep and meaningful exposition.
Perhaps the release of “BlazBlue” will signify a change in the world of fighting games, but most likely it won’t. It’s a dying genre, that doesn’t center around guns, and because of that the youth of America may not give it a second look, meaning that fans on this side of the Pacific are going to have to rely on Japan for their 2D fighting fix from now on. “BlazBlue” builds on last years more complex “Arcana Heart” by introducing a new level of beauty, and insane stories to a genre in need of some fresh ideas. Fortunately, “BlazBlue” is the successful culmination of the last 20 years of fighting games and it pulls inspiration from everything from Pikachu to Sub-Zero… “KoF” to “SF” and delivers a package that fans of fighting games shouldn’t miss.
“BlazBlue: Calamity Trigger” was developed by Arc System Works and published by Aksys Games on June 30, 2009 for Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3. This review is based on the Xbox 360 version of the game.