A friend of mine who's way more into fighting games than I am was telling me that, in all the ways that matter, BlazBlue: Calamity Trigger; isn't exactly a fighting game. Instead, it's a bizarre take on real-time strategy, with as much attention paid to unique mechanics and mobility as to the usual one-on-one nuts and bolts.
I didn't really take him seriously until I sat down and played the game for myself. BlazBlue; doesn't quite reinvent the wheel, but it's using the wheel for deviant new purposes. Perhaps it is a serving tray or a Frisbee or some manner of crude bludgeon. I am unsure, but it is not being used as a wheel.
In most fighting games, there's a certain unity of basic moves between characters. They all have some common ground. It may go to extremes, like how all the characters in the first three Mortal Kombat; games have a functionally identical basic move set, or differ wildly, like some fighters in Marvel vs. Capcom 2.
BlazBlue; has 12 characters, none of whom play a damned bit like one another. The main figures in the game's story line — Ragna, Jin and Noel — are reasonably accessible, but the further you get from the bottom of the selection screen, the weirder things become. Arakune turns invisible, debuffs his opponent, and attacks from strange angles; Rachel and Bang set up waypoints above the battlefield that allow them ridiculous amounts of mobility; and Tager is basically a walking brick wall made of equal parts wrestling, magnetism and sheer pain. Picking Carl means you play as two characters at once, Hakumen has his own super meter that works differently from anyone else's, and I still have no idea what the hell is going on with V-13.
There are technical aspects to BlazBlue;'s gameplay that no one had even thought of a few years ago, especially in a genre like 2-D fighting games, where I'd thought that everything that could be done had been. Some of it's been naturally extrapolated from the odder ideas at work in Guilty Gear; (especially Bridget), but this is about as innovative as any 2-D fighter has ever been.
It's not hard to learn the basics, but if you run into somebody who knows what they're doing, you will get utterly obliterated, the same way that Guilty Gear;'s advanced players could cave in your face. BlazBlue; has a very long, steep learning curve, and the tournament videos are already interesting to watch.
Like Guilty Gear;, BlazBlue; is keeping 2-D alive and animates its characters with amazingly detailed, hand-drawn sprites, complete with another heavy-metal soundtrack from Daisuke Ishiwatari. The presentation is top-notch, and while I have a sneaking suspicion that we'll be seeing these sprite sets recycled for at least three more games in the near future (preorder 2011's BlazBlue $#++ Reload; today!), BlazBlue; nonetheless looks great. It's the 2-D arcade game that 1996 wishes it had had; it's simultaneously modern and nostalgic.
There are a few sour notes here and there. The AI is, of course, a cheating bastard, particularly as you close in on the end of Arcade mode, and a full clear of Story mode is virtually impossible without either a FAQ close at hand or hour upon hour of relentless trial and error. The story line is hilariously incoherent, to the point that I somehow managed to get Noel Vermillion into some kind of lesbian cosplay dungeon, thus ending the game. Arc System Works has never been the go-to development house for making a goddamn bit; of sense, but this goes well beyond the pale.
The actual gameplay; in BlazBlue: Calamity Trigger; is relentlessly crazy, to the point where even two complete novices flailing away at one another will be entertained by the ridiculous crap they're able to pull off. Electric frogs, sudden ninja transformation sequences, gun fu, getting smashed into the earth from what appears to be low Earth orbit, and the large bag of WTF that is; Taokaka all guarantee that, even if you have no idea what you're doing, BlazBlue; is never, ever dull.Score: 8.9/10
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