Review: BlazBlue: Chrono Phantasma offers complexity and accessibility
Platforms: PlayStation 3, PlayStation Vita
Fighting games are fierce in both their subject matter and their fan followings. The devotion and skill needed to master a character is demanding, but a challenge hardcore players love. However, this same necessity of dedication can drive off players looking to enter a series. BlazBlue: Chrono Phantasma takes the steps to invite in new players with comprehensive tutorials, story recaps, and assistant modes, while offering the skill mastery and intense matches that dedicated fighters want.
Fighting in the BlazBlue universe
Fighting games generate intense followings primarily through their characters. Not only are people looking to fight, they want the fighters they battle with to be interesting. BlazBlue: Chrono Phantasma is the third game in the BlazBlue series, building on its story and using returning and new characters to drive it forward. Entering this series can be a little daunting; with its history already well-established and characters already familiar to fans, but the game does just about everything it can to welcome newcomers.
I was eager to find my character, the one I wanted to focus on learning their moves, so my first step while starting the game was to find more information about the characters and the background story of the series. An optional feature called “Teach Me More, Miss Litchi” gives some insight to the events of the previous BlazBlue games, as well as introduce the playable characters you’ll meet in the story. The short little skits done as history lessons offer a recap of the events of the other BlazBlue games and gave me a glimpse of some of the characters I could select. I still had many questions about the series after going over these reviews, but I appreciated what I learned and I liked seeing glimpses of the characters' personalities.
Learning each character is important as you try to find the one (or dozen) that has a fighting style that works for you. I figured stumbling around mashing buttons would only get me so far in a fighting game, so I went into training mode to learn the ropes. A full series of training tutorials are available, starting with the simple basics of movement, to the more complex combos, guards, and specials the game has to teach you. Each tutorial is taught by one of the BlazBlue characters, again offering some of their personalities and giving the tutorial a fun edge to it.
After learning some basics I decided to check out Story Mode. Story Mode picks up events after the last BlazBlue entry, spread out in chapters and organized by the various factions battling in the game. The world of BlazBlue is in turmoil, struggling to remain ordered after a battle with an entity known as the Black Beast nearly destroyed the Earth centuries ago. A power struggle between the dictatorial N.O.L. and several rouge factions all working for their own independence lingers across the land, and the story explores the views of several of these characters each vying for their own goals.
This was my first entry in the main BlazBlue series, and thanks to the story recaps I felt pretty comfortable with the Chrono Phantasma story. There are references and character interactions that did seem confusing, and the terminology took a while to get used to, but the story is put together nicely. Your interactions while playing are fairly limited, however; mostly you’ll be watching the dialogue between characters, then have a battle, then go back to dialogue. You’ll sometimes pick between different choices for your characters that change the story in a slight way, mostly just showing a “gag reel” scene that are extra scenes that exist outside the main story and are often full of jokes. I enjoyed the story mode mainly because of the characters. I liked seeing their motivations and personalities, and the situations they got themselves into were interesting, tense and funny!
Controlling the battles
Like most fighting games, BlazBlue: Chrono Phantasma controls start off simple and grow more complex. You have basic actions of movement and your simple attacks (weak, mid, strong, and drive) and you’ll see familiar overheads like health and a timer. More detailed aspects of the game like the barrier gauge and overdrive icon take some explanation.
As you land hits on your opponent or take hits yourself, you’ll generate “heat” which fills a heat gauge at the bottom of the screen. You can spend heat to use your more complex moves. Your blocks will consume your barrier gauge, which recharges over time. You can use throws, counters, cancels and even special distortion drive techniques to increase damage. Activating your overdrive can increase the power of your attacks and unlock better combos. Topping it all off is the powerful Astral Heat, which can finish an opponent in one hit!
The game is very much about chaining combos, so learning the moves that work best together is vital. I was also impressed with the variety in the characters. Each one is complex and has their own mechanics, and it was great fun playing nearly all of them and finding the ones I liked best.
The controls felt pretty standard for a fighting game, but it still took me a while to learn how to properly use the combos and heat gauges, so there was a definite need of practice in order to play a character well. I had a few frustrations trying to pull off combos, and even after practicing, it was difficult to implement them in battle. This isn’t unexpected in a fighting game, and the players who love high learning curves will enjoy the challenge of this game. And for everyone else just looking for some fun fights, BlazBlue: Chrono Phantasma offers Stylish Mode as a way to play the game. Stylish mode automatically lets you chain combos together with ease, making your fights more epic without the need of mastering the many combinations for each character. Hardcore fans will inevitably view this as a crutch, but for casual players and those looking to play some matches with friends, Stylish Mode is a great way to show off high action moves right away.
To test this theory, I invited two friends to play a VS. round. I explained virtually nothing about the game, set the fighting to Stylish Mode, and let them battle. They instantly had a heated match, throwing in combos and counters like they were veterans of the series. It was fun to watch, and even though they were only issuing the basic commands (and maybe a little button mashing) they had fun! I think Stylish Mode is a good addition for those looking to enjoy the fighting experience but who may have been too intimidated in the past to give it a try. Of course, with your combos controlled for you, you may not be able to max out attacks as you would if you assumed more control, which gives some incentive to learn combos for yourself.
The look and feel of BlazBlue
There is plenty to keep you busy in BlazBlue. The Arcade Mode lets you battle your way through computer opponents and VS. mode has you battle single opponents, either computer controlled or via local multiplayer. Abyss Mode pits you against waves of enemies while allowing your character to increase “stats” as they progress. Score Attack Mode and Unlimited Mars Mode has you battle increasingly challenging computer opponents to try and get high scores. You can also join an online match, battling for ranks or fun with other players around the world.
The 2-D art style of the game looks great. The fighting animations are smooth and the backgrounds you’ll be battling in are quite detailed. There are one or two typos and misspellings in the text, but nothing that truly distracts from the game. The story mode cut scenes are well animated and the Astral Finishes are visually fantastic. The audio is of a high quality as well. The battle music selections are tense and fit nicely. The voice acting is good and the sheer amount of captured dialogue, even in the tutorials, is impressive.
A gallery mode lets you watch the cut-scenes from the story, listen to the music and voice acting, and allows you to spend P$ (the in-game currency you gather from doing virtually anything in game) to unlock backgrounds and additional characters skins. As long as you find yourself enjoying the core fighting mechanics of the game, all the modes available make sure you have plenty to play.
Here are the criteria I consider most important for evaluating BlazBlue: Chrono Phantasma:
BlazBlue does just about everything to ease players into the series. A story review, a full tutorial, and Stylish Mode help newcomers to the series step right in. There are certain references and character interactions that will be appreciated by returning fans more.
Simple to start with, and allows for the complexity of great moves. Some frustrations are had when a combo refuses to be performed, and may lead players to stay in Stylish Mode.
The game makes great use of its 2-D art style and tense battle music. A few typos and misspellings are present.
Over twenty characters, multiple game modes, a unlockable gallery, and online play add a good amount of content to the game.
I usually stay away from fighting games because I lack the patience to master the complicated nature of a character's fighting style. I stay away from sequels if I haven’t played earlier installments, because I don’t want to be lost in a story that’s already well established. I was very impressed when BlazBlue: Chrono Phantasma handled both of these concerns.
I quickly warmed to the characters, delved into the story, and had intense matches. The game doesn't lack in complexity, so players looking to dedicate themselves to a challenging fighting game will enjoy BlazBlue immensely, even more so through the great visual and audio work that went into this game. More casual players looking to throw down with friends will also find a game that provides fast-paced fun.
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