Blazblue: Calamity Trigger
We shouldn’t have to put up with this stuff anymore. A full nine months after its release in Japan and North America, Blazblue: Calamity Trigger has finally arrived on European shores. As if that weren’t enough of a slap in the face, series revision Continuum Shift has three new characters and a host of balance tweaks, is already in Japanese arcades, sees a home console release in Japan and North America in July and, thanks to the similarities between Windows OS and the Taito Type X2 board the arcade game runs on, has been available to pirates since January. So the big question is: why you should bother with it at all?
With the above in mind, maybe you shouldn’t. Maybe you want to send a message to the publisher that these sorts of delays aren’t acceptable anymore. Maybe, bored of waiting, you imported a copy for your region-free PS3 in June of last year. Maybe you’ve just picked up the splendid Super Street Fighter IV, are enjoying the level playing field found online when a game is new to everyone, and don’t fancy labouring to learn a combat system when the vast majority of your online opponents will have been playing the game for the best part of a year.
Maybe by doing all that you’d be missing out on one of the most beautiful, deep and downright bonkers games I’ve played in ages. With developer Arc System Works best known for the Guilty Gear series, it shouldn’t be a surprise that Blazblue is a pretty game, yet the first time you see the game in motion it really is stunning. Immensely detailed hand-drawn sprites and a series of distinctly different background stages will make your HD panel sing; seeing it running merely has you wondering why more games don’t go for highly stylised 2D over the usual 3D shooter palette of browns and greys.
The cast of characters may adhere to 2d fighter conventions in terms of their move-sets, the expected mix of quarter circles, charges and 360s, but their appearance is anything but conventional. While big-haired anime swordsmiths Jin, Bang and Ragna wouldn’t look out of place in any Japanese 2D fighter from the last 20 years, the appearance and nature of their moves set them apart from the usual shotokan characters found in other, lesser games. Litchi ticks the box marked ‘buxom wench’. Taokaka is some kind of cat-creature with enormous, pendulous arms, who calls Litchi ‘boobie lady’. Rachel is a vampire who throws electric frogs called George XIII. Arakune I can’t even begin to describe. They are all very distinct creations with very different styles of play.
The combat system itself has far greater depth than Street Fighter IV, deceptively so given that the game reduces Street Fighter’s six button system to just four – light, medium and heavy normals, and a ‘drive’ button which produces what could reasonably be described as a ‘special normal’, a normal move that does more than just punch or kick. Special moves often involve multiple hits that all require distinct inputs. So a complete move may in fact involve multiple consecutive quarter-circle movements timed and executed correctly. The Rapid Cancel – cancelling out of any move animation by pressing the three normal attack buttons simultaneously – makes the transition from the Guilty Gear series. Each character can perform a Barrier Burst at any point by pressing all four buttons, allowing escape from long combos for the price of taking extra damage for the rest of the round. Then there are supers, and astral finishes. There’s an awful lot going on and it could be overwhelming, especially given the lack of anything resembling a tutorial.
However Blazblue does have one trick up its sleeve to make things easy for newcomers, by binding special and super moves to directions on the right stick. It’s an absolute godsend for your first few hours with the game, as it allows you to focus entirely on the system itself without having to worry about execution at the same time. Timing flicks of the stick properly acts as a tutorial of sorts as you learn cancelling and hit confirming without much thought – throw out a couple of light jabs and, if they hit, flick the stick in the appropriate direction to combo into a more damaging move. Not only does this make some moves easier – the earlier example of three consecutive quarter circle and attack button becomes three flicks of the stick – but it helps your entire game. By the time you’re ready to take the stabilisers off, you’ve already sussed out your execution as you know you need to be pressing a special’s attack button at the same time you flicked the right stick. Then it’s just a matter of getting the stick movement completed before you press the relevant attack button. It’s no replacement for a tutorial, and once again I find myself pining for Virtua Fighter 4 Evolution and the best fighting game tutorial of all time, but for a newcomer to Arc’s combat mechanic it’s an absolute godsend.
Despite all this I am still loath to recommend a game that was all but obsolete by the time it finally took its place on European shelves. The standard online is as frighteningly high as you’d expect from a game that your opponents have enjoyed a nine-month head start on, and unless you’re lucky enough to find a spectator lobby of like-minded, similarly-skilled players you’ll likely stick to the offline modes which offer little longevity to the solo player.
Staggeringly beautiful and with a surprisingly gentle learning curve, Blazblue has much going for it, but its delayed release means it is unlikely to generate anywhere near the sales it arguably deserves. Those players that have not already moved on to Super Street Fighter IV will surely move on for Continuum Shift in a matter of months; let’s hope we’re not left nine months behind again the next time.
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