In games hailing from the East, the heavy emphasis fit over style is as obvious as the kick of chilli powder in your Grandma's 'special recipe' curry. Anime has enveloped Japan in a shroud of colourful, vibrant faces and wide-eyed innocence to such an extent, that any IP lauded as Japanese, I half-expect to be dressed in the surreal and highly saturated garb of the iconic cartoon style. And in BlazBlue, such expectations would be greatly justified.
A 2-D fighting game with sharp anime visuals, detailed level design, reflexive controls and a legion of rainbows just waiting to explode in messy kaleidoscopic ecstasy all over my screen at the least encouragement is what salutes back, yelling "Aye, sir!" with resolute vim and vigour, when BlazBlue: Calamity Trigger's name is called out in the great roll call of games. The menu screens scream in neon glory and the character selection process deserves a gallery in its own name because with the quality of the drawings, visually, it truly is art.
In terms of accessibility, I always tread warily and with a certain level of trepidation when it comes to fighters. Street Fighter IV killed me quicker than the plague, leaving it its wake a festering mess of frustration and quit-to-dashboard rage. A huge, resounding sigh of discontent issued forth from my lips as I delved into my first few battles, tearing my BlazBlue virginity into messy shreds and throwing them in a wok to be later served with soy sauce and noodles. It was looking as if I'd never be hitting the big combos, never putting my formative years spent wearing my thumbs to the bone on Tekken 3.
These worries soon dissolved as my hands adjusted themselves to what is a relatively simple mechanic, the only residual confusion stemming from the default button configuration, which when remedied with my custom cure proved no long term hassle. There are standard moves available to be executed by all twelve characters and then seemingly endless character-specific combo manoeuvres which hail fire and brimstone and doom all over whichever anime ragdoll is playing your victim in that particular battle.
As fighting games go, the offering from BlazBlue is fairly comprehensive: a story mode to provide a scant backstory for each of the playable combatants, an arcade mode to tune your strategy into a thing of finesse, sculpting your button-mashing into an art form, a local multiplayer mode alongside a well-developed, weighty online matchmaking system and a host of unlockables which can be viewed in the gallery. There's everything included that someone merely dipping their toes in the vast pond of 2-D fighters would require and there's more than enough to go around for the perfectionists, completionists and obsessives out there, for whom this game will surely become more than just a game.
The much-lauded graphics are a picture to look at. The flat colour patchwork of clothes, weaponry, limbs of varying dimensions and obscene manga hair is complemented effectively by detailed, dynamic environments which at times can prove too impressive not to pose a distraction from the battle at hand. With the slews of games hitting shops, it is a great rarity to find one of the characteristics that BlazBlue possesses: polish. Many games never fail to have a rushed and unfinished aspect to them, usually in the smaller details such as the menus or loading screens. BlazBlue is the one hundred percent, completed package.
The voice acting is of a standard quality, nothing to excite wonderment but enough to fulfil its basic purpose, which, considering the game is dubbed over in English from its native language, is nothing less than we should expect. The sound effects pull off the classic "Whoop", "Pow" and "Hyuergh" with aplomb and the enemies' cries of pain can sometimes encourage quivers in the sides of the player's lips, which may betray a satisfied smirk.
The stories, while relatively brief for each character, mesh together to form a honeycomb of intersecting parallel plots which when combined provide what is, especially so for a game of this genre, a rich and at least partially immersive world instilling emotions of responsibility and consequence in the player as each respective character acts out their part in the title's events. Granted, the genre is self-limiting by offering very little opportunity for morally based player-made decisions, but some effort must be noted on behalf of developers, Arc System Works, by offering minor plot choices which skew away from the linearity which is all too often considered standard in fighters.
Playing through each character’s backgrounds can, however, become a bit of a chore. Walls of text are an all too common sight and are only partially voiced, so for many, the plot will be forsaken for some fast action with a quick press of A to skip through the blurb. While the text is often complemented with intriguing artwork, the pace becomes far too schizophrenic and turbulent, speeding up and slowing down at the press of a button, to be enjoyed for any length of time.
In terms of lifespan, BlazBlue has it by the bucket-load. Ramping up the difficulty will make practice to the point of perfection a necessity, while some of the achievements will undoubtedly incur a host of smashed controllers and objects. Following the solo exploits on offer, local and online multiplayer offer infinite scope for improvement and mastery of what, at its very best, is a truly hardcore fighting game. The matchmaking system on offer is fairly robust, with player matches and ranked matches available. After a brief tour of the features, I was sent packing with my tail between my legs from the online arena, as sadly, my skills are nothing compared to the scores of combo-hungry battle-mad gamers across the world.
All told, BlazBlue was an eye-opening experience. What started for me as a venture into the unknown had me emerging triumphant, holding in my hands a shining appreciation for a genre that had never quite twiddled my thumbsticks. The title offers hours of gameplay, tight, responsive controls and an enticing visual experience and is definitely one to recommend for fighter fans and anime obsessives the world over. Just make sure you've got enough time to become the best in the world, because you may well feel a compulsion.
Sam has been unable to peel his bloodshot eyes and RSI-ridden wrists from the world of gaming since he was first introduced to it, like all good junkies, by his Grandad. From those early days of MegaDrive sweetness, bashing through the throngs of enemies on Shining Force II, his love of all things games has extended upwards and outwards onto a variety of platforms. You can either believe that spiel, or get the real scoop and know that his spaceship actually crashed here some years ago and he is currently incognito as a games writer for Console Monster.