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BlazBlue: Chrono Phantasma Review: More Characters, More Accessibility
After being released in Japan’s arcades back in November 2012, fans have waited for the newest iteration of the popular BlazBlue series with eagerness. That wait is finally over, as BlazBlue: Chrono Phantasma has finally reached North American shores for us to play. Was it worth the wait? Yep.
For those who are unaware, BlazBlue is a series of fighting games (with Chrono Phantasma being the third in the series) developed by Arc System Works and is known for its tight controls, aesthetically pleasing sprite graphics, and over-the-top characters. The game itself has players using Drives in addition to normal attacks . Drive attacks are often more character specific powers or traits, and give characters their flavor from a gameplay standpoint. Some of these powers include magnetizing opponents to pull enemies in, cursing the opponent and attacking from almost every direction on screen, or using wind to increase speed of both fighters and projectiles. The players build heat by doing attacks, getting hit, or blocking and using said heat for special attacks called distortion drives, the games version of specials or super attacks.
In addition to general balance changes, Arc System Works has given each character a couple new moves and has made controls feel more responsive than ever. They’ve added an “Overdrive” mechanic to the game. Overdrive is one of the bigger changes to the game this time around, which has replaced the game’s gold burst and is one of the more fun mechanics. Now a player has the option to enter an Overdrive state by pressing all four buttons, which offers each character a specific bonus unique to them, similar to instinct in Killer Instinct. The state also lasts longer, as a player’s health gets lower and stops the clock from ticking down while it is active. The trade off to these overdrives is that it shares use with your burst, an ability that allows you to get out of an opponent’s combo, so using Overdrive means you must wait for the burst meter to recharge before one can use Overdrive or burst again. Most of the time, it seems like players will still go for the safer burst option, but having the ability to do Overdrive allows for some fun and damaging combos. Examples of Overdrives include Carl Clover’s, which allows his puppets meter, which decreases after each attack performed to recharge at a must faster rate. Several distortion drives have also been retooled and now serve as character Overdrives such as Ragna’s “Blood Kain”, Litchi’s “Great Wheel”,Taokaka’s “Almost Becoming Two!” or Bang’s “Fu-Rin-Ka-Zan”.
Guard Breaking has been removed entirely now, and has been replaced with the Crush Trigger option. Now at any point a player can hit two specific buttons (A+B), and they will perform a move that costs twenty-five heat and will break the enemy’s guard if it connects. This offers a lot of characters some new options for their combos to trip up their foes. Teching (recovering from a combo) has been changed as well, and players no longer need to mash in the hopes of recovering on the quickest frames possible. Now it is possible to recover simply by holding an attack button while on the ground, similar to Arc System’s Persona 4: Arena. This is good for a lot of new people, since it allows them to not get jobbed by their friends and not get hit by constant combo resets. While this helps the newbies out, it may hurt certain reset options which became prevalent in higher tiers of play depending on the exact window that is allowed for recovery.
The challenges, a method of training and learning combos, have also become more accessible to those who are not very savvy when it comes to fighting games. While the initial challenges include learning the basics of a certain character and introductory combos, as you progress into the higher stages of challenges they become more open ended. Instead of high tier challenges saying “do this specific combo,” they offer a lot more freedom to the player and tell you something like “dish out a combo that does over x damage” or “combo into your astral”. This is a step in the right direction for new people in fighting games. One down side a lot of people have with fighting games is with “bread and butters” (BnBs), which is the best combo a character can do for a given situation. While the combo may do the most damage, it makes the gameplay look stale when over multiple rounds, every player does the same specific combos for a specific character and there is little variation on it. The new challenges certainly won’t stop professionals from doing BnBs, but at least it’s a step in the right direction to keep new entrants into the fighting game community interested.
The character roster has been bolstered by quite a bit for a fighting game going from nineteen to twenty-six. The game introduces five new playable characters: Izayoi, Amane Nishiki, Azrael, Kagura Mutsuki, and Bullet and are available right away or by completing story mode. Each of these characters bring something new to the table for BlazBlue; Izayoi, the evolved form of Tsubaki Yayoi, flows between offense and defense as you fill up her character specific meter and switch between her modes to use that meter. Amane Nishiki, a performer drawn to battles like they’re a dance, has long range space control and a drive which turns his clothing into drills that allows for monstrous chip damage. Bullet, a mercenary looking for answers to her past, is a fast moving character who uses her drive to rush foes and grab them while building charges that improve certain moves. Kagura Mutsuki, one of the NOLs generals, who uses his drive to put himself into stances which open unlock certain moves and is a charge character. Finally we have Azrael, a fist-fighting bruiser who exposes his opponent’s weak points with his drive that allows for even greater follow-up damage when you hit the previously exposed weak points.
There are also two new downloadable characters: Yuuki Terumi, the alter ego of Hazama is a flashy character with more distortion drives than special moves and specializes in generating large amounts of heat while stealing his opponents heat from them. The last DLC character is Kokonoe. Yes, the science cat is finally gracing us with her presence on the battlefield, and offers a lot of area control with projectiles and the ability to have her Graviton Drive either attract or repel enemies as well as her own projectiles.
Certain aspects of BlazBlue: Chrono Phantasma seem to lag behind the rest, though. The sprites themselves are starting to show their age a bit. They still have that clean polish we’ve come to expect from Arc System’s sprites, but considering what we’ve seen so far of Guilty Gear Xrd which ArcSys has coming down the pipeline, I can’t help but not be as impressed as I was the last two times these sprites were rolled out. Some of the voice work is also not that great and had me switching to Japanese audio for the story mode where its nothing but dialogue. A lot of the music also feels out of place now, as all character’s original themes have been remixed. While some may jump for joy at the prospect, others may not be so keen on hearing themes they’ve come to enjoy get the remix treatment.
What doubly makes this sting is the DLC options. You can buy all that old music that you liked from the previous games for a fee. If the music and themes were different it may not be as bad, but to remix the music and then sell the old music again as DLC just feels like a cash grab that plays on our nostalgia. Also, to have a DLC character available a week after launch and to make it $8 for a character that’s already on disc (the DLC purchase just unlocks them) is kind of depressing. Despite the fact that all the DLC is optional, it still feels silly that a $50 game contains $90 in DLC.
However, despite the exorbitant amount of DLC, its graphics starting to show a bit of age, and some of the musical remixes not being stellar, there isn’t a whole lot wrong with BlazBlue: Chrono Phantasma. The excellent controls make the game play better than ever, the roster being increased by over 30% is great, challenges being more open ended keeps game play a bit more fresh, and the lengthy storyline will engross people as well. If you’re looking for a new fighting game to sink some hours into, then Chrono Phantasma definitely deserves a look.