In case you hadn’t heard, BlazBlue: Calamity Trigger – a new fighting game from the dudes that brought us Guilty Gear – was released. Also, for those who missed it, it was pretty damn good. It had a lot to offer for casual players with its multitude of single player options and expansive story mode, and a great deal of depth and complexity for those who like to play fighting games for blood. I have to admit, though: I stopped playing it only two months after it came out. The reason? A sequel was announced – BlazBlue: Continuum Shift – which would be coming out in November 2009.
As a competitive player, it felt silly to practice the old version when a new version existed. Thankfully, Continuum Shift was announced for a console release, and the wait is finally over. If I may spoil my opinion on the game early, in my opinion, it’s virtually the same as the original, with some nice changes, and a few changes that made me go “Huh?” If you were a fan of Guilty Gear or the original BlazBlue, it goes without saying that you’ll enjoy the new iteration. So, instead of wasting time repeating all the basic impressions of the game, here’s what’s changed, along with my perspectives on it.
From a story perspective, Continuum Shift takes place only days after the events of the original, meaning that everyone has whole new story arcs to go through in the Story Mode. Personally, I can’t be asked to keep up with the needlessly convoluted story and cheesy-as-hell dialogue; but, if you enjoyed it before, it’s just as good now, and with a few improvements. Clearing a character’s story doesn’t require a character to see every single bit of dialogue, so now , all that’s needed to clear a story is to see each character’s good and bad endings, as well as their funny ending if they have one. Clearing certain characters’ story arcs unlocks the ‘True Ending’ sequence, and once that’s cleared, a new character is unlocked.
If that sounds like a chore, the option is always there to buy that character as DLC. There’s also a character which can be only be acquired by purchasing them for a whopping $7, which seems a bit…cruel. There are special versions of each character, along with the character acquired for beating the Story Mode, which can be purchased for a low price. If players don’t want to buy them, they can invest the time in unlocking them in the One-Player modes. However, having a character which can’t be unlocked, and costs the amount of money it would cost to get several of the special characters is discouraging.
Moving on, there are three new gameplay modes. First off is Legion Mode, a strange One-Player team battle mode. Players start out with one character, and move a cross a map to fight other ‘armies’. When the players beat an army, they can recruit one character from the enemy army, and also obtain the enemy army’s spot on the map. Legion Mode is won by occupying all spots on the map. I don’t really know if this is a well-fleshed out mode or anything; enemies don’t attempt to get space back, so it’s not actually a strategy game. It’s more like there’s a list of gangs to fight with and we choose which order we’d like to fight them in. Still it’s bound to attract people who enjoy achievements, because there’s an achievement for beating it on all three difficulties.
Next up is the Tutorial Mode. I can’t say enough about this; it’s quite excellent. It not only explains all the game basics and the myriad of game mechanics that are specific to only BlazBlue, but it also teaches some very important general strategies which can be applied to all fighting games. As it teaches new concepts (split into Beginner, Intermediate, and Advanced), it allows players to try and practice the concepts at the same time. The Tutorial also has a character-specific section which, although the information is great, glosses over the information a bit quickly. It’s useful, but unlike the thorough basic tutorials, expect to have to re-read these ones.
The last of the new gameplay modes is the Challenge Mode. Taking a cue from Street Fighter 4, BlazBlue‘s Challenge Mode gives each character a set of ‘Missions’ in which they learn all about the crazy things a character can do. It starts out simple, with just an overview of the character’s special moves and supers. Then, it starts moving into the combos, which can (and will) ramp up in difficulty very quickly.
I hesitate to say that this is a good mode for a casual player, because these combos are the real thing. Being able to not only execute these combos, but recall and use them in a real match, is a great feat. The combos seen in Challenge Mode (or at least, the concepts behind them) are what’s being used in high-level play, so you’re well on your way if you can do them. It’s a nice change from Street Fighter 4‘s Challenge Mode, which had a few practical things mixed in with a lot of wacky, exotic crap.
Speaking of difficulty, that’s probably the biggest gameplay hurdle. BlazBlue’s gameplay works very well for casual players, because of the simple button interface and ‘Drive’ Attacks, the ‘Do Cool Stuff’ button which does different, unique things for each character. It’s easy for beginners to feel competent when a button does complicated things for them. This isn’t a slight against beginners or BlazBlue, in my opinion; it’s a definite plus.
However, for anyone wanting to break into competitive play, there’s a huge execution barrier to be broken through. If a player is smart at general fighting game concepts but is unable to pull of the more advanced combo attacks, they’ll get steamrolled for not being able to dish out enough damage. Thus, BlazBlue really stinks for the mid-level players, struggling get their wings as they figure out all the specific timings and combinations of their favorite characters.
Speaking of characters, there’s a few new ones. Besides the DLC-only character, Makoto, and Mu-12, the character unlocked for beating the Story Mode, there’s also two new characters playable from the start, named Tsubaki and Hazama: those who played the original might remember them from the Story Mode. The new characters fit well into the lineup, being neither overpowered nor excessively weak.
All the returning characters got plenty of changes, too. There were a lot of really cool changes, but Continuum Shift unfortunately follows the Guilty Gear trend of buffing the worst character too much, while nerfing the best characters into oblivion. Rachel, the best character in the original, is almost certainly the worst character in Continuum Shift, while some of the weaker characters like Bang and Hakumen are now really powerful. Characters who weren’t even particularly strong before, like Noel, also got hit really hard with the nerf stick. Balance is a tricky thing to discuss in a review, because it’s dynamic. For the time being though, while the balance isn’t terrible, there are more than a few perplexing changes, to be sure.
There are a few changes to general gameplay, as well. The Guard Libra system, a meter which showed how much one character was blocking over the other (like a tug-o-war), has been replaced by Guard Primers. Each character has a specific amount of Guard Primers, which are lost when blocking certain attacks. Once a character loses their last Guard Primer, their guard is broken, leaving them open to an attack. This change is wonderful, because it allows characters’ defenses to be more specifically tailored.
Bursts, special maneuvers which can be done to knock opponents back, are reworked to be more like how they worked in Guilty Gear. Players start out with one burst, and get a second one after losing a round. Bursts can be carried over from previous rounds, and thankfully no longer force players to take extra damage afterwards. If a player uses a Burst during hitstun/blockstun, their character’s max Guard Primers are reduced by half for the remainder of the round. These reworkings are wonderful, as they were the two mechanics in the original BlazBlue that didn’t seem to be backed by a lot of careful forethought.
Lastly, there’s a big change to the way ranked matches are done. People wanting to play on ranked now search for opponents using a number of specifications, including area, rating, and connection speed. However, instead of showing a list of available players, Ranked Matches will now pair players up with someone at random. Once that happens, a player can’t back out. Both of these seem a bit ridiculous. The only problem with ranked in the original was that people could spam challenges on a player who didn’t want to match with them. Instead, ranked has been remade for the worse, and it’s already hard to find opponents. Thankfully, quarter matches are still very easy to find.
That’s BlazBlue: Continuum Shift in a nutshell. It still has the same fast-paced, frenetic gameplay that emulated crazy anime action scenes. Now, it just brings a ton of new modes and same balance changes to the tables. The only thing that’s definitively worse about Continuum Shift is the ranked matchmaking, but I doubt that will stop people from playing the game online if they really want to. There was no reason for fighting game fans to pass up the first installment, and there’s even less reason to now. Do it.
Along with the stylish art comes an awful lot of visual clutter, unfortunately.
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The feel and difficulty curve are about the same as before, but with some cool new improvements. Ranked matches need to be reworked more than ever, though.
It's the same excellent metal soundtrack as before, but with a few new themes in honor of the new characters.
All fighters last as long as a player wants to keep competing. However, there's not much more the single player enthusiast could possibly ask for.
BlazBlue: Continuum Shift is a worthy upgrade from Calamity Trigger, and is probably the best fighter on the market for catering to casual and competitive players alike. Here's hoping a new version isn't announced in two months.