Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Blazblue: Continuum Shift Extend Review

Blazblue: Continuum Shift Extend Review

            Blazblue is an excellent fighting game. Saying anything less than that is doing the game a great disservice. Arc System Works has created the 3rd and hopefully the final iteration of the Continuum Shift series for Blazblue. This 2-D sprite-based fighter finally returns to the consoles with all the updates of its arcade counterpart for a mere $40. Is it time for you to step into the ring or should you leave this out?

            The premise of Blazblue’s combat is similar to every 2-D fighter out there: two player enter the ring, bust out their moves, only one leaves victorious. What’s different about Blazblue is the level of entry that it offers with a unique fast-paced system called the Drive.  In a nutshell, the drive is a special move that separates each of the 17 characters from themselves. For example, Jin has the ability to freeze foes leaving them helpless, Ragna can steal the health, and Tager can pull enemies in using his magnetism. It’s through the Drive that the game’s dynamic combat thrives giving birth to plenty of unique combos and a certain level of flash.

            Beyond the Drive, the combat uses three other types of attack: weak, medium, and strong. By connecting these attacks in unique combinations you can dish out a long series of attacks that do a lot of damage or small sequences that keep it low. It’s all risk and reward as players can risk to pull off an insane combo that obliterates half of the opponent’s health but leaves you vulnerable as soon as they get up. On the other hand if you mix it up and do shorter combos, it leaves unsuspecting opponents much more open. It’s a satisfying psychological game where your strategy matters as much as your actual button inputs.

            Other combat mechanics include a barrier where you can deter chip damage and a Libra system that punishes you for blocking too much. It’s all about being aware of your surroundings since you take double damage when your barrier meter is used up and guarding can be tricky when your opponent is mixing up attacks. In addition there is the Burst system. At the start of the first round, each character has one burst. You have the option to use this burst offensively or defensively. When your opponent isn’t attacking you, using the burst can greatly extend your combo. On the other side of the token, the opponent is sent flying if they’re comboing you. Learning how to use the Bursts can change the tides of battle entirely and while there is a risk of losing if you use it offensively, the benefits are great.

            At the bottom of the screen is a gauge with a number by it. This is your Heat. Each action performed or against you raise your heat and this can be used to perform Distortion Drives, Rapid Cancels, and Astral Heat. Distortion Drives are special attacks that are mostly used as a finisher in the combo and dishes out a ton of damage. Astral Heats are a kill-move that can only be used when certain conditions are met. Lastly, Rapid Cancels allow you to cancel out of your current animation to extend combos. Blazblue offers a variety of systems and mechanics and no single one is left out. Each of them complement others therefore increasing the depth in Blazblue, something that not a lot of fighting games can brag about.

            The barrier to entry is non-existent due to how far you can get just from button mashing and it’s excellent Challenge Mode, teaching various combos of each character. Also, the difficulty of the AI can be changed so if the road ahead is far too harsh, you can always tone it down. However, despite it being easy to pick up and play, the learning curve is extremely steep and mastering a character will take more than a few practice sessions. Unfortunately it’s due to this that the Online Mode suffers. Many of the players will straight up decimate people if not trained and it’s a bit frustrating. It’s not the problem with the game itself but beware of those that hunt weaklings.

            Despite it being a fighting game, Blazblue is packed with content. There are tutorials for how to play the game, challenges to master characters, a score attack mode, a beefed up online mode, and more. While many of these modes are just different ways to fight, it mixes it up quite nicely allowing for varied play and it never gets stale too fast.

            Story is usually shallow and not an important aspect in fighting games but in Blazblue it’s a dedicated mode. The story mode essentially plays like a Japanese visual novel where character portraits are highlighted as they interact with others. In between conversations and dialogues, a fight can break out and you immediately play it out. It sounds all too simple but it’s good that Blazblue keeps the actual mode simple. The lore in Blazblue is filled to the brim and its simplicity makes it worth adventuring through. Each character has their one storyline to complete and act like pieces to a much larger puzzle. As you learn the history of the characters it’s easy to become invested in them. Many of the characters follow the typical anime stereotypes but for what it’s trying to accomplish, it’s a stellar job.

            The audio in Blazblue is amazing. The music varies from orchestral rock to opera rock. It’s all fast paced and really syncs with the fights to keep them going.  Along with the exhilarating soundtrack is the voice work of the characters. It comes in both Japanese and English so fans can change it to whichever track they want. Both do a great job in delivering fight dialogues to conversations in stories. Emotions are conveyed properly and even the squeaky anime girl voices match. If anything that’s at fault it would be the stereotype that Blazblue falls under. Typical anime girls with their annoying attitudes are still present and of course the voice work has to illustrate that.

            The graphics remain the same from the previous Blazblue games using anime sprites. Every character is animated very well and their moves have flair to them. Backgrounds are greatly detailed, sometimes using 3-D modeling, and it’s hard to overlook the presentation with the various symbols that Blazblue employs. It’s all artistic fun for the designers and you’ll get a thrill at looking some of the most outlandish environments and wardrobes.

            Blazblue is excellently crafted and everything it does is extremely well done. The audio is spectacular, the graphics despite being 2-D are greatly detailed, and the gameplay is tight. There’s nothing to complain about Blazblue Continuum Shift Extend unless you’re veterans of the series. There are only a few new changes and fans who hoped for more characters might be disappointed with the addition of only one. Still, if you’re ready to jump back in or if it’s your first time, Blazblue Continuum Shift Extend is a must buy fighter. 

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