Review Companion - BlazBlue: Continuum Shift Extend
Welcome to Review Companion, where I tell the PixlBit audience about how I played a game I recently reviewed. This is so you, as the reader, can see where my point of view is coming from as you read the review on PixlBit. I also may include any additional thoughts I have on the title that proved to be inconsequencial to the review itself or I just felt didn't need to be mentioned. They may also be something that came to mind after the review was completed! You never know! Our inaugural entry in the Review Companion series will be BlazBlue: Continuum Shift Extend.
As I mentioned in my review, I have never played a BlazBlue title. I heard about the series when Calamity Trigger was released. However, Arc System Works also released another title around the same time, that title being Battle Fantasia. I did play that and although it was a bit simplistic, especially for the creator of Guilty Gear, I enjoyed it a lot. BlazBlue continued to be a title "I'd get to" and I wasn't even aware a sequel was released. So when I was searching through the upcoming release dates of titles and found this updated version of the sequel, I decided now would be the time to finally play an entry in the series.
When I finally got the game, I was sick at the time and I didn't get around to playing it until the day after. I was still ill but I managed to play through the arcade mode on normal difficulty with Ragna the Bloodedge. I also went through the Beginner tutorial. The first thing that came to mind is how much the title resembled the Guilty Gear series. Ragna looks almost exactly like Sol Badguy, from the weapon used to the spiky hair and jacket with zippered pockets. The remainder of the cast look varied but still were clearly influenced from Arc's previous series. I kept thinking to myself, "This is all fine and servicable but why does this have to be a separate series? You could've told me this is Guilty Gear 3 with a new cast and a new generation ala Street Fighter III and I would've believed you."
Beginner's tutorial nearly put me to sleep so I was glad when I finished it. Arcade mode was fun but I was mostly just pushing buttons and timing things in a way I would've in other fighting games, like KOF or Street Fighter. I got stuck on the final boss though, which pissed me off since half the time I was losing because of that damn sphere around him that drains your health when you're in it. He himself isn't a hard fighter. It's just that damn thing that makes him hard. That was my initial impression but I only played for maybe an hour. I stopped since I still didn't feel well and really started the game in earnest the following day.
Early the next day, I popped in the disc again and started sampling each mode. I also continued with the tutorial mode. Everything seemed to be the standard fare, Versus, Time Attack, etc. Challenge mode is basically a tutorial mode that challenges you to at first just do each characters special attacks before moving up to combos and more difficult attacks. Whenever I see this type of "Trial" mode, it reminds me of Street Fighter EX+Alpha on the original PlayStation, as that's the first time I remember seeing something like that. It was at this time that I started seeing comparisons to King of Fighters XIII, which I recently reviewed, as well as differences from other fighters as a whole.
The mode choices are almost identical to KOFXIII. I also noticed that in arcade mode, there was dialogue between the characters as well. However, KOFXIII has it before every round. That's very intrusive to gameplay. BlazBlue CSE is just before the 4th, 8th, 9th, and 10th matches. It's less intrusive that way and I didn't feel like the story was being forced on me like I did with KOFXIII. What's more is there's voice acting in BlazBlue. This makes the dialogue more interesting.
Both games are also very mobile in that they both have a lot of options as to how to move, jump and position yourself. Oddly enough though, while BlazBlue CSE gives you more options, KOFXIII is still more manageable as just moving forward and backwards in BlazBlue is essentially useless.
It was also around this time that I noticed that tutorial mode was actually teaching me something. Beginner training can be painstakingly thorough as it covers stuff like "how to jump" but it is useful since I didn't know this game had things like a strength regulated link combo system. That is to say, you can do a combo by pressing X, Y, B in that sequence because those are weak, mid and strong attacks. Normal attacks cancel into another attack as long as it's stronger in damage. While I was going through the intermediate training, I learned about the different gauges, which at this point didn't know what they did at all. Hell, I didn't even know about the barrier guarding in the game and what its gauge was for!
As I learned more about the game's mechanics, I started enjoying all the various facets of the game I had to think about. All these tools at my disposal. There were some things I found I didn't like, such as the drive move allowing you to regain health. That feels like cheating to me. Some moves have to use that button though so I can't avoid it unfortunately. I like that there isn't punch buttons or kick buttons and there's just weak, medium and hard attacks if only because it's different. Also, being somewhat similar to the controls in the PS2 era Mortal Kombats, it allows different kinds of attacks for each character and doesn't regulate them to have to be a punch or a kick or a weapon attack.
The following day I tried the UnlimitedMars mode and the Abyss mode. Truly a yin and yang scenario. I spent maybe 10 minutes on UnlimitedMars mode trying to beat the first opponent, which was a super hard Taokaka. After a few tries, I gave up. This was WAY out of my league and quite frankly, extremely demoralizing. Like I said in the review, why does this have to be its own mode. Why not have a difficulty setting in the options menu called "Unlimited"? The mode has you go through 10 fights anyway, which is the same as arcade mode so why not? Also, this would allow expert players to fight under various conditions as this difficulty would apply to all of the other modes in the game. Just saying.
Abyss mode was quite a shock. I was immediately hooked with going through matches and improving my stats with pickups. Then it gave me the option to save. I'm not sure why I like this so much but I do. This gives the mode a sense of accessibility. I can jump into Abyss mode, do a few rounds, save and come back when I feel like it. It doesn't have to be this intense marathon of a mode, though its designed as such. That's all I did that day as I was busy with other things but I was under the impression that I was pretty much done. All I had to experience was the Story mode and online play. How wrong I was.
I started the story mode the next day with the Calamity Trigger storyline and was granted to a beautifully done anime movie introduction. I should make something clear right now: I'm not a fan of Anime. I don't hate it but it's never appealed to me. This was done really well though and I enjoyed it. The story then kicks off and at first it all sounded like a bunch of gibberish but I started to understand the plot points and the characters and after awhile (read: two hours), I really started to get into it. It's not a super great story mode and the sequences can drag, especially with the exposition and actual fighting being grossly disproportionate, but the plot is engaging and that what fuels the Calamity Trigger story. Imagine that!
Maybe because the subject came up the previous night during a recording of PixlTalk but one thing that I noticed while going through the story mode is the way women are presented and characterized. I will say that I like that many of the women in this game are not dress provocatively and are not flirty or promiscuous in nature. Sure, a google image search on Noel will say differently but in game, she isn't really presented that way. How she is presented is a scared little girl completely intimidated by her male "superior" Hazama, scared of her male target objective Jin and doubting if she should arrest the third male wild card in this mission, Ragna, who is a known criminal. Keep in mind she's supposed to be a lieutenant.
Even in a scene that show her friends in the academy, who are presented as more energetic and confident (Makoto and Tsubaki, respectively) freeze in the presence of Jin. Why are women presented to be so weak, specifically in front of men? Hell, Tsubaki is childhood friends with Jin! She probably at some point saw this dude cry like a baby after he skinned his knee or something. Why is she so guarded around him? What's worse is this is in direct contrast to the actual gameplay. Noel is a fucking badass in game. She dual wields two guns and is an awesome character. Her super move has her pulling out this big ass gun and mowing down her opponent in a flurry of bullets!
Backtracking a bit, there are two characters that are clearly the eye candy of the game, Litchi and Makoto. Both have provocative outfits and Litchi, in particular, has bigger assets, as demonstrated in a rather groan inducing sequence in the Calamity Trigger story. Neither act like they dress though and that's nice. Still, Litchi will be the target of many "creative" depictions on the internet, as will Makoto if you're into squirrel chicks (?). Also, in terms of strong women in this game, you have Rachel Alucard, who seeks to intimidate and talk down anyone she encounters, and Litchi is a pretty strong character and also compassionate. She's a doctor by profession. ANYWHO! I'm rambling at this point so back to what I was saying...
After playing Story mode for awhile, I learned more about the characters so I went into Versus mode and tried out the entire cast one by one. This is when I discovered that I really liked Tsubaki. I figured out how the extra gauge worked with the drive button and I used it to my advantage. By this point, I had a good understanding as to how to play the game and I really started to excell with Tsubaki. I also liked that since the drive button charged her additional gauge, she didn't have a move that recharged her health. I liked that. I tried to get online at that point but had no luck.
The following day, I tried to get online again. I managed to find one fight but it was against someone using Mu-12 and was vastly better than me. The match was me blocking almost all the attacks thrown at me until I couldn't which resulted in 40+ hit combos and me only being able to hit them two or three times. After that, I went back into story mode, went through the Calamity Trigger story a bit but then started the Continuum Shift story starting with Ragna. I noticed that you probably need to play through the Calamity Trigger story to understand what's going on but that's included so it's not really the game's fault. The individual character arcs feature more fighting than the CT story so that I find an improvement but the story in Calamity Trigger seemed more engaging because of that.
After that, I started my writing my review but when I reached the portion where I wanted to talk about online play, I couldn't. So I went back online and tried to find more fights. I found another one in a player match room, spectator mode and all but that was all. So I relinquished and wrote what I could.
In conclusion, this game reminded me of when I was introduced to the Guilty Gear series back in 2004 by my friend Don (the same one who built my new PC FYI). He had a copy of Guilty Gear X2#Reload and after playing it with him, the following year I bought it for myself. The second half of my senior year in high school, I spent a good amount of time playing that game. Now, I'll admit that I wasn't in love with the game but the fighting genre was not as big as it is now and Guilty Gear was a refreshing take on a dormant genre. I always felt overwhelmed with the game and despite my learning how to play it, I was never able to rise to that level of brilliance in Guilty Gear. Also, although I liked that they included a story mode, the plot was complete gibberish, a convoluted mess of a story that was definitely second fiddle to the combat.
BlazBlue has a lot in common with Guilty Gear but after I was done playing, I realized that I enjoyed this game more than Guilty Gear X2#Reload. With all the similarities, BlazBlue does it better. So I say the reason it's a separate series, to hearken back to the question I proposed at the top of this blog, is because BlazBlue is a better series. Don't get me wrong. I wouldn't say it's a replacement and with Accent Core Plus coming to XBLA, I'll be getting that when I get the opportunity to but having to choose between the two, BlazBlue wins every time. I really enjoyed this title and personally, I would give this title a half star higher grade. However, the complexity and sense of confusion I first experienced made me feel that many will give up on the title and wouldn't push through to find the enjoyment I found. This kind of inaccessibility made me dock half a point. To reiterate, get this game if you're a fighting game fan. At $40, it's a bargain and if you already own the original Continuum Shift, the story mode alone makes this worth an upgrade.