BlazBlue: Continuum Shift Extend Review
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On 02/27/2012 at 11:38 PM by Esteban Cuevas
Awesome fighting mechanics and a variety of modes make this one of the best fighting games released recently.
For hardcore fighting fans only - it's mostly inaccessible to all others.
BlazBlue: Continuum Shift Extend is an updated version of the original Continuum Shift that was released in 2010 with extra content. I myself am a big fan of the fighting game genre but I've yet to play a BlazBlue title. Although I was initially not impressed, as I continued to play, the game opened up and I was rewarded with a complex, but gratifying combat system, an intriguing story mode and a colorful cast of combatants.
By design, BlazBlue is a complicated fighter with many variables to consider. Not only is the gameplay fast-paced but you are also managing not one--but four, and sometimes five different gauge meters at once. Although it can be overwhelming and admittedly too much, you'll never lack for options as to what you can do in any situation. Every time I jumped into this game, it was an entertaining, adrenaline-fueled affair that gave me exhilaration similar to what I've experienced playing Left 4 Dead.
BlazBlue has a unique button layout as it's designed around weak, medium and strong attacks along with a drive attack that also heals your character if it connects. The rounds consist of quick button presses, frantic tapping of the directional pad (or analog/arcade stick if you're insane/smart), and immediate reaction times as you adjust to your position offensively or defensively. It helps that backgrounds are beautifully rendered and the insanity is presented impressively with vivid colors, a bone-crushing speed metal soundtrack, and flashy sequences for super moves.
There are 19 fighters for you to choose from, including Relius Clover, who is a new addition to Continuum Shift Extend. Immediately apparent are the similarities to the Guilty Gear series with its Japanese animation style. This is most prevalent in the main character, Ragna, who resembles Sol from Guilty Gear. Although the cast resembles that of Arc System Works' past series, they are a varied bunch that are all beautifully and distinctly designed.
There's Taokaka, a giant cat-like creature, Hakumen, a robot with a samurai sword, and Carl Clover, a young vigilante with a robot-like "doll" that he refers to as his sister. My personal favorites are the aforementioned Ragna the Bloodedge, the gun-wielding Noel Vermillion, ice powered Jin Kisaragi, and above all others, Tsubaki Yayoi - one of the characters with an additional gauge to maintain.
Needless to say, there's a pretty wide assortment of characters in this game, which is magnified by the fact that some of them have different or additional gauges to monitor and different rules and unique abilities. Each combatant's diverse move set guarantees no two characters play alike, creating some balance issue with certain characters. Taokaka, for instance, has a move that can be spammed without counter. I was able to do this long enough to take more than half of my opponent's health away. (Speaking of balancing, I don't like that the final boss in this game is only hard because he has the ability to drain your health when you're near him. He himself isn't cheap, so what's that about?)
At first, I was lost playing this game. My previous experiences with other titles only helped get me so far. I was able to execute low count combos and a few special attacks, but I had no idea how to utilize all of the different gauges and I didn't even know of some of the available mechanics. As time went on, I learned the intricacies of the battle system and the result was very rewarding. Casual fighting game fans will be overwhelmed, however, and will probably give up before they learn enough to enjoy themselves.
This is in large part due to the many different systems the fighting engine has. There's a heat meter for super moves and cancels, two guard meters, an auto weak-to-strong combo system, double jumps, air dashing, juggling, various recovery moves, and much more. Even worse, a base set of rules can barely be established because many of them do not apply to all of the characters in the game. What I will say is if you have played a Guilty Gear title, you'll be right at home.
Thankfully there is a tutorial mode and it's quite an extensive one at that. It's actually quite useful and many players (including me) will need to go through it to truly understand how to play the game. There are also individual tutorials for each character. Unfortunately, it's awfully long and boring, making it tough to go through in one sitting.
Continuum Shift Extend has a number of entertaining modes. The usual suspects are present (Arcade, Versus, Training, Challenge, Time Attack) but there are a few interesting additions as well. Abyss mode is reminiscent of the Tower of Lost Souls mode in SoulCalibur IV, except you have access to an item shop that allows you to upgrade your character's various attributes as you fight stronger opponents, as well as allowing you to save your progress.
This mode took me by surprise, and I really enjoyed the constant change in opponents, which include Unlimited characters (which are super-powered versions of the cast) and it's a refreshing take on what is essentially a survival mode. Needless to say, it's very well done - as it's based solely on fighting - and of substantial length, which will keep you coming back.
The new Story mode tells the story of BlazBlue and although there isn't as much fighting as I wish there was (especially in the Calamity Trigger story), you will spend most of your time here for the hours of extra content. There's the aforementioned Calamity Trigger story, which acts as a (very long) prologue to the game's story and then separate quests for each character in the game as you unlock them. An animated movie is actually used as an intro and it is well produced.
Furthermore, although the plot is essentially told through still photos on stage backgrounds, the characters do talk with mouth movement and it does help deliver the dialogue in a interesting way, unlike the story mode in King of Fighters XIII. These cut scenes are well done and look gorgeous, characters are on the better side of the anime echelon and the story itself is actually pretty engaging - it's much more sensible than it initially appears to be. In this mode, fights are treated as a means to get to the next conversation, but that proves to be a worthwhile reward. This addition to the original Continuum Shift makes upgrading to this title worth it all on its own.
Unfortunately, UnlimitedMars (another new mode) is puzzling in that I'm not sure why it even exists. This mode consists of the players going against 10 super versions of characters on a difficulty setting harder than the hardest setting available in the options menu. To put it simply, I couldn't even come close to beating the very first opponent in the mode. Rather than its own mode, the ultra-difficulty setting should've been added as a choice for the existing Arcade mode.
I unfortunately can't give an accurate depiction of my experiences with online play as I found it hard to connect to matches. In the instances when I did, it all ran smoothly with little to no lag. Given these issues, a better matchmaking service would've been welcomed, preferably something similar to what some first person shooters do. When you do finally connect to a match, you're often paired off against enemies that you have no chance of beating, making the mode just plain unappealing.
When playing any of the aforementioned modes, you'll earn points that can be used to unlock artwork in the gallery, as well as points towards your rank. As you level up, your rank is shown on your online profile and you're given access to more content in the gallery. Leveling seems to serve no real purpose, merely acting as a means to give some sort of superficial number that tells you how long you've played the game.
This was my introduction to the series and it's an extraordinary first impression. BlazBlue is like a more refined version of Guilty Gear X2#Reload in its gameplay, presentation, and story. If you are looking for a serious alternative to the popular fighting games out right now, you'll find it here. Some might be put-off by the complex fighting mechanics and anime visuals, but veterans of the fighting genre will find a lot to love. After being disappointed in the recent King of Fighters XIII, it was a pleasure to play a complex, feature-filled fighting game with interesting characters and an intriguing story.