Thunderbolt logo

BlazBlue: Continuum Shift

Revenge. For Ragna the Bloodedge, it’s the only thing that matters. His life has been ruined…and he’s finally figured out who to blame. It’s not just about the huge bounty the Librarium put on him; he can deal with being hunted down like an animal, harassed by vigilantes and wannabe heroes. Ragna is more than capable enough of handling those pests. He’s a one-man killing machine; armed with the limitless magic of the Azure Grimore, he’s almost wiped out what’s left of the corrupt government. It’s not just about his family, either. His little sister has been dead for years, and Jin…well, Jin is still trying to kill him. But after the events of Calamity Trigger, Ragna has discovered a far harsher truth: someone’s been manipulating him the entire time. Orchestrating the tragedies of his life, pitting him against impossible odds, and forcing him into a battle that nearly destroyed both him and the very fabric of reality. With the other characters still trying to get a piece of him, Ragna resumes his destructive crusade for justice.

screenshot

Everyone else didn’t get off so easily, either. Continuum Shift picks up just a few days after the events of the last game, and the cast is still reeling from what went down. Noel’s hidden strengths and connection to the Azure Grimore play a crucial role in the progression of the story. Carl has become equally important; his past, motives, and questionable mental stability offer some of the saddest and darkest aspects of the plot. That’s on top of the already extensive background information; the BlazBlue universe has a depth that rivals some RPGs. The Story Mode covers all of it, via either the pre-fight dialogues between characters or Litchi and Kokonoe’s hilariously offbeat expository scenes. Since every character has their own branching storylines, you’ll have to play through multiple times with different fighters to get a full understanding of what’s going on. It can get kind of tedious at times, but finally unlocking the true ending makes it all worth it.

But if you want to get right into the fighting, the Arcade Mode is far more accessible. The entire roster from Calamity Trigger has returned, but the new characters steal the show. Hazama might look like a harmless Michael Jackson impersonator, but he can summon chains to swing around the stage or grab his foes a la Scorpion from Mortal Kombat. After spending the last game as a NPC, Tsubaki takes down her foes with chargeable attacks. Then there’s Lambda, who is nothing more than toned down version of the main boss from the previous game. While that might seem like a cheap way to design a character, it represents one of the main points of Continuum Shift: revisiting the old mechanics and reworking them. Many of the characters have been tweaked to make the fights better balanced. Tager’s vastly improved speed makes him much more competitive against projectile spam-happy opponents. Bang’s parrying and counters have gotten more range and priority, making him even more of a manly badass. Rachel and Arakune, on the other hand, are nowhere near as deadly as before. If you mastered these characters the last time around, be prepared for a few surprises.

screenshot

Regardless of any changes, the roster still retains what made it so great: its variety. Despite its small size – aside from the original dozen there are only six new fighters, half of which are downloadable content – each character has completely unique playing style. The combat mechanics remain unchanged from the previous game. Rather than having the usual commands for weak, medium, and strong attacks, the game assigns buttons with the letters A, B, C, and D. An A attack might be a quick jab or kick, while the C moves could be a powerful thrust. Depending on how you press the directional pad, your character might do a sweeping leg kick, and uppercut, an aerial slash, or several other moves. There’s an optional Beginners Mode that eliminates the need for complex inputs and lets you perform combos with simple button mashing. Hardcore gamers might not like it, but it makes things accessible for the less experienced. Regardless, it’s the D moves that you’ve got to watch out for. These “Drive” attacks utilize a fighter’s special abilities and augments their playing strategies. Ragna suffers from abysmal defensive stats, but his Drive moves steal a bit of his opponent’s health on contact. Since Tager deals mainly with grapples, it’s appropriate that his limited range be improved with the power to magnetize his foes and drag them into his mechanized clutches. Not to mention Arakune, who can perform extensive combos with a torrent of insect monstrosities. These kinds of attacks not only look awesome, but they can give you a serious advantage if played well.

They won’t keep you alive, though. The game places a heavy emphasis linking attacks into longer combos. Timing and order is everything. Depending on how you input the button commands, a simple punch could send a character keeling over or leaving them stunned long enough to dash forward and launch a devastating combo. It’s not just about the A-D attacks, either; each fighter has some awesome supermoves – including the triumphant return of Bang’s utterly epic theme song powerup – as well as instant kills. The guarding tactics have been altered with the newly revamped Break Burst mechanics; while a Burst gives you temporary invincibility, it limits your ability to perform special attacks and defend against guard-breaking attacks afterward. That’s on top of all the countering, move canceling, air dashing, rolling, tactical falls, and the sheer amount of other strategic options at your fingertips. Beneath the stylish presentation and seemingly simple button layout, there’s a technical depth in which few fighting games care to indulge. There’s a ton of stuff to figure out, and it’ll take you countless hours before you get anywhere close to mastering it. Given how utterly ruthless the AI can be, you’ll have to learn quickly.

screenshot

That’s why you need to practice. A lot. While veterans of the last game will do fine with the obligatory Training Mode, newcomers will likely get more out of the new Tutorial. It explains every aspect of the game in detail, from the simplest of attacks to complete strategies for each character. You can test your skills in the Challenge Mode, which has you perform specific commands and combos a la Street Fighter IV. There’s also the Legion mini-game, which pits you against different groups of enemies, recruit fighters to your team, and win as many fights as possible. It’s an unorthodox combination of the Survival and Team Battle modes you’d normally find in other fighting games, but at least it fulfills its purpose. But if you’ve played the previous title, you already know where the real meat of the game is: the multiplayer. Calamity Trigger set a new standard for what fighting games could do online, and Continuum Shift pulls it off just as well. Given the importance of timing and combos, it’s not surprising how smooth and lag-free the fights run. Leaderboards, voice chat, and match recording make things even better. Not to mention the Gallery, which is crammed with videos, artwork, screenshots, dialogues, trophies, and countless other unlockables. With so much stuff to do, it’ll take you ages to finish everything.

You’ll want to, too. One of the best aspects of the BlazBlue series is its incredibly detailed and high-quality presentation. While there isn’t a bonus disc for it like Calamity Trigger, the soundtrack retains its unique blend of heavy metal, opera and jazz. There’s a ton of dialogue and explanations in the Story Mode, but the superb voice acting makes it entertaining. Play Bang for five minutes; his rants about love, justice, and manliness are pure comedic gold. Or hear Jin as he devolves from arrogant jerk to full-blown homicidal maniac whenever he gets too close to Ragna. Even the pre-fight conversations, mid-battle one-liners, and win quotes are all character-specific. The background stages are just as detailed; a downtown slum is lit with the glowing neon storefront signs, an airship soars through a steady downpour, and the inner sanctum of the Librarium is cast in flickering candlelight. The animations are still as slick as ever, too. Just watch Hazama’s chain summoning moves; his flowing overcoat and fedora make him as stylish as he is deadly. Arakune’s inky black mess of a body shifts and changes color with a fluidity unlike anything else. It hasn’t changed much from Calamity Trigger, but it makes other fighting games look like trash.

screenshot

Given what it had to work with, that isn’t surprising. Continuum Shift takes everything that made the previous game kick so much ass and makes it even better. The entire roster has returned, and the new characters offer even more unique and unorthodox playing styles. The Story Mode is back with a vengeance, offering even more depth and information than ever. While the combat mechanics haven’t been changed remain the same, they’ve been subtly tweaked. The characters have been rebalanced with different moves and combos, which means that veterans of the series will have something new to master. The revamped defensive tactics ought to be a handful too. While the technical depth of the gameplay is among the best in the genre, the Beginners and Tutorial Modes offer a decent introduction for curious newcomers. The sheer amount of gameplay modes, unlockables, and superb online multiplayer will keep you coming back time and again. If you have any interest in fighting games, get this. BlazBlue is finally back.

9 out of 10

The author of this fine article

is a Senior Staff Writer at Thunderbolt, having joined in February 2005.

Gentle persuasion

You should follow us on Twitter.