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BlazBlue: Continuum Shift Extend

It finally happened. After thousands of loops and paradoxes, the flow of time reset itself. Mankind had the chance to move beyond the wars and chaos that plagued the world. But it didn’t. The fate of everything now rests on the shoulders of a few heroes and villains. Few of them even realize it; Ragna the Bloodedge is still seeking vengeance against those who destroyed his life. Jin Kisaragi has been driven insane by his own ambition and the magical weapon he wields. Noel Vermillion’s dormant powers – the strength to kill gods – have been awakened and corrupted, leaving the girl a shell of her former self. Terumi and Relius are through manipulating things from behind the scenes; now that they’ve succeeded in the latest step of their plan, they’re on the brink of conquering everything. With so many possibilities still at play, no one knows how it will end.

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If you’ve played the previous version of Continuum Shift, you already know the majority of the story. Extend revisits all of the pre-established plot points, such as Litchi’s attempted rescue of Arakune, Carl’s shattered family, and Tsubaki’s gradual but tragic fall from grace. That’s aside from the extensive supplemental material; unlike other brawlers, BlazBlue strives to tell a deep and compelling tale. The Story Mode covers everything, from the inner workings of the setting to the complex relationships between each character. They’re further developed thanks to the inclusion of a few new chapters, which feature Relius’s backstory and insights into the various factions that comprise the cast. It’s all explained via pre-fight dialogues, text-based and animated cutscenes, and humorous expository skits. Given the sheer amount of information and plotlines, it’ll take hours for you to discover everything. Your perseverance will be well-rewarded; Continuum Shift has one of the most climatic endings of any fighting game.

If you prefer something less dramatic and time-consuming, the Arcade Mode is easy to get into. The entire roster from the last game returns, along with the previously DLC-exclusive characters as well. Valkenhayn is a savagely powerful werewolf hiding in the guise of an elderly butler. Makoto’s quick punches let her dish out devastating combos, but her pathetic range keeps her in check. Platinum The Trinity wields a magical staff and a split personality, and her costume parodies Sailor Moon with reckless abandon. Relius is designed – both in personality and fighting methods – as a sinister version of his son, Carl. He can summon a demonic puppet Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure-style to bolster his offenses. The veterans on the cast play slightly differently as well. Iron Tager has received a much-needed speed boost, while Bang and Jin’s attack powers and priorities have been strengthened and weakened respectively. Most of the alterations are subtle, but there a few new tricks waiting to be mastered.

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Despite the changes, the game retains the gameplay that made the previous versions so awesome. Rather than having weak, medium, and strong attacks, the moves are assigned to the A, B, C, and D buttons. A attacks are quick slaps and jabs, but C moves usually lead to roundhouses, smashes, and grapples. The most basic strategies involve tapping the buttons in alphabetical order and hopefully linking each hit. Depending on the way you press the directional pad, a weak punch could lead into an uppercut, forward tackle, flying kick, and other follow-up attacks. The Stylish control option lets newcomers mash the buttons and perform simple, pre-designed combos, but hardcore fans will get more out of the D moves exclusive to the Technical settings. These “Drive” attacks focus on each fighter’s unique abilities and balance their playing styles. Valkenheyn wolf form results in greater mobility working in tandem with his brutal strikes. Arakune’s insect-summoning powers and unpredictable special attacks overwhelm opponents with lengthy free-style combos. The key to success is learning how to master the inherent strategies in each character’s unusual techniques.

They can only do so much, though. Given the responsiveness of the controls, timing and precision are vital; a quick tap makes the difference between sending your victim flying midair or leaving them stunned long enough to connect a follow-up hit. Not only are there the typical A-D attacks, but an assortment of flashy super-moves and finishers as well. That’s aside from the air dashing, recovery teching, countering, blocking, power gauges, move canceling, guard breaking, and many other aspects of the incredibly complex combat mechanics. The Tutorial Mode breaks everything down perfectly, from basic movements to the higher-end strategies. The Training Mode lets you polish your techniques with extensive options and recording features. The Challenge Mode offers a more hands-on approach by having you memorize an entire character’s move set by focusing on combos. There’s a lot to learn, and the game gives newcomers plenty of opportunities to do so.

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The real test of skill, however, comes with the extra gameplay modes. The Unlimited Mars option pits you against a gauntlet of super-powered versions of each character. Not only do they have ridiculously strong moves – Taokaka has an attack that can destroy over half a health bar with a single hit – but they’re controlled by the AI on its highest difficulty setting. It’s even more unforgiving than the Score Attack, the brutality of which still haunts BlazBlue veterans everywhere. If you’re patient (and masochistic) enough to keep trying, you might eventually earn some victories and upload them onto the online leaderboards. The Abyss functions as a glorified survival mode; you rank up by beating random foes until you reach a boss. Purchasable items regenerate health and boost a character’s overall offensive and defensive stats. Regardless of which challenge you undertake, you’ll earn points toward leveling your player profile and unlocking hidden content. Aside from the usual assortment of trophies, additional costume colors, concept sketches, voice acting, and hundreds of pieces of artwork can be acquired. With so many incentives to keep playing, it’ll take a long while for things to get stale.

The game’s longevity ultimately rests with its multiplayer. The BlazBlue series has always had high standards for its online functionality, and this latest installment is no different. Aside from the occasional pre-fight slowdown, there is almost no lag whatsoever. Given how the combat revolves around timing and controller responsiveness, it’s great that none of it has to be sacrificed for the sake of connectivity. Aside from random battles and friend invites, fights can be customized to support voice chat, player rotation, connection quality, regional searches, opponents’ skill levels, and a slew of other criteria. Extend takes things a step further with the inclusion of a team battle mode; up to six people can slaughter each other under regular or survival mode settings. When the dust settles, the best matches can be saved and uploaded onto the Replay Theater. While it would have been interesting to have designated channels or direct YouTube uploading features like recent Street Fighter titles, few games can match the sheer amount of options that Extend boasts.

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Nor can they come close to its presentation. Much like The King of Fighters series, BlazBlue prides itself on its incredibly detailed animations. Each character is a miniature work of art. Arakune’s slimy body oozes and churns all over the battlefield, Relius flourishes his cape with each attack, and Hakumen can shift stances with the grace and fluidity of a master swordsman. The voice acting is also top notch; characters don’t have just win quotes, but specific mid-battle reactions as well. Jin can barely contain his psychotic and borderline lustful urges whenever Ragna is around, and Hazama’s every word practically drips with sarcasm and malice. Anyone who plays Bang for few minutes will crack up at his hammy speeches and ridiculously epic theme music power-up. You’ll fight amongst the candlelit halls of the military’s headquarters, an endless labyrinth of moving clockworks, and the one of the most gorgeous rose gardens in gaming. While little of the imagery is new, it still offers a highly polished and memorable experience.

That’s the thing about Extend. It’s not a new game; it’s the latest version of the previous title. However, it isn’t just a minor update. All of the characters have been rebalanced with improved move sets and tweaked abilities, and the combat remains as complex and technically demanding as ever. The previously DLC-exclusive characters are available at default, giving even more variety and depth to the character roster. Relius Clover is finally playable, complete with his own background to supplement the already extensive story. The Tutorial and Training Modes make it easy for newcomers to learn, and the Unlimited Mars and Abyss are brutal enough to give enthusiasts a run for their money. The online multiplayer offers tons of options, and the lag-free gameplay keeps the fights slick and fast-paced. The sheer amount of unlockables and additional content ensure that you’ll have plenty to uncover. Extend might not be original, but it is built upon the best.

9 out of 10

The author of this fine article

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

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