BlazBlue: Continuum Shift II
Revenge. For Ragna the Bloodedge, that’s all that matters anymore. He’s finally found out who ruined his life, and he intends to make them pay for it. It’s not just about the huge bounty on his head; he’s almost gotten used to being hunted by the Librarium soldiers and all the vigilantes roaming the city of Kagutsuchi. Or how his arm was sliced and ripped away from his body all those years ago; it’s been replaced by the Azure Grimoire, a magical weapon of unfathomable power. Nor is it because of the shattered remnants of his family; Saya’s murder is a distant, haunted memory, and Jin…well, Jin still wants to kill him. As painful as that is, Ragna has to face a much harsher truth: someone’s been manipulating him the entire time. Planning the tragedies of his life, pushing him into bitter desperation, and forcing him into a battle that nearly destroyed both him and the very fabric of reality. Now that he knows who to blame, he intends to make them pay for it.
It’s not just about him, though. Continuum Shift takes place a few days after the events of the first game, and everyone is still dealing with the fallout. Noel’s hidden strengths and true purpose are directly addressed, and Jin’s slow but inevitable growth into a hero provides some of the finest moments in the story. That’s on top of everything else that’s going on; BlazBlue’s plot features corrupt militaries, civil warfare, spies, ninjas, vampires, time travel, alternate dimensions, advanced robotics, racism, reincarnation, tragedy, sacrifice, romance, themes of destiny and free will, and a surprisingly advanced magic system. Such a deep and complex world would be difficult to get into, but the Story Mode manages to explain everything. Not only is it as in-depth as its console counterparts – the supplementary Litchi and Kokonoe skits are back in all their glory – but it’s even more extensive thanks to a couple of new bonus chapters. Since every character has their own paths and dialogues, it takes a while before some things start making sense. It’s worth the effort, though; the True Ending builds up to and executes one of the best fighting game showdowns in recent memory.
But if you want to dive right into the fighting, the Arcade Mode is far more accessible. The entire roster of the original game is back in action, and there are a few new additions as well. Continuum Shift II gives you the three extra characters that are only available as DLC in the console versions. You’ve got Valkenhayn, a brutally powerful werewolf hiding under the guise of an elderly butler. Then there’s Makoto, a human-squirrel hybrid whose crazy speed and combos are balanced out by her pathetic range and strength. They’re joined by Platinum the Trinity, a staff-wielding character with a split personality and a costume design straight out of every generic magical girl anime ever conceived. Veterans of the console version will find that some of their returning favorites have been tweaked and rebalanced; Tager and Bang have become considerably deadlier, while Lambda and Rachel have been depowered. If you mastered certain characters the last time around, you’re going to be in for a few surprises.
Despite having relatively few fighters in its roster – just shy of twenty, with no other secret warriors to unlock – the game thrives on its variety. Each character has a completely different playing style. Rather than using the typical weak, medium, and strong attack functions of the average fighting game, BlazBlue designates its commands with the letters A, B, C, and D. An A attack might be a quick punch, while a C move could trigger a combo or countering maneuver. Depending on how you press the directional pad, your punches could flow into an uppercut, roundhouse kick, thrust, or several other moves. These basic attacks are supplemented by the D button’s “Drive” moves, which are unique to each character. Ragna’s abysmal defensive stats are balanced out by his ability to steal his opponents’ health with each connecting hit. Hazama prefers to keep his distance, and then summon snake-like chains to punish and surprise his targets at his leisure. Bang doesn’t have much in terms of range, but his gauntlets let him parry almost anything that gets in his way. Not to mention Arakune, who can summon tons of insect projectiles and create multiple freestyle aerial combos. The trick is learning how to blend these powers with the rest of your characters’ movesets and perfect their inherent strategies.
It won’t be easy, though. This game heavily emphasizes timing and precise button commands; the slightest miscalculation could mean the difference between a punch and a lengthy combo. Aside from the basic A-D commands, you can access all kinds of special attacks and supermoves. They’re just as varied as the characters; some create a flurry of quick jabs and evasive tactics while others (Bang’s ridiculously epic power-up cutscene and corresponding theme song come to mind) simply grant your fighter improved strength and maneuverability. That’s aside from all the other complex mechanics; you’ll have to contend with instant kills, air dashing, multiple types of blocking, countering, throwing, move canceling, guard-breaking, and tons of other tactical options. It’s easily among the most technically demanding experiences on the 3DS, and in recent fighting games in general. Thanks to the incredibly extensive Tutorial and Training Modes, you’ll have plenty of opportunities to learn every aspect of the combat. You can always take the easy way out by using the Beginner’s Mode – you can mash buttons and string simple combos with no effort whatsoever – but you’ll miss out on most of your fighter’s true strengths.
Even if you’re willing to go the extra mile to learn everything, the game’s flawed design doesn’t do you any favors. If you’ve played the console versions, the problem will become apparent the moment you try moving your character. Continuum Shift II doesn’t support the 3DS’s analog nub, which is a huge oversight considering how most fighting games rely on such controls. Instead, you’re forced to use the small, horrendously stiff directional pad for everything. Under the default settings, the game is practically unplayable; the rigid buttons don’t lend themselves well to characters – Tager especially – that require precise inputs. Thankfully, there’s an option that lets you increase the directional pad’s sensitivity, thus making it much easier to handle. That doesn’t make up for the fact that the nub is unusable; since you can fully customize the button mapping, you’d think that alternate control schemes would be an obvious addition. It’s not game-breaking by any means, but it’s a problem that could have been easily fixed.
The most glaring blunder, however, is the lack of an online multiplayer. When it was first released, the BlazBlue series set a new standard for the fighting genre; combat was fast-paced, fluid, and offered an incredibly slick experience that few other titles could hope to match. Even with the varied cast and extensive Story Mode, the games always relied on their online features to keep them from going stale. It’s a vital feature, and whoever was in charge of porting Continuum Shift II failed to recognize it. It’s even worse when you consider the 3DS’s functionality; as Street Fighter IV 3D Edition and Dead Or Alive Dimensions have demonstrated, the handheld is more than capable of delivering top-notch online gameplay. Even a gimmicky StreetPass feature would have been an improvement. You can still fight with your friends over a local wireless connection, but it won’t seem like much compared to what the other fighting games can do. For those of you that enjoy brawling with strangers, you’ll probably want to look elsewhere.
The game tries to make up for it with a huge assortment of single-player features. You can complete the character-specific Challenge Mode, which makes you perform complicated combos and maneuvers. Then there’s Score Attack, which, given the ridiculously brutal AI opponents, will ravage you on the first attempt. There’s also the newly revamped Legion Mode, which pits you against various squads of opponents across different stages, letting you gradually build a team along the way. You’ll spend the majority of your time trying to complete the Abyss, which is like a lengthy and in-depth Survival Mode. You defeat foe after foe, slowly gaining enough ranks until you face a boss character. It lets you tweak your fighter’s stats, ranging from their basic attack strength and chip damage to their defensive mechanics and ability to recover lost health. There’s a surprising amount of strategy involved; you can’t save your progress, which means you’ll have to strengthen your characters early and pray they will last all 999 levels. Your efforts will be rewarded with bonus points and a leveled-up player profile, which go towards unlocking extra content. Aside from the several dozen trophies/achievements, you can acquire more powerful versions of each fighter, differently colored costumes, concept drawings, voices, and a few hundred pieces of artwork. Needless to say, there’s quite an incentive to keep playing.
Even if you’re not into unlocking every last picture and feature, there’s still plenty to enjoy. The character animations aren’t quite as sharp as their PS3 counterparts, but they still provide some of the most stunning and fluid graphics yet seen on the 3DS. Each fighter is designed with unique movements and small details; you can see the slime dribbling off and vanishing back into Arakune’s shifting mess of a body, or the way that Hakumen can flow among his various attack stances with the grace of a master swordsman. The voice acting is top-notch, too. Ragna doesn’t just call out his special attacks; he roars them. You can hear the sarcasm and malice dripping from Hazama’s every word, or the way Jin can barely contain his inner homicidal maniac. Bang’s hammy speeches of love, justice, and sheer manliness make for some of the most hilarious moments in the game. The combination of rock, jazz, and opera music not only gives the characters more personality, but it makes the fights seem that much more epic as well. Combined with the stunning visuals, the game boasts a remarkably polished presentation.
BlazBlue: Continuum Shift II has a lot going for it. It’s got more playable characters than its console predecessors, and it retains (and adds to) the deep and surprisingly well-written story. The sheer variety of playing styles and technical options at your disposal is staggering; this is easily the deepest and most demanding title currently on the 3DS. There are tons of challenging gameplay modes and things to unlock; it’ll take you dozens of hours before you complete everything. The detailed 3D visuals make for a promising demonstration of what the handheld can do. Despite all of its impressive features, however, the game is marred by a couple of huge flaws. It doesn’t support the analog nub, forcing you to use a less accurate but still functional directional pad. There’s no online multiplayer, which is a cringe-worthy oversight given the 3DS’s capabilities. It drags the experience down from its full potential. Don’t let that stop you, though. While it might not be as good as the originals, Continuum Shift II is still a fight worth having.