BlazBlue: Continuum Shift
Revenge. For Ragna the Bloodedge, itís the only thing that matters. His life has been ruinedÖand heís finally figured out who to blame. Itís 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. Heís a one-man killing machine; armed with the limitless magic of the Azure Grimore, heís almost wiped out whatís left of the corrupt government. Itís not just about his family, either. His little sister has been dead for years, and JinÖwell, Jin is still trying to kill him. But after the events of Calamity Trigger, Ragna has discovered a far harsher truth: someoneís 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.
Everyone else didnít 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. Noelís 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. Thatís 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 Kokonoeís hilariously offbeat expository scenes. Since every character has their own branching storylines, youíll have to play through multiple times with different fighters to get a full understanding of whatís 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 thereís 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. Tagerís vastly improved speed makes him much more competitive against projectile spam-happy opponents. Bangís 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.
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. Thereís 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, itís the D moves that youíve got to watch out for. These ďDriveĒ attacks utilize a fighterís special abilities and augments their playing strategies. Ragna suffers from abysmal defensive stats, but his Drive moves steal a bit of his opponentís health on contact. Since Tager deals mainly with grapples, itís 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 wonít 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. Itís not just about the A-D attacks, either; each fighter has some awesome supermoves - including the triumphant return of Bangís 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. Thatís 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, thereís a technical depth in which few fighting games care to indulge. Thereís a ton of stuff to figure out, and itíll take you countless hours before you get anywhere close to mastering it. Given how utterly ruthless the AI can be, youíll have to learn quickly.
Thatís 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. Thereís 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. Itís an unorthodox combination of the Survival and Team Battle modes youíd normally find in other fighting games, but at least it fulfills its purpose. But if youíve 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, itís 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, itíll take you ages to finish everything.
Youíll want to, too. One of the best aspects of the BlazBlue series is its incredibly detailed and high-quality presentation. While there isnít a bonus disc for it like Calamity Trigger, the soundtrack retains its unique blend of heavy metal, opera and jazz. Thereís 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 Hazamaís chain summoning moves; his flowing overcoat and fedora make him as stylish as he is deadly. Arakuneís inky black mess of a body shifts and changes color with a fluidity unlike anything else. It hasnít changed much from Calamity Trigger, but it makes other fighting games look like trash.
Given what it had to work with, that isnít 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 havenít been changed remain the same, theyíve 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.
Nine out of ten
- A total of six new characters help bolster the previously tiny cast.
- Every character has a unique playing style, and the returning fighters have been rebalanced with new moves.
- The story is even more lengthy and involved than before.
- The combat mechanics retain their rich blend of combos, awesome supermoves, and newly revamped defensive strategies.
- The gameplay - both online and off - remains as slick and fluid as ever.
- The new Beginners and Tutorial Modes help acclimate newcomers to the demanding technical aspects of the fighting.
- More gameplay modes and unlockables provide plenty of content.
- The voice acting and music are superb.
- Characters and stages are incredibly detailed.
- Half of the new characters are downloadable content, which makes the default roster kind of limited.