I miss being an arcade rat.

 

I’m fortunate to be old enough to remember the golden age of arcades in America, when the best possible way for gamers to spend their weekend was to gather a huge pile of quarters and see how long they could last at the local arcade. Whether your passion was driving simulations, fighting games, or just running around shooting Nazis/zombies/aliens, it was always time well wasted. The greatest joy of all though, was rounding the corner in the arcade and spotting that brand new game that you’d never seen before. Whether it was that first time you experienced Super Mario Brothers or maybe when you saw Daphne stolen away in Dragon’s Lair, half of the fun was after you left the arcade and got back home to brag to all your friends about your discovery. “Oh you haven’t rescued the princess yet? How very sad for you…”

 

Unfortunately those days are long gone. More often than not, modern “arcades” are home to a half dozen criminally overpriced games and even more criminally overpriced food. Throw in terrible service and these are places you want to avoid, not spend your afternoon. The sole exceptions to this rule are the mini-golf fun centers. These places are usually stocked with slightly older games in somewhat less than mint condition, but the nostalgia and sheer fun of wandering up and down the aisles plugging in quarters and reliving your glory days as Master of the Arcade just can’t be beat.

 

And every once in a while you find a gem like BlazBlue – Calamity Trigger that brings back every ounce of that excitement.

 

It isn’t very often that a game release sneaks up on me, but the first time I saw BlazBlue I was absolutely blown away. I hadn’t heard a whisper of this game, and after playing through several dollars (getting my butt kicked by Ron) I went home and did a little research on the game and found out that this was a brand new arcade release that would very quickly be coming to the Playstation 3. Ah yes, life is good.

The first thing you notice when firing up BlazBlue is that the gameplay graphics are absolutely stunning, easily rivaling what you see in the arcade version. The attention given to the deep, multi-layered levels will blow you away. The colors are rich and vibrant, making each of the levels come alive. It’s just disappointing that there is no interaction whatsoever with the environment. While this is not a requirement for a fighting game, having the arenas become part of the battle in some way is more often seen than not and would have been a nice addition to the gameplay.

 

The real stars of the game are the various fighters, with the sheer volume of detail in each character having to be seen to be believed. Couple this with the silky smooth character animations and you’ve got a sure fire winner. There is a nice variety in the fighters available to play, but a few of them will seem familiar to videogame fighting veterans. Taokaka was obviously inspired by Felica from Dark Stalkers, and Litchi Faye-Ling is almost a clone of Mai Shiranui from the Fatal Fury and King of Fighters series. This is not necessarily a bad thing, as several of the other characters are unique. It is surprising that in a fairly violent fighting game that there’s no blood in any of the fights. Whether this was done in an attempt to secure this game’s “T” rating or a conscious choice of the developers is unclear, but it does make the game seem a touch uneven at times.

While many fighting games have good soundtracks, they usually fall way short when it comes to voice acting. Over-the-top, caricaturized voices that are at best silly and at worst annoying are usually the norm. BlazBlue – Calamity Trigger is the absolute gold standard for what you want to hear in a videogame. Even Arakune, the mutated and insane being that has been consumed by magic is so convincingly voiced that you immediately identify with him and his struggle to persevere in the BlazBlue universe. The great voice acting extends into the actual fights, where instead of hearing innumerable generic grunts; your characters will actually react to one another verbally, leading to some very entertaining encounters. For example, when Carl Clover, the child vigilante fights against Bang Shishigami, the ninja with a towering ego, Carl will talk to him in almost reverent tone. Meanwhile, if Bang is losing the fight you’ll often hear him gasp out of breath and say things like “you see how I let you hit me that time?” It is the little touches like this that make this game so enjoyable. The game controls are my only real complaint about this title, but not for the reason you’d think. As in any good fighting game (or any game period) the controls are fully customizable. No, the problem I have with the game control is way the controls are labeled. Like pretty much every other fighting game, you can pause the action by hitting start and bring up a list of the moves that your current character can do. So far so good. The problem is that the move list notation uses all the arcade buttons to show you the moves available. In the arcade BlazBlue uses the traditional A/B/C buttons for weak/medium/strong attacks and the D button for your special attack. Instead of taking the extra time to re-label the directions with the PS3’s triangle/square/circle the developers left it as is. While this isn’t a huge deal, it’s more of an annoyance than anything else and just shows a lack of effort by the localization team.

As far as the story mode goes, BlazBlue is the War and Peace of the video game fighting genre. Do not play the story mode of this game unless you have plenty of time to read. And read. And read some more. The good news is that all the exposition and character development leads to a very deep and involved story line. At its most fundamental level BlazBlue has a very simple premise – Ragna, the “bad guy” is on a rampage around the city. The different fighters want to stop him for various reasons, whether it is for the huge bounty placed on his head, because they are a jealous sibling, or just because they want to prove that they are the biggest and baddest around. As you dive deeper into the story mode, and to a lesser extent the arcade mode, you learn the backgrounds, motives, and relationships of each of the characters. You’ll encounter hero worship, misplaced loyalty, sibling rivalry, and plain old greed. All this makes you really connect and become invested in the fighters.

 

The same goes for the gameplay; you can have a great time toning down the difficulty and button-mashing to your heart’s content, or you can crank up the difficulty and dive into the fighting mechanics where you’ll find an incredibly deep fighting system that I promise you will not completely master any time soon. As previously stated, your fighter has the option of a weak attack, medium attack, strong attack, and a special attack. Pull the stick away from your opponent to block, and push up to jump. From these simple beginnings things become much more complex. Every attack you land or incoming attack you block will increase your heat meter. Once your meter is at least 50% full, you will then be able to perform additional special attacks (known as distortion attacks) that really rack up the damage. To really embarrass your opponent, you need to finish him off with an Astral Finish. To be able to execute an Astral Finish, you have to satisfy several conditions; it must be the third round of a best of three match, you must have your heat meter to 100%, and your enemy must be at 20% health or lower. While very difficult to pull off, it is well worth the virtual beat down you’ll witness. As you can suspect, this opens the door for trophies having to do with Astral Finishes, Distortion Finishes, etc.

 

Speaking of trophies, BlazBlue made an interesting decision when it came to its trophy implementation. I will usually play a new game for about ten to fifteen minutes until I can’t stand the suspense any more, and then I’ll pause the game and go look at the trophy list and see what kinds of things I’m expected to accomplish. It is very common to see a few trophies listed only as “???”, making you wonder what hoops the developer wants you to jump through to earn that particular award. Out of the 51 trophies available in BlazBlue, less than 20 actually give you some kind of description. This takes the emphasis off of just grinding through the game on a trophy hunt and lets you enjoy the game without so much pressure to “Get 100 wins while playing left-handed and whistling”.

 

All is not perfect in the BlazBlue world though. One of the more distracting bits is the graphical presentation when you’re not actually fighting. It seems like they had an art director that wanted to use every different style of visual storytelling possible, all in one game. During the story mode playthrough, you’ll have times where it’s just a black screen with a narrator, then a still picture with voice actors playing out a scene, then a blank screen with written dialog being acted out. Some of the characters’ endings will be animated, while at other times you’ll see stills of the fighters with speech bubbles above them. The graphical style of the game is all over the place and this eventually becomes a distraction.

 

Be prepared to see “Now loading…” quite a bit at the bottom right corner of your screen. Every single time after you select a character, or see a bit of the story (even if it is just a still shot) you’ll be waiting for the next screen to load. While the wait times are not long at all, this happens constantly and does break up the flow of the game.

 

Another confusing part of BlazBlue is scoring that’s provided in the arcade mode. At the end of each match you are given a score breakdown, earning bonuses for time left in the match, finishing your enemy off with a distortion or astral finish, etc. While this is all standard fare for any fighting game, what is strange is that you’ll never see these scores again. During arcade mode your score is reset between every match and the game doesn’t track your total score, so the numbers you see are totally meaningless. I can only assume that this is another holdover from the arcade conversion that either didn’t get completed, or didn’t get removed. It may seem like there are nagging problems with this title, but none of them are significant enough to detract from your gameplay and really shouldn’t affect your decision to purchase BlazBlue.

It’s great to see yet another fighting game that “gets it” when it comes to adding value to its gameplay. BlazBlue goes above and beyond the call of duty when it comes to this. To start with, there are a ton of gameplay modes available. None of these are groundbreaking, but all the familiar types are here, including training, score attack, story mode and arcade mode. In addition, you have a gallery containing all the still art and movies you’ve unlocked while playing as well as a replay gallery where you can view matches you’ve recorded.

 

Online play has everything you could want, there’s simply nothing that’s left out. You have a leaderboard that ranks you by overall wins and loses as well as wins and loses for each character you’ve played, there is even an option for ranked and unranked matches. You even have a separate area for friend matches where you can send out standing invites for anyone on your friends list.

 

Yet another way that BlazBlue excels is the extras that are contained in the limited edition version of the game. Strangely enough, only the limited edition of the game is currently available, and contains two CDs with the full game soundtrack as well as a Blu-ray disk with a ton of content. Instead of just giving you the usual “making of” and “behind the scenes” content on the Blu-ray, you are also shown a demonstration of each characters moves, advice on how to play them against different types of opponents, and other helpful strategies. All this extra gaming goodness makes for a must-have version of the game.

The gaming world is full of surprises and unfortunately many of them are bad. Most often it’s along the lines of a hotly anticipated game being delayed again (or worse, cancelled). Every once in a while though, you get blindsided by an incredible game that you never saw coming. BlazBlue – Calamity Trigger is most definitely that game. With sharp execution, uncounted hours of gameplay, and gorgeous sound and video, you’ll be hard pressed to beat this game. The way the developers have crafted a game that you can jump in and enjoy in no time at all and still not master completely after weeks of gameplay is truly amazing and shouldn’t be missed by fans of the fighting genre.

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