Spare a thought for the poor old chaps at Japan’s ARC System Works, who were merrily working to perfect the only thing for which they’d ever achieved any kind of fame – the Guilty Gear series – when, above their heads, some legal wrangling meant their child was taken away from them and custody awarded to SEGA Sammy. What to do? Make a new baby! And so they produced BlazBlue, the unofficial new face of Guilty Gear.
The similarities between the two ARC kids are pretty obvious, and they don’t stop at the silly, meaningless titles of the games. The goth-anime style of BlazBlue is unmistakably the work of ARC System, while the controls are based on an evolved version of the Guilty Gear template. Even the abilities and physical properties of the new characters are clearly moulded on those of the GG crew. The result is a beat ‘em up that feels reassuringly familiar. But it’s not just a copy – there’s more to it, and it’s in the ‘additions’ column that the Really Good Stuff lurks.
Each of the Calamity Trigger fighters has a unique Drive attack, which effectively personalises their style of play. Jin Kisaragi, the most balanced of the starting ten, can inflict Frostbite, which freezes his opponents and leaves them temporarily vulnerable to sustained combos via standard attacks (of which there are three varieties that are common to all characters). Morrigan lookalike Litchi Faye Ling can lob spears, which plant themselves in the ground before spinning quite dangerously around an enemy’s noggin. And so on.
The level of imagination and clever balancing that has gone into the design of the attacks and specials is evident from the first ‘rebel’ (sic) of the first fight. Put in some effort and even Iron Tager, the token Big Slow Powerful Guy, is a genuinely decent playable option.