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.
As with Guilty Gear, the control set-up looks quite basic on paper, with four attacks mapped to the face buttons, called A, B, C and D in the game, with D being used to launch the Drive specials as mentioned earlier. But it’s the combinations of buttons, how and when they are used that offer BlazBlue the kind of depth that ARC System Works’ fans have been craving. For example, holding A and B and pushing back activates a stronger-than-normal defensive shield.
Holding down A, B and C attacks activates the Rapid Cancel that enables you to cancel the animation in progress and launch a new attack. This offers the chance to mask attacks, leaving your opponent off-guard. The Rapid Cancel drains the Heat gauge, BlazBlue’s equivalent of Street Fighter’s Super meter. The Heat gauge governs all of the specials with Distortion Drive and Astral Finishers (one hit kills), adding to the move set. Learning how, when and where to use Heat moves is vital.
BlazBlue isn’t the most technical fighter - its design is to enable novices to feel good about their play – so you get one button Drive moves. This is reflected in the visuals. The animation is ace and each character and move is met with an explosion of colour and quirky flourishes. Of course, there are deeper tactics, and if you venture online you’ll get served until you discover how to use the characters. But the fact remains, the control set-up and visual impact makes BlazBlue a game for all experience levels.
With fighters and Gallery items to unlock, a progressive character-specific Story Mode (told via static dialogue scenes, but funny despite that), and lag-free online play in both ranked and just-for-kicks matches with players from around the world, BlazBlue has everything we’d want from a hi-def, 2009-vintage Guilty Gear. It’s not doing anything revolutionary, but it’s great to see that the evolution ARC System Works had put in place continues to roll on.
Jul 9, 2009