By Kris . March 3, 2012 . 5:00pm
Fighting games live and die by their ability to iterate. Often, a fighter will launch with little more to its name than a good idea, but future incarnations will hone it into something that rabid fighting game fans will rally around. However, this refinement can come at a price. It seems as though each revision makes a game seem a little more intimidating to newcomers. It’s almost as though the more syllables a game’s title has, the more impenetrable it seems.
Arc System Works seemed to realize this common barrier to entry, and in response, Continuum Shift Extend seems like it wants to encapsulate the entire BlazBlue experience into a single game. They’re taking something that would generally be explicitly tailored for the more devoted fighting game fans and opening it up to everyone.
A lot of fighters have tried to open themselves up to newcomers with various tutorial modes or alternate control schemes lately. While BlazBlue has both of these things, I think the game has something else to draw newcomers, something that I think separates it from other fighters: a good story mode.
Sure, some people might scoff at the idea that a fighting game’s storyline is worth mentioning, but I think that BlazBlue is special. I’ve always been of the belief that one of the best ways to get someone interested in fighting games is to provide them with a character that they can get invested in, and Arc creates some of the most interesting characters out there. Story mode provides a way for players to get to know them and the world they reside in, and the addition of the Calamity Trigger path into Extend is a great way for new players to start.
This is what starting halfway through BlazBlue’s story is like.
The original Calamity Trigger required players to beat multiple characters’ story modes before the story started to make sense, but Extend’s Calamity Trigger story is a single path. Based on the first game’s "True End" and expanded to explain the game’s jargon and character backstories,it pretty much acts as a primer for the series’ carefully constructed world.
In a nutshell, the game’s story is about a half-vampire man with a soul-consuming prosthetic arm who destroys libraries housing evil world-ending devices called cauldrons while practically everyone in the world wants to capture, fight, or kill him. Although the storyline itself can be somewhat baffling, BlazBlue’s characters are the meat of the experience. Most of them seem to be anime archetypes at first, but as you play through their storylines. No character is as simple and shallow as they initially appear, with insanity, racism, and class difference acting as driving forces for a lot of the narrative. Despite this, BlazBlue usually manages to balance the grim nature of its world with a healthy dose of humor.
For instance, one of my favorite characters in the series is the masked Hakumen. When he’s first introduced, he seems to be little more than a faceless monster who spouts off a catchphrase before he attacks people. That’s how he comes across for the majority of Calamity Trigger, but in Continuum Shift, we see a change in the way he’s portrayed. Through his interaction with a certain character (I’m trying to avoid spoilers here) we learn the tragic reason why he decided to take on his current identity. Practically every character has these moments that make you realize that they’re more complex than they initially seemed, and Extend offers new players a chance to watch the characters evolve by combining the stories from two games.
BlazBlue’s story mode is much more visual novel than fighting game. While there are battles, they’re generally pretty easy and just serve as little breaks in the hours of text and character portraits. Again, I think of the decreased difficulty as a tool to draw new players into the series. It lets them focus on the story that they’re being told and gives them a taste for how certain characters play, hopefully inspiring them to experiment further with characters they like the style and stories of. It eases players into the meat of the BlazBlue experience, even if they aren’t typically fighting game fans.
While the game’s writing is funny and the story is more captivating than the jargon and time-travel would suggest, there are a few issues with the presentation. The localized version is sometimes so focused on being humorous that occasionally undermines the story it’s trying to tell. For instance, after the inept, justice-obsessed ninja Bang Shishigami loses to the man who killed his master and razed his village, he makes a joke about his alphabetized ninja helpers (Underlings A,B,C, and D) as he falls unconscious.
This is humorous, but it’s made more inappropriate for the moment by the fact that the voice acting simply doesn’t match the onscreen text. In fact, there’s no voiced joke here at all. It’s jarring, and these discrepancies are much more common than one would expect. The newer stories feel as though their localizations were a bit rushed, but the issues don’t really hurt the experience that much, especially as the majority of the text in the game (the stuff taken from the original release of Continuum Shift) is of much higher quality, and the voice actors seem to enjoy their roles.
I’m worried that the "2.5" status of the game will scare off people who make the "I’ll just buy the Super Ultimate Turbo Arcade Edition in six months" joke in every fighting game post, but I feel like Continuum Shift Extend is meant to reach out to the kind of people who aren’t used to fighters and their iterative nature just as much as it’s meant to appeal to its core audience.
I was also pleasantly surprised to see how well BlazBlue fit the portable format.seems as though Abyss mode was specifically designed for portability. Abyss is kind of like a typical survival mode in a fighting game combined with an RPG. You’re sent into battle with a single life bar and told to fight until you can’t fight anymore. In this case, however, you’re fighting against enemies with certain stat boosts.
These stat boosts are upgrades to Attack, Defense, Speed, and Heat. While the first three are pretty self-explanatory, the Heat upgrades adjust both the amount of Heat Gauge (think BlazBlue’s equivalent to Street Fighter’s Super Gauge) that you begin a match with and the rate at which Heat is acquired.
While a survival mode against overpowered opponents doesn’t sound particularly fun (although the game’s "Unlimited Mars" mode is essentially that to an extreme), there are a couple of twists on the formula. Land a couple of attacks and the game will subtly inform you that you have descended into the abyss by a level. While this doesn’t seem terribly significant at first, it starts mattering when you hit a multiple of 20 (which generally happens in two one-round fights or so). The game stops you mid-fight with a "HERE COMES A NEW CHALLENGER".
This challenger is boss enemy (who looks like a regular enemy with a fancy color scheme). To earn their name, they will have stats that are distinctly more powerful the standard enemies (if the standard enemies have a plus-five to one stat, these bosses might have a plus-ten to everything), but your health will be restored a bit before the fight. While you won’t get any deeper into the abyss during the fight, winning will allow you to choose from a limited selection of stat boosts and bonus abilities. Here’s where things start getting fun.
While some of the upgrades are the basic stat improvements, there are also a few that will add passive skills to your character. For instance, one ability allows your character to gain Heat automatically while another will refill a bit of health after every fight. While not every fight will have the most helpful upgrades for what you’re trying to do, it’s fun to customize your characters to fit your playstyle.
For instance, Jin Kisaragi has the ability to add freezing properties to the majority of his special attacks if he uses his 25 Heat, which is a quarter of a full Heat Gauge. While Continuum Shift Extend seems a bit more generous with Heat, it was rare that I could use these attacks more than two or three times a round in normal play. With a couple of Heat upgrades and the ability to gain Heat automatically, I was able to throw out ice-aided specials with reckless abandon. Less strategically sound (but more fun) was the ability to reliably gain a full Heat Gauge by the time I’d dropped the opponent down to 30% health, ensuring that I could end the match with one of the flashy instant-kill "Astral Heat" attacks.
Rounding this out is a quick-save option after every fight, which makes grinding a few upgrades much more portable than tackling the story mode (which often makes you wade through 45 minutes of dialogue before a save point) or even a run through arcade mode. Unfortunately, the positive impact of level grinding is ephemeral. After either completing the Abyss or being defeated, your character loses all of their upgrades. All is not lost, however, because the upgrades that you have acquired can be regained… for a price.
One of the big changes to Continuum Shift Extend is the fact that you’re constantly being rewarded for your single-player exploits with both in-game money (called P$) and an increasing player rank (which follows you online). These two things allow you to unlock more art and music in the gallery, additional character costumes, and (mercifully) additional announcers. P$ can also be used to purchase previously discovered upgrades in Abyss mode. This can turn Abyss into a gamble… do you start with a bunch of upgrades and just take the P$ reward every 20 levels? You can only escape at levels that are multiples of 100, but the deeper you go, the better the rewards get, and you only gain P$ if you escape or clear the entire Abyss…
Food for Thought:
1. Arc System Works’ netcode works very well, even on Vita. I was playing against Siliconera reader, Elliot Gay, in Japan with minimal lag (I’m in Seattle, Washington, for reference).
2. With that in mind, I really wish that Arc could have implemented cross platform play between PS3 and Vita like Capcom did with Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3.
3. The screenshots in this playtest were all taken from the Vita version of the game.
4. Extend is using what I assume are temporary voice actors for the new story segments, but the original voice actors voices are still in the combat dialogue and story modes adopted from Continuum Shift. As far as I’ve seen, Laura Bailey is performing six different roles: Rachel Alucard, Noel Vermillion, Nu-13, and Platinum the Trinity’s three personalities. While she’s very talented, hopefully she won’t have to voice as many characters by the time the next BlazBlue rolls around!