It's been tough for me to get into BlazBlue.
My first ever Arc System Works fighter was the original Guilty Gear, and I've been a believer ever since. When BlazBlue rolled around 10 years later a lot of my crew was already invested in Sol and their crew, and didn't have days to spend in the lab learning the ins and outs of his kinda-sorta counterpart, Ragna.
But ever since Central Fiction was announced, I vowed to give it a real shot and fully immerse myself in its world -- replaying each story and learning the basics of every character. It paid off, because Fiction really is a big sendoff for fans.
BlazBlue: Central Fiction (PS3, PS4 [reviewed])
Developer: Arc System Works
Publisher: Aksys Games
Released: October 6, 2016 (Japan), November 1, 2016 (US)
MSRP: $49.99 (PS3), $59.99 (PS4)
After all this fanfare the real question is whether or not Central Fiction delivers an end to the narrative, something fighting game franchises rarely, if ever do. And having played through it and the subsequent side missions, I'd say it does. Centering around Ragna the Bloodedge and a mysterious entity called "The Embryo," Fiction relies a bit too heavily on the "amnesia" trope for my liking, but quickly turns it around with an appropriately juicy and action-packed, drama-filled arc.
Really, it has the added bonus of being an actual story mode and not just a glorified arcade gametype. There's lots of character interaction, hours of dialogue, and plenty of real slice of life type scenarios beyond the relatively serious big picture. It can get dark or silly at the drop of a hat, and playing through it really is just like watching a fully fledged anime season. Note, however, that they never did settle that English dub situation, so all you're getting is subtitles for the western edition.
But given that this is going to be a lot of folk's first BlazBlue game, is it worth the investment? I'd say yes. I mean, you're going to be lost -- let's not beat around the bush. In fact, if you want a recap of the story so far, the game even warns you with a separate menu prompt stating "warning: this will run at least 30 minutes in length, do you wish to proceed?" Fiction isn't screwing around at all, and even with some over-the-top clarification, you'll still probably be confused unless you read several recap efforts.
The good news is a lot of that is built in, including a dictionary with literal hundreds of entries to flip through. The delivery system is convenient too, since you can skip cutscenes, or alter the text scroll speed to "instant." And all the while you'll enjoy some incredible art, and a wonderful rockin' and beautiful soundtrack that feels appropriately sci-fi.
Combat is as smooth as ever with its three-button system and the "Drive"concept. Not only is the Drive button conceptualized as the "soul" of a fighter for lore purposes, but it's also a go-to move button that can be manipulated by directional inputs for more variation. Some characters are utterly defined by it (allowing one to cycle through elements for instance), and others are augmented by it. While there is an "Easy Automatic" setting for casual players that simplifies everything, the Drive moveset in general is a good middle ground that still provides a lot of complexities for hardcore fans to toy with.
Central Fiction also adds in the concept of doubly discouraging turtling, by enhancing your Burst Gauge and damage output with the Active Flow system. In other words, if you guard or run away a lot, your meters will drop, just like in the past (and in Guilty Gear). But if you're overly aggressive, you'll now reap the benefits in Fiction twofold. This funnels into the new Exceed Accel move (of which every character has one), which does extra damage if you're in Active Flow. They're small additions, but welcome ones that fit naturally within the confines of what BlazBlue is trying to accomplish.
Beyond the already impressive campaign, there's multiple challenge modes (including the multi-tiered Grim of the Abyss, which is reminiscent of the Bloody Palace from Devil May Cry or the Dark Realm from Onimusha), in-game cash to earn for new colors, and a little home-building system for online lobbies. It's not nearly as cool as Revelator's world lobbies that sport the fishing mini-game, but it's the next best thing, complete with adorable little chibi avatars and 32-person lobbies.
There's also seven new characters (two are DLC and one is an unlock), my favorite of which is Hibiki. He's a lightning-quick fighter that utilizes a clone-based Drive attack, allowing him to either swap places with the clone or send it off as a projectile of sorts, giving him a sick amount of mixup potential (plus I'm a sucker for characters with full-screen punishes for casual matches). Naoto's fisticuff monk style and Hades' zoning abilities are a little too familiar and fit nonetheless, but Nine's witch design is classic Arc, and she comes equipped with an eye-opening elemental skillset -- different stocks to use and micromanage out of the corner of your eye. She's stylish as hell, all the way down to her teleport dash and witch hat.
If BlazBlue: Central Fiction is the end (and I don't think it will be), it's a fitting one. It packs in pretty much everything past games have offered, and then brings in several great new characters and one of the biggest stories in fighting game history.
[This review is based on a retail build of the game purchased by the reviewer.]
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BlazBlue: Central Fiction reviewed by Chris Carter
Impressive effort with a few noticeable problems holding it back. Won't astound everyone, but is worth your time and cash.
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There are stories. And then there’s the story for “BlazBlue: Central Fiction.”
Just how in-depth is Central Fiction’s story mode? Well, I used to describe games with sparse storytelling by typically saying “it’s no War and Peace.” After spending the better part of one day going through the latest chapter in the BlazBlue saga, however, I have reached one conclusion. War and Peace is no BlazBlue: Central Fiction. Let’s just say that when a simple recap of the plot of earlier games in the series takes 30 minutes, you know you’re in for a long day. Or night, depending on when you decide to partake in the game’s huge heaping of fictional fare. It’s like the opposite storytelling approach to Street Fighter V, at least before the latter released its full story mode.
Ragna the Bloodedge's story reaches its climax in "BlazBlue: Central Fiction."
(Photo: Arc System Works)
Why am I so fixated on Central Fiction’s story? For starters, veterans of fighting games know that, historically, storytelling is not a lengthy part of entries in the genre. Now, that doesn’t necessarily mean that fighting game stories are bad. I mean, there are some bad ones for sure but even solid tales such as the Tekken series, for example, dole out their stories in short bursts that serve as intermissions between rounds until they reach a climax via the ending. About the only exception I can think of are NetherRealm games such as Mortal Kombat X and Injustice: Gods Among Us.
Central Fiction, however, flips the script. When you play the game’s story mode, the fighting actually serve as the intermission. I’m talking 100 chapters worth of exposition with several battles of typically less than one minute squeezed in between. It makes the already long “BlazBlue: Chrono Phantasma” seem pitifully short in comparison.
Admittedly, that might be too much for folks who just want to get straight into the action while knowing how the plot unfolds. I started playing the game’s story mode around 5 p.m. during my sister-in-law’s birthday party, for example. By 8 p.m., I was still going through mountains of text with a conclusion nary in sight.
Then again, there’s also one more reason why I’m kicking off this review by focusing on the story. It’s actually good. Starting at 6 p.m., for example, I noticed a little crowd of relatives gathering around me quietly with their eyes glued to the screen. They actually wanted to see how the story turned out.
It’s the kind of story that will pique the curiosity of folks who love anime with an existential flavor. Admittedly, it’s certainly not for everybody. But there’s definitely a meaty story in there filled with drama, some comedy as well as a few twists and turns. Heck, it even makes the weird title “Central Fiction” make sense, with the term being properly applied as part of the plot.
While story is the calling card of Central Fiction, however, fighting remains its primary breadwinner. The good news is that BlazBlue: Central Fiction’s combat is stellar. In fact, it shares similarities with its story in that the system is very, very fleshed out. While King of Fighters XIV represented a return to basics for that series, Central Fiction doubles down on its technical chops by throwing in a bunch of options in it. Think of it as an assortment of systems built over the years that are layered on top of each other.
Watch out for these cats in "BlazBlue: Central Fiction."
(Photo: Arc System Works)
Naturally, you have your basic blocks, attacks and command moves. At the same time, you also have extra options designed to cater to more advanced players. You have the Revolver Action system for chaining combos, for example, which is one of the more fun parts of combat. In addition to special attack cancels, you also have jump cancels to further complement your mix-up game as well as throw escapes, crush triggers, counter assaults and instant blocks.
Break Bursts, meanwhile, give you breathing room when you’re under siege by blowing away an aggressive foe while Distortion Drives give your character extra oomph while disabling your foes Break Burst as well. Overdrives, which enhance your special abilities, also work in conjunction with with other options such as Exceed Accel and Active Flow to further round out your toolbox. You even have the powerful Astral Heat move, which require three special conditions to activate and allow you to end matches with style.
If all that sounds like a foreign language to you, the good news is that the game’s tutorial mode is quite in-depth and walks you through every mechanic of the game. If that still sounds intimidating, you also have the option to switch controls from the regular Technical mode to the more beginner-friendly Stylish mode. While you don’t get the same level of control from Technical mode, it allows you to chain combos more easily and give you a fighting chance against either the AI or even human players. Add more than 30 characters as part of the roster and you can play the versus modes for hours upon hours as well, just like its story mode. To further flesh out the content for you to consume, you also earn points while playing, which can then be used to unlock things like background music and different colors for your characters.
Flashy effects are part and parcel of "BlazBlue: Central Fiction."
(Photo: Arc System Works)
Downsides include the lack of voice acting in English for folks who don’t like having to listen Japanese dialogue, especially for the the story mode which is completely voiced out from beginning to end. The anime-style story also won’t be for everyone, especially those who aren’t fans of Evangelion-style psychobabble. While the gameplay is excellent, it tends to favor more aggressive players as well.
The game’s downsides, however, are minor given Central Fiction’s smooth, flashy visuals and fun gameplay for both advanced players and newbies alike. The game also throws in everything, including the kitchen sink, by serving up lots of content and technical systems. The story, meanwhile, feels like the bookend to a tale that has played out over the years, even though the ending left some wiggle room for a potential return. If you’re a BlazBlue fan or simply someone who loves 2D fighting games in general, especially in this age of 3D, Central Fiction is a must have to add to your collection.
BlazBlue: Central Fiction is a fun, polished fighter that harkens back to the day when Gamest Mooks ruled Japan and 2D fighting games ruled the world. The anime-style story and characters won’t be for everyone and the lack of English voice acting might turn off some folks. Its hand-drawn style, however, is a gorgeous rendition of 2D fighting games while its gameplay is both technical and accessible, which will satisfy experts and beginners alike. Add the most fleshed-out story you’ll ever see in a fighter and you’ve got a worthy addition to your library.