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September 21, 2017

BlazBlue, 8.213 Years Later (Part 1)


Well, I’ve been on a roll lately with these “X Years Later” posts, so I figure I should go ahead and keep the streak going.  Although since I’m dealing with a wider time gap than the last two posts, it’s probably worth mentioning that leap years aren’t taken into the title’s calculation.  Then again, I can’t imagine those extra days having too big of an impact.  It’s just something to think about, should you decide to take me to court over it.  I hope it doesn’t come to that.

If you’re just joining me here, I’ll admit that part of the reason for this post is a knee-jerk reaction to my brother’s opinion (because as discussed, he’s the inspiration for an insane number of posts).  Even though BlazBlue: Central Fiction just got an update and a new character, he’s about ready to drop it for reasons I can’t begin to fathom -- one of which, in his words, is that BB is “Guilty Gear for babies”.  Is it really, though?  Is BB as a whole worthy of any scorn it’s received over the course of its lifespan?  I’ll go ahead and spoil it right now: no, I don’t think it’s worthy.  That doesn’t mean there aren’t parts that deserve some dirty looks, but I’ll get to that.

So let’s not delay.  Here we go -- starting with my favorite arcade opening.



Chills every time.  Every.  Single.  Time.

--I’m tempted to jump directly into my personal picks among the BB crew, but I think for now I’ll focus on the general gameplay.  For the uninitiated: two players do battle in sprite-based, one-on-one duels with a variety of fighters, weapons, and special moves.  Like any standard fighting game, rounds and matches are won when you make the opponent’s health drop to zero. 

--But what makes BB different is that each character (save for wild witch Nine) has what’s called a “Drive” -- a special ability tied to one button that gives them access to moves, modes, movement, and more.  Main character Ragna has really low health -- but to compensate, his Drive, Soul Eater, gives him attacks that sap enemy HP each time he lands a hit.  Rival character Jin has Frostbite, so his Drive (or simply D) moves freeze foes and open up new combos for him.

--Cards on the table: I love the Drive system.  It’s a game mechanic that pretty much FORCES every character to be unique -- and not just standard permutations of shotos and archetypes.  (As a reminder, Street Fighter IV had six shotos -- nine, ostensibly, if you count Evil Ryu, Oni, and Sagat.)  Not only does it work from a gameplay perspective, shaping strategies and complimenting move sets, but it’s also a tool that can characterize each fighter in the absence of a story mode.  Not that there’s a story mode missing, but I’ll get to that.


--The Drive system exists alongside the general gameplay style and flow from Guilty Gear.  In terms of offense: you’ll chain together light, medium, and heavy attacks with (relatively speaking -- or at least compared to Street Fighter) generous input time for each button in your combo sequence.  Your meter is used for super moves, as usual, but you can also Rapid Cancel to return to a neutral state after an attack -- which means you can move into a new attack, OR use it to bail out of an unsafe attack before you get hammered.  Good stuff.

--In terms of defense, though?  Just like Guilty Gear, you’ve got plenty of options.  Put up your Barrier to reduce chip damage and progressively push back pressuring foes.  Blow back an aggressive enemy with a Counter Assault.  Save yourself from an enemy combo with a Burst, a last-ditch effort that can potentially decide a match.  You have options to protect yourself.  You’ll need them, given the aggressive style of the game.  And that’s made possible because of your mobility options.

--Outside of a handful of characters, every fighter in BB runs across the ground -- a stark contrast to Street Fighter, where a short-distance dash is the norm.  More importantly, you have a ton of aerial options; super jumps take you high, double jumps let you extend air combos (or screw up your opponent’s guard/anti-air attacks), and of course there are air dashes that let you close the distance from the sky.  Given that you can “instant air dash” to go from the ground to the air…uh, instantly…it helps make BB an inherently offensive game.

--It’s actively enforced, too.  Back off too much, and you’ll get hit with a meter-hammering Negative Penalty.  You don’t want to get hit by one of those.


--The weird thing about BB -- from its original outing, Calamity Trigger, to its fourth iteration Central Fiction -- is that it’s overhauled its defensive mechanics multiple times.  Back in the Calamity Trigger days, the Guard Libra system put both players on a scale, and the one who stayed on the offensive could tip the scales enough to score a guaranteed guard break on the defender.  Then Continuum Shift came out, and replaced that with the Guard Primer system -- i.e. each character had a set number of points, and taking hits from certain attacks (like Ragna’s Dead Spike) erased a point.  Lose all your points, and your guard gets broken.  Then they dropped that, so now there’s just a universal guard break attack.  Problem…solved?

--It’s pretty gutsy to make overwhelming changes to gameplay mechanics each time there’s a new entry in the franchise, not just mess around with frame data.  I’m happy with things as they are now, for sure.  But to be honest?  I kind of miss Guard Primers from CS.  On one hand, it means that you have a surefire way to open up an opponent even if they keep blocking everything -- which, in my experience, means you can land a super move or even a match-ending Astral Heat.  On the other hand, because only certain moves can sap those points, you and your opponent alike know exactly what to look for -- and, potentially, counter.


--I think that what gets to me about the latest editions of BB is the Overdrive system.  If you use the Burst command (the four face buttons by default, but I have it set to R1) while you’re getting hit, you’ll blow off an enemy.  If you use the Burst command in a neutral state or mid-combo, you’ll enter a special state where the clock stops ticking -- and more importantly, your character will gain a special property that’s tied to his or her Drive.  In any case, it’s always my personal fear that I’ll go Overdrive when I want a Burst, and that I’ll burst when I want an Overdrive…which has happened before.

--The bigger issue is that Overdrives are another wrinkle to combat that you have to have a firm understanding of beforehand.  Know how to maximize your damage with Noel once you tap her Overdrive?  I don’t.  Know what Noel’s Overdrive even does?  I don’t.  And really, it kind of seems too risky to even use.  Sure, you can pop it when you’re going in for the kill, but I’d personally save it for Bursts.

--To be fair, though, Central Fiction added Exceed Accels, AKA free supers that you can only use in Overdrive state.  The damage on them, when done without being in the stat-boosting Active Flow state, isn’t game-breaking -- SFIV and its Ultra Combos meant that you could lose 50% of your life in one random Hail Mary -- but the amount of invincibility you have on activation means you can shift the momentum and stage a comeback.

--Also, some of them are pretty cool.


--It’s at this point that I have to be upfront.  I honestly, legitimately don’t get my brother’s complaint about BB being too easy.  At the absolute basest, it’s GG in a different style -- but if you want to go down the shallow route, then yeah, it’s literally just GG.  That’s not to say that there are no nuances that separate the two, because there are; the Drive system is an overt example, but I suspect that BB’s action, as kinetic as it may be, moves at a slower pace than its older sibling.  The offensive and defensive options, coupled with mobility, make for a lot of in-game actions and choices made in fractions of a second.  And crucially, it’s an insult to the franchise to say it’s for babies or dumbed down just by looking at the cast.  If you’re looking for complexity, try learning the puppet master character.  Or the other puppet master character.  Or the other puppet master character.

--But I’ll play this game.  Let’s say that, for whatever reason -- something that a moron like me can’t grasp about BB that an ace or pro can -- BB really is a dumbed-down version of GG.  Those that say “it’s for babies” aren’t just blowing smoke.  My response to that is: so what?  Does being easier or simpler invalidate everything else that makes a game a game?  If so, then that means that there are people who’ll willingly dump all over 1) the visuals, 2) the music, 3) the aesthetic, 4) the cast, 5) the gameplay mechanics, 6) the rush of battle, and god knows how much else. 


--To be fair, it’s not as if extreme complexity = bad, just like extreme simplicity =/= good.  There should be some sort of an execution barrier (and in a similar vein, a genuine difficulty level in some form) when it comes to games, because otherwise you go from DMC4 to DmC.  But using that execution barrier to lock out people who are otherwise interested in helping a franchise or genre grow -- and holding up that barrier as something to celebrate or glorify -- means holding back on what a game, a genre, a community, and even an industry can be. 

--So to sum it up?  I see why people might argue against BB for being a simpler game (to an extent, given that it’s got wakeup/OTG/oki gameplay mechanics that GG doesn’t).  But that’s not to the game’s detriment, and it never should be.  A good game is a good game, in spite or because of its simplicity or complexity.  You don’t need three different versions of a move cancel to be a quality fighter, so let’s just drop it and move on.

--So here’s number one with a bullet.


--I feel really bad for not knowing this well in advance.  Apparently, Bullet -- an addition to Chrono Phantasma -- is more than just a punch-happy rushdown character.  As I discovered a few weeks ago, she’s actually a grappler.  Maybe not in the same league as Tager or Zangief, but she’s got an SPD-style input, a running grab, a close-range grab that launches (and sort of acts as her DP), and a super that not only uses a 720 input, but also has three stages…with the last input required being the rare 1080-degree input.

--But to generalize?  Bullet is so freaking cool, and I’m sad that I didn’t play her at all back when I used to play BB more regularly.  Part of it has to do with the fact that my bro used her (albeit VERY briefly), but a bigger part of it is that, well, I think her default stance is pretty dumb.  It looks really awkward, having her bent over so much; the implication is that her chest is so large and heavy that it weighs her down, which isn’t great for a physically-active mercenary.  Alternatively, they wanted a pose that made her butt protrude as far out as possible, as a reminder that she wears cutoff shorts just long enough to count as shorts.

--I swear, if they just made her stand up straight, she’d be pretty god-tier.  As-is, she’s still pretty up there, though; apparently, once she powers up with her Drive, she gains access to extended versions of her moves.  One of them makes it so that her SPD drags foes across the ground, only for her to fling them across the screen in a fiery burst.  It’s utterly amazing.

--Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaand of course, in my first trial run with her against my brother, I lost 5 times straight.  But I ran it back by winning 6 times straight with…


--Say hello to Celica, the potential secret hero of my stable of characters.  And I’ll explain why…next time.  Pardon me for leaving you in suspense, but that’s just the way it goes sometimes.  Got a problem with it?


See you next time.  Because there are more characters I want to go over -- alongside with that hungry hydra looming in the distance, the story.

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