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September 25, 2017

BlazBlue, 8.213 Years Later (Part 2)

It’s past September 19th.  Yo, when’s mahvel?  I mean…where’s the latest Marvel vs. Capcom Infinite post?

It’s coming, don’t worry.  But if I’m going to talk about it, I want to make sure I’m ready first -- which means I need to put some serious time into it.  I have already with my prototype team of Captain Marvel and Haggar (coupled with the Space Stone so I can trap people in the Shame Cube), but it feels like an insufficient , almost infinitesimal amount.  Do I really have a grasp of the mechanics?  Possibly, given that I saw a fair number of wins in my first online session.  But I have my doubts -- and more importantly, I don’t just want to play the same two characters over and over again.  Somebody has to rep X, after all.

So I’ll save the Infinite stuff for later, because if I had to guess, this is going to be a multi-post endeavor.  Fine by me, I suppose, even though there’s other stuff I want to talk about.  Like…I know this is off-topic, but can we just take a minute to celebrate MasterChef?  I’ve been watching since day one, but this was the first season to have me tears.  And swell up with joy.  And pump a fist for the person I hoped would win actually winning it.  It ain’t Iron Chef, but it’ll do in a pinch.

Okay, enough messing around.  Let’s talk about BlazBlue some more.

--I first tried out Celica in Central Fiction when it came out in 2016.  “Trying her out” was as far as I got; I didn’t use her much outside of a couple of test matches, so I didn’t go through her Arcade Mode or do any tutorial stuff with her.  Despite being a Stand user, I wasn’t that into her design or character; she came off as a generic anime schoolgirl in a franchise that, despite its anime leanings, tried to offer up plenty in a unique style.  (This is the franchise that gave us Arakune, after all.)  So I didn’t get too far with her.

--These days?  I’m still not super-into her design or style, but I’m more tolerant of it.  Her saving grace for me is her gameplay, though; she’s basic enough and billed for beginners, which is what a n00b like me could use from time to time.  More importantly?  The crux of her potential isn’t solely dependent on her being a Stand user.  It’s that her Drive lets her heal as she successively lands D attacks.  So on one hand, if you’re getting walloped, you can still make a comeback.  On the other hand, if you’re dominating (or holding your own, even), your ability to restore health means you’re effectively immortal.  At the very least, you’re not at risk of losing a round via time out.

--I’d say that I’m keen on using her more -- and I kind of am -- but it’s time for us to move on to the main event.

--I’ve wanted to use Litchi since the days of CT, but I got scared off by her seemingly-infinite complexity.  Now that the limiters are seemingly off and I don’t have to worry about keeping up in the brotherly arms race, I’m free to use her without getting bodied or chided for…well, sucking.  So far, I haven’t regretted my choice.  Right now I can’t do much out of rapid BnBs and some slightly-extended corner combos, but that’s fine.  I expected that much out of the gate.

--The thing about Litchi is that she has two modes -- one with her bo staff, and one without.  Use her D inputs to set and/or call in the staff; calling it back to her turns it into a projectile that whacks foes on its way -- which means that in order to get the most and longest combos out of her, you have to couple the staff with her basic attacks.  I’d like to learn a few more combos, having seen what can be done with her, but right now what’s important to me is her standard move set.  

--Litchi without her staff has faster normals and some tweaks to her special moves (i.e. she loses some but gains others), but at the cost of range and defensive options.  Litchi with her staff has a huge range, but many of her attacks become slower -- including her crucial anti-airs, though I’m not 100% sure.  I favor the latter mode, in all honesty, to the point where I think (however foolishly) that I don’t need to drop the staff unless I feel like being stylish.  Plus it technically means you have to learn two characters instead of one, sooooooooooooo…baby steps.

--But beyond that?  I’ve always thought that Litchi was a cool character.  Even if I couldn’t wrap my head around her gameplay-wise, I like what she brings to the table story-wise.  She’s a good person with a sharp mind and a gentle heart, which helps her bridge the gap between the pricklier members of the cast (she manages to soothe then-obsessive Carl Clover in a heartwarming moment).  But as per her character arc, she ends up losing herself to her obsession, even if -- especially if -- it means turning to the dark side, shunning her friends, and risking her body and mind for the sake of a monster that can’t even speak properly.  That’s pretty strong.

--Real talk, though.  I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: Litchi in her doctor outfit >>>> Litchi in her battle outfit.  Even if the saying goes “less is more”, sometimes more is more.  Although given that she shows off less skin in her doctor outfit, does that mean that she’s still exemplifying the “less is more” rule?  The mind boggles.

--Other standouts among the cast for me include:
1) Tsubaki.  Best girl in the whole franchise, gameplay- or story-wise.  I just haven’t gotten around to playing as her in this latest version because she’s such an obvious choice.  Also, who needs Izayoi when you’ve got DA REAL HOTNESS right over there?
2) Amane.  Given that he was another CP entry, I’m inclined to think that that game was where magic happened.  He’s more awkward to use than GG’s Axl, but kind of fills the same niche -- and more importantly, has an interesting gimmick with his Drive.  Chip Damage: The Character needs more play.
3) Naoto.  Even if he didn’t have his Drive (which summons blood weapons to attack from outer-mid range), I’d still think he was rad as hell just for fighting with punches and kicks.

--I’ve still got Hakumen and Azrael to fall back on, naturally.  Most of my CP time went to Azrael, so I have a decent grasp on how to play as him.  Hakumen was my old standby in every version up to this one, BUT I need to go into the lab before I take him out for a spin.  Seems as if he got some new moves -- and more pressingly, the devs seem to change his inputs and move properties each time.  That ain’t good for business.

--Side note: I’m so happy BB has been pushing in-game character tutorials for ages now, because they’re very much appreciated.  I think that fighting games in general could stand to have in-depth, built-in tutorials/demonstrations -- not just trials or “how to play” snippets -- as a standard.  Add in an incentive to play them, like extra unlockable content or Fight Money, and you’ve got a winner.

--So.  How about that story?  Bearing in mind that this is the canon where a witch falls in love with a cat and has a half-cat daughter.

--For the record: I finished the stories in both CT and CS.  And you know what?  I enjoyed them.  Were they masterpieces?  No.  But they were among one of the rare attempts in the genre to even try telling a story instead of a string of non-canon arcade endings.  And in a sense, BB reconciled that point.  Originally, the story revolved around the characters being locked in a time loop -- set to progress to a certain point (Ragna getting killed/absorbed by Nu-13 and becoming the dreaded Black Beast) and then reset.  Thanks to Noel, the loop ended up being broken, and that was where the problems started.

--Hazama (in reality, Yuuki Terumi) started to manipulate the proverbial chess pieces in earnest to enact his master plan.  He had already conned Ragna and Jin, but as a member of the world government, he pulled the strings to pit Tsubaki against Noel, and ultimately get Noel to become the deadly Mu-12 and destroy on his behalf. Ragna pulls through thanks to a last-minute boost from Lambda-11 and shuts Terumi down…only for the reveal that his little sister Saya was the game’s Big Bad.

--After that?  I tapped out.  I know that’s a real cop-out, and unfair to CP, but hear me out on this.  There’s reason behind my rhymes.

--The format of CT and CS’ story modes was a thousand times more conducive towards player interest than what CP (and to a lesser extent CF) offered.  In the first two games, you didn’t have to 100% every single character over the course of a dozen hours.  Just pick the ones that matter most to the plot, play through their versions of the story, and boom.  True End and credits.  It’s not just a matter of making things more manageable; this way, you get to play as the characters you care about, with the tertiary members given their due in side stories that nonetheless provide plenty of insight.

--For me, CP hit the wall hard.  The characters are all lumped into three different factions, and even if you can jump straight to Hakumen’s part in the story (relatively speaking), that still means you have to power through the rest of the content.  Or, to put it a different way: you can’t get anywhere with anyone until you listen to Noel and Makoto prattle on, and Ragna turn into a parrot after he repeats pretty much every phrase and concept spewed at him.  And I swear it takes two solid hours just to reach the first fight of the story mode.  I couldn’t handle it.

--To be clear, BB has never been a simple, straightforward story.  It was clearer in CT, but IIRC, right at the outset of CS you get fed info about Takamagahara and Observers and whatnot, without much of an explanation of what those are.  And really, one of the major issues with the canon is that there’s too much shit to keep track of -- like the devs started world-building and never, ever bothered to stop.  The glossary of terms included in CF has dozens of entries per category, and even then some of them are vague and unsatisfying.  I spent what little time I did with CP asking “What’s Kushinada’s Lynchpin?” and didn’t get a straight answer at all.  I would have if I kept playing, but I would’ve drowned in the other dozen terms and concepts being thrown at me.

--Another big issue?  Each successive new character adds a layer of complexity that the story really didn’t need -- because apparently, everybody has to matter and everybody has to have some secret tie to the mysteries of their universe.  Amane can’t just be some fabulous dancer; he has to be a candidate for becoming an Observer, even though you barely understand what that means.  Bullet can’t just be a mercenary; she has to have been a subordinate under pre-Red Devil Tager.  I don’t even know where to begin with Kokonoe and Relius.

--Sometimes it feels like characters -- if not the plot in general -- are only there to throw in nebulous factoids to pad out the glossary.  Like, you want a story with lots of characters?  Fine.  But some have more weight than others.  Some don’t need to bring new baggage into a story that literally requires a basic grasp of quantum theory to understand.  Have them add in personal stakes and compartmentalized tales of their own.  As it stands, BB is what would happen if Street Fighter decided to bring back Dee Jay, but gave him a new version of the Dark Hadou that broke the rules of causality and pulled Retsu into the present.  You don’t know what’s going on or why, but now there are a ton of new questions that need answering just by making one character more essential than necessary.

--So I guess if I had to summarize?  BB on the whole -- or at least post-CS, but even then -- is a good story told poorly.  There are interesting characters and interesting concepts, for sure.  There are good moments when it becomes less about peddling and introducing new MacGuffins, and more about the interplay between these characters.  (Hakumen’s “old man’s tale” with Tsubaki is a clear standout.)  But everything dies under the weight of the supra-dimensional magitek bullshit that you have to wade through to get to those moments -- not to mention you have to get there despite characters you don’t care about.  (I get it, Platinum.  You don’t like women with large chests.)

--That said, I do think I prefer CF’s story to CP’s.

--Maybe CP was a fluke or slump or something.  If you opt in, CF lets you have a recap of the entire story up to that point, and I had a pretty solid grasp of what happened despite going years without seeing either CT or CS.  Then the recap gets to CP, and I’m like “Huh?  Wha?  Juh?”  Fortunately, things start to look up for CF -- primarily because it seems like a soft (hard?) reboot of the entire franchise.  Ragna’s lost his memory, but it seems like everyone else has, too…at least that’s the case for those trapped inside the Embryo, which is made out of the body/remains of Takamagahara…or is it Takemikazuchi…?  And for whatever reason, Izanami thinks that that’s a good thing, given her plan to use Amaterasu to DAMMIT, DO YOU SEE WHAT I’M TALKING ABOUT HERE, PEOPLE?

--But on the plus side?  From what I’ve seen, the focus is back on the amnesiac Ragna as he seemingly relives CT.  There’s forward motion in the plot, even if it’s well-worn territory -- though to be fair, I think it’s an interesting move to technically hit the reset button for the last entry in the franchise.  And if you want to see more out of the cast, you can via substories that unlock as you progress.  It’s a back-to-basics approach that I appreciate; a more complex story doesn’t always make it a better story.  (Now somebody relay that golden nugget to Tetsuya Nomura and the rest of the Squeenix crew.)

--I don’t know how much more of BB’s story I’ll go through from here on.  But even if I don’t go back?  I can at least say I was more enthusiastic about going back in.  That’s an accomplishment, given how hard I bailed on CP.

And that’s about all I’ve got.  It goes without saying, but you can count me as a fan of BB.  More importantly, you can count me as a fan of BB AND GG; you can like one as well as the other thanks to both their similarities and their differences.  And even if BB isn’t to everyone’s taste -- which I get -- let’s not pretend like it’s totally worthless.  It isn’t.

The release of the Xrd games put GG back in the hands of the fans.  But even if that’s true, BB held down that niche -- and admirably -- for years on end.  We can’t just shrug that off because the OG is here again.  At the same time, we can’t just see BB as a substitute in those dark times.  For good and for ill, it became its own beast.  It delighted fans old and new.  And I hope that, no matter what comes next, it has both a bright future and a shining legacy.

With that in mind…I’m hella down for Cross Tag Battle.  I can’t imagine the game not having Blake Belladonna in it, which means it’s automatically the Game of the Year Every Year.

Simply the best.

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