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September 14, 2017

Shower Thoughts with BlazBlue: Central Fiction

So, how ‘bout them anime fighters, huh?

You know, it’s funny.  I remember a time when it seemed like we would never get another Guilty Gear game (i.e. a totally new one instead of a revamp like Accent Core), but Arc System Works pulled through by introducing the world to Ragna, Jin, and all the rest -- “the rest”, of course, being high-octane sprite battles and tunes provided by verifiable rock deity Daisuke Ishiwatari.  Now the tables have turned, though.  Guilty Gear is back via the Xrd series, while BlazBlue is most likely on its way out thanks to (what I assume is) a wrapped-up story.

Full disclosure: I know BB has its detractors, but I’m not one of them.  I like the franchise, and I think -- or at least hope -- that there’s room for both it and GG in the fighting game world.  Then again, supporting both might stretch ArcSys’ resources too thin, soooooooooooooooooooooo…yeah, not a pleasant thought.

So let’s sidestep the grim realities of game development and wealth disparities.  Let’s get in deep with BlazBlue.  And, more specifically…

It’s probably worth noting upfront that the real reason I’m making this post is because I’m back into BB -- largely because my brother got back into it.  Like a lot of people, he’s been waiting for Jubei to drop for a long time; once he arrived, he popped the disc in and grabbed the latest version of the game.  In the time since, he’s…actually given up on the game again, having called it “GG for babies”.  That’s a pretty bold statement, coming from someone who’s endured 20-straight and almost-40-straight losses in GG against me, someone who relies almost exclusively on the basics to get by.  But I digress.

I have sincere doubts that he’ll ever pick up BB and/or Jubei again, but based on my early impressions?  Take this with a grain of salt, since dear old big bro lives almost exclusively for rushdown, but the furry swordsman is a pressure monster.  It seems like he can attack for days if you let him, and a lot of the time I was left wondering “is that safe?” or “is he open yet?” and getting clipped because of it.  Near as I can tell, he’s an easy target if/when he tries to throw his fireball, especially if you’ve got a long-range Distortion Drive to catch him in the act.  On the other hand -- according to Dustloop -- his small size actually helps him slip under certain attacks (which I suspected mid-battle).  On the other, other hand, he’s apparently always in a crouching state.  So I guess that means you can take him on a trip to Overhead City?

It’s a safe bet that my brother’s itching to put BB back on the shelf so he can go back to the other fighters.  Honestly, I don’t blame him; trying to stay trained-up to face him in matches in any random fighter of his choosing means that, as of right now, I may or may not need to become intensely proficient in five games at once (and I’m just waiting for the day when he gets back into King of Fighters XIV, which will force me to start over from scratch).  He’s a guy who, if not for major releases like Destiny 2, might spend as much as 10 hours a week landing combos and juggling opponents.  And that might be a conservative estimate.  It’d be a miracle if I put that much time into my training in a month. 

What I’m getting at here is that logically speaking, I should drop BB as soon as I can, because the last time the two of us threw down he switched us to GG before we’d even played BB for an hour -- and, notably, that was the first time we’d played BB together for the first time in about 10 months.  But you know what?  I’m not going to drop it.  Not yet.  See, there’s something about fighting games -- not just BB -- that I suspect my brother might have long since learned to overlook.  And that would be…

One of the things I value most about a fighting game is its cast of characters.  Since it’s not like I can jump into the screen and chuck plasma, I have to rely on avatars to do the brawling on my behalf -- and because of it, I learn to appreciate them in one way or another.  So to put it plainly, I’m a character loyalist.  Unless I’m getting absolutely hammered in matches (and even then, as was the case with Marvel 3 Phoenix Wright), I’ll stick with the guys and ladies I’ve chosen no matter what.

That’s probably one of about 1,864 divides between me and my brother.  He’s the type that’s always out to prove himself in combat and show off his skills -- and, ostensibly, to improve once he thinks he’s hit the limit with someone else.  I may give him crap on a regular basis, and I may break his pride whenever the chance pops up in-game, but I’ve got no problems admitting that he’s closer to embodying Ryu’s mentality and work ethic than you’d ever expect.  When it comes to fighting games, at least. 

The tradeoff is that because of it, it’s less about the characters and more about his self-satisfaction.  Xrd Revelator is out and gives us Johnny?  He’s on it -- until he loses too much, and then switches to Slayer.  Losing too much as Slayer?  Better switch strategies and pick up Venom.  Xrd Rev 2 is out (and also losing too much as Venom)?  Time to pick up Baiken.  Losing too much as Baiken?  Back to Venom.  Or May…even though my Potemkin is a hard-ass counter to a lot of her gimmicks.

It’s not as if he’s 100% pragmatic in his character choices (if there’s a ninja, he’s almost always on that shit), but the fluidity of his roster is notable.  Still, he needs an anchor no matter what game he’s playing.  There has to be someone he’s willing to invest his time, energy, and pride into -- which to be clear doesn’t make him different from any other fighting game fan out there.  In terms of GG, he’s got guys.  In terms of Street Fighter, he’s got guys.  In terms of BB, he’s got…nobody.  In the time since the initial release, he’s played Jin, Bang, Tager, Hazama, and (briefly) Ragna.  In the time since the initial release, he’s dropped all of those characters.  Is it really solely because BB is for babies?  Is it too simple for him?  Given the potential complexity of the game, I have my doubts.  Whether he knows it or not, I suspect that it really has to do with him not syncing up with the cast.

I don’t blame him.  I would’ve gotten into the NetherRealm fighters a lot sooner if they had characters I actually liked -- and for the most part, Jax is the only one that suits my fancy.  So maybe the issue with BB is one that I’ve seen expressed by a fair number of people: it’s too anime.  I kind of hate the idea that people would shrug off and spit on a game just because of some preconceived notion that “anime = garbage”, but it wouldn’t surprise me if that scorn had an influence on BB’s reputation.  Not to go off-topic, but that might be part of a broader issue with perception; dear old big bro only just learned what RWBY was thanks to a brief conversation with me, after which he assumed that there was a massive overlap between RWBY fans and My Little Pony fans.  And then he asked if I was a brony.

This is RWBY, by the way.

“Nothing in the world is more dangerous than sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity.”
        --Martin Luther King Jr.

I will be fair, though.  If this is the last BB game we’re ever going to get -- and Jubei is the last character they’ll ever add to the roster -- then the cast has some real winners and real losers.  I started out as a Ragna player because I was still new to the ArcSys style, but I made sure to add Hakumen to my stable as soon as I could; to this day, he remains one of my absolute favorite video game characters ever.  Tsubaki’s not far behind, though, and I have a soft spot for the Mad Dog Azrael -- not just because we share a birthday, but because he has one of my favorite fighting game moves ever.  When the latest iteration came out, I had my heart set on learning how to use Naoto; I have a soft spot for hand-to-hand fighters, especially when they’re in games/settings with a heavy emphasis on weapon-based combat.

The problem with BB, I think, is that depending on your preferences -- or rather, no matter what your preferences -- there’s a good chance you’ll think some characters are absolute trash.  I’m in the same boat.  I resent the whole franchise for having, like, five versions of Ragna’s little sister running around.  None of them are very appealing to me design-wise, story-wise, or gameplay-wise, but they’re central to the plot regardless (and high-tier on multiple occasions). 

Recent entries like Kagura and Hibiki are pretty meh for me, but I’ll gladly take them over Makoto and Taokaka.  I am super-not okay with some of the fanservice-ready design choices in the franchise; some are fine, but then you look at Mu-12 and you can hear the sirens pulling up to your doorstep.  Also, it seems like the further the series went, the more it transitioned from a gentle, nonchalant lean on anime tropes to WE ANIME NOW, BOIZ.  It’d explain why there’s a literal magical girl in the midst.

Not gonna lie, though: I’ve totally played as Platinum in the past.  Haven’t regretted it a bit.

But that’s the clincher, isn’t it?  Yes, designs, appearances, and tones are important parts of the equation; you can’t expect anything less from another entry in this audiovisual medium.  Still, gameplay factors in just as readily, if not primarily so.  It’s through those onscreen actions that you can really sync up with a character -- to know them, to feel them, and to become them as you take on foe after foe.  Sometimes that’s easy to do with a cast; sometimes it’s hard.  But for me and BB, it’s absolutely easy.  Certainly possible.

Honestly, it feels like the ball and chain has been dropped from my ankles.  Since I don’t have to obsessively train to play catch-up with a brother that’s miles ahead of me in skill, I’m free to try out whoever I want without fear of getting humiliated -- like being forced to take a big test while blindfolded with marmots taped to your hands.  I’m free to explore the characters and the game.  And because of it, I’m appreciating BB more than I ever did in the past.  Is it GG?  No, of course not.  But it doesn’t have to be. 

Even if it may have sprung from GG’s proverbial loins, BB still has an identity of its own -- least of all because of the cast it’s been rocking for almost a decade.  I wish we lived in a world where everyone could be tolerant of the two; well-made fighting games deserve all the respect they can handle, even if their particulars aren’t quite to someone’s tastes.  But for now?  I’m thankful for the devs putting so much effort into making the supposed GG substitute as good as it is.  What’s next for the franchise?  I don’t know.  But I hope that whatever comes next, the true fans will be there to welcome it with open arms -- and I’ll be right there with them.

So no, this isn’t the end for me and BB.  In fact, it might just be the beginning.  Look forward to me saying more about it in the future, because there’s plenty to unpack.  How’s the gameplay?  How’s the story?  How’s the cast?  I’ll do what I can to answer all the questions I can.  Consider it the challenge my brother inadvertently left me: as his eternal rival, it’s my mission to prove him wrong.

I mean…it’s not like I can force feed him a Heavenly Potemkin Buster in real life, so passive-aggressive blog posts will have to do.

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