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May 14, 2018

RE: BlazBlue: Cross Tag Battle

With each passing day, we come one step closer to the grand, global debut of our lady and savior, Blake Belladonna.  Yea, verily, BlazBlue: Cross Tag Battle is soon to be delivered upon us by the angels from on high, so that we may all engage in glorious combat with our blessed Faunus warrior.  Now, join me in prayer, that we may spread the holy word in the name of the best girl.


…Too strong with the kayfabe?  TOO BAD.

It won’t be long until BlazBlue: Cross Tag Battle sees its full release.  As of writing?  There’s a beta going on for anyone who’s taken the preorder plunge -- which I imagine is a not-insignificant number of fighting game fans.  I can’t help but wonder how the real BlazBlue fanatics will respond to CTB, I.e. whether or not it’ll replace the OG franchise and/or force those who have invested their very souls since the Calamity Trigger days to start over.

For now, though?  I guess it doesn’t really matter.  What’s important is that we’ll be hitting peak fighting game soon.  Yes, the genre is about landing hits and stringing together combos to crush foes, but even if you have the execution level of a crippled turtle, there’s a core element that makes even the most complex entry worthwhile: the characters.  Being able to lose yourself in battle by taking on the role of your chosen -- if not favorite -- avatar is a thrill that keeps me coming back for more, even if I’m destined to take a beating along the way.  So now I’m itching to play as Blake, whether she’s garbage-tier or not.  I just hope my brother doesn’t take a shine to her first -- because if he claims her, we will fight.

But here’s the problem.  It almost feels like CTB has taken advantage of that pure, base nature of fighting games.  Knowing full well that the main draw -- especially in a crossover game -- is the roster, it still comes off as absurd that this was, and still mostly is, a game willing to sell half of its roster in piecemeal portions.  Jim Sterling (as he’s wont to do) did a video on it a few months back when the news broke, and (again, as he’s wont to do) he has a point: why u do this?  I mean, besides the possibility of making more money, and/or getting the diehards on the hook?  

I guess the strategy is to release a cheaper base game to entice newer players -- save a few bucks on this “trial run” -- and then if they get interested, they can shell out extra cash later.  I guess it makes sense, in a way.  I mean granted, ArcSys could’ve just made the base game cheaper and released all 40-ish characters at once, given that there are cries to this day about how CTB is comprised almost entirely of “reused assets” (which may not be as clear-cut a case as the old sprites may seem), but whatever.  

I was pissed back then about the company hiding Blake behind a paywall beforehand -- Blake and Yang, so that not only were two of the only new characters locked away, but also the devs couldn’t even get the four main heroines of one of their crossover’s pillars into the base game.  Thankfully they ran back that decision so that Blake and Yang became free DLC, but A) it was only because they caved to rightful fan outcry, and B) it should never have reached that point.  Like I said, I was pissed back then, and I’m still residually pissed now.

Where do you go from there?  How do you come back from that?  ArcSys was riding high on the rising tide of Dragon Ball FighterZ, only to have the news break and droves of angry gamers declaring that they wouldn’t buy the game.  What did they think was going to happen?  Admittedly, what’s “going to happen” has yet to be revealed.  I’m already in by proxy because my brother can’t say no to a fighting game -- except SNK Heroines: Tag Team Frenzy…for now, at least -- and he already slapped down cash to grab all the warriors.  So is this just going to be how it is?  Is this our destiny?

Near as I can tell, there’s only one way to ease the sting: make the best damn game you can.  And given the limited time I’ve spent with the beta?  Even without Blake, the game’s pretty good.

…But I’m still mad, you bastards.

The game shares most of its DNA with BlazBlue, which shouldn’t come as a surprise.  Technically that means it shares DNA with all of the recent-ish 2D anime fighters.  But the important caveat here is that all of the gameplay mechanics from the myriad games -- up to and including the special gauges per character -- have been stripped away to streamline everything.  Nuances aside, the BlazBlue, Persona, and Under Night characters all play as they do in their games of origin, but in such a way that they all share the same overarching mechanics.  Give or take; Under Night characters could, IIRC, only get one jump cancel per combo, so I’ll need to see if that still holds true here.

But the more important thing is that you don’t have to worry about having your Persona cards being broken and being without Izanagi or Konohana Sakuya.  That’s good!  Conversely, some of the special mechanics tied to the characters are also gone.  So near as I can tell, Tager no longer has magnetism attached to his D-inputs, which by extension means that his Drive is gone.  That’s…bad?  It sure sounds like it, but the tradeoff is that now Tager can shoot his Spark Volt projectile whenever he wants.  That’s probably really good.

So the big question right now is how these characters are supposed to work when their core gimmicks have been sanded down.  Azrael can’t set markers anymore, which I guess means you can’t catch someone unaware with an unblockable Blackhawk Stinger.  But even if that’s true, you can still use the powered-up version of Valiant Charger -- complete with his combo bonanza follow-up -- like it’s nothing.  Presumably you have to spend meter to get it, since EX attacks are in the game.  But again, the question remains.  Guys like Ragna and Jin are easy to port over, but what about Platinum?  What about Hakumen?  What about Naoto?

The tradeoff here is obvious, though.  Instead of highly-specific mechanics for almost every single character (compounded by the differences between the three games), everyone shares universal mechanics -- the perfect way to minimize the amount of lab work and micromanagement needed to make so many clashing gauges work.  With this being a 2-on-2 fighter, how much you succeed or fail depends on how well you can have your two combatants sync up and tear down foes.  As is the standard.

On the whole, I like what CTB is selling.  It always seems like, when it comes to these team fighters, you’re out of luck if an opponent goes all in with offense.  Various Mahvel games, Street Fighter X Tekken, Dragon Ball FighterZ -- any defensive mechanics in there are token at best.  In CTB?  Setting aside that you have the ultimate saving throw, the Burst, this game’s version of Advancing Guard -- a “push block” that shoves away attacking opponents -- gives you a HUGE amount of breathing room, so you can at least try to mount a counteroffensive.  Also?  Having to deal with mix-ups for incoming characters won’t be the gamble they were in crossover games past; your 2nd character comes in so quickly, you might actually stop your foe cold with a quick knockdown before he or she tries anything sneaky.

I appreciate games with defensive mechanics so you don’t have to sit there blocking for half an hour or die, but let’s be real here.  CTB is all about the offense.  Every character -- once they’re in the 2nd slot of your team -- comes pre-loaded with 3 assists, so you’re not locked into choosing a partner based on how strong of a beam they can shoot.  As with all other games of this type, you’ll be using your assists to create mix-ups, extend combos, or apply pressure.  Especially that last one; Gordeau’s Grim Reaper is pretty unsafe on block, but if you bring in an assist at the right time, you can cover him and open up a foe for trying to challenge you.

I speak from experience.  And on that note: I don’t think Gordeau is overpowered or anything, but this guy is going to be a problem.

The basics of the assist system are easy enough to grasp -- which is probably for the best, because of how crucial it’ll likely be to have assists going as often as possible.  After eating one loss after another from my brother and his Gordeau, something clicked in my head and I realized that I should do what he does: bolstering my Hyde, and my offense, with my partner.  It’s not as if I unleashed or unlocked any sick combos, but I at least managed to keep him in check until I could crack him open.  And it felt good to go on the attack for once.

With that in mind, I know that once my brother gets to sit down with the full game -- possibly in an 8-ish hour marathon, as he did with DB FighterZ -- I’m going to get smeared all over the pavement.  It’s not even about him learning extended assist combos.  It’s the fact that, presumably, CTB’s gameplay mechanics might make for one of the dirtiest, most vile, salt-inducing 2v2 games ever.  Call your assist!  Switch to your assist mid-call!  Have your assist enter a special mode where he/she can keep attacking with assists and thus stay on the field a la Mahvel Infinite’s Soul Stone Infinity Storm!  Oh, how the rage will flow.

Also, better learn how to read and block overheads.  Given that you can get a special tag-team animation and big damage from it -- I.e. a single button press -- you’d damn well better be holding your stick in the right direction.  If not…

My biggest concern right now is a minor one, and not necessarily an indictment of the full game (for now).  The button layout for CTB is vastly different from the norm; you’ve got two dedicated attack buttons, and sort of a heavy/C/Hard Slash button.  One button calls in your assist.  A second tags you out.  You can set up your other buttons -- as I did -- to your universal reversal (your “get off me” move) and your throw.  The end result is that if you’ve developed muscle memory from any of the three games, prepare to get mentally wrecked.

I thought I could do okay with Yukiko, my P4A main, but I couldn’t reconcile the differences between her original and CTB incarnation.  The inputs for all of her basic combos are different; hitting A with her here was the equivalent of hitting her C in the other game.  I had no clue how to get her specials to come out.  Controlling space with my Persona puppetry?  Nah, son.  For a while, I couldn’t do much besides throw fans.  It reached a point where I could play Hyde, a character I’ve only touched twice, far better than guys I’ve battled with for years.

I wouldn’t blame anyone for saying that CTB is a copy-paste job, but even if that’s true?  There’s a silver lining: the devs decided to copy and paste from some of the best 2D fighters out there.  I think that’s an acceptable shortcut.  Though we’re a ways out from the game, rest assured I’m more excited now than I was before to get in deep with the characters (and the mechanics, to a lesser extent -- though there are guides if you need them…and have 33 minutes to spare).  I want my boys Hakumen and Azrael back at my side.  I want to make up for lost time with Under Night and learn Hyde and Orie for real.  I want to go ham with Yukiko and zone out any rowdy Gordeau players.  Of which, I assume, there will be many.

I’m wary of what ArcSys tried to do with this game, and it’s infuriating to have to deal with, however passively.  The absloute worst thing that could happen isn’t that people get mad about DLC practices; it’s the fear, and hopefully not the reality, that droves of gamers will get turned off from such an intriguing game because of the chance to indulge in some good old fashioned corporate greed.  As much as I like the game, the franchises, and the company at large, I won’t even try to defend their practices on this one.  So I’ll defend something better instead.

BlazBlue: Cross Tag Battle is pretty rad, and 65% of that radness comes from the fact that Blake Belladonna is in it.


…Still too strong?

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