Developer: Arc System Works
Publisher: Aksys Games
Release Date: March 25, 2014
ESRB: T for Teen
Forging the highly influential fighting game series, Guilty Gear, Arc System Works has shown that they have quite the knack at incorporating some really over-the-top characters in their equally crazy and deep fighting games. After some licensing problems early last generation, Arc System Works decided to create a spiritual successor to Guilty Gear, and so, the Blazblue series was born.
Surprisingly, despite being considered an obscure "anime fighter" overseas, Blazblue is actually easily one of the most popular recent fighting games in Japan, yes, even rivaling the likes of Street Fighter IV. That said, Blazblue as a series has certainly not been free from annualized releases and it is now seeing its fourth console release with Blazblue: Chrono Phantasma. This begs the question: does Chrono Phantasma prove to be just another incremental re-release or does this most recent title earn its rite of passage as a well-earned sequel?
The Blazblue series is one of the very few examples you could turn to for actual in-depth storytelling in a fighting game. Due to the sheer scale of the storytelling it could certainly pass on its own as a visual novel considering how far it goes to flesh out its world and characters, with Chrono Phantasma probably being the best example of storytelling overall in the series. Unfortunately, considering how it is the third part in the series (narratively-speaking), it does very little to invite people who weren't already invested since terminology like "Kushinaga“s Lynchpin," "Seithr," "the Boundary," â€œArs Magus," and plenty more jargon are likely to completely go over newcomers heads, and the so-called recap mode, "Teach Me, Miss Litchi," does very little to alleviate it. Even for fans, however, the storytelling is riddled with many slow, long-winded parts and some predictable narrative points, making it hard to recommend to beyond those who are already invested in its universe.
That said, that is just one facet of what the title has to offer, and what Blazblue is best at is being an excellent fighting game. So what makes this newest version better than the others? Well, I could bore you all day talking about mechanical changes and character tweaks, but really, if you cared about that you would've already looked into it. Beyond the story mode the most important additions are the new characters, faster overall gameplay, added gameplay mechanics, as well as the much improved modes and general interface.
Starting off, there are seven new characters, though this unfortunately includes two DLC characters. Sticking to Arc System Works strengths, however, these new characters add a ton of variety/depth and each plays radically different from one another. For example, the intimating Azrael exploits "weak points" to significantly increase his damage potential, while the misleading, yet fabulous, Amane utilizes his graceful mobility to fight from afar primarily using his huge scarf, and then there is the extremely agile Terumi who literally curb-stomps enemies into submission. Needless to say, the new characters are very welcome additions to the already hugely varied cast that are a part of the Blazblue series.
Serving as the offensive alternative to "Break Bursts", which knocks away foes mid-attack, there is a new mechanic introduced in Chrono Phantasma called "Overdrive". This enhances a character's offensive capabilities for a short period of time, while also briefly stopping the in-game match clock, and varies from character to character. While usually playing on character specific strengths, like the main character Ragna will drain more health from his attacks, or his partially psychotic brother Jin gains freezing properties to more of his skills, it also significantly increases the power of certain distortion drives (special attacks requiring meter).This new mechanic leads to some really cool combo potential as well as being great tool when the player is in a pinch, especially those who put in the time to master its inner workings.
If all of these crazy mechanics and new/old characters sound daunting to you, don't worry; Chrono Phantasma actually has a surprisingly comprehensive tutorial. I don't think it goes as far as, let's say, Skullgirls, having you fully understand fighting game terminology if you press all the way through it, but it does a great job at breaking down every in-game mechanic in addition to teaching you how specific characters work. The same applies to the challenge mode which, rare for the genre, seems to teach you combos and skills for each character that are actually viable in real competitive play.
Those who really sit down and play the title will appreciate the many clever improvements and additions to the online competitive play. You have your ranked matches, as well as the ability to create specific rooms for player matches or as an online training mode with friends, which have seen some much appreciated refinements in their interface, but what is likely the main attraction/most novel is how lobbies are handled. In lobbies, you create a custom chibi-esque avatar, as well as a goofy personal catch-phrase, and have your character roam an arcade-like environment that feels surprisingly casual, even if the competition you can find there are by no means that. Also, as usual for recent Arc System Works fighters, the online netcode is generally pretty good, allowing you to have matches that run rather reasonably steady overall.
I“m amazed I have gotten this far without gushing about the soundtrack. With the exception of certain background tracks in the story mode, the audio definitely takes some liberties with freshening up the musical score in Chrono Phantasma. Every single existing character battle theme has received entirely new arrangements in it, which are very refreshing to hear even if I think very few improve upon their fantastic original compositions. The entirely new and specific character battle themes like Amane's, Bullet's, Kagura's, and many others really steal the show, and Daisuke Ishiwatari still proves that he is some sort of gaming musical god with his many very varied approaches to rock-styled musical themes.
The rest of the presentation is a bit more mixed. As usual, I think choosing between either the Japanese and English dub really comes down to personal preference despite being mostly comparable. I find the Japanese to be much more well-rounded and have more varied voice talents, which was more than enough for me to prefer it, especially in the story mode. Also, while not surprising, it is disappointing that even if characters have a few new animations and there are some new environments, the visuals in-game have changed very little even since the first game.That by no means intentionally undercuts what is easily one of the best examples of 2D sprite-based animation in video games even now, but it is quite clear that very little has been improved upon cosmetically in this title.
Blazblue: Chrono Phantasma may completely alienate newcomers with its storytelling, but as a fighting game it makes a ton of smart adjustments for would-be fans that are old and new. It's pretty much as substantial as a sequel to a fighting game can get without essentially creating an entirely new game. The many added modes/characters, faster and more rewarding gameplay, in-depth storytelling, and the various improvements to the general interface do enough to make it not feel like a shallow cash-grab, despite using very familiar visual framework. It doesn't reinvent the wheel (of fate) for the series, but man does it give it some pretty sick rims for those who want to give the series' (ice) car another ride.
+ Huge amount of character variety, faster combat, and lots of depth to its gameplay
+ Well-made tutorials and challenges
+ Huge story mode that is the best in the series
+ Great online netcode with a much-improved system interface and a creatively implemented lobby hub
+ Fantastic new character battle themes and novel musical remixes of existing ones
-Dense amount of Internal jargon and awkwardly paced storytelling that will leave all but existing series fans completely lost
- Still using most of the same visual assets from the previous games
Overall Score: 8.5 (out of 10)
Unlike the previous iteration, Blazblue: Chrono Phantasma proves to be an earnest sequel that is full of content for fans both old and new to sink their teeth into. It is not wholly new but it makes a ton of refinements/improvements overall, making Chrono Phantasma without a doubt the best title in the series.
Disclosure: This game was reviewed using downloadable code provided by the publisher