Developer: Arc System Works
Publisher: Aksys Games
Platform: PS3 and PS4
Release Date: November 1, 2016
ESRB: T for Teen
Note: This review is based on the PlayStation 4 version of the game
All things considered, 2016 was actually a solid year for fighting games. Sure, Street Fighter V is facing the consequences of its less than stellar approach to content at launch, but remains as a well-crafted fighter none the less. More or less the same is true for less popular, yet generally reputable, fighting game titles such as the surprisingly good King of Fighters XIV or Pokken Tournament to more safe yet solid iterations such as Guilty Gear Xrd: Revelator or Killer Instinct Season 3.
To top the year's end off was the most recent release of my own personal favorite fighting game series: Blazblue. Promising new characters, gameplay mechanics, as well as be the final narrative installment of the confusing tetralogy, Blazblue: Central Fiction will feel complete on its own.
People tend to approach Blazblue for either the deep fighting gameplay or its robust visual novel story mode. As much as I love the series, Blazblue's storytelling borders on the level of Kingdom Hearts with its often convoluted approach by casually tossing out phrases like "Seithr", "Phenomenon Intervention", "Nox Nyctores", "The Boundary" and many more during the telling of it. With three previous games that had roughly twenty hour visual novel story modes each, it has become important for many series' fans and also likely indecipherable at this point for those that aren't by now.
However, as someone who was expecting a narrative train wreck for the final installment, I was actually rather pleasantly surprised by how much is resolved in the main story in Central Fiction. It closes the book on most story threads and is paced noticeable better than previous games by pushing much of the excessive idle banter into optional chapters. I may have a qualm or two with cringe-worthy anime trope moments, and occasionally its pacing, but most fans should be pleased with much of the conclusion.
Where Central Fiction gets most of its longevity is undoubtedly through its rich 2D fighting gameplay. The total character roster has jumped thirty-five total and most of which play vastly different from one another because of their unique character-specific "drive" mechanic (with the sole exceptions of probably Lambda and Nu-13). New additions to the playable list include light-novel spin-off protagonist Naoto, the powerful magician Nine: The Phantom, the ninja-like assassin Hibiki, Goddess of death Izanami, as well as a few others locked behind either DLC or the story mode.
As strange of a composition as the new characters are, they are quite fun overall, like Nine whom crafts different spells mid-fight based on using different elemental attack combinations; Naoto, who uses powerful charge attacks that can break guards; and Susano, who unlocks skill seals to gain access to powered up abilities, and so on.
Even if that sounded complicated (their story relevance even more so), Central Fiction does rather well with its gameplay tutorials. The tutorials are not quite as fun and free-flowing as Guilty Gear Xrd: Revelator was, but there is a lot of positive reinforcement through them and they are willing to explain the most basic of the aspects of game or fighters in general, to far more complicated character-specific mechanics, which is welcome.
This certainly helps as Central Fiction adds some new system mechanics like "Active Flow", which powers up "Distortion Drives" based on meeting certain battle conditions or the new meter-less special attack, Exceed Accel, that all characters can use during their Overdrive mode. Again, mechanics like these and plenty more you can learn through the many helpful tutorials if you care to do so. Which, for a very dense fighter that is more than four iterations in, can be invaluable for newcomers or those who want to brush up their understanding.
Now -- other than those aspects -- not a whole lot new has been brought to the table specifically for Central Fiction. It has modes one would expect like arcade, an unlock based gallery mode, and online multiplayer. The least traditional mode it even has, but not actually new to Blazblue, is the RPG-like mode renamed "Grim of Abyss", which has seen a bit of an overhaul with its design and remains rather addictive despite being an occasional interface nightmare of menus.
An incredibly crucial component for many fighters nowadays is, of course, the online multiplayer. The cute 2D sprites and arcade-like lobbies from Blazblue: Chrono Phantasma make a return and there are custom player and ranked matches for those who don't want to face just anymore for online multiplayer. The only aspect that is really new at all is basically the ability to create your own online room and add random furniture to it, which I honestly fail to see much of a point to, but whatever.
More importantly than any of that is the quality of the netcode, however, which... is kind of iffy. Frankly, it does not seem quite as good as Arc System Work's own Guilty Gear Xrd: Revelator (which is excellent) when I directly compared it side by side. I am not sure if this is something that will be patched down the line, and while the netcode is not bad by any means, I just wish it ran as well as Revelator's when my connection claims to be at its peak.
It is hard to believe that Blazblue as a series is more than eight years old at this point. And, for a series that is more than four iterations in it manages to mostly reaffirm those who already love it as a complex and rewarding fighter by adding more to it in addition to satisfying those who are into its storytelling with the surprisingly conclusive finale.
Still, for those hoping to see a huge leap in gameplay changes, Central Fiction simply is not that. It is the most approachable and content-filled the series has ever been, thanks to many helpful tutorials, but is unlikely to change minds one way or another for those who have been already been exposed to its more recent releases.
+ Huge and highly diverse playable character roster
+ Surprisingly conclusive main narrative
+ Tutorials are helpful and provide a lot of positive reinforcement for a very mechanically dense fighter
+ Fun online lobbies and many gameplay unlockables
- Netcode does not seem as good as Arc System Work's own Guilty Gear Xrd: Revelator
- No English dub whatsoever can be disappointing
- Central Fiction's narrative is not approachable in the slightest for newcomers to the series
Overall Score: 8.5 (out of 10)
Even if it does not bring huge gameplay changes for the series at large, Blazblue: Central Fiction is without a doubt the best iteration of the series to date with the smart additions to its rewarding gameplay that also provides a solid narrative resolution for fans as well
Disclosure: This game was reviewed using downloadable PS4 code provided by the publisher.