BlazBlue: Continuum Shift EXTEND ReviewKyle Stepp
The wheels of fate are turning.
A young blonde female soldier wielding a pair of guns stands opposite another girl, a redhead wearing an elaborate uniform, her icy blue eyes cold and calculating the perfect time to strike her foe. They weren't always enemies, though. They attended the same academy, and even shared a dorm room, The redhead, Tsubaki Yayoi, and the blonde, Noel Vermillion, overcame the boundaries of class in their stringent society and even overcame the rampant racism in their school when they successfully defended the half-human, half-squirrel hybrid Makoto Nanaya from daily bullying. The three of them formed a bond that seemed like it could never be broken. But it was.
The history of their friendship and fallout is explored deeply in BlazBlue: Continuum Shift EXTEND's expansive story mode. Unlike other fighters, which are happy to give you a tiny cutscene between each battle, BlazBlue's story mode plays out like a visual novel, with exposition and branching pathways leading to alternate endings, and even gag endings with laugh-out-loud moments. Each of the game's characters has a story mode, and although not all of them need to be played through to reach the "True Ending," each one is a treat to experience. The encompassing story revolves around a phenomenon known as the continuum shift, which causes time to continuously loop, though events can (and usually do, at least a little) play out differently the next time around. In Ragna's story mode, you witness his bumping into the catgirl Taokaka, who forces him to feed her, and she shows him a secret route for his troubles. In her own storyline, you see the events that lead up to and beyond her bumping into him. It gives the story an interweaved feeling that no other fighter can compare to. With the level of depth that BlazBlue's story has, it's worthy of a full price purchase just on its own.
That's why it's so surprising that there's so much content on the little Playstation Vita card. On top of the awesome story mode, there's also the typical modes you'd think of in a fighter: arcade mode, versus mode, etc. But expanding on even those, there's a score attack mode where you compete for the highest score you can get, as well as two particularly fantastic modes called Abyss and Unlimited Mars. Abyss mode plays out similarly to a cross between an RPG and the typical survival mode seen in fighters. You begin with the ability to purchase some intial upgrades using points earned during gameplay. On top of boring things like attack, speed, and defense upgrades, there's also upgrades such as Regeneration, which restores your character's health over time in battle. There's also personal upgrades that can be purchased once you've cleared a certain point in the Abyss. Unlimited Mars mode pits you against extremely tough opponents while environmental hazards also come into play, making sure you're on your toes. There's a trophy to unlock for even just ATTEMPTING the mode enough times... I have no idea if there's a trophy for actually finishing it.
The online play is a dream, as well. On top of cross-platform support with the PlayStation 3 version, the online mode itself is surprisingly smooth. Before each battle, I'd notice a spot of lag, but during the actual fighting, it was completely smooth. The multitude of content in the game is the sort of stuff you don't expect in a handheld release: you EXPECT the handheld version to be the neutered one, but the Vita sacrifices nothing to bring an experience that's as complete and fulfilling as its console counterparts, and perhaps that's its most striking and impressive feature.
What's significantly less impressive is the fact that it includes DLC. I'm one of those of the mindset that DLC is killing this industry, so the fact that it includes DLC is like finding hair in a particularly delicious soup. Thankfully, the DLC included so far has been nothing more than the ability to purchase new announcers (who are voiced by the same Japanese voice actors that did the characters), so it's not particularly offensive. The price is, though; they're about $5 a pop. No thanks!
Luckily, it's a small issue that's easy to ignore by not buying it, and at least a small handful of additional announcers can be bought in-game using the same currency you buy Abyss upgrades with. There are also tons of pictures and fanart that can be purchased, and you can switch between English and Japanese language modes whenever you please.
It just now occurred to me that I've spent the past six paragraphs talking about a fighting game without talking about the actual fighting. One of the greatest things about BlazBlue is that it follows the "Easy to learn, difficult to master" philosophy. Characters follow the normal fighting game trope of "weak, medium, strong" attacks, while also having their own individual mechanics known as Drive attacks. The deceptively adorable Platinum the Trinity can use her Drive powers to make her staff summon and transform into random objects, such as missiles that take on the shape of a cute kitty, and a frying pan that works well for setting the foe up to combo. Alternatively, the unassuming butler Valkenhayn is actually a werewolf, and his ability to shift into wolf form is measured in a small gauge near the bottom of the screen that recharges whenever he's a human. Likewise, the squirrel girl Makoto can charge up her punches with explosive power, but charging them too long will cause them to be weaker than before. It's a mechanic that adds the requirement to properly time attacks in addition to knowing what you need to do, and when. Attacks are simple to pull off, even the flashy Distortion Drives and the match-ending Astral Finishes require no more than a couple directions and a button press or two, but thanks to each character having unique mechanics that separate them from the rest of the crowd, mastering each one is a rewarding experience.
Nearly everything about BlazBlue is fulfilling and rewarding though. It's a game that knows its fan base, made by people that know fighters inside and out: the same guys that brought us Guilty Gear, Just like that game, Daisuke Ishiwatari provided a powerful soundtrack with moving prog-rock melodies that fit perfectly with every scene, and make every fight feel epic. Because every fight is epic. Because when the wheels of fate turn, and two best friends are thrust against each other while a blood-pumping rock theme brings out the despair and determination both characters are feeling, you know you're playing something special. You know you're playing BlazBlue.
Disclosure: We are provided copies of games from the game companies for some games that we review.