BlazBlue: Chrono Phantasma ReviewPatrick Honeyman
The term anime fighter has been banded around for some time now. Ever since the early days of the Guilty Gear franchise, the sub-genre of the typically one-on-one 2D fighting genre has enthralled fans by encompassing their interests in both Japanese anime and various brawlers. Perhaps Blazblue Chrono Phantasma can take the title of being the current pinnacle of this young sub-genre, something this review aims to investigate whether it is worthy enough to claim such a lofty title.
A weapons-based one-on-one 2D fighter, BBCP is the latest instalment in Arc System Worksâ€™ latest fighting game franchise, perhaps more in vogue than that of its predecessor Guilty Gear. Players pick from an initial range of 23 characters to choose from when starting the game. Introduced in this newest instalment of the six-year old franchise is the well-endowned silver haired mercenary, Bullet, man mountain and sheer powerhouse, Azrael and stage performer, lover of all things youthful and wielder of what can only be regarded as a drill generated from sheer cloth, Amane Nishiki. The true form of Izayoi (Tusbakiâ€™s ars magus from the earlier BB games) is also playable from the off with a slick appearances and some subtle callouts to the likes of Gundam 00 thrown in for good measure. Players can also unlock an additional character in Librarium captain Kagura Mutsuki and his epic dragon blade levels of OP skill gained upon completion of the gameâ€™s story mode. Two additional faces present throughout the lengthy and intertwining story of BBCP can also be downloaded as DLC (the villainous switchblade-wielding Yuuki Terumi and twin-tailed (literally) half-beast scientific genius and sweets fiend Kokonoe).
The full roster of 26 characters provides an even greater variety of styles to choose from and play around with in BBCP, be it the tried and tested accessibility of Ragna, Jin and Noel or the complex to use but deadly in the right hands capabilities of the likes of Arakune, Relius Colver or Amane Nishiki. Historically large rosters in fighting games normally suffer from characters sharing movesets or heavy overlap but thankfully ASW did a fantastic job making each fighter feel unique and worth trying out for the intreprid fighting game fan with BBCP.
Graphically the game is superb and the conversion for the PS VITA release is absolutely no slouch. Characters and backgrounds have never looked richer with new characters fitting into the overall cast smoothly and returning faces gaining additional moves and frames of animation to bump up the overall feeling of quality and excellent presentation the title carries. This is possibly the most colourful entry in the Blazblue franchise yet and with a mixture of new and returning stages fans and new players are most certainly getting a worthwhile amount of bank for their buck. The music is no slough either and with the main man renowned for Guilty Gearâ€™s various heavy rock tracks, Daisuke Ishiwatari, returning for compositional duties hear we are treated to a multitude of quality mixes of well-established in-game tracks together with new character themes and a fair share of character-specific versus themes as well.
All of the care lavished on the presentation aspects of the game would be for nothing if the core gameplay of Blazblue: Chrono Phantasma didn't stand up but in this respect ASW has taken the best elements of previous instalments and refined these with additional features to make for an even more exciting fighting experience. The series' standard 4-button layout provides players with various strengths of attack and character-specific functions via the drive button (such as Ragna's Azure Grimoire, Noel's twin revolvers Bolverk, Hazama's hookshot-like chain Ouroboros or Tsubaki's enchanted tome and control of light, Izayoi). A range of special moves and super attacks (here named Distortion drives) can be executed when players have accrued enough stock in their heat gauge (the game's super meter). Astral Heats return which allow players to finish their opponent in style when they are in their last round and the opponent's health is down to 20% (with increased opportunities to land many of these mid-combo). Additional options available in battle consist of the Crush Trigger which for a quarter of the Heat Gauge and pressing A+B simultaneously allows players to break the opponent's guard and leave them staggered. Players can also press all four attack buttons together to initiate Overdrive mode, halting the in-game timer for a short period of time whilst granting specific buffs and enhanced Distortion Drives for each character. These can really turn the tide in a match as the lower the player's health, the longer their activated Overdrive Mode will last, creating a high risk/reward scenario for players willing to risk it all.
Modern day genre fans may be happy enough with just a solid one-on-one fighter but ASW has added more value to the experience with an in-depth story mode for the game. An entirely optional mode, it allows players to dive deeper into the world of BBCP, learning more of the reasons and forces behind events that unfold within the game's new location, Ikaruga (also reference in early Blazblue entries). The many layers of the game's plot and developments of each character are relayed through three of the major agenices present in the Blazblue world, the renowned Six Heroes, the scientific and research-oriented Sector Seven and the central narrative that mainly follows Ragna's path through Ikaruga, the titular Chrono Phantasma. For a genre not typically renowned for its depth of storytelling or characterisation, BBCP's chief producer Toshimichi Mori and his team show that there is potential for these elements to exist within a fighting game framework, albeit with some clichÃ© and rough bumps here and there. Integrated in this way satisfies both fans of Blazblue's overarching story and those who want to claim first place at future major official tournaments. The game even has new Teach Me Miss Litchi! sections and an extensive glossary that allows players to catch up with previous happenings and details from earlier instalments of the series.
This is not even to mention the other returning modes which are as robust as ever. Abyss Mode contains light RPG elements, allowing players to build up a character whilst taking them into various dungeons and fighting a string of opponents until they reach the end, Unlimited Mars mode (where players pick a course and fight ten different Unlimited versions of characters in a row without continues), Score Attack Mode, a comprehensive Tutorial Mode and Challenge Mode to help beginners through to seasoned players. The game also has a robust and versatile Online multiplayer mode with BBCP's netcode being generally decent enough to have low or lag-free matches with players on the other side of the world (compliments have to be given to ASW's programming team in this respect). The various modes also allow players to build up P$, BBCP's in-game currency that can be used to purchase items to buff characters in Abyss Mode or various pieces of artwork, colour swaps and Unlimited character unlocks in the game's Gallery.
The game isn't without its negatives and for some matches a smoother online experience would greatly help the situation when playing other challengers. Also for the various options and amount of depth present in the battle system of BBCP, perhaps the accessibility of the game is still a large concern as even with the presence of tutorials and a challenge mode players may not be able to keep up with everything happening on screen, opting for a more streamlined fighter with the likes of Ultra Street Fighter IV or Tekken 6. This issue has been present since the very first Blazblue: Calamity Trigger though so is probably here to stay for a long time.
Criticisms aside, those looking for a comprehensive and well-produced fighting game experience on the PS VITA and also want great value for money will find much to enjoy with Blazblue Chrono Phantasma. Perhaps the content and the tone of the game can veer into corny territory at times but on the whole, just like the game's exploration of what exists beyond the boundary, the amount of enjoyment herein is positively immeasurable.
Disclosure: We are provided copies of games from the game companies for some games that we review.