In 2009 the Blazblue franchise was a strange beast, being a brand new series up against heavyhitters like Street Fighter; and with a wild, exotic aesthetic that favored spiky hair, miniskirts, catgirls, and pretty boys over muscle bound dudes. Developed and published by Arc System Works, the game first appeared in Japanese arcades before being released on console. Their efforts paid off though as Blazblue’s looks, gameplay, and weirdly enough plot of all things make it a genuine contender and a cult hit among the gaming community. Now a little bit later we have Continuum Shift – the series’ equivalent to Super Street Fighter IV -with gameplay rebalancing, new characters, new modes, and the other goodies one associates with a new installment fighting game upgrade. Now the question is whether the game is worth your hard-earned money.
Like Calamity Trigger before it, Continuum Shift is a drop-dead gorgeous game. The sprites are huge, absurdly detailed, and fluidly animated, though be prepared for some very bizarre character designs – such as Bang, the over the top ninja who carries a five foot long nail on his back. However, this just adds to the charm as there’s something endearing about these highly eccentric designs that only Arc System Works can pull off. The audio side is just as good, Ishiwatari’s unique heavy-metal rock-opera score being excellent in this game. Tunes like Hazama’s eerie, ominous Gluttony Fang and the ominous Mu-12’s Sword of Doom make for some awesome sounds to rock out to. Voice-acting is also good, with the actors seeming to really care for what they’re doing even if there are more than just a few instances of cheesy dialogue, though that’s more a problem with the script writing.
The only criticism I can level at the presentation is that there hasn’t been much improvement as many stages and music tracks seem lifted directly from Calamity Trigger. It isn’t that big of a deal though as Blazblue was already beautiful to start with and there isn’t a whole lot to improve on. Again, like its predecessor, Continuum Shift comes with a variety of options for everyone. Returning from the first game are the traditional Training, Arcade, and Story modes but there are some new ones to check. First up is Legion mode, a strategy boardgame of sorts where the player fights against members of the roster to win the game. Opponents are divided into categories by difficulty and when you win you get to keep a member of their team for your own army. It’s like the story mode in Soul Calibur 3, though far more stripped down. It was a neat little idea, but ultimately proved to be little more than a distraction for me. Maybe they can do something else with it in the next title, whenever it comes out.
Next is Tutorial where Rachel (the series’ smug, gothic Lolita vampire) teaches the player about the intricacies of the game in great detail. You’ll definitely learn a lot, down to even the most advanced tactics of the game as well as some stuff about specific characters. Since we don’t get the strategy DVD like the first game this is a good way to teach people about Blazblue. Then we have Challenge where the player is made to perform increasingly complex series of combos in order to get to the next level. This is actually the best way to learn some of the more advanced combos of each character and makes for a very thorough tutorial. However, there’s no way to see what’s next in a combo sequence until getting to the later sequences which makes for some frustrations. Still, pretty good.
And of course we have Blazblue’s much-adored Story mode. It’s pretty much exactly the same as the first game though this time around you don’t have to intentionally die for every fight to get one-hundred percent completion, making it an improvement straight away. While Legion may be a disappointment, Challenge and Tutorial really help get people into Blazblue’s more intricate systems and make the game more newbie-friendly. Continuum Shift‘s core gameplay is essentially unchanged with its four-button control scheme and unique Drive System where every character has a unique attack property that no one else gets. Characters still have the broad “zoning, rushdown, etc” categories but every character plays very differently even within those categories. The Drive System does this by making sure no character attacks the same way as anyone else, like: Jin who can freeze others at the drop of a hat, Rachel who can manipulate her projectiles with the wind, and Lambda-11 who can summon blades from thin air.
Now I’m going to talk tactics. First off Barrier Burst has been drastically altered. You no longer have to drain your entire barrier gauge to enable it, but you’re only allowed one at the start of a match and getting another one requires losing a round. There are also two different kinds of Barrier Burst: one offensive and one defensive. The Guard Libra is also gone, having been changed to a system where each character has a set amount of points that deplete whenever certain moves are blocked and regenerate over time. Each character has a different number of points, such as slowpoke Tager having ten while nimble guys like Hazama and Tao having a mere four. Get drained of all of them and prepare for a whooping as you’ll be stunned momentarily.
Astral Heats are also modified, requiring an unused Burst and can now be initiated in the second round of a match by the current leader. They also require the opponent to be thirty-five percent health or lower and still need a full Heat Gauge to attack. This was obviously the making using the things more common, though considering how AWESOME they are I can hardly blame Arc System Works. And then we have the new characters that are the main point for this section. Whenever a fighting game sequel comes out new characters are a must though more important to that is that they add something new to the game in terms of play style. The three we have right off the bat are Tsubaki Yayoi, Hazama, and Mu-12 (though Mu has to be unlocked through Story Mode).
I can say without a doubt that they’re all unique and fun to play. Tsubaki for instance is an easy-to-play type who specializes in an aggressive melee style, her Drive allowing her to power up her attacks to different levels. Hazama is by far for more advanced players, his movement being tricky, and his Drive making zip around the battlefield though his quickness and close-range specialty make for a satisfying challenge. And then there’s Mu who is pretty much the big sister of Calamity Trigger’s Nu-13, being a killer robot girl with her Drive consisting of throwing out crystals that shoot lasers, making for some interesting zoning strategies and tactical play. Very good additions to the roster and that’s not even counting the upcoming DLC characters (more on that later).
And finally we have gameplay balancing. The three who had the most change were Rachel, Lambda, and Arakune, all three of them getting nerfed to the point where they can no longer dominate in competitive play though overall that just makes the game more diverse. We also have the usual additions to move sets and input changes. Nothing drastic, though it makes for more options in battle. Continuum Shift, overall, is more of a refinement than a drastic change for the series. There are some changes, but nothing extremely huge. A lot of these are small tweaks to the roster that amount to making the game more fun than trying to redefine it.
One of the biggest splashes Continuum Shift has made is that it is the first fighting game to have downloadable characters. The one we have merely a week after the game’s initial release is Makoto, a squirrel girl in a skimpy outfit who specializes in extremely aggressive melee fighting. Her Drive is fairly simple, being a gauge that powers up certain attacks. Oh, and her Astral Heat involves her punching the moon so hard that it explodes. AWESOME. Arc System Works have definitely made a long-awaited first for the genre in making a downloadable character, though Makoto has had been accused of being a way to gouge people for cash. I for one welcome the DLC characters as the way online capabilities are now is a perfect way to refine and tune fighting games without needing to do an incremental re-release every few months. For seven bucks there are a lot worse things to spend money on, especially since Makoto comes with her Unlimited Form and Challenge Mode trials right off the bat. I definitely anticipate the next combatants.
Yes, it’s time for the most unique thing about Blazblue, it’s surprisingly awesome storyline and complex characters. The game starts almost immediately after Calamity Trigger with the criminal Ragna the Bloodedge being saved by Lieutenant Noel Vermillion. Ragna’s life being saved has suddenly caused all sorts of people to keep an eye on him and the plot has only gotten more complex and grim, especially when one of Noel’s best friends shows up saying she’s been ordered to kill her. Once again every character has an intertwining storyline, though this time around Blazblue is able to focus on actual character development rather than laying down groundwork for the universe and character motivations. A LOT of the cast this time around is significantly developed, even previous bit players like Bang, Tao, Litchi, and Carl. Everyone is now getting sucked in to Ragna’s journey in some way or another and we even get to see some other sides of the more established cast.
Jin is one example as while he suffers from obsessive psychosis over Ragna, he also finds himself growing to control that madness as well as having to deal with a close friend of his who is suffering from possible insanity herself. Another is Carl who was practically uninvolved in nearly everything last time having some major reveals and genuinely touching moments. Everyone definitely gets a chance to shine, though admittedly some threads are better than others. Blazblue is still stuck telling its story in a rather static way through talking heads and dialogue, though at the very least the performances are good and the writing solid. Some lines are hammy, but there’s a certain charm and heart to Blazblue that no other series has. Heck, if you don’t feel something during some of the more tearjerking moments then I am convinced that you have no soul. Oh yeah, and the story is worth playing just to see the gag endings. Oh my god, the GAG ENDINGS. You have not witnessed insanity until you have seen a robot farm girl pirate. No, I am not kidding.
Blazblue’s plot is definitely complex and bizarre, but don’t confuse that with it being bad. It might not be everyone’s cup of tea, but I found the characters to be intriguing and worth caring for and the twists and turns got me pumped for what happens in the next title. Heck, I’d go as far to say the story alone makes the game a true sequel to its predecessor and well worth anyone’s time. Though you might want to check out Calamity Trigger first if you want to make sense of things from the outset and know what’s going on. Continuum Shift is definitely a far better game than its predecessor, adding new content, refining old ideas, balancing characters, and making the game more accessible as well as taking risks by adding DLC characters. While still weird and eccentric, only a fool would pass up a chance to play a game this deep and involving as well as getting one of the better narratives I’ve seen in a game as of late.
This game was reviewed on Xbox 360.
Gameplay has been re-balanced, new characters added, more newbie-friendly than the previous game, Lush graphics.
Some stages feel "copied" from the original, some music tracks can be annoying, Fans of the orignal will have to adjust to new gameplay mechanics.
While weird and eccentric, only a fool would pass up a chance to play a game this deep and involving; as well as getting one of the best narratives in a game of late.