In one of the most ambitious crossover fighters in recent memory, Arc Systems Works brings together the worlds of BlazBlue, Persona 4 Arena, Under Night In-Birth, and RWBY in one combined package. But while fans of those franchises may fear that the final package will be a hodgepodge, or that their favorite series and characters may get sidelined in favor of characters or series more popular, the resulting game is a surprisingly cohesive package that manages to do justice to all four series, acting simultaneously as a reverential tribute to its source material, while also taking some liberties with it to have its own spin and fun along the way.
The core of the crossover lies in the game’s story mode, which is called Episode Mode, and which sees characters from these four disparate universes come together, forced into an alternate dimension by some AI that wants to pit them against one another, and makes up the rules as it goes along. If that sounds completely nonsensical to you, don’t worry, it is- the story is absolutely absurd, and barely serves to make any sense whatsoever. Not only is it perplexing, it’s also unoriginal, following, in many ways, the story beats from Arc Systems Works’ own Persona 4 Arena games.
"In spite of these failings, the story mode largely works- viewed primarily as a lens through which to justify characters from these four series coming together for fighting game shenanigans, it does the job."
That said, in spite of these failings, the story mode largely works- viewed primarily as a lens through which to justify characters from these four series coming together for fighting game shenanigans, it does the job. There are four campaigns, and the story is told much like in a visual novel, though thankfully, narrative interludes are mostly brief. What truly makes this mode is the character interactions, as seeing not just your favorite crew get back together feels heartening, but also, seeing them interact with completely new characters leads to all sorts of fun moments. As a fan of Persona 4, seeing Yu, Chie, Yukiko, and Yosuke get back together was fantastic- and then seeing the ensuing character moments that came about once they started interacting with other characters made things even better. Sometimes, even the character writing can get cringey- for instance, the tendency of Arc Systems Works to reduce each of the Persona characters to just one gag is present in full force here too- but on the whole, the story mode works fine for what it is, especially viewed in context of what it is supposed to be.
The crux of the game, of course, is not the story mode or the plot, but the actual fighting, and it is here that Cross Tag Battle does a superlative job. Viewed in terms of the actual fighting, this may be Arc Systems Works’ best game yet. While their fighting games have traditionally had the reputation for being too complicated, Cross Tag Battle is their most accessible work yet, even counting Dragon Ball FighterZ or the Persona 4 Arena games. The game plays out as a 2v2 tag fighter; you get two primary attacks, one “tag” attack, and one “assault” special attack, as well as a “Distortion” super move. You get “smart” combos, where simply pushing the same attack button repeatedly once your blow connects can lead into a strung together without the need for complex inputs. Even without Smart Combos, connecting and stringing together flashy moves is easy, and extremely satisfying, especially once you start accounting for the ability to tag in and out of battle on the fly.
"Viewed in terms of the actual fighting, this may be Arc Systems Works’ best game yet. While their fighting games have traditionally had the reputation for being too complicated, Cross Tag Battle is their most accessible work yet, even counting Dragon Ball FighterZ or the Persona 4 Arena games."
This leads to an instantly more accessible game, but not a shallower one. The range of possibilities Cross Tag Battles presents you, the player, with is immense- you get your standard moves, Smart Combos, combos, Super Moves, Assault Moves, assist moves, directional variations on almost all of those, and of course, tagging your teammates in and out of battle. High level play inevitably boils down to managing your Meters at the bottom of the screen to build up to Supers.
On the whole, it’s satisfying, and this is the kind of game where it’s easy for anyone with a passing interest in fighting games, or any of the four franchises represented in the game, to jump in. Even those with minimal to no fighting game experience will find it easy to play Cross Tag Battle, thanks to a fantastic tutorial mode included within it. Confusingly called “Tactics Mode” (the “Training Mode” just puts you against a dummy CPU for you to practice moves against, without actually teaching you anything), this one takes you through explaining everything, from the very basics- such as movement, defense, dodges, dashes, attacks, assaults, and your Special Meter- to the more sophisticated mechanics unique to the game, such as tagging partners, and pulling off your Distortion Moves. It’s very thorough, very elaborate, and gives full control to the player, letting you practice for as long as you want, keeping your current lesson on screen at all times, and letting you proceed from the current lesson as soon or late as you want to. It can, in general, serve as a very good primer for someone simply new to the world of 2D fighters, and Arc Systems Works deserves a lot of commendation for it.
However, sometimes, they take their penchant for accessibility a bit too far. Consider, for instance, how the online mode works in the game- if you want to play online casually, you have to join a lobby, which exists as a physical space, walk your character, represented by a chibi avy of your choosing, to a “battle kiosk”, and either indicate you are ready to start the battle if someone is already on the other side of the kiosk, or wait for someone to join you in the kiosk. It’s absolutely needlessly tedious- why do you have to physically navigate to kiosks? Why does the online mode exist in this form at all? What happened to simple matchmaking? I understand trying to make the process less abstract for less savvy players, and I appreciate the sentiment, but I would also venture to guess most people would much rather select “Fight” from a menu, than have to go through the torturous process of finding a kiosk and having to initiate a battle from there in a physical lobby every single time they go online.
"If you want to play online casually, you have to join a lobby, which exists as a physical space, walk your character, represented by a chibi avy of your choosing, to a “battle kiosk”, and either indicate you are ready to start the battle if someone is already on the other side of the kiosk, or wait for someone to join you in the kiosk."
The one good thing I can say about the online mode is that the netcode is sublime- the actual gameplay feels buttery smooth and immediately responsive, with little in the way of stuttering and lag, which makes online battles a joy, since you get the same responsiveness as a local game, but with the benefit of having a human opponent- far less predictable than a CPU bot.
Arc Systems Works also extends the whole “physical space” metaphor for menus to the actual main menu, where you find yourself in a sort of plaza with the various modes being represented by icons and booths you have to walk up to and engage- but there, at least, you can always just call up the menu and select the mode you want directly, bypassing the whole nonsense entirely.
The good news is that once you’re in the actual game, those issues start to melt away- it plays fantastically, as noted, and it’s also hard to not be impressed by its sheer production values. The game looks stunning, its 2D art popping on the screen, with the animations in particular being jaw dropping, and paired with some extremely impressive, flashy moves. Combined with the excellent voice acting- you can pick between English and Japanese!- tight script and localization, and some amazing music, which tugs at the right heartstrings for fans of any of the franchises represented within the game, and you’re left with a great package overall.
It’s a shame about the issues that do exist in Cross Tag Battle– everything from its story being nonsensical, its characters being caricaturized, DLC characters being included in the story mode but being unplayable, and the physical space metaphor Arc Systems Works uses for its lobby and menus- because at its core, this is flat out the developer’s best game yet. Even accounting for those, BlazBlue: Cross Tag Battle shines where it really matters, which is in terms of its gameplay, which deftly balances nuance with accessibility. Throw in some pretty good fan service on top – in spite of the aforementioned cringiness – and really, for anyone with even a passing interest in fighting games, or any of the four franchises represented in this title, Cross Tag Battle becomes a very hard proposition to pass up.
This game was reviewed on PS4.
It looks absolutely stunning; the story mode mostly gets the job done with loads of great fan service and character interactions thrown in; the music is a great homage to the franchises crossing over in the game; the actual fighting gameplay is incredible, and probably Arc's best playing game yet; balances depth with accessibility with aplomb; the tutorial mode in the game may be the best in the genre; netcode is smooth
The actual story in the game is utterly nonsensical; characters are often reduced to caricaturized tropes; the online lobby system is needlessly tedious