Saturday, October 29, 2016

BlazBlue: Central Fiction (PS4)

What have I gotten myself into!? I never thought I'd see in the series of BlazBlue such utterly harmful design decisions. This not only applies to the tweaked gameplay, the returning features, and the new characters, but also an in-game community forum that delves into more darker territory with it's potential ramifications. As a former fan of Aksys fighters I've taken to Twitter, and Youtube often to express my woes in regards to BlazBlue, and various other fighting games from their studio for the hope that the series might see a brighter future. I've pointed out that there needs to be a change for one reason or another, but mainly pertaining to online functionality, and harmful character designs. While I find those are mostly not addressed here yet again that's not what really bothers me. Within it's new features BBCF has an even darker side motivated by political agendas, and hidden propaganda. Both things of which the game has you agree not to participate in before taking advantage of it's new forum community feature. It's these double standards which Aksys has stated in the bold print that they'll hold as legally binding towards gamers. Never before have I seen a game take such a bold, politically driven, and motivated stance in the realm of online gaming, and interactivity. It effectively cripples your right to complain about the game within the game (specifically the forum feature), and holds you criminally liable should you even slightly overstep your boundaries. The studio uses the vague term "slander" and "discrimination" as a way to explain away what could simply be potentially harmful views against the game or even the company. Even calling out cheaters as cheaters is prohibited. I digress though ...

When it comes to "BlazBlue: Central Fiction" most of what you'll find as you get into it, and dive deeper down it's rabbit hole is an arranged version of older BlazBlue menu and mode options. A lot of what has been there since before Chrono Phantasma returns in a polished, newly arranged, and more streamlined presentation. The characters however mostly return untouched with their former sprites, and animations intact. Mostly. The only real differences in regards to character design being the new additions of Hibiki, Nine, Naoto, Mai, Es, and Izanami. That, and the new anime style panel art which holds a more mature appearance than any of the BlazBlue predecessors. Functionally the older characters have also been newly altered to a certain extent across the board, and have changed even in their stylish forms. Mostly to be more melee friendly in the way of combos, and less special attack friendly in regards to combo strings.

Returning in all it's former glory, but under new male instruction is BlazBlue's signature tutorial mode. A mode which you'll be prompted to play at start due to the menu cursor lying right on top of that menu listing. As in previous tutorial installments characters from the game (this time including mostly Kagura, and Hibiki) guide you from the basic fundamentals to the more advanced mechanics in any order that you wish to take them on. Also returning to the tutorial are character specific tutorial lessons meant to get you familiar with individual characters so that you can pick a main out of the lot of them. My problem with said tutorial remains as it always has though. I find fault with the button displays in that they do not mirror the actual controller face or shoulder buttons they are explaining away. This is bad in that it presents potential confusion for the gamer both within the tutorial itself, and outside in the various versus or non-versus modes. Not only is that a returning issue, but the actual lesson setups that have the opposing second player dummy attacking from a standing or jumping neutral position complicates certain mechanics that aren't really all that complicated. Blocking, for example is actually easier done when both players are in motion, but this tutorial has you playing a guessing game with a neutrally positioned dummy that strikes both high, and low. The same issue only escalates as you go into the intermediate, and advanced parts of the tutorial mode.

Outside of the tutorial mode listing, or perhaps within it are the challenges. These are basically set lessons that get you more familiar with specific characters through the applied use of their specials, overdrives, distortion finishers, and other staple mechanics. Even extended combos are incorporated into the character challenges as a way to help you hone your skills. As far as versus modes go the game contains the usual offline, and online assortment set aside in the battle menu listing. This includes a two player offline versus mode, and a network versus mode which come in the player match, and ranked match types. Along with the versus standards are a few offline modes which build upon older BlazBlue offerings through name changes, feature focus, and objectives. You'll find in place arcade mode which returns kind of tweaked. By that I mean there are different acts, or playthroughs you can do that each have their own opponent line-up, and applied story elements. The end boss this time around gives the former mu, nu, and lambdas a run for their money as well. Said boss is none other than the infamous series character, Nine the Phantom. Nine, for the lack of a better description is cheese incarnate. Her attacks basically tags you with elemental restrictions, and buffs here with elemental traits through her special attacks. Once she is covered in four element bindings, for example she can trigger one of a few special attacks according to elemental arrangement. At the max elemental setup when the opposing player has been inflicted with four elemental bindings she performs a massive screen filling overdrive/distortion attack that introduces the opposing player to blazing electric death. The fact that she's heavy on zoning, and punishing approaching characters makes getting in to do the damage that needs to be done a huge problem. She also blinks in, and out of animation through her dashes. At normal difficulty setting (the game goes to "hell" difficulty) you have to play like a pro just to be able to beat her. Either that or play stylishly which in effect has been nerfed.

New to the same battle listings menu is 'Grim of Abyss', and 'Speed Star'. Grim of Abyss, for what it's worth mirrors the former abyss mode in Chrono Phantasma, and other earlier BlazBlue games. The difference this time being that your RPG grind through countless enemies to the core boss is centered around grimoires, skills, and applicable character based items. Basically you'll be equipping a grimoire which carries with it a base perk. Something like health regeneration, for example. The catch being that you can add skills to the grimoire by enhancing it through a menu option of the same name. As far as skills go they can be obtained by defeating basic enemies in each of the 100 floor levels that are arranged by difficulty starting from 'Easy'. You can also gain grimoires from the challenger battles that occur in a similar manner as the earlier Guilty Gear's survival mode challenger fights. Once you obtain a grimoire you can choose to equip it, or chance losing it through extraction for a possible rarer skill. When it comes to level playthroughs you must make it through all of the floors to an exit to keep all that you've looted. Should you die only your RPG stat improvements will remain intact. Some of the Grim of Abyss difficulties are locked away by non-related in-game requirements such as the unlocking of the "Boss Rush Mode".

Speed Star, the other offline alternative is in away also like Grim of Abyss in that it is a revamped version of a previous game's similar mode. In this case it replaces Unlimited Mars (if I'm not mistaken). As before you'll be tasked with choosing one of three available routes (A, B, or C), and must complete it while abiding to the mode's guidelines. The focus though is on using special attacks to keep the set timer from fully depleting before you fight the final fight. The more specials, combos, and noted feats of prowess you perform the more time that will be regained. Whether you complete it or not you can upload from an in-game prompt your made progress for other gamers to see. Think of it as bragging rights.

Offline this time also carries with it a fully fledged story mode with branching plot twists. While I've not committed to a full playthrough as of yet this game's plot seems to contain a lot of rehashed, and newer content along with the new character role inclusions. The mode's flavor text describes it as concluding the fate of Ragna, Ky, and Noel. I do know Izanami is the series main villain, and her goal this time around is to end the world of BlazBlue through the resurrection of a god. All she needs is the right characters to unwillingly play their part, and repeat their existence until her plot comes to fruition.

Now for the online ...

Network mode is basically a mirror image of it's former self. Returning are the personal rooms that you can decorate, the player and ranked match types, the D-Code editing system, the virtual lobby that is divided by region, and entry matchmaking which allows you to do other things in the game while you wait on a ranked match. The noticeable differences come in the form of the three different vending machines located within the virtual lobby that contain not only lobby avatar goodies, but icons, nameplates, character logos, and room furniture for dolling up your own personal matchmaking space. The vending machines come in both $100, and $1000 form with the first option gifting you single items while the latter awards you 10 items at a time. There are a lot of bits, and bobbles to unlock, and personalize your D-Code, and room matchmaking space with. Some of it is repeat offerings from Chrono Phantasma though, so don't hold your breathe for all new stuff.

As far as the 'D-Code (Detailed Player ID w/in-game stats)' setup goes that too was tweaked. Your attached lobby avatar can now hold up to two accessories from the vending machine. There's that, and the now three layered nameplate which incorporates character art, backgrounds, and character specific linings. They're not necessarily called that, but that's what they are. You can also equip an identifying icon ranging from characters to symbols of varying sorts. As far as earning in-game currency to pay for all of this goes that can be done through all sorts of means, but basically playing through the various modes that are available. Each mode pays up differently though, so it's good to keep that in mind.

When it comes to the extras that you can also buy with the in-game currency you'll find most of what is available is art centered. Illustrations in the gallery take up more unlockable space than anything else. Unfortunately the character colors this time around are slim pickings, and limited to only one extra color pack per character. Along with that you can also unlock NOL Noel for $50000 credits. Not really all that exciting, is it? All that's left to unlock outside of those things are stage BGMs, and videos. I have a gut feeling some things will turn up as paid DLC after launch. Those things likely pertaining to system voice-overs, additional color packs, and even characters. Possibly even stages.

Going back to the Network mode, and it's offerings ...

I can tell you without a shadow of a doubt that the game will be ruined from the start for US adopters. There's obvious netcode issues, mechanics flaws (heavy knock back, recovery, blocking, ...) , and issues regarding the playing player base that is currently into the game. You have to understand this game was released in other parts of the world before it was scheduled to release in the US. Some of the players from those said countries whom I ran into have already begun exploiting the game on a modded level, and are even lagswitching intentionally. I can confirm all of the above by the perfect connections not being perfect, and a sort of infinite combo that stuns players' characters indefinitely while negating basic recovery options, and wake-ups upon landing from a juggle.

That aside ...

This is where I get back to what I was initially rambling on about in the beginning paragraph. It is obvious through the inclusion of the new in-game forum that Aksys aims to moderate, and possibly penalize gamers for sharing unfavorable opinions, or for simply calling another player out for what they are (cheater, modder, hacker ...). It follows the safe space political agenda that is going on in the world today, and in doing so aims to silence both critics, and reasonable arguments. Not only that but any political opinions of your own cannot be discussed in the forum lest you also face potential criminal repercussions for it. For these reasons alone I cannot, and will not suggest buying this game to anyone. Any game that aims to criminally pursue gamers on such vague, and broad terms is not a gamer friendly experience. The way I see it the whole FGC smack talk inclusion is now a punishable no-no in Aksys' opinion. So kiss that bye-bye as well.

VERDICT: 

BlazBlue Central Fiction fails in such a way that it creates problems that weren't a thing in series installments like the previous Chrono Phantasma. The infinite combo stun exploit is now a prevalent issue as is roster inbalance. Even Stylish has felt the hurt of bad design decisions. The nerfing of Stylish combo damage, or the damage drop-off resulting from it's use in particular would have been a welcome fix had issues stemming from the use of mods, and modded controllers not reared their ugly heads in this generation of fighting games. Gamers with mappable controllers or mod devices like CronusMAX can use the Technical play style like Stylish, and not be penalized with a damage drop-off. This makes Stylish completely obsolete unless you are like me, and know how to masterfully use it. Let's also not forget Aksys Game's/ Arc system Work's sneaky implementation of a freedom shearing EULA in their new in-game forum feature. This alone is inexcusable. Seeing the game in the state that it's in I cannot recommend it. I had hoped for the best going into this review, and was met with the worst the series has yet to offer. You can take my word for it, or not. That's up to you.

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