Thursday, October 20, 2016

BlazBlue - The Good & The Bad

In the past, on this very blog I've covered extensively some of the BlazBlue games. From Calamity Trigger to Chrono Phantasma EXTEND I've owned, critiqued, and played every release in some form or fashion. In each encounter I've both praised them, and even talked badly about them in regards to their constantly evolving, and longstanding features. Regardless of the good, or the bad I feel BlazBlue could be greater than it is. In fact I hope it does improve for the sake of the gamers willing to continue investing in the series. I feel there's definitely a need for change in several aspects of the game, and that the developer desperately needs to make these changes lest the series continues to attract or maintain a lesser and lesser audience ...

First off please allow me to talk about the series' strong points. These said points include the ever expanding and ever changing robust roster, the amazingly in-depth story mode, the side story modes, the "Teach Me Ms.Litchi" tutorials and series explanations, the netcode, and the matchmaking lobby system. All of which makes BlazBlue vastly outshine the content that most modern fighters showcase. When it comes to the roster of available BlazBlue characters there's no doubt you'll get with each new installment a healthy assortment of unique individuals to choose from which range from the easy to use to the more expert friendly. In that sense there's something for everyone. The fact that each character is so unique (outside of mu, nu, lambda ...) further builds upon roster diversity.

In the way of story material there are several hours worth of dialogue, and art heavy content in each game for you to enjoy. This includes plot elements that stick to the series' main story directive, and some bonus material that takes on a more wayward approach with more spin-off style happenings between certain characters. In recent BlazBlue expansions the developer has gone so far as to include side stories such as "Remix Heart Gaiden" in which a male cadet who is transformed into a female tries to fit in with the female cadets in some awkward situations. Needless to say there is a never dull moment in the branching story mode playthrough, and even the 1v1 battles within them help to flesh out the otherwise dialogued centered antics.

For those of you just getting into the series that is BlazBlue you'll find that the developer does good to catch you up on past mythologies, and story elements through the "Teach me Ms.Litchi" tutorials. Even if it is briefly so. While the oddly orchestrated tutorial plays heavily on the humor this mode of discovery will allow you to better understand the world of BlazBlue, and the characters contained therein. Nothing is really left out other than the more extensive details that you'll have missed out on if you have not played the previous games' story modes.

When it comes to the netcode you'll find that BlazBlue has one of the better online experiences when matching up with players of your region. While some lag does happen it's still stable enough to call it "good". At the same time though the netcode in BlazBlue does pale in comparison to that of the recent Guilty Gear, but with the series being made by the same developer I figure the upcoming Central Fiction will get some improvement in that area as well.

One of the newest key features to the online BlazBlue experience that struck me as impressive was the virtual arcade lobbies which allowed for textual conversation while you waited on your next challenger. To me it was one of the best lobby systems that Aksys Games & Arc System Works have designed. It's definitely not as confusing as Guilty Gear Revelator's mess of a lobby. Everything from the pop-up text menu to the matchmaking options come together in perfect harmony within BlazBlue, and don't look overly busy in doing so. Things such as customizable character avatars, name plates, and icons are icing on top of that glorious cake.

Now it's time to discuss the bad side of BlazBlue ...

As with the good the inclusive roster of BlazBlue also harnesses some bad. By that I mean there are characters included that are so easy to use, and abuse that it steals the virtual thunder out from under the remaining cast. You'll see plenty of Ragna, Ky Kiske, Haku-men, Terumi, Hazama, Azrael, Mu, Nu, Lambada ... and other zoning/spamming friendly creations, but hardly anyone else. The fact that there is a trophy titled "If Only You Nu" which you earn by basically spamming nothing but Nu's projectiles to win a match tells you that the developer "Nu (knew)" that their roster had these types of characters, and that they were intentionally catering to the type of gamers who often times abuse said offerings. Along with the presence of the "Stylish (auto-combos through spammed button presses)" play style, and the mods (CronusMAX, Mappable Controllers ...) that most PS3 gamers utilize this makes for an aggravating online experience. The likes of which could potentially nail the lid on BlazBlue's coffin. I understand that the ideal of appealing to the gamer crowd with PS3 compatibility, and expanding the community by including cross-console play seems like a good idea, but when the integrity of the game's intended experience is jeopardized because of it, it does nothing for the gamer or developer. Before I get you too lost in what I'm talking about BlazBlue has been released on PS3 since the first American release as well as on the PS Vita & PS4 consoles in later releases. Even Central Fiction will have cross-console play with the PS3.

First, and foremost there needs to be a balance in BlazBlue's roster build. The characters shouldn't be made easily abused nor should they be too difficult to master. Also do not include the likes of mu, nu, lambda or any other similarly made characters from here on out. No one likes being zoned to death with hardly any way in. It's called a "Fighting Game" for a reason, and is not a Shmup. As far as the "Stylish" play style goes it is also a problem in that it enhances such projectile abuse. I personally think it's about time the developer ditched Stylish entirely, and opted for other more tutorial friendly ways to get the gamer into playing on a more professional level. Make them learn that sh*t. They'll appreciate it more when they do learn. Appeasing to those who don't care enough to learn how to play properly is not what fighting games are about. Sure, you can get them in the door any way you like, but don't feed those who intend to abuse the system or who never intend on enjoying the game the way a fighting game is meant to be enjoyed. If you continue to do so you are pacifying harmful habits that will only lead to the downfall of your studio, and their dedicated series. Trust me, or don't.

Beyond the roster, and the mechanics therein I don't think the game has much else going wrong. I do think however that it could use some netcode improvement. That, and the cutting of ties with the PS3 forever. Having a massive crowd of players is only good if they are paying, and only if they aren't running off the paying players. PS3 owners are more notorious for downloading pirated versions of PSN games, because the console is easily modded. That is why the whole idea of cross-console/cross-platform is a bad idea. On paper it may sound great, but in reality the sales numbers will reflect the truth. The player base in it's entirety will only get the developer noticed, and not much else. Eventually the paying crowd will abandon the series, and leave it to those who ruined it.

I think I'll close on that note. I am currently on the fence about getting "BlazBlue: Central Fiction". It may or may not happen. Seeing it cross-console compatible with the PS3 does not make me happy at all. Even with the inclusion of new characters, a new story expansion, and possibly new modes I'm just not sure I'd be willing to pay up for it.

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