Seven years ago, BlazBlue: Calamity Trigger hit PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 in the West. Developed by Arc System Works and published by Aksys Games in North America, the game was received quite well by both critics and players, effectively turning BlazBlue into a major Japanese fighting game franchise.
Eight years later, Arc System Works’ BlazBlue: Central Fiction has hit store shelves as the first release in the main series on PlayStation 4. The game wraps up the original arc introduced in Calamity Trigger and introduces brand new mechanics into the world. But how well does the game play?
Quite well, actually.
The BlazBlue series, which is fundamentally based on a four-button ABCD mechanic, has always featured smooth controls that allow the player to vary their attacks without worrying too much about light, medium, and heavy variations. Instead, gameplay is based much more around special abilities executed during play. These are quite easy to perform too, with challenge mode going over bread-and-butter combos for the game’s various characters.
There are a couple new mechanics added into BlazBlue: Central Fiction this time around that improve combos via the game’s Overdrive ability. Overdrive, which is used by pressing all four attack buttons simultaneously, is a special character move that enhances capabilities and attacks for a short time frame. Exceed Accel has been added into Overdrive, a form of the Distortion Drive special move that finishes Overdrive attacks in exchange for significant damage output. Active Flow has also been implemented, too, which does an increased amount of damage alongside regenerating the Burst Gauge. Both moves are quite useful and add another layer of strategy into player combos, making them solid additions to the game overall.
Stylish mode also returns to BlazBlue: Central Fiction. For those unfamiliar, on the character select screen players can choose between two control schemes: Technical or Stylish. Technical relies on classic fighting game mechanics, with players inputting their own special abilities through muscle memory. Stylish, meanwhile, auto-blocks attacks and allows players to quickly and easily pull off specials without knowing much about their character’s commands. The trade-off here is that you lose advanced attack techniques in exchange for ease-of-use. Stylish works quite nicely, allowing players to test out characters or casually fight against the AI without having to play too much of BlazBlue: Central Fiction ahead of time.
Stylish isn’t the only beginner-friendly feature in BlazBlue: Central Fiction. BlazBlue has been traditionally praised for its extensive tutorials, and Central Fiction is no different. Not unlike Skullgirls, tutorial mode explores the basic and advanced mechanics that the game draws on during gameplay. The tutorials listed in the game are extremely useful for newcomers to both BlazBlue and fighting games alike. From blocks to double jumps, Active Flow to Overdrive, Central Fiction‘s tutorial mode is executed quite nicely. The game walks players through how to perform actions without being too unnecessarily detailed. For digital buyers, the game’s tutorial system is also downloaded first, allowing players to learn the title’s mechanics before jumping in.
As most Street Fighter fans know, Capcom made a fatal mistake when Street Fighter V first came out: the developers failed to add an arcade mode. Arc System Works, meanwhile, knew exactly what their fans wanted. The studio not only added an arcade and vs mode, they also included a score attack mode and a dungeon survival mode. Along with the game’s training features and story mode, there’s quite a lot of content for BlazBlue fans straight out of the box. It justifies the $79.99 price tag right from the start.
But it’s tough to say if BlazBlue: Central Fiction is a strong recommendation for non-fighting game fans. While the game’s tutorials are thorough, the combo system in place within Central Fiction is just as complicated as ever. It’s true that Stylish mode is a great way to introduce players to the way BlazBlue: Central Fiction‘s characters and attacks work, but it’s more of a training feature than a dedicated manner of play. In other words, BlazBlue: Central Fiction isn’t exactly going to convert any non-fighting game fans over to the series.
There’s also the question of the game’s story. Part of BlazBlue’s appeal is the fact that it’s not just a fighting game, it’s an anime fighting game. Story mode is told through a visual novel format, continuing the main series’ plot line while looking at each fighter’s motivations and desires within the game’s world. If you’re already a fan of BlazBlue’s storyline, you’re in for a treat. But for a first-time BlazBlue player, it’s hard to feel invested. Even though the opening chapter does have a 30-minute refresher, there’s still very little to hold onto if you haven’t already played the first few games before BlazBlue: Central Fiction.
And if you prefer dubs to subs, you might have room for concern with BlazBlue: Central Fiction: The game is not launching with a dub. Instead, character lines are spoken in Japanese, with subtitles provided during story mode. A petition online criticized this move, with some threatening to boycott the North American release and instead import the original. And while the original Japanese voice acting is quite good, it’s sad to see the game won’t be releasing with a dub any time soon.
Plus, there are some legitimate problems that come with the story mode’s dub. Because the game’s visual novel format uses a faded black backdrop with white text over it, it’s easy for letters and words to blend in with the background during daytime cutscenes. Perhaps this would look fine on a PC release, but for a TV? It’s hard to read from a distance. The feature is annoying at best, frustrating at worst.
Those issues aside, BlazBlue: Central Fiction is an excellent fighting game. It has a wide range of modes, an enormous cast of playable characters, responsive controls and a strong story for series fans. If you’re already a BlazBlue player, it’s time to put some money aside—Central Fiction is exactly the kind of follow-up that you’ve wanted for the main series’ PlayStation 4 debut. It may not convert the unbelieving, but anime fighters rarely do.