By Former Contributor Nathan Stiles / May 7th, 2014
|Title||BlazBlue: Chrono Phantasma|
|Developer||Arc System Works|
|Release Date||JP October 24, 2013
NA March 25, 2014
EU April 23, 2014
|Genre||Fighting, Visual Novel|
|Age Rating||ESRB – Teen|
I think the most important thing to point out about myself before starting this review is that I am by no means a fighting game expert. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve played my fair share of Tekken, Soul Calibur, Marvel vs. Capcom, Street Fighter etc., but I have never dedicated so much time into any one series that I could even remotely stand as a tournament level player. That being said, I feel I’ve dipped my toes into the pool of fighting games enough to have at least a decent understanding of what makes them fun, and BlazBlue: Chrono Phantasma is extremely fun.
Now, let’s start with the obvious. BlazBlue: Chrono Phantasma is jaw-droppingly beautiful. From the character sprites to the backgrounds to the music, every single piece is crafted perfectly. Every character sprite is colored, detailed and expressive, which I expected from the game already, but the really surprising thing was how beautiful the backgrounds are. The backgrounds are rendered in three dimensions behind the two-dimensional sprites, which usually creates for a bit of dissonance and conflicting styles. The way it was implemented here, however, physically blends the two-dimensional first layer of the background with a three-dimensional backdrop. This gives the perfect sense of scale and depth, despite the game being played only on a two dimensional plane. It seems like such a simple thing to touch on, but I have never seen a game render backgrounds in such a way, and it just about had me drooling. The only place where the graphics falter is in the rather bland story mode where the character drawings stand perfectly still with the only animation being poorly-synced lip movements. It was pretty disappointing to see so much detail in the rest of the game, but so little where you spend hours at a time watching with no real gameplay.
As you may have already gathered from above, the sound design is also masterfully implemented. The soundtrack ranges from soft, beautifully-crafted tunes to blaring guitar and violin-based battle songs that really make your blood pump with adrenaline. There wasn’t a single song I didn’t like in the entire soundtrack. In fact, it’s so good that I’m considering buying it for listening to when I’m not playing the game. The other end of the sound design comes down to the voice acting, which is where things get a bit iffy. The English cast is rather hit-or-miss, as it so often is in heavily anime-inspired games with lots of dialogue. I found it tolerable and, sometime,s even enjoyable, but, after hours of story, I eventually decided that I preferred the game in its native Japanese, which, thankfully, the game provides an option for.
I can already hear the fans crying foul over this, but I really didn’t find BlazBlue: Chrono Phantasma’s story interesting in any capacity, and, sadly, that’s more because of how it’s told than the actual story itself. The game’s Story Mode plays out almost like a visual novel, offering you the ability to follow any of three story arcs while you watch constant stills of characters talking back and forth with the rare ‘Choose Your Path’ scenario displaying itself. Before I get bashed too hard, I have actually played some good visual novels, but throwing in hours of storyline between a minimal amount of actual combat creates a lot of pacing issues in what should primarily be a fast-paced and frantic game with little downtime. I liked all of the characters, and found them all unique with interesting personalities, but I really couldn’t care less what scenario each of them was a part of and why. You got just as much development out of their one-line battle opening as you did sitting through literally hours of talking heads in the main story mode. I had to sit through 16 hours of this monotonous droning, wading through an overly complicated mess of character arcs and stories which really boiled down to little more than ‘the bad guy isn’t really dead, and I’m recruiting people to kill him.’ I’m being a bit hard on the game. The story does get a bit more interesting, but, by the time it got there, I didn’t care anymore. It was honestly enough to make me hate the game, but I decided to leave it out of the score because the game makes the story mode completely optional, and my suffering was only required because of the review. I give the series credit for actually attempting to have not only a canon story arc, but also one that is continued throughout the series, unlike most other fighting games. Unfortunately, BlazBlue: Chrono Phantasma’s attempt really missed the mark for me.
The game even comes with a mode that fills you in on the plot of all the previous titles in the series, which is nice for newcomers, but, admittedly, you will have to wade through a LOT of garbage to get to the point of it all. The retelling disguises itself as a tutoring session between several of the game’s characters, so, for every one-line of actual exposition, you get about five of the characters forcing their personalities in what should have been a much more concise plot synopsis. Yes, I get it, Taokaka, you’re a sickeningly adorable and spastic cat girl like in every other anime, now, for the love of God, get to the damn point! I feel it was a clever attempt at making the history lesson more palatable, but it definitely wasn’t to my tastes.
All of the presentation and story mean nothing however, if the gameplay itself isn’t entertaining, so, how does BlazeBlue: Chrono Phantasma fare in this regard? I’m beginning to run out of ways to say how well put together this game is, so let’s just leave it simple and say it’s very good; to the point of almost being perfect. The cast is varied in personality and fighting style with very little overlap in move sets. From what I played, it seemed that the roster was surprisingly well-balanced, with only a couple characters seeming a bit more powerful than the rest. The game provides two types of combat, a stylish mode for beginners and a technical mode for fans of fighting games or that just want to learn how to play properly once they’ve wet their feet. BlazBlue: Chrono Phantasma really stands as a great fighting game for newcomers and veterans of the genre due to its structure and many options.
The game also supplies a bevy of game modes, including your standard Tutorial Mode, Arcade Mode, Versus Mode, Online Mode, and Score Attack Mode. The game also contains a couple of more unique game modes, known as Abyss Mode and Unlimited Mars Mode, which are both your standard survival modes with the first allowing for very minor RPG/upgrade elements, and the latter pitting you against enemies of the highest difficulty level. The game also has a great deal of unlockable character colors and a few other rewards if you continue to play certain modes.
Now to discuss something slightly off topic that didn’t ruin my overall experience, but did put a sour taste in my mouth; and that’s the way the publisher/developers handled DLC for this title. There is over $100 worth of DLC for this game, and the vast majority of it is simply buying color palettes or voice packs for the game’s characters and menus, respectively. I understand it’s not an essential part of the game, but talk about squeezing every last penny out of a loyal customer base. Add onto that fact that there are three DLC characters for this game, one that costs $8. The other available character costs about $3, a much more reasonable price that really makes the overpriced character a harder pill to swallow. Worst of all, there is a third character that is only available to players who pre-ordered the game. I understand they want to give incentives to people who pre-order, but, in a fighting game where the roster is literally the key thing that sets it apart from pretty much every other fighting game (and for the diehard pro scene could mean a difference in preparedness at a tourney), leaving characters completely inaccessible is inexcusable. I’ve heard the character is going to be released on May 27 of this year, but, whether or not that’s just a rumor, I don’t know.
BlazBlue: Chrono Phantasma is an absolutely amazing fighting game for both veteran players and beginners. The large variety of game modes can easily keep a dedicated player busy for weeks, the story (for those interested) is easy to follow, as well as offering players a chance to catch up on the lore from previous entries. The game does a great job of offering both easier play modes for casual players, as well as in-depth tutorials for players who want to learn the combos on their own. The game currently costs between $45 and $50, not counting any DLC you may or may not want to purchase, and, for that stand alone price, I feel it’s worth every penny. With the game’s only minor flaws being issues that can be ignored completely, or have to do more with the game’s business model than the game itself, I have no choice but to fully recommend it to anyone who’s even remotely interested in playing it.
Review copy supplied by publisher
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