For many, fighting games can be quite a difficult genre to transition between if your roots are already grounded to a specific taste. They can take a dog’s life to learn in mastering the mechanics outside of a simple combo chain or a bag full of special moves. After all, a good competitive fighter can be deeper than a rabbit hole borrowed by a caffeine-induced bunny wired on energy drinks. Especially so if your weapon of choice happens to be BlazBlue.
BlazBlue CentralFiction Special Edition could very well be the best fighting game that you have never played. There is a lot that makes up the fabric of this decade-long running series that can put people off right from the get-go. First of all, the game’s heavy 2D anime-focused visuals already split the division down the middle depending on where your taste lies. Secondly, its narrative is so incredibly fleshed out with story arcs that the mere thought of catching up can be an intimidating feat all on its own. Finally, outside of last year’s more casual-friendly BlazBlue Cross Tag Battle, the fighting system itself can seem more daunting than Brian Cox’s Filofax. Needless to say, there’s an incredible amount to learn here if you want to be a top contender in this digital full-contact shark tank.
That doesn’t mean that you should just disregard any prospect of picking this little gem up whether you’re a beginner or a diehard faithful practitioner to your dedicated franchise. Quite the contrary, in fact. BlazBlue CentralFiction Special Edition leaves no secrets unturned when it comes to teaching you absolutely everything you need to know to be a competent player. The tutorial mode provides detailed insight into how each system works by splitting itself up into sections from beginner to advanced gameplay techniques. You get to learn your inputs based on Arc Systems Works’ universal A, B, C and D’s button layout – which pretty much translates to light, medium, heavy and unique attack for this particular title.
Without puddling the brain too much, a brief lesson about the defense mechanisms alone plays a fine example to the wide variety of options available. Anchoring away from the opponent with the Left Stick (or D-pad) provides a standard guard found in most fighters to keep you on your feet. However, holding the A and B action during a guard will conjure an extra barrier that will slightly push your opponent back during a block string minus the chip damage. This certain action does burn its own meter though, which will leave you open if depleted. Also, if timed right, tapping back at the moment of impact will result in an “instant block” that will help to shorten your character’s recovery animation with a strong counter possibility. If you do happen to eat a nasty combo from the opposition, then there is always the “Burst” to blast your opponent away for some much-needed breathing space. The action of simply slamming on all four attack buttons will activate the life-saving tool. Just remember that it can take a long time to replenish your Burst meter, which also happens to be very handy for attacking.
The same input for Burst when on the offense can be used as a powerful tool called “Overdrive.” When you’re not taking damage you will release a temporary beefed up version of your character. Hold the Burst action down a little longer and you will launch a devastating flashy attack that will hit so hard it will send your opponent into doing the chicken dance. This is just a small taste of how technical a fight can potentially get. Furthermore, every character from the 36-strong roster feels and plays completely differently from one another.
For less experienced players, or for those not wanting to commit into getting a BlazBlue PhD, a simpler “Stylish” gameplay system is available. Choosing this will supply you with an extra button that assists the player with special attacks. While it may sound like a cop-out to substitute the standard technical layout, it does give the more casual player an execution advantage without breaking the game’s structure. Regardless of control style, to actually feel and see everything in motion does make a lot more sense when felt under the player’s fingertips. Yet, it’s also admirable to see a modern fighter not shy away from a more hardcore approach in concept.
With that said, BlazBlue CentralFiction Special Edition’s electric pace and visual flair make for an exciting showdown of intensity. The flow and movement of each character are so incredibly diverse that once you do start to plow a bit of time into some of the fighters on offer, you will see much more potential bleed out of them than you would expect on the first impression. While some of the cast can have a pick-up-and-play feel to them, it’s the characters that you wouldn’t expect to have a connection with where the game really smacks you in the face. The combat just oozes with discovery to the point where you will stumble upon new animations and moves even after several hours of maining your favorite.
As for the string that holds the meat together, there really is a vast amount of content here to sink your teeth into. The Story mode alone shows a staggering display of commitment to its lore. BlazBlue CentralFiction Special Edition is the fourth and final part of a massive but often confusing story. However, while you can simply just ignore its Japanese-voiced narrative altogether, the amount of dialogue and text really does portray the huge amount of effort in bringing the characters to life. There’s a half-hour recap for those who are new to the series as well as a glossary touching on each character in the roster. The Arcade mode has its own – albeit watered down – narrative that splits into three parts. Each character will interact with one another to argue who’s the hardest before clashing shins for dominance.
On top of that, there’s an RPG-style survival mode called Grim of Abyss. Here you can upgrade skills to strengthen your opponent as you fight waves of enemies and bosses across an overworld map. It’s a bit grindy, but the challenge does bring some variety to solo combat. The Speed Star and Score Attack mode will see you nailing the opposition for points or under a time limit. While the Practice and Challenge modes give you all you need to bust-a-combo and count frames for player refinement. Due to how lightning fast the loading is across the board, changing characters during practice is little more than a few seconds on a splash screen. This may sound like a primitive note to express, yet compared to the bigger budget fighters out there, it’s a very convenient feature if you want to take another fighter for a test drive.
What is superb is the netcode when scrapping it out online. While it’s more basic than the chibi-arena lobbies in BlazBlue Cross Tag Battle, the lag is almost non-existent and one of the best experiences that I’ve had with a fighting game. I don’t say that lightly, either. There were many-a-battle where I would duke it out with players from other regions displaying a low connection on Wi-Fi. The result? Still better than 90 percent of fighting games out there, regardless of platform. The only issue that I did run into was how quiet the servers are. I found the North American scene to have a better result when searching for matches in the background of other modes. To be fair, most Nintendo Switch owners at this point in time are more than likely battling it out for the top spot in Tetris 99 since its surprise release last week. But due to BlazBlue’s rather cubbyhole fanbase, it unfortunately probably won’t get the mass attention that it deserves.
It may be a three-year-old game at this point, but BlazBlue CentralFiction Special Edition is a fine example of the quality Arc Systems Works puts into their games. The fact that all the downloadable content is included at such a decent price point makes this complete package a necessity on the Nintendo Switch. With lush backgrounds, an adrenaline-fueled soundtrack, loads of cosmetics to unlock, gorgeous artwork, fluid animations, and a wonderfully deep fighting system, this niche but stunning 2D fighter has easily become one of the top dogs on the system.
Version Tested: Nintendo Switch
Review copy provided by PQube