Every generation there come a number of games that surprise us. No wait, let me rephrase that: they surprise the hell out of us. Last generation it was Ico, and this generation it may be BlazBlue. The fighter genre has gone a bit stale over the past decade now, with the 2D games dwindling down considerably. Most recently Street Fighter IV made a spark earlier in the year, and by the looks of things, that spark has formed into a flame. With Both 3D and 2D fighters on their way this year, such as Tekken, King of Fighters 12, Marvel vs. Capcom 2, and of course, BlazBlue, we're seeing a resurgence. BlazBlue is the first all new 2D fighter to enter this generation of HD gaming, and it brings to the table something that's both accessible and deep.
Some of you be thinking: "isn't this the same group of people that made Guilty Gear?" Yes, it is. And some have criticized that franchise for feeling a bit stiff. But stop right there, because BlazBlue is not Guilty Gear and BlazBlue feels nothing like Guilty Gear. On the other hand, BlazBlue reminds me almost of Street Fighter III, as it boasts that same level of fluidity that made Capcom's 10 year old game so approachable and infinitely replayable. BlazBlue is simply the best playing 2D fighter to come out since Capcom's last 2D Street Fighter.
One of my biggest complaints with fighting games as of late has been the lack of decent endings. Some games have nothing, while others have ten second clips, which might as well be nothing. There's never any substance, so you're often left feeling cheated. BlazBlue doesn't do this, because the entire game is one massive story. In the Story Mode, each and every character has his/her own script and voice acting, and this dialogue can, at times, be fairly detailed and expansive, and I love that. Furthermore, upon completing a fighter's story, you will be encouraged to go back in order to complete it 100%. With all of the fighters you will encounter a decision selection at least once during their story, that decision is usually something along the lines of finishing off an opponent for good or leaving him broken and battered. But there's more to it than just that, such as losing intentionally to unfold a slightly different path, and it makes BlazBlue's Story Mode very enjoyable.
But again, it is the very game mechanics of BlazBlue that make this game so great. No longer are combos jarring and stiff, but rather now they are free-flowing and intuitive. BlazBlue encourages creativity as its engine allows for juggles, air-combos, and so forth. The action isn't chaotic to the point of being extremely frustrating, because at the core still lies a foundation that allows for proper defensive maneuvers, including counter attacks, which any skilled player should be able to utilize to his advantage against button mashers. Each one of the 12 players is unique from their storyline to their fighting, so while you're not getting an enormous cast of characters here, you are getting nothing but immense polish out of them.
Of course, for the competitive folks who just want to get down to business, there is a standard Arcade Mode, Versus Mode, and two-player online gameplay, where four others can also watch as spectators and take turns to play. The online network code is very strong, as lag seemed almost non-existent from what we've experienced, which is extremely important in fighting games.
For this generation, we want and expect nothing but the highest quality sprite work for 2D characters. In fact, what makes this generation so exciting for many of us fighting fans is finally being able to see all new high-def fighters. Now, while Super Street Fighter II Turbo HD had beautiful sprites, its animation was that of an 18 year old game, ultimately. BlazBlue is nothing like this, as it boasts character detail so gorgeous, so sharp, and so fluid that it practically sets the visual standards by which all fighters will be judged by. King of Fighters XII also makes use of some great art-work, but it's not nearly as superb as BlazBlue, but that's something I'm saving for the KOF12 review. Furthermore, the backgrounds and stages are a sight to see, with fantastic landscapes and details all over. The animation is also glorious, as are the bright and vivid special effects. Lastly, the framerate never skips a beat no matter how hectic the fighting gets, and we love that.
Audio is also nothing but quality. There is quite a bit of voice acting, and ARC has preserved the Japanese dialogue for the U.S. release, in addition to the English voices. There's a good deal of swearing, which I like, but if you're the type who doesn't, then you have been warned. The soundtrack is very good as its largely made up of heavy hitting tunes complete with the flair of guitars and such. In the Story Mode there is even some banter between fighters during a match, which I found to be a nice touch.
The bottom line is a very simple one: BlazBlue is one of the best 2D fighters to come out in the past decade. Not since Street Fighter III have we been given something this quick, accessible, intense, fluid, deep, and so well done overall. Even though the character selection may not be massive, there is still more than enough to play and replay here. On top of that, the striking visuals must be seen no matter what genre you prefer, and the audio is definitely solid. Aksys may have taken a gamble bringing BlazBlue here, but we urge you to reward them by going out there and picking up a copy for yourself. This game is awesome.