As a Japanese fighting game, BlazBlue Calamity Trigger is essentially what one would expect! The voice lines are corny and over-the-top, the designs are slightly ridiculous (and, in the case of some female fighters, highly impractical), and the storyline is both cliche and fully aware of its cliche-ness, telling the often overdramatic story with full sincerity while simultaneously poking fun at many of its own tropes.
Although this can sometimes stray into uncomfortably PG-13 rated territory, its understanding and acceptance of what it is, corniness and all, is just one of the things that makes BlazBlue so enjoyable to play! But the most important part of any fighting game isn’t the tropes. It’s the fighting.
In terms of gameplay, BlazBlue has a number of options to accommodate the player’s preferences. If we’re genuinely curious and invested in the world and characters, we can play through each individual character’s journey in Story Mode, which is essentially a visual novel that is sometimes interrupted by fighting minigames. In this mode, the player interacts with other characters, shaping the plot with each of their individual victories.
If we’re just looking for a simple action game, there’s Arcade Mode, which allows us to fight against a randomly selected CPU character (or a friend, if multiple controllers are connected) on a randomly selected stage; if we want to remove the element of randomness, we can use Versus Mode, a customizable version of Arcade Mode; if we want to play against strangers, we can use the Network feature, which allows us to compete online.
There’s also Training Mode, where we can test out our character’s moves, and Score Attack, in which we fight against everything the CPU can throw at us in an attempt to get a leaderboard-worthy score. Whether we’re a fighting game aficionado looking for the best score we can get, a story-motivated player who’s willing to fight to progress the plot, or just somebody looking to throw a few punches without getting arrested for it, BlazBlue has something for practically everyone.
Story Mode is a particularly interesting gameplay option – each playable character has their own backstory, motivation, and relationships to other characters that become clear as their individual story plays out. We’re not just fighting against a computer; we’re fighting against our character’s mildly psychotic brother or lifelong rival, and if we defeat them, they react with dialogue that can range from humorous to heartbreaking.
Our character isn’t just some guy who can throw a punch or some random cat demon lady; they’re a part of the world, and Story Mode reflects that. (The story-based scenes can drag on a bit, but to be fair, it’s literally called Story Mode. This is what we signed up for!)
Most interesting of all is the fact that each character story seems to follow one underlying plot that changes depending on which character is being played – playing as Ragna allows us to defeat Jin, and vice versa, which affects the story as a whole.
The characters themselves, beyond possessing an often traumatic backstory intertwined with those of other characters, have some… odd designs, to say the least. For example, the uniform of Jin Kisaragi’s powerful and ruthless organization consists entirely of primary colors, and while it’s difficult to tell if he’s wearing a cape that’s been cut in half or shoulder pads with tails, it’s a little hard to take seriously either way. Doctor Litchi Faye-Ling’s outfit is not practical for any possible occasion in any sense of the word, and the cat demon just looks… off-putting.
There are some genuinely good designs in there, like that of Rachel Alucard the vampire, which toes the line between innocent and creepy extremely well and is just intricate enough to remain fully practical, but overall, the character designs miss the mark.
Despite this, the pixel art as a whole manages to be quite good. The absurdity of the designs is reduced somewhat in its pixelated form, and the fighting animations flow very smoothly while remaining detailed to the point that they almost look hand-drawn. Most of the game is drawn traditionally, with pixel art only being used for the mid-battle sprites; however, what pixel art there is has been done well!
Unsurprisingly, one thing every game mode has in common is the fighting. We can’t get through BlazBlue without destroying our enemies, and this is sometimes made difficult by the fact that the controls are very confusing, especially using a keyboard. There is no tutorial, and though the Options menu does allow us to see and adjust the controls, there’s too many confusing translations and seemingly unnecessary shortcuts to memorize what everything does.
Luckily, a lot of BlazBlue can be beaten simply by pointing our character the right way using the arrow keys and frantically smashing the letter keys at random. Is this the correct way to play a fighting game? Probably not. But it seems to work!
Despite how confusing and frustrating attempting to decipher the controls can be, the fighting aspect is actually quite fun despite that. We may not know exactly what convoluted martial arts move pressing ‘A’ activates, but we do know that it just cost our opponent another chunk of health. And isn’t that really the true appeal of fighting games? We don’t know quite what’s going on, but we know that if we just keep pointing the right way and button-mashing, we’ll probably win, and it looks too exciting for us to get caught up in exactly who’s doing what. Not to mention, the adrenaline rush of defeating a seemingly impossible opponent with just a sliver of life remaining ourselves is indescribably elating!
All in all, Blazblue gets a 7/10 ranking. It’s certainly not perfect, there are some things that definitely could have been done better, but it knows what it is and it leans into it. It’s a fun game, if frustrating at times, and the variety it offers is certainly valuable. If we’re looking for a fighting game with deep lore and character backstories, this is the game for us; if we’re just looking for a straightforward battle simulator, it’s still a solid pick, but the confusing mechanics and gameplay prevent it from hitting the top of the list.
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