Review: BlazBlue Central Fiction [PS4]

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BlazBlue Central Fiction is the fourth BlazBlue game and the conclusion to its main story. It’s an unusual feeling to see a fighting game actually finish its story with a clear ending for once as they usually just float from game to game making it up as the go along. But BlazBlue is special in that since its release it has proven to be easily the most ambitious sprite based fighting game when it came to trying to add a contextual story to what can only ever be two characters hitting each other, often with ridiculous swords.

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Release Date: 4th November 2016 (EU), 1st November 2016 (NA)
Platform(s): PlayStation 4, PlayStation 3
Genre: Fighting
Player(s): Single-player, multiplayer
Rating: PEGI: 12
Publisher: PQube (EU), Aksys Games (NA)
Developer: Arc System Works

This is probably the final game of BlazBlue we will see in this familiar form so it’s fitting that the series ends with the most polished fighting system and the largest cast. The changes this time are not as dramatic as the last game. The last BlazBlue game introduced ‘overdrives’, a kind of super-mode that all characters could enter boosting that character’s unique moves and attributes. This returns as a welcome improvement to the ‘gold bursts’ that were copied from Guilty Gear. Central Fiction now adds ‘Exceed Accel’ a super move that can be used only while a character is in overdrive, they are a weaker version of the distortion drives that all the characters have except that they can be cancelled into from nearly any move with a very simple control input. So now every character has this powerful combo finisher that they can swing into at any time during an already powered up combo. This can turn an already powerful string into something that can settle the momentum of a match in your favour.

Another new addition is a more complicated state called: ‘Active Flow’. Activated by constant aggressive strings of attacks. Active flow boosts both attack power and meter gain and also empowers exceed accel moves mentioned before but can only activate once per round. If this sounds familiar it’s because it is very similar to Under Night In-Birth’s vorpal state. Confusingly BlazBlue lacks any kind of meter to show you how close you are to active flow other than a slight purple glow to your characters portrait. So it ends up being hard to apply strategically and becomes more of a lucky break when one of your attack strings gives you this advantage.

These two features together make it far easier to maximise a character’s damage on their own but the removal of the limit to the moves that can be used in succession in one combo has made some characters far more powerful. Hakumen, with some good positioning, can now do in the realm of nine thousand hit points of damage relatively easily. To put that into perspective the most fragile characters have about ten thousand hit points.

That being said, I really enjoy how these changes all work together to make matches shorter. Shorter matches overall allow for more fun for beginners to the fighting genre or BlazBlue in particular. Advanced players will already do whatever they can to maximise their damage in a single combo. By making it easier for new people it allows them to see what a character is capable of much earlier. Short high damage fights also make it much more fun to play the game locally with friends one of the few unique selling points that fighting games still have over other genres.

Now if those paragraphs were a bit too technical for you but somehow you’re still interested in trying out BlazBlue, then all three of you can take advantage of something that puts it head and shoulders above nearly all other fighting games: a clear, chapter based tutorial. Something most fighting games seem to forget is that to new players, unfamiliar with the codes and conventions of the games type as a whole, can find having to deal with all the different moving parts incredibly overwhelming. BlazBlue does this by giving each little piece of the game its own short lesson so that people can learn them one at a time. From moving, instant blocking all the way to rapid cancelling, everything is explained clearly. As a bonus, the most important parts are explained by the voice cast, in character. No one else does that.

Speaking of that cast sadly we will only have the Japanese voice cast for this release. Considering how well the English voice cast for BlazBlue was received and how useful it is for selling the Arcade versions of the game outside of Japan I was genuinely surprised that there is no English voice acting in this, the last BlazBlue to deal with the story of its main character Ragna.

And make no mistake, while there are a few sequel hooks left out just in case this could easily be the last BlazBlue as the story reaches a very final conclusion. As BlazBlue was originally going to be a trilogy you might feel that the story would be thin on the ground thankfully that is not true, as BlazBlue Central Fiction comes with not one, not two but three separate boss characters and they all have their own malevolent machinations that the heroes must deal with without even stopping for breath. Early on this is fantastic, everyone has their own evil plan and watching everyone both backstabbing while also trying to drum up support gets genuinely tense. That is until about a third or so of the way through when all of the pots and bosses end up sorting themselves into a clear hierarchy for the heroes to march through till then end.

This is the weakness that comes with a fourth game that was needed to finish off a trilogy. The plot starts by scattering our heroes away and then they just need to reorganise for a bit and start working together again, which is easy as nearly everyone has had their character development already. The story heaps on a lot of dramatic end of the world imagery but the story beats are the same as the last game. The heroes are scattered, the antagonists are overpowered, our heroes meet up and come up with a risky plan and at first it goes wrong but with a bit of wit and planning ahead *spoilers* and then credits.

If this is your first BlazBlue game I cannot recommend it for the story even though it bends over backwards trying to be as accommodating as possible but really joining at this point is the video game equivalent of turning up for only the last half of ‘Return of the Jedi/King’. Everything has already been set up and you are not going to get emotionally invested into it now at the last stretch.

I wish I could say that if you are a massive fan, such as myself, everything in the story works to a satisfying conclusion, but I cannot. Two whole story arcs, narratives that have been going since the FIRST GAME are so poorly handled you wonder why the writers even bothered finishing them.  One story arc that links four of the most popular characters together ends with a direct return to the status quo; you really wonder why this wasn’t taken care of in the first or second game.

The other story arc is even worse; one character somehow forgets all their character development and despite being one of the most despicable characters gets away without any real drama at all! Forget losing a fight and skulking away or winning a fight and leaving triumphant they just leave! Why? They give a vague reason but the true answer is that the plot was done with them. The writers did not even have themselves written into a corner they just decided to let a character stroll off stage with less fanfare than Rosencrantz and Guildenstern.

But while those parts are infuriating the core story itself has a good momentum to it especially towards the end. We watched Ragna and Jin seriously develop as characters last game and here we get to see them put it into real practice. While this is nothing special in other media, for a fighting game this is a whole new dimension. Indeed Ragna, in particular, gets a very satisfying ending where he finally overcomes the character flaws and obstacles he has been dealing with the whole series. He has clearly come a long way from the character who pretty much just stumbled his way through conflicts on nothing more than hot air.

But while the main character has matured over these eight years the character designers have not. Of the new characters added to the roster all the men look cool and interesting and different and all the ladies are fan-service vehicles, without exception. It is not that they serve no point in the plot as two of the new women added to the playable list are cool bosses one with an amazingly complex stance system the other with a unique move building system that gives them over twenty special moves. But their costumes and the poses for their artwork leave a lot to be desired. Central Fiction also adds yet another little sister clone to the cast bringing the total to… wait for it… six. That is six characters now that are small very young women in very revealing outfits. I am not going to belittle people with deferent tastes but can their taste not make up more than seventeen percent of the playable cast? If you are not a small Lolita in a skin-tight outfit then the only other response is to be a very well-endowed woman in a far too revealing outfit. Call me a dreamer but aren’t there are other kinds of women out there in the world other than short and cute or tall and busty? Not in BlazBlue apparently even after eight years, four games plus several re-releases and a cast now of over thirty playable characters.

But other than that serious problem, the cast is one of the best in the genre. All three bosses take the cake for being easily the scariest bosses of the entire franchise it would be tough to pick who is the most terrifying. Fan favourites from both the side manga and novels also turn up and are introduced well enough that you do not need to have read them to understand who they are and what they are doing there. With all of this that brings the cast to thirty-five characters and despite all of the good and the bad about this game, BlazBlue has never, ever, lost what made it the best fighting game for fans of fighting games. Each character is a unique puzzle you need to work out how to play well, each one brings something to a match that only they can bring and with this last game BlazBlue gives us that thirty-five times.

Verdict

75% The end at last...

BlazBlue takes some hits due to a sloppy end to some of its story threads and the ever present patriarchy that cripples all potentially perfect examples of pop culture but other than that you will not find a better fighting game anywhere else on this planet. We are officially on the Blue standard.

This title was reviewed using a PlayStation 4 review copy provided by PQube.

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Exists behind a keyboard in London trying to jam as much media down their mental gullet as is physically possible.