- Format: PS4, Vita (versions reviewed), PS3, Xbox One
- Unleashed: Out Now
- Publisher: PQube
- Developer: Arc System Works
- Players: 1-2 (online & offline)
- Site: http://blazblueuniverse.com/#homepage
- Game codes provided by the publisher
Blazblue is one of those games that, generally, you either try and then fall in love with immediately, or give curious glances to from a distance before moving on. It’s unapologetically idiosyncratic whilst being immediately identifiable as a 2D beat em up. Chronophantasma Extend is the 2015 instalment in the series, and continues the tradition of ploughing through the genre on its own terms; with mixed results.
Each entry has looked flippin’ gorgeous, and Chronophantasma Extend is no exception. The sumptuous design and colouring of the characters may imply an anime heritage, but the world was created exclusively for the game series. It looks just as good in motion as it does in still pictures, the animation equal to the life infused into the characters and the vibrant backgrounds they fight against.
A fighting game lives or dies by its controls, and BB:CE holds strong in this respect. Smooth and responsive in both the PS4 and Vita versions that we played, the PS4 nonetheless has what is almost an unfair advantage in the far superior analogue sticks of the DualShock 4. The Vita’s sticks are notoriously rubbish (so far as we’re concerned, anyway) – which is why we were surprised that the left stick still works so well for inputting directions here. Major brownie points for being a beat em up that manages to work properly on the Vita (where, incidentally, it manages to look almost as good as on PS4 providing you’re using the OLED version).
With almost 30 characters, you’re spoilt for choice in terms of who to be disturbingly violent with. Series regulars return, including (but not limited to) poster-boy Ragna, woman-robot-thing Nu-13, boy-with-a-creepy-mannequin Carl Clover, and vampire-with-a-cat-umbrella Rachel Alucard. There’s a great variety in character playstyles; some work best up close, some rely almost entirely on projectiles, others sit somewhere inbetween, some can freeze or slow their opponent, some can rush to or escape from their opponent at great speed… there’s a lot to take in. The series has now reached the point where the newer characters closely resemble at least one of the longer standing ones, but there are differences to justify their existence. Just.
All the fashionable beat em up kids are using fighting systems of great depth nowadays, but BlazBlue was there before most of them. If you’ve never played one of these games before, the length and breadth of what’s on offer can be overwhelming. Something like Astral Heat is easy to understand, which is basically a super-move available when your opponent is nearly defeated and your relevant gauge is at 100%. Similarly, distortion drive (gauge-reliant special moves) and the self-explanatory throw escape will be familiar to anybody who’s played a beat em up in the last few years. But things like Crush Trigger, Break Burst, Counter Assault, Rapid Cancel, and Overdrive? Potentially off-putting gobbledygook. Like every other BlazBlue title however, CE has an excellent set of tutorials in place for those who need them that cover everything from general understanding of the systems, to character-specific moves and tactics. A lot of time is required to get through everything, but it’s worth it. You’ll eventually come to learn that – given quick thinking and quick reflexes – any attack can be countered in some way. If you already have a taste for in-depth fighters, you are going to absolutely love this game.
You don’t need to be a competition-level pro to enjoy BB:CE, though. Anybody can learn to a fun-having level, character by character, pretty quickly; and if you’re too busy/lazy to learn, you can simply switch on “Stylish” controls (i.e. Numpty Mode), which allows you to grope the controller pretty much at random yet end up looking like an expert. Unfortunately, one area of the game that your skill will dictate your enjoyment of is the online mode.
To begin with, the servers are disappointingly empty. This is no fault of the game itself – laggy matches are virtually non-existent, online play being as smooth as offline (and you can even set a minimum opponent connection strength when creating a room). Online matches are extremely difficult to come by on the Vita, though the PS4/PS3 (these versions have online cross-play) versions are a little better for unranked lobbies. All formats, unfortunately, will see you struggle to find a single ranked match. When you do find somebody to fight, chances are frustratingly high that this person will be (a) an unstoppable expert, or (b) somebody who has carefully researched the most spammable attacks. The flipside of some of the more visually impressive and outlandish attacks, you see, is that they can be launched in quick succession (or brief repeated combinations) to trap any newbies in a seemingly inescapable tornado of pain. Not everybody plays by the unwritten rules and this, of course, is not a problem unique to BlazBlue. You have been warned.
Oddly, the Vita version has shipped without any story content and, even more oddly, if you follow the prompt to download it from the PlayStation Store (for free? Who knows), at time of writing you’re told that there is no content available. Not that Vita players will be missing anything. The main story mode, while immense (like that in other BlazBlues), is written like a fourteen year old’s fan fiction (unlike that in other BlazBlues); and the less said about the other two stories – especially Remix Heart Gaiden – the better.
If you’re happy to play beat em ups mainly against the CPU and/or you have a friend or two to play with, this is one of the best examples of the genre to go for. If a strong story mode or a lively online community is what you’re looking for, though, we must reluctantly tell you to look elsewhere.