Arc System Works has been making a splash in the fighting game community for the last couple of years with their full 3D sequel to the classic Guilty Gear franchise. There’s another important long-running fighting game franchise of theirs, though, by the name of BlazBlue. What started eight years ago as an iffy but promising fighting game has grown and expanded over time into a huge multimedia franchise, turning into a big hit across the globe. With the release of Central Fiction, game director Mori-P aims to bring the fighting game franchise to a close, and he does so with a bang.
It’s mind boggling to think of just how many BlazBlue games there have been. The series started with Calamity Trigger in 2008, with only twelve characters and slow as snails combat, and we’ve basically had a new entry every year since then. Much in the same way as Street Fighter IV’s interim releases each game kept the same visual and gameplay core, balancing and tightening it up while also adding new characters, story chapters, modes, and more.
Central Fiction boasts the biggest jump in character count to date, adding seven new characters to the game for a total of thirty-five. There’s been a number of spinoffs, including books, manga, and a series of visual novel spinoff games since the series’ debut, and a nice touch is that they’ve added at least one new playable character from each of these stories. The protagonist of the manga is playable, as well as a couple of central characters from the visual novel, and a key figure from the books as well. The story modes of the last few games have lightly tied some of these spinoffs together, but having them all represented through playable characters really makes this release feel like a special swan song of sorts.
Even better, the new characters are all fun and varied. A few past BlazBlue titles added new characters that felt far too familiar to existing roster members, but each of the seven new combatants brings something new and fresh to the game, and their gameplay mechanics offer the perfect balance that lets beginners have fun with them, and pros have even more fun. These characters also bring with them some amazing new music, which has always been one of my favorite parts of new BlazBlue games. The theme for the character Susanoo, in particular, is probably my favorite track in the entire series.
Beyond new characters, there are a handful of new gameplay mechanics that help make things feel fresh. Exceed Accels are new special moves you can perform by pressing all four face buttons in Overdrive mode. They’re a new kind of Distortion Drive, but the easy input of them makes it a great tool for players of all skill levels.
Another new mechanic is the Active Flow system. In recent BlazBlue games, and even the new Guilty Gear Xrd games, a player would get a Negative Penalty for running away and not attacking for a certain amount of time. Active Flow is the opposite of that. An aggressive player who is constantly on the attack will eventually find themselves in Active Flow mode, and be rewarded with increased damage and Burst Gauge recovery. It’s an interesting gimmick that adds a new level of risk-versus-reward to battles, incentivising players who would normally stay on the defensive to try and go all out for a boost in damage.
You’ve got a lot of options to test out these new characters and mechanics. Beyond basic story mode and arcade battles, there are a handful of new modes that help flesh out gameplay options with quirky twists. Speed Star mode is a timed arcade-style series of fights with three difficulty options, where you don’t lose health from taking damage, but instead need to worry about optimal combos and takedowns to keep your time from running out. Alliance mode, meanwhile, sees you assembling a team of four characters and taking on a series of AI team battles. That, on top of the other unique bonus modes, adds a lot of fun variety to the game that ensures you’ll always have a new way to play.
One of the biggest modes in this game, though, especially considering Central Fiction is the big series finale, has got to be the story mode. The story of BlazBlue is a convoluted, edgy, trope-filled romp of anime-style insanity. This is sometimes in a bad way, sometimes in a good way, and usually in a so-bad-it’s-good way. There are a ton of characters, factions, terms, and events to keep track of, but Central Fiction seems to be content in only focusing on the struggles of the cover star, Ragna The Bloodedge.
While his story comes to a triumphant and satisfying conclusion, a majority of the other plot threads are left open, and a number of characters are shoved to the side and forgotten about. While there are side stories that give you some more insight into these other characters, the main story barely acknowledges their existence.
Something else that dampens the story of Central Fiction is a major feature that Arcsys cut from the game, and that’s English voiceover. BlazBlue has had a great English voice cast since the beginning, and they helped elevate a lot of the characters and story moments. Lately, Arcsys has been opting to not do English voiceover for their major fighting game releases.
It made sense for the new Guilty Gear, which was a series that was never dubbed to begin with. BlazBlue, however, had an English dub from the very first release that, for a lot of players, was integral to the experience. To cut it now, in the final game, ruins the feeling of it being a grand conclusion, and is a slap in the face to the talented cast of actors that have worked on the game over the years and, in some cases, had their careers launched thanks to the game. It’s the one sour note in an otherwise fantastic package.
Central Fiction set out to be the be all and end all BlazBlue package, and it pulls it off marvelously. With the largest cast of characters to date, and a number of extra modes, the amount of gameplay variety is staggering. While the story ends the struggle of protagonist Ragna The Bloodedge nicely, it’s disappointing to see so many other great characters barely given anything to do. Add that to the major mistep of having no English voicework, and there are a few areas where Central Fiction falters. Regardless, Central Fiction has the most gameplay content and the best gameplay of any title in the series. Longtime fans will be satisfied, and newcomers have more reason to jump in now than ever before.
Version Tested: PS4