Arc System Works has developed and published a healthy portfolio of acclaimed anime fighters over the years. Beyond the global phenomenon of Dragon Ball FighterZ, they’ve put out a number of impressive licensed fighters like Persona 4 Arena, on top of their own iconic original franchises. For all the fighting games they’ve made, though, they’ve always stuck to the traditional 1v1 format. With Cross Tag Battle, though, Arcsys is mashing up their iconic anime fighter series BlazBlue with the likes of Persona, Under Night In-Birth, and even American cartoon RWBY for an ambitious 2v2 crossover explosion of spiky hair and oversized belts.
The idea of mixing fighters from BlazBlue, Persona 4 Arena, and Under Night In-Birth seemed insanely difficult to pull off when I first heard of it. Each of these games is a complex anime fighter with totally different sets of systems, meters and character properties. Incredibly, though, Arcsys has managed to perfectly slot all of these fighters into a totally new set of mechanics that manages to keep them faithful to their original play-styles.
There’s also a lot of work done with Cross Tag to make it far more accessible than any of the games these characters come from. The game is a 3 button fighter, and characters have one or two “smart combos” that let you continuously press a single button to dish out a lengthy attack string. On top of that, most special move inputs are simplified down to quarter-circle motions. Make no mistake, though. The ceiling for mastering Cross Tag is still just as high as any other Arcsys game, if not higher.
A lot of the complication comes from the existence of your tag partner. You can press X to switch to them at any time, and you can also call them out with R1 to perform an assist attack. Those functions can be performed at almost any time, though, meaning you can even call an assist out while in the middle of a super attack to extend the damage, or call your partner in mid-combo, then switch to that partner and string the combo along even further. If one of your characters dies, you’ll also be able to bust out Resonance Blaze, a 15-second ability that gradually recovers your red health, increases chip damage, allows more skill cancellation, and even auto-fills meter.
With a single character, the systems at play are definitely less complicated than a traditional Arcsys game. However, tossing a 2nd character in mixes things up in a way that the developer has never done before. Every character combo can produce their own unique combos or pressure mixups, and the timing or damage of your combined super attacks will be totally different depending on who you team up with as well. Cross Tag is easy to start but hard to master, yet no matter where you fall on that spectrum, the action will always be fast and fun and oh, so satisfying.
With how vital character variety and unique combos are to the core of this game, though, it’s bizarre to see just how lopsided and bare-bones the character roster is. The roster sits at a decent 20 characters, yet for how evenly the 4 franchises share the spotlight in the menus or advertising, 10 of those 20 characters are from BlazBlue. Persona and Under Night each contribute 4, while the wildcard crossover franchise RWBY only contributes 2. It’s hard to not feel like something is missing from this game when you open up the character select screen and see the BlazBlue bar filled with slots, while the remaining franchise bars contain more empty boxes than usable characters.
Arcsys has been vocal about their plans for this game, and those include expanding the cast with various free and paid DLC packs. It’s understandable for them to do that, but it isn’t understandable for the initial roster to look as uneven and half-baked as it does. Anyone who buys this game and doesn’t follow every piece of news surrounding it is guaranteed to be confused as to why the character select screen looks the way it does. Almost half of the investigation team from Persona 4 is missing, and 2 of the titular characters that make up RWBY are nowhere to be seen. Even if the character count ends up doubled through DLC, the uneven split of franchises feels like a betrayal to the fanbases Arcsys is working so hard to appeal to.
Still, with the characters that are present in the game, Arcsys does a great job of making them shine. The last BlazBlue release upset a lot of fans by omitting the English dub. In Cross Tag Battle, English voices are back and better than ever. Numerous character interactions bookend the battles, with plenty of endearing exchanges between the cast. This is the first time Under Night characters have been dubbed, and they sound incredible. The RWBY actors also do a surprisingly great job with what they’re given, considering this is the first fighting game they’ve portrayed these characters in.
In fact, it’s really incredible just how well RWBY fits in among these Arcsys properties. The character designs mesh perfectly with the edgy looks of BlazBlue and Under Night, and I never knew how much I needed RWBY music in a fighting game until Cross Tag Battle did it. They end up making Persona feel like the odd franchise out, with their regular school kids in their pretty normal school uniforms. For such an oddball 4th franchise, RWBY does a great job of feeling right at home mashed up with the other Arcsys hits.
If you want even more of these crossover interactions, A story-focused Episode Mode lets you follow the protagonists of each franchise as they make their way through a mysterious inter-dimensional tag tournament. The backdrop of the story is pretty lackluster, but it gives way for some entertaining exchanges between the casts of all 4 series that you can’t get anywhere else. Unfortunately, every story scene is only there to lead into the next 2v2 fight, so it all feels more like a glorified arcade mode than a proper story you might see out of previous BlazBlue games.
Beyond Episode Mode, the offline offerings are slim. There isn’t any sort of arcade mode in sight, Survival Mode is as bare-bones as it could possibly be, and Mission Mode provides some fun challenge scenarios and combo exhibitions, but will only last you so long. Mission mode also acts as a basic tutorial mode, which is really disappointing given the absolutely amazing tutorials featured in other Arcsys games like Guilty Gear Xrd Rev 2 or the latest Under Night In-Birth. You can earn spendable points from all these modes, but with none of the usual bonus music or art galleries or lobby character accessories to buy, there really isn’t much to spend them on.
There is an incredible core set of mechanics and gameplay at the heart of Cross Tag Battle. It is fun as hell to play, and addictive and rewarding to try and master. Unfortunately, the package that this gameplay ships in is embarrassingly sparse, especially by Arcsys standards. Offline modes and unlockables are kept to a bare minimum, and the big story mode fails to fully embrace the magic of this bizarre crossover. Worst of all is the shallow and incredibly lopsided character roster. Arcsys has made a habit of releasing updated, 2.0 expansions of every fighting game they make, expanding the selection of modes and characters. In the case of Blazblue Cross Tag Battle, this is a game that feels like it desperately needs one.
Version Tested: PS4 – also available on PC and Nintendo Switch