With subtitles like Calamity Trigger and Continuum Shift, it’s hard to take BlazBlue: Chronophantasma all that seriously. The third instalment in the franchise is also the first, via its Extend version, to transition to the latest generation of consoles. With all the advancements of Arc Systemwork’s Guilty Gear Xrd SIGN earlier in the year though, is BlazBlue worth coming back to?
BlazBlue: Chronophantasma Extend adds balance changes, along with two new characters into the increasingly massive roster. Celica uses a robot as a tool during battle and while she takes some getting used to, she is a unique addition to the cast. No.11 meanwhile is almost a palette swap of No.13, but at the very least has one or two unique moves that suit close quarter combat better than her counterpart.
A massive chunk of BlazBlue: Chronophantasma Extend is taken by the story mode that opts to streamline the storyline into factions rather than individual characters. It has a ton of visual novel style chapters, interlaced with an occasional fight or two as well as plenty of side stories and goofy sketches to uncover. It’s apparent that the story mode is for the fans of the lore though.
Part of the problem with the story is that there is often a long stream of dialogue to slug your way through before anything happens that needs your input. By the time the game was throwing me into three fights in a row, it felt like a breath of fresh air until I realised I could just be playing the arcade mode. I would also liked to have seen more of the animated cut-scenes rather than the static visual novel that dominates these modes as the delivery feels stiff at times.
While we’re on the subject, the English voice acting is polarising to say the least. For every deliciously evil and sadistic, yet well-acted character such as Terumi, you also have the likes of mascot characters like Taokaka. You do have the option of Japanese dub, but the inconsistency seems to lie with the writing more than the performances themselves, for the most part, as characters feel the need to explain everything.
Transitioning to next-gen has been mostly seamless for the franchise. Backgrounds of each arena are gorgeous; full of colour and distinct character. Character sprites however look noticeably pixelated with sharp edges in the various shading. Animation quality on the other hand is top notch, running at a solid 60fps, a franchise standard that hasn’t dropped one bit. One look at the Astral Finishers is enough to showcase Arc Systemwork’s quality animation.
For those returning to the franchise, like myself, there are a couple of new systems in place in addition to a lot of returning ideas. Overdrive requires you to press all four attack buttons in return for around 5-15 seconds of being in an enhanced state, depending on remaining health. This includes freezing the round timer, enhancing strength, and augmenting your Distortion attacks. It’s a great risk/reward tool that is useful in a pinch.
Crush Triggers are the other new move, which allows players to shatter the defence of a blocking opponent, or greatly reduce the Barrier gauge of a player using a Barrier Guard. All this and the rest of the mechanics and character traits are taught in a surprisingly robust tutorial that doesn’t throw everything and the kitchen sink at you. You won’t be an expert overnight, but it does at least give you the best of chances.
As a whole, the fighting system feels easier to understand than ever before. With the Stylish mode, newer players can get into the fray with little knowledge of combos, but more competent players can utilise Technical for a more typical fighting game experience. It feels frantic at times, but Chronophantasma Extend is the most enjoyable rendition of BlazBlue to play.
Several modes populate the rest of BlazBlue: Chronophantasma Extend, including a network mode that ranges from standard ranked/unranked matchmaking and a lobby system that resembles an arcade somewhat. Every fight above a certain connection quality was stable, even if I did get outclassed quickly. For those who don’t want to play online, Abyss Mode is an interesting take on the classic Survival Mode, while Unlimited Mars pits you against rock hard AI for a brutal beatdown.
However there’s a big problem with BlazBlue: Chronophantasma Extend – The long localisation delay. This version has been available in Japan since April and the US since June. That gives the Japanese a whole six months head start and the Americans four months. If you’re based in Europe, you’re already very late to the online meta-game. It’s a hugely inconvenient business model that hampers a competitive scene dramatically.
As such, it’s tougher to recommend BlazBlue: Chronophantasma Extend to those wishing to get more out of it than a solid fighting game experience. However, the two new characters that join the growing cast are great additions and the conversion to the next-gen consoles is almost completely successful. If you’re not intimidated by the competitive scene or if the massively convoluted plot doesn’t faze you; BlazBlue: Chronophantasma Extend is a good choice for scratching that pugilistic itch.
Version Tested: PlayStation 4