Review: BlazBlue: Central Fiction (PS4/PS3)

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Formats:

  • PlayStation 4
  • PlayStation 3

Format/Hardware Used:

  • PSN Download
  • PS4, PS3
  • HDTV

Extras:

  • Cross-Buy No
  • Cross-Save Yes
  • Cross-Play Yes
  • Cross-Chat No
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Title: BlazBlue: Central Fiction
Format: Blu-ray Disc / (PS4 19.56 GB) (PS3 14.8 GB)
Release Date: November 1, 2016
Publisher: Aksys Games
Developer: Arc System Works
Original MSRP: $59.99 (PS4) / $49.99 (PS3)
ESRB Rating: T
A copy of this game was provided by the publisher for review purposes.
PS Nation Review Policy

With periodic releases since it first hit the scene in 2008, the BlazBlue series has been around the block a few times. It’s been over a year since the last game in the franchise, BlazBlue ChronoPhantasma Extend, and it’s finally time for a new subtitle for the series.

In the lead up to the release of BlazBlue: Central Fiction though, the developers have expressed an interest in finally giving the series a rest for a while. As potentially the last BlazBlue for the foreseeable future, read on to see how the game holds up.

I will be focusing on Central Fiction from a holistic point of view. For those who are interested in the game’s new features only, feel free to skip ahead to the last eight paragraphs of the review which address more of the changes this installment brings to the franchise.

Gameplay:
BlazBlue is a 2D fighting game in every sense of the term, unlike some of the recent fighters. Originally designed as a replacement of sorts for the at-the-time-in-limbo Guilty Gear franchise, BlazBlue has since morphed into its own beast. That said, the game still fits solidly into the Arc System Works (ASW) pantheon, with similar aspects to their other fighting games.

Like many ASW fighters, this is a frenetic and fairly fast paced fighting game, with a higher than usual emphasis on long combos. Characters are generally pretty mobile with most having access to things like air dashing and double jumps.

There are a lot of mechanics though, as the series has slowly been introducing more and more over the past eight years. Going through the game’s tutorial, there are a ton of little intricacies to learn but the it does a decent job of teaching them all.

In general though, the fighting is very fluid and it’s easy to learn the basics. This is true with normal controls, but the game also offers a “stylish” control scheme to help new players.

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When selected, players only need to mash a single button to do combos or hold a specific button to execute special attacks. This mode is a bit of a crutch in my opinion, but it does let players of any skill level jump in and enjoy the game.

One of the calling cards of the franchise is the “Drive” mechanic. In addition to the normal attack buttons, each character has D button whose function varies wildly between characters. Some characters just have normal moves with special properties while others can use the D button for strange mechanics.

… does a lot to differentiate each character …
Some examples include a character who can control the wind direction with D, or another who has a partner puppet that can move and attack with the D button. Not that the characters are all that close to begin with but the Drive mechanic really helps set them all apart.

Compared to a game like Street Fighter IV where multiple characters are only slight variations on the same moveset, BlazBlue does a lot to differentiate each character.

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I like a lot of the mechanics and the overall feel of the series’ fighting and fortunately Central Fiction gives the player a lot of ways to use it. Most of the modes included are pretty standard for a fighting game: a story mode, training, challenges, etc.

ASW can even do what Capcom can’t – not only does this have an arcade mode, in a way it has three. The arcade mode is split up into three separate acts for most characters.

Some of the included modes even add additional rules to the mix. Recent ASW fighters often include an RPG-like mode and here the Abyss mode fills that role. It’s not too different from past Abyss modes but it does tweak some small aspects.

… it might be difficult for a newcomer to grasp the plot …
When playing this mode, characters can be leveled up and given equipment that increase their stats or give them extra abilities. This is a very beefy mode, with a lot of equipment to gather and levels to grind out.

One of my favorites is the new Speed Star mode, it’s timer based with a unique twist. Here, the player character has infinite life and is instead trying to beat a set number of opponents before a timer runs out. Certain player actions can add time to the timer, which is absolutely necessary to beat it. The mode even tosses in occasional boss characters who can also knock seconds off the player’s timer themselves.

ASW fighters often have long and involved story modes and Central Fiction is no exception. The story mode picks up after the events of the past few games and actually resolves a lot of the plot threads that the previous games have presented.

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As such, it might be difficult for a newcomer to grasp the plot. The game does offer the option to recap the events of the previous entries but even as someone who has played the entire series, I found the recap wanting and I was having trouble remembering various plot points.

The story is told mostly through visual novel style dialogue with the occasional fight thrown in. Fair warning though, the time spent reading is magnitudes higher than the time spent fighting in this mode. As in, I think there’s over an hour of reading before the player even gets into their first fight.

… a few new, mostly minor, tweaks …
In addition to the new Speed Star mode and the continuation of the story, the game also adds seven new characters to bring the roster up to a whopping thirty-five when including DLC. Interestingly, these include characters from BlazBlue spinoff products.

Those familiar with the story may remember Hibiki, Nine, and Izanami who all finally make their playable debut. Hibiki uses swords reminiscent of Attack on Titan and focuses on confusing his opponent by making shadows of himself. Nine is a mage who can stock up on elements based on her attack chains to unleash special combination attacks. Izanami has the odd ability to perform ground attacks while in the air.

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Two other characters are included in the base game as well: Naoto and Susanoo. Naoto is the protagonist of the Bloodedge Experience, a BlazBlue spin-off light novel, and uses a hand-to-hand style augmented with weapons created by his blood. Susanoo is unlockable in game by finishing the story, or by paying for DLC, and has locked abilities that he can open up during a fight with his Drive moves.

There are also two DLC characters: Es and Mai. Es is from the XBlaze spinoff Vita games and attacks with a huge sword that can set up delayed detonations. Mai is from the BlazBlue: Remix Heart manga and uses a lance she can throw and control the trajectory of using her Drive. Es is free for a limited time after the game’s launch. Be sure to grab her if you want to save a few bucks.

Central Fiction has a few new, mostly minor, tweaks to the BlazBlue mechanics. The most significant is that each character now has a special super move they can use while in Overdrive. There’s also a new Active Flow state too, which rewards proactive, offensive play. It is worth going through the tutorial to learn about these mechanics, even for returning players, as they can be very powerful.

… colorful, fluid 2D animation …

Visuals:
As mentioned before, BlazBlue: Central Fiction is a 2D fighting game, but unlike the recent Street Fighter and Guilty Gear entries, BlazBlue actually retains the 2D graphics for the characters.

The sprite work is pretty good looking overall, representing Ragna and the rest of the cast in colorful, fluid 2D animation. I especially adore character’s Astral Finish moves, which often have over-the-top animation to go with the match-ending attacks.

The backgrounds are all 3D rendered though, which would seem jarring but it’s actually not too bad in practice. Certain stages work better than others but on the whole the graphics work well enough. Most of the focus is on the two characters anyway, so the way the characters tend to ‘pop’ more than the background elements is more of a plus than anything.

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Audio:
Arc System Works always does great soundtracks and this one is no exception. Daisuke Ishiwatari once again provides his unique style of wailing guitars and fast paced riffs. If I had a complaint it would be that the majority of the soundtrack is simply being carried forward from past games but it’s a minor thing. I liked the music before and I still like it. The new characters do get a new theme each though.

The biggest controversy over the game is that the English dub voices have been dropped. It is disappointing for fans of the dub and a couple of the English VO’s expressed displeasure over the decision online.

Supposedly the change was made to allow the game to launch closer to the Japanese release. The Japanese voices are still good but it is unfortunate that there’s no longer an option for fans that want it.

… find the players who want to test their mettle …
Online/Multiplayer:
While having a lot of single player options is nice, fighting games can live or die based on their multiplayer appeal. BlazBlue fares pretty well in that department with plenty of options. Local multiplayer is the most basic of the bunch with just two players slugging it out.

Online modes offer three options: ranked, player, and lobbies. Ranked is the usual competitive mode, where you’ll find the players who want to test their mettle. Player matches offer a more casual format for up to eight players to cycle through matches.

Lobby mode drops your avatar in a virtual arcade with up to thirty-two players. You can sit down at a virtual arcade cabinet to play against other members of the lobby. The online features also offer some player customization.

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In addition to being able to roll random accessories for the player avatar, the online mode lets players build and play in their room. Again, in-game money can be used to purchase new items for the player’s room.

As always, the online connection can vary greatly depending on player’s connections to one another. I had some online matches that played fine and others that were terrible. The game likes to slow down a lot when the connection lags and it can be hard to perform combos in that environment. It is possible to be picky about opponent’s connections though, fortunately.

… probably the best the franchise has felt in a while …
One interesting new feature is the inclusion of forums. While not all that well implemented as forums go, they have the novel ability to include attachments. Players can share their rooms and more importantly, their training mode data.

This is a cool feature where someone can record themselves doing a specific combo and then share it for others to see. One data set I downloaded was helpful practice as it was set to randomly perform one of four combos and I could practice defending against them properly.

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Conclusion:
BlazBlue: Central Fiction is probably the best the franchise has felt in a while. I think some of that is fatigue. Keeping up with release after release does tire me out and given the developer comments and the wrapping up of the story, it would seem that series might lie low for a while.

The knowledge that a purchase would be inferior in about a year was also a mitigating factor in past games. I don’t doubt we’ll see the series again at some point, but this is a great sending off point for now.

While finally seeing the end of the story is great, the rest of the game really does shine on its own. With a very diverse cast of unique characters and plenty of content to explore, it has a lot to offer. Fighting games thrive on multiplayer but even those looking to beat up a computer opponent will find multiple venues in which to do so here.

My biggest qualm is really with the story, which is dense and hard to get into. Not only is the lore pretty deep at this point, but the characters talk themselves in circles and the plot spends a lot of time spinning its wheels.

That aside, this is a fantastic fighting game. I especially recommend the game to fans who may have ignored the last few releases. With the lessened fear of owning an inferior version in a year, Central Fiction is a great place to try the series again.

Score:
8.5

* All screenshots used in this review were taken directly from the game using the Share functionality on the PlayStation 4.

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Written by Andy Richardson

Andy Richardson

A longtime PlayStation fan who enjoys JRPGs and rhythm games when he’s not tweeting about his parrot.

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