BlazBlue has always been just a little bit different from other fighters, I’ve found, and ever since trying to dip my toes into the series I’ve always struggled trying to get my own foothold and figure out which directions I need to be moving in. The game has a good number of systems and a widely varied cast, sure, but the game also has its own strong, individual pacing that creates unique situations you won’t encounter in most other titles, even those in the Arc System Works family.
With the console release of Chronophantasma EXTEND, I saw an opportunity to explore the franchise with a fresh mindset, in hopes of not only becoming a stronger BlazBlue player and enjoying it more, but to take lessons and skills from those special situations and add them to my overall skill set across the other games I play. I picked it up, learned some combos and setups, and had some relative success until I smacked face first into a strong opponent. I quickly realized some of the game’s subtleties had eluded me, and all those combos and cute setups would go to waste unless I learned more about how I needed to approach the game from a more thoughtful perspective.
Different types of players introduced to EXTEND may find themselves in similar positions, whether they are coming in fresh or are veterans in need of extra insight, so I recently reached out to one of North America’s best players for any tips he could offer.
Nakkiel is one of the most consistent tournament placers during Chronophantasma’s initial lifespan thanks to his strong Litchi play, displaying a strong understanding of the title’s systems and what it takes to be competitive. After his hectic weekend competing in and helping out with Northwest Majors 7, he was kind enough to take some time to answer a few of the questions I had for him about getting into BlazBlue, his own approaches to learning and thinking about overall strategy, and some personal takeaways he may have had during his time with the game.[hr]
(Editor’s note: Some of the answers below have been edited for clarity and brevity.)
M’Ellis: Can we get a quick introduction of who you are, any accomplishments, and anything you might represent?
Nakkiel: Hi, I’m Nakkiel! You might remember me as sG from Evo 2014, where I was the highest placing American in BlazBlue: Chronophantasma and qualified to represent the United States at ARC REVOLUTION CUP 2014. I don’t currently represent anyone but have been sponsored a couple times now.
M: If you had one key idea or concept that helps define what BlazBlue: Chronophantasma is about, what would it be?
Nakkiel: If I had to pick just one, it would be Barrier. Chronophantasma’s offense and defense revolve around the use of Barrier, including the mechanic’s increased pushback when paired with instant block, the large amount of Barrier you are given to work with, utilizing Crush Trigger to drain opponent’s Barrier gauge, and even throw option selects. The game simply wouldn’t function as well without it, and while some may overlook its importance, I really love its place in the game.
As a wise man once said: “Barrier Defense.”
M: As there’s a lot to learn in BlazBlue, what are the key things you would look to know first when picking a character?
Nakkiel: Their playstyle and the kind of tools they have to cater to it. How strong are they compared to the rest of the cast? Will I be out of my comfort zone and have to learn something new? Knowing yourself is probably one of the biggest things that can dictate character selection; I’ve forgone playing certain characters because I just do not mesh with their playstyle.
Nakkiel: As previously mentioned, I really look hard for which characters fit me best. I’ve played fighters for a long time and I love playing heavy rushdown/lockdown characters, whether that be from close- or long-range. Making sure that I am using a character that lets me flourish once I’m in a favorable and comfortable position mid-match is what I really enjoy. I like being able to quickly punish my opponent once I’ve managed to dictate pace or established corner pressure, even if earning that position is a struggle.
The character balance in BlazBlue: Chronophantasma EXTEND is really close this time around. Outside of Terumi and, I guess, Celica, most characters have a solid base to work with and can definitely pull out wins with smart play. From what I’ve seen and experienced so far, I’m very pleased with the balancing job this time around.
M: If you had to give any advice to help somebody quickly get a foothold in BlazBlue, what would it be?
Nakkiel: Learn BlazBlue’s roll/tech system and learn it well. Many beginners and even intermediate players do not properly shut down rolling/no-tech, which is incredibly risky and allows their opponent a free way to get out of the corner or pressure. Almost every character in the game can cover all options at once with proper timing from most of their stronger knockdowns. You can’t always 100% cover every option, but you need to know when you can so you don’t give up that valuable momentum, or even better, free damage on a disrespectful opponent.
On the flipside, knowing it well will also help you learn when it is safe for you, as the defender, to roll away from pressure.
M: You mentioned throw option selects earlier. How do you think about option selects in terms of things to learn and think about in matches?
Nakkiel: I think the ones that are applicable to BlazBlue are all very important to learn after you gain a solid understanding of the game system. All the defensive option selects available open you up to specific, high-reward ways to beat them and the offensive ones will keep opponents from disrespecting your knockdown with rolls, no-tech, or backdashes.
After a certain point, using option selects will become almost reactionary to certain gatlings or noticing your opponent reacting a specific way. They’re supplementary but necessary at a high level and none of them feel too strong or too weak to bother with.
M: How would you describe BlazBlue’s neutral and gameflow?
Nakkiel: BlazBlue: Chronophantasma EXTEND is very steady. The hyper-offensive characters that could cover your defensive options are not as strong anymore, so you will find yourself playing footsies more often. All the strongest characters are mostly neutral-based, so your defense and decision-making needs to be strong in this game–it’s not as easy to steal games from a deficit. There are characters with very powerful offense, like Valkenhayn and Izayoi, but they operate differently from Carl, Litchi, and Kokonoe in the previous installment. You are not often stuck in blockstun for their mixups, so it feels more fair this time around.
M: When making in-game decisions, what does your thought process look like?
Nakkiel: Against most opponents, I try to position them to the corner or in my character’s most powerful offensive position as soon as possible. I feel like if I can get even a small bit of momentum, I have a high chance of winning. Offense and controlling corner space have always been my strong points. On the flipside, my defense is not as strong as it could be and I can be very slow to start.
Basically, I want to hit my opponent–a lot.
M: Tell me a little bit about what your learning process is like.
Nakkiel: I play. Play and play. All my huge jumps in skill over the years have been from playing, reflecting on my matches, thinking hard about what I could have done better, and playing more. I use training mode very little (although some people get a lot of mileage out of it) and focus more on my interactions as a player. The benefit of learning different games also helped a ton in growing my decision-making; having to understand other game systems also helps you understand the one you currently play.
M: What do you find fun about BlazBlue and fighting games in general?
Nakkiel: It’s such a common and easy answer, but it’s really the community and the competition that keep me playing. I love the adrenaline of playing someone strong and I love the sense of satisfaction you get from overcoming them or simply improving as a player. I look back and see how much I’ve grown and I know how much more improvement there is to be had and that fires me up. I’ve grown as a person and met some of my best friends through fighting game gatherings and they are just wonderful; you get to travel to events and places you would never go otherwise and meet some great people.
They keep your head in the game and force you to stay on your toes and always make decisions, there’s never downtime!
M: A couple of personal questions now. What brand of hair product do you recommend?
Nakkiel: Well, I haven’t taken the wallet plunge on expensive hair product yet, so I’d have to say be lucky with your genes for now!
M: Favorite moment you’ve experience involving fighting games, both in and out of competition?
Nakkiel: I think for me it’d obviously be making top eight at Evo 2014 and conversely being the highest-placing American in BlazBlue that year. It was really very emotional, especially since I was going through a hard time in my life and the support I had from my close friends, the Washington scene, and people I had never met before was very uplifting. I’ve never truly felt such a large amount of people rooting for me until that day and it was a nearly indescribable moment.
M: Any parting messages to all the players reading this before we close out?
Nakkiel: Keep at it! Whether it’s BlazBlue, Guilty Gear, Persona, or Under Night In-Birth, keep playing your game and keep striving to get better. That’s where all the fun is, and I can safely say I would not be who I am today, I wouldn’t be where I am, if I had quit. My closest friends are from the fighting game community and, while there are some downsides, there are with everything, and I’m so happy I’ve stuck it out thus far.