Shoryuken review: BlazBlue: Cross Tag Battle is a thrilling blend of anime franchises

By on June 5, 2018 at 11:00 am
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It’s a crossing of fates no one had expected. An offshoot in the BlazBlue series: Persona, Under Night, and RWBY franchises tag in to some 2v2 anime action. It’s a dream crossover that feels like fan-fiction at times, but its frenetic action and opportunities for creativity show promise for a title with strong appeal to newcomers and experts alike.

A GLADOS-like computer with mysterious plans constucts the Phantom Field, a sort of fake amalgamation of stages from the worlds of each game, and starts bringing in heroes. It pits them in a race for the Keystone, which is a competition between all the worlds. The plot is a bit contrived, but BlazBlue fans will be used to this storytelling style, filled with complicated vocabulary and humorous filler. It’s also hilarious to see cross-franchise interactions – like when Ragna meets Under Night’s Gordeau and they discusses the differences between their powers, or when Ragna is ambushed by multiple robot girls at once from each world.

It is great to see the same English voice cast return to the BlazBlue and Persona characters, who perform really well in their roles. It feels like Arc Sys wants to cater to English fans as much as possible. It’s exciting to see new voices from the Under Night characters, but it’s also a pleasure to hear the original voice actresses from RWBY. In collaboration with Rooster Teeth, ArcSys has done an incredible job bringing Ruby, Weiss, and Blake into the fray; each of them feels energetic, original, and incredibly fun to play.

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Speaking of voice acting, the game is packed with adorable special intros and quips between characters. Most characters will call their partner by name, and you can see relationships resonate between various partners. Occasionally though, there are awkwardly long pauses because of the language differences with Japanese. Some lines could have used an additional word or two.

But the real piece of the Azure is of course hidden in the streamlined battle system of Cross Tag. ArcSys asked themselves a simple but genius question: What if the inputs for all moves were the same?

Without ever having played Gordeau or Waldstein or any other character I’m unfamiliar with, the game’s universal move list makes jumping between fighters effortless. Most characters have a couple of quarter circle moves, all supers are done the same way, and everyone has a Dragon Punch. Walking is removed from the game, as characters just dash right away, which makes some combos a lot easier. You can even map an air dash to a single button press.

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Thanks to the auto-combo system, which admittedly hides some special moves between multiple presses of the A or B buttons, it’s very easy to chain combos with partner tags, also done with one button. The auto-combo system, which was introduced back in Persona 4 Arena, has evolved to greatly simplify basic bread-and-butter sequences, though it doesn’t mean that advanced combos are easy, as those require precise timings with a partner.

The complexity emerges in the defensive and offensive systems of the game. BBTAG feels much different from say, Central Fiction, where you could jump in and barrier block. Here, everyone has a reversal move that’s completely air unblockable — which makes sense, because offense is so strong in this game. But if you successfully punish a dragon punch, you can heavily damage the opponent as they will be unable to Cross Burst – this game’s “get out of trouble” mechanic which tags in a partner to save their friend. It might not look like it, but the Cross Burst is also punishable!

Even though some characters have their original mechanics simplified or streamlined, ASW did a good job making everyone stand out. You have your zoners like Nu-13 and Yukiko, and the latter can still famously heal and build up her fire gauge with assists. Grapplers like Waldstein and Tager seem a little more dominant, with screen-filling normals and permanent magnetization on the enemy. But everyone should find an archetype that suits them.

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BBTAG’s expansive Tutorial and Mission Modes are a starting point to master the game. The tutorial lets you experience the mechanics of the game first-hand, and you can do sample combos for each character. They won’t incorporate partner work, so you’ll have to develop those on your own or find ideas on social media. The Mission Mode, similar to Guilty Gear’s, lets you try out pre-programmed situations where you can try more advanced aspects of the game, like baiting Cross Bursts or blocking overheads.

Training Mode is also considerably brushed up in comparison to Central Fiction. It has a lot of recording slots, the ability to set the enemy dummy to counter with reversal moves or supers for example, and more.

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I wish I could spend more time playing Blake and have Yang to complete the RWBY squad; BBTAG definitely feels like the most rushed fighting game from ArcSys to date. Although it has been promoted thoroughly, it’s mired marketing seems to cover up a rushed product. We’ll only have 31 characters available until Evo, as we found out in May that not all of the announced 20 DLC characters will make it in time for launch. You can encounter future DLC fighters like Hakumen or Carmine in Episode Mode.

There are a few bugs, like a notable Kanji glitch that can freeze the opponent, and my game would also completely freeze when an opponent would rage quit a match they’re losing online.

But the online lobby is an upgrade over Guilty Gear Xrd REV 2’s 3D area, giving you a chance to embody adorable avatars that have lots of emotes and even new “tag” stickers, sort of like sprays. The main menu also works as a lobby, though I wish ArcSys went all out on this idea and made more interactive elements; some of them just sit as decoration.

I’ve had good experiences online overall, as long as the opponent isn’t terribly far away or on some unstable connection.

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All in all, I appreciate BBTAG for being the most accessible BlazBlue game to date; newcomers can literally do combos and supers in seconds, but all the experts have so much to explore. Social media is already full of more and more creative setups that you won’t be able to block. And if you’re not as competitive, there’s actually a good amount of single-player content; the Episode Mode is more interactive than before, with branching paths and multiple endings, and it includes battles.

Overall, BlazBlue: Cross Tag Battle is filled with frenetic fun and avenues for creativity, though it is dragged down a bit by what seems like a rushed schedule and a couple of bugs. It is a dream crossover that’s a complete love letter to anime fans, uniting franchises in an unusual, but effective way; RWBY characters and their soundtrack fit the game like a glove, confidently debuting in a game that shows competitive promise but also persuasively attracting newcomers.

Although BlazBlue: Cross Tag Battle is officially out now, keep an eye for more content for the game. Though we know we’ll have 31 characters for Evolution 2018, and then nine after, it wouldn’t be surprising if ASW keeps adding more.

Score: 9.0/10

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A PlayStation 4 copy of the game was provided by Arc System Works for the review. The reviewer did not have access to Character Pack 1.

Luke "Woocash" Siuty is a Chicago-based writer who specializes in ArcSys titles. A Guilty Gear veteran, he plays Baiken and commits atrocities by playing Sin when he's not busy pondering the ArcSys Cycle. He's always down to talk on Twitter, so send him tips. He's good at OS-ing in real life, not so much in video games, though.