Today, I’m going to be talking about the latest (and final) instalment of one of my favourite fighting franchises. That’s right, I’m talking about BlazBlue Centralfiction. Don’t worry, I have run a spell check on the article. That mid-sentence capital B and the merging of two words at the end are grammatically correct in terms of the front of the box. Moving on though, I’d like to start with a little history lesson.
Arc Systems Works, the developers behind today’s game, are no strangers to the beat ‘em up genre. In fact, they originally had some success way back in 1998 with Guilty Gear, a PlayStation One cult favourite that featured a plethora of interesting and quirky characters. In fact, between then and 2008, they went on to release ten sequels to the game. Not only that, but the series is technically still ongoing, with the latest instalment released back in 2015. But that’s another story. You see, Arc were not content with working on only one original fighting series. As such, when 2008 rolled around, they unleashed a new beast onto unsuspecting arcades. That game was BlazBlue Calamity Trigger. Featuring a complex storyline and twelve weird and wonderful playable characters, the game soon made its way over to the PS3 and Xbox 360. After receiving a suitable amount of praise for their work, the team then went on to release BlazBlue Continuum Shift in 2009, with the definitive Extend edition coming out 2011. Continuing the story, this upped the playable characters to nineteen. Between 2012 and 2014 two versions of the third core game Chronophantasma then upped the character count to twenty-eight. On top of that, several spin-off games appeared, two visual novels popped up, and the series was expanded with manga, novels and an anime series.
Which brings us to 2015. Here, we see the release of BlazBlue Centralfiction. The home version is currently available on the PS3, PS4, Steam, and is due to come to the Switch too, though no release date has yet been confirmed. Right off the bat, I want to say that I absolutely love this game. The series as a whole is wonderful, but this is, in my opinion, the most refined entry in the series. But what makes it worthwhile for someone who isn’t already invested in story? Well, there are several things. I’m going to start with a big one though: replayability.
Yes, that’s right, it’s a beat ‘em up with a high level of replayability. How does that work? Well, in part it comes down to the sheer number of gameplay modes. Let’s have a look at a list of them here, along with rundown of how each mode works:
- Story Mode – this is, as you would expect, the main story of the game. Basically, you get to see how the tale plays out for each of the selectable characters through a form of mixed media. By this I mean that you get some animated videos, a visual novel style story (complete with choices that will affect the endings that you get), and of course some fights. To 100% it you’re probably looking at around 26 hours of play right here. Don’t worry if it’s confusing though, the game includes a glossary of terms for the things that you’ll read.
- Arcade Mode – The old style one vs. one fight system of days gone by. The general set up here is that you pick a character and take on eight fights with small cut scenes after fights 3, 6, 7 and 8. To spice things up, almost all of the characters have three different paths in arcade mode, meaning that you’ll need to replay it twice to get the full story.
- VS Mode – Pick a fight against the computer or a friend, couch co-op style.
- Grim of Abyss Mode – Time to tackle some dungeons! Pick your fighter, and start fighting. You can use items called Grimoires to customize your characters stats between dungeons, and give them some stat boosts. The aim is to reach the bottom floor of each dungeon, and to do that you fight foe after foe, with your attacks being used a measure for how many floors you’ve cleared with each battle. Every 20 floors, you face a boss. Oh, you keep the same energy bar too, with some minor health recharging between matches.
- Score Attack Mode – Regulated settings kick in and the aim is to compete for the highest score on the leader board.
- Speed Star Mode – Defeat as many enemies as you can in a given timeframe. Defeating enemies with a special move or dealing high damage will add more time.
- Network Mode – Playing online takes on several forms. There’s the different public spaces where you can go to challenge random people, or you can set up rooms with a winner stays on rotation for up to eight people, or you can do my favourite: the ranked match. Here you play against other players with the aim being to upgrade your rank as high as possible.
- Tutorial Mode – Learn your way through the basics and work up to the advanced techniques!
- Training Mode – practice set combos and specials to improve timing.
- Challenge Mode – Take on up to 20 challenges with each character.
Now, I’m sure you can agree that that’s a lot of game modes. Here’s the thing too, the number of characters that you can play as has increased again. Right from the get-go, you have access to thirty-two different characters, plus there are two DLC exclusives and a boss that can be unlocked either for a discounted price or by finishing story mode. If you wondered why story mode potentially takes so long, that’s why. And then the arcade mode is different again.
The roster size is part of the key to why BlazBlue Centralfiction is so fun though. You see, these aren’t just colour swapped fighters with one or two different animations or hair styles. These are actually all very diverse in terms of both play style and appearance. Yup, herein, you will find everything from brawlers to sword wielders, gun users to partially mechanised characters, characters with human dolls and cat people. There’s even a character that is essentially a glob of black liquid with no arms or legs. I meant what I said about the play styles being diverse too. As you would expect, speed, weapon reach and strength all play into how well you can expect to do with your chosen fighter. There’s more to it than that though. Sure, certain characters are well suited to the tried and tested button mashing tactic, but to master each fighter requires a high level of technical ability, especially if you intend to switch it up. For example, going from the high speed multi-part combos of Noel Vermillion and her gun kata to Bullet’s attack system (that requires you to lock on to your foe by holding the ‘drive attack’ button for some combos) is immensely jarring if you don’t expect it. The same could be said of going from the slow but powerful Tager to the speedy but comparatively weaker Mai Natsume, even if Mai does make up for the slightly weaker attacks with a massive reach. Oh, and different characters have different HP.
Outside the general strengths and weaknesses of each character, the battle system itself is also incredibly detailed. As well as the four attack buttons, there are a ton of other things to throw into the mix. Normal blocking not enough? That’s fine, you can throw up a barrier, though it will decrease your barrier char charge, and it can be broken. Just as the Street Fighter Alpha series introduced the super combo bar, BBCF has a Heat bar that builds up over the fight. Each character two or more Distortion Drives that will, in most cases, cost 50% of the bar to use. On top of that, if you’ve already won one round and your opponent is in the red, you can use 100% of your bar to fire off an Astral Heat move that will finish off your foe, complete with fancy effects and animations. These are all things that were present in the previous BlazBlue games, of course, so have there been any new additions to the system? Why, yes, there have. If you fight particularly aggressively, your character will automatically enter Active Flow mode, which not only increases damage, but the speed at which your Burst Gauge recovers after use. What’s the Burst Gauge? Well, it’s a small icon under your character’s portrait, next to the energy bar. When this is full, it can be used in one of two ways, both of which require you to hit all four attack buttons at once. The first is defensive. Tired of that massive combo that you’re being whacked with? Sacrifice the bar to launch your opponent across the screen by performing a combo breaker. The second is to enter Overdrive Mode. This causes a countdown timer to appear, and all the time it sits above zero, you’re attack power will again increase. While the Overdrive mode is not itself new, the attached Exceed Accel is. What this is, is essentially an extra move. It sacrifices the remainder of the Overdrive timer, regardless of whether it hits, but if you do manage to connect, you will automatically perform an unblockable combo.
Does this all sound a bit daunting to learn? It is. However, what you need to remember is that the different characters are all so different in play style that you should be able to find someone that suites you within their number. From those that love rapid fire directional and button presses to those that like to be a little more patient with their moves, everyone is catered for. And if all else fails, a character like Mai Natsume is perfectly set up for players to pull of some impressive assaults simply through trial and error and wild button mashing.
Putting the gameplay aside, BBCF has plenty to offer both visually and audibly. Starting with the graphics, there’s a clear anime influence in the art style. The smoothness with which the characters move is also rather impressive when compared to other games within the genre, especially when pulling off some high speed multi-part assaults. It’s not just the characters though, the backdrops are rather lavish. And my word, not only are there a fair few stages to compete in, each one is both beautifully drawn and animated. Whether it be a big screen showing the fight as it happens or other characters watching the battles, there’s always something going on behind the actions. Sound-wise, the effort has really been put in too. While there is disappointingly no English dub cast this time around, the Japanese cast do a fine job with the characters. Each stage has some epic music to accompany it, and certain battle pairings also have their own themes to mix thing up a bit. In all, the total number of battle music tracks runs to 64. Pretty big, right? You can throw in some character themes too. Thus far though, my favourite piece of music in the game is probably the film-styled ending theme used in the Arcade Mode credits. Beautiful stuff.
And then there’s the fun stuff. As well as gag endings for each character, there are plenty of little things to pick up on in the different costume pallets. For example, the 13th different pallet for each character is set to reference characters from other forms of media (such as Kokonoe using the colours for Adventure Time’s Princess Bubblegum, or Es, Izayoi, Taokaka and Bullet dressing the colours of the RWBY leads). Then there are the ARC Systems switch-up pallets where each character gets one colour scheme from a Guilty Gear Character, one colour scheme from a BlazBlue XBlaze character and one from another character in Centralfiction. Unlockable wise, each playthrough will unlock the art and video from the cut scenes you encounter in Story Mode and Arcade Mode. You’ll also earn in game coins to spend on bonus art in Gallery Mode, or additional colours, voices and BGM in the Item Shop. And don’t forget the Replay Theatre, where you can relive your best battles (if you chose to save the replay).
I will always have a soft spot for beat ‘em ups. And there are some superb ones out there too. Street Fighter and Mortal Kombat have been the kings of the genre for me for a long time, with King of Fighters and Bloody Roar coming in closely behind. Then there was the new Killer Instinct … honestly though, BlazBlue Centralifction is pretty much everything I could want from a fighting game. A big roster, lots of different play styles to deploy, a massive story, and it plays at a wonderful speed. It sounds odd, but even if a fight is over in a matter of seconds, it’s just a joy to pick up, that I never feel cheated. I truly hope that, while this has finished the storyline, Arc Systems eventually return to the universe to start a new tale, because this has been (and continues to be) a wonderful experience.
Final Score: 5 out of 5