Thursday, July 3, 2014

BlazBlue: Chrono Phantasma - Review


It has been quite some time since Ragna set off on his first journey, and since then the BlazBlue series has undergone many changes. The original title "Calamity Trigger" has been updated, a sequel titled Continuum Shift was released, Continuum Shift II soon followed, an updated version titled "Continuum Shift Extend" followed it up, and the series also broke off into many other forms of media. Manga series, novels, a visual novel, and even an anime verison were released to continue the story. What was originally just a single game on 7th generation hardware and in arcades, is now a massive series, which is always expanding. Back when Calamity Trigger was released, no one dreamed the series would become this big, but here we are. So... What about the games? Just how do you follow up Continuum Shift Extend? With Chrono Phantasma of course! What else?

BlazBlue: Chrono Phantasma is the third (full) main entry in the BlazBlue series. It builds upon just about everything from the previous games in the series, as well as Arc System Works' Persona 4 Arena series. It features an upgraded engine, redrawn sprites, new characters, new modes, and a brand new story mode. In short it is the next "upgraded" version of the game, but, just how good is it? If you've never played a BlazBlue game before, is this a good place to start? Also how does it compare to previous entries, is it really that big of an upgrade? Well, let's find out.

The Story:

Chrono Phantasma picks up directly after the events of Continuum Shift, which picked up directly after the events of Calamity Trigger. Just as in the previous games, the story mode plays out a lot like a visual novel, with still backgrounds, characters talking to each other, and some dialogue choices, but this time around things are a bit different. Before characters were almost completely static, standing on either the left or right side of the screen, and only so many characters could fit on screen at once; well, this has been changed. Images now zoom in and out, characters move around the screen, backgrounds are a bit more varied, and sometimes characters will actually stand in the background. While this may not seem like much to a series newcomer, these changes are a big improvement over what we used to have. Still, that's about the only way the story has been improved.


After the events of Continuum Shift, the split timelines were destroyed. Terumi was able to break into Takamagahara, take control of the system, and turn the world into "one of death." While originally there were millions of possibilities and timelines, the characters are now restricted to their current timeline, and there is only one outcome. This change in the world is also reflected in the game's story mode, with only three story modes to go down; each playing out in a linear fashion (very similar to the Calamity Trigger retelling in continuum Shift Extend). At the start of the story mode the game gives you the option to either follow the "Chrono Phantasma" storyline (which focuses on Ragna, Jin, Noel and those close to them), the Sector 7 storyline (Kokonoe, Tager, etc), or the Seven Heroes story (Hakumen, Platinum, Jubei, Valkenhayn, etc). All three storylines are in fact on the same timeline, except seen from different points of view. Once you have played through all three stories, the true ending path becomes unlocked, which will then lead the game to its conclusion.

Since the world is now stuck on one timeline, Chrono Phantasma doesn't have choices for you to make. Before losing a fight, or saying something different would change the outcome of that character's story, but now you only have two choices. You can either pick "Option A" when asked in order to continue the story, or you can pick "Option B," and watch a "Joke Ending." Just like in Continuum Shift, Joke Endings are endings where the characters get caught up in funny situations. They are non canon endings where just about anything can happen, and they will often truly make you laugh! While the game's main storyline is filled with humor as well, some of the funniest moments come from these endings, and they are definitely worth seeing before moving on.


The biggest issue with Chrono Phantasma's story, is the fact that it is NOT for new comers. This game's story picks up directly after Continuum Shift, and keeps going almost as if it was a part of the same game. While some people may be able to understand the basics thanks to the "Teach Me Miss Litchi" joke story section (which has the characters in chibi form discussing the world of BlazBlue), the vast majority of people will be lost. The BlazBlue storyline is MASSIVE, and even if you've played every game, and 100% completed every single story path in each release, it is still very easy to become confused or forget a key piece of information. These "Teach Me" sections are actually more of reminders for fans who've already seen everything, and they don't really help newbies that much. On top of that, even if you are a huge fan, but you live in the West, you may still be confused.

Although all of the main games have been released in the West, nothing else other than the anime (Alter Memory) has made its way over here, and that can be a problem. Chrono Phantasma's storyline deals a lot with characters such as Celecia, whom, up until now, have never appeared in the games, and that can cause issues for some. Now if you live in Japan, and read BlazBlue Phase 0 back when Continuum Shift first came out, you'd know what she and Ragna did in the past, and how she relates to the overall story. While Chrono Phantasma does touch on some of this, it doesn't go into as great of detail as the novel, as this is information the game expects you to already know. It isn't that big of a deal (especially if you don't know), but it may leave some fans confused, and possibly even angry when they learn just why they don't understand something. It's not because that part of the story is still unknown, it is because we were just never officially told. Although, if you're the type of person who only cares about the fighting, then none of this really matters.

The Gameplay:

Just as the previous entries, Chrono Phantasma is a 2D fighting game, and a greatly refined one at that. While the original release Calamity Trigger only featured a handful of characters, Chrono Phantasma has a massive roster of 24 characters; double what it used to be. Just as before, every single character in BlazBlue is unique, with their own fighting style, strengths, and weaknesses, but thanks to the extended roster, the fighting mechanics are deeper than ever before.


Rather than having to pick from a limited selection, now there is a character to suit almost everyone's needs. If you're the type of person who rather get up in people's faces, there's close range offensive characters, for anyone who would rather focus on grabbing, you have characters like Tagger or Bullet, trickster and trap characters like Makoto and Racheal are there for you to use, and ranged attackers like Nu, and Mu are there as well. The game has a wide range to select from, and everyone has been re-balanced. Returning characters have new move sets, there are new combos for you to learn and master, and changes have also been made to the combo system in general. While damage scaling still plays a role in just how much damage you can give out or take in a combo, combos are now also limited to a maximum of eight seconds before you or your opponent auto break away. This prevents other players from using possible exploits, or endless loops which was an issue often found in previous entries. On top of that, combos also take a bit more skill, and require a lot more timing to pull off. Attacks which used to be automatic (such as Jin's follow up to "Ice Car") now require timing to pull off, which not only requires a bit more skill, but also gives you much more control over the characters as well. It's changes like these which series long fans may have a hard time getting used to, but once you get over the hump, you won't want to go back to the past.


As for new comers to the series or fighting games, BlazBlue is a great place to start. While you might want to start with Continuum Shift Extend for the story, Chrono Phantasma is a great starting point if you'd rather just fight. The game is easy to pick up and learn, and there is even a "challenge" mode and tutorial mode to help teach you how to play. You'll learn all about how D attacks cancel C attacks, and C attacks cancel B attacks, and B attacks cancel A attacks (meaning A>B>C>D attacks in that order would create a combo), and how you can jump or super jump, and it'll even go into more advance techniques such as "rapid cancel" which allows you to cancel and combo after any attack. The game does an amazing job explaining all of the game's core systems, and it will quickly set you down the path of becoming a pro. If you are still having a hard time even after the tutorials, there is also a "Stylish Mode" control setting which chains character combos to the buttons on your controller. This mode makes it so anyone can play the game, and it can help those who are not good at fighting games make it through the story.


Although Chrono Phantasma uses most of the same systems as the previous entries, there are also some major changes to the core mechanics. The game still uses four face buttons with Weak, Medium, Strong, and Drive (special) attacks, you can still grab enemies to throw them, you can bring up a shield to block attacks, and special attacks still require you to use some of your "Heat" meter, but some major changes have been made to the whole "Barrier Burst" system. Before Barrier Burst was a system where you could "explode" your shield to send your enemy flying, and it differed based on how you used it. If you used it during a combo you were giving out, it could be used to send the enemy flying upward so that you could then jump and air combo them; however if you used it while you were being hit, it would become an escape move which would send your enemy flying across the screen. The whole thing was basically a safety net, and the game put a limit on how much you could use it. Well, now that isn't quite the case.

Rather than being limited to one use per round, two per match, with the second one only opening up if you lost the previous round, it is now a meter which slowly charges as time goes on. You start the first round with it already full, but once you use it, it will start from zero and slowly count up. Although most matches won't last long enough for it to fill up multiple times, it is a nice new feature; especially when you are playing custom matches with more than two rounds. Although, this isn't the only change to the system.


While Continuum Shift had two versions of the Burst, Chrono Phantasma only has one; just as in Calamity Trigger. The thing can be used for offensive or defensive if you pull it off right, but doing so will most likely prevent you from using the new system during that round. Instead of having two types of Bursts, a new "Overdrive" mode has been added to the game. By activating Barrier Burst while standing far away from your opponent, your character will go into a special state which lasts longer depending on how much health you have remaining. During this state character's attacks slightly change, they become stronger, and new abilities are unlocked. Character's such as Ragna who originally had special "modes" have had theirs changed over to being Overdrives, with some changes making them stronger. It is a nice new system, which can really turn the tides of battle if used correctly.

The Modes:

Like in previous entries, Chrono Phantasma is packed full of play options. Besides the standard story mode and versus mode, there is also a challenge mode to teach you combos, there is a score attack mode which pits you up against a set of enemies which you must kill and get the highest score (in previous titles this was the hardest mode, but it has since been made easy), there is a mode where you can go up against "Ultimate" versions of the characters (which is so challenging the game gives you a trophy just for killing the first enemy ten times), and there is also a mode with RPG elements where you fight random characters and unlock skills and stat upgrades as you go farther down each "dungeon." Besides all of that, there is also a standard Arcade Mode for each character, and online versus modes where you can either play ranked or unranked battles. The game is packed full of content, and there is even an extra gallery where you can buy and unlock character art, as well as color pallet changes for the fighters. In short, the game is sure to keep you busy, and is sure to keep you busy. Especially if you decide to tackle the challenges provided by the game's trophies.

Paid DLC:

Although Chrono Phantasma is a great fighter, it also has a major issue... A lot of content is paid DLC. While in Japan packs were released with each box set of BlazBlue: Alter Memory, here in the west we have to pay for them as stand alone content. While most of these packs are actually on disc content, unless you use a glitch you must pay for them to use them (which the glitch requires at least one pack to work). These packs include, the original BlazBlue stages, some of the original music, and some color changes, but you can also buy announcer voices, the original costume for Noel, as well as a few other things which really should have just been unlockables. While the game does have two downloadable characters (Kokonoe, and Terumi's form from the Phase Shift series), most of the content really isn't worth the money. On the bright side though, whatever you buy is cross buy with the PS3 and Vita versions of the game.

PS3 and Vita Differences:

While the PS3 and Vita versions of the game are in fact mostly the same, there are some differences. While the PlayStation 3 version features large online lobbies where you can walk around as a Chibi avatar, talk to people, and jump on arcade machines to challenge them, the Vita version does not. Instead you can only choose between ranked and unranked matches, and you don't have the option to customize a Chibi avatar as they are un-needed. (Which also means there is less to buy and unlock.) The second, and only other, major difference is the extra story section found in the Vita version. From the story select screen the Vita can access an "Extra" story which features Rachel as she invites Ragna, Noel, and Celecia to her castle to discuss the events of the previous games. While it doesn't explain everything that happened, it does clear up some of the confusion players may have had. The entire story is basically a "Joke Ending" on its own, but it does come with an extra "real" Joke Ending as well; featuring some of the main characters at the beach. The whole thing is pretty funny, and is well worth watching. Although, it isn't a selling point. It's just a nice extra for those who truly want a handheld version.

The Good and the Bad:

BlazBlue: Chrono Phantasma is a solid fighting game. It has a great cast of characters, a nice story (if you're willing to actually follow it), the new dynamic story scenes were a much needed improvement, the new character sprites are great, there are a lot of modes to keep you busy, a greatly improved online mode, and solid fighting mechanics. As a fighter it really is a great game; however, it also isn't a perfect game.


Although new players will not notice these issues, Chrono Phantasma does a lot which may actually make long time fans mad. It removed all Calamity Trigger and Continuum Shift stages and releaesd them as paid for DLC, it removed all original music and released them as paid DLC, all vocal songs have been completely removed, there is no option to use the new intro theme as battle music, Noel's original costume is paid DLC, all system voices are paid DLC, the story mode is a bit shorter thanks to the new set up, there is no "Help Me Professor Kokonoe" comedy bit due to there no longer being bad endings for the story paths, and Bang also has a new voice actor (which will really throw off fans of the English Dub). While these missing features don't damage the core gameplay, it still feels like a major step back from what they once had. While its possible legal issues caused some of these changes, there is still no reason to force people to pay just to unlock old stages. They should have either given them away for free, or released them as promo content as they did in Japan.

Still with that being said, the game is still great. While Continuum Shift Extend still has the most content, Chrono Phantasma is a solid fighter, and a must have for BlazBlue fans. This is why I am giving it an 8/10.

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