BlazBlue: Central Fiction
Arc System Works has been crafting some of the best 2D fighting games on the market for quite some time. Whether they’re making Guilty Gear, BlazBlue, or the Persona Arena games, players can count on fast action and refined gameplay every time out. The original BlazBlue was a breath of fresh air and showed that Arc System Works could do anything they put their mind to when it came to a fighting game. The story was solid and the core gameplay was fast, with a healthy amount of depth.
However, like Guilty Gear and many fighters before it – the feeling of all-too-similar gameplay has led to each installment feeling interchangeable from a gameplay perspective. Last year’s Chrono Phantasma Extend featured the franchise’s greatest mode selection and widest character roster to date, and Central Fiction adds to that already-robust foundation nicely. New characters join the mix and bring the roster to 35 – offering up an unrivaled amount of variety for the franchise.
The franchise’s run of top-shelf games continues with another entry that aims to evolve instead of innovate – and offers a good mix of the new and the familiar all in one game. The complex and somewhat convoluted story of BlazBlue continues – and concludes with stunning anime alongside English subtitles. The animated portions are broken up by far less immersive “interactive” areas. They feature very minimal animation alongside dialogue and help keep you engaged in what’s going on. If you just had animation, it would make the story a completely passive experience. Given the franchise’s long history, newcomers could easily be lost in the shuffle. Fortunately, there’s an option very early on in the story mode to have a recap – and even if you’ve played the series before, that’s never a bad thing.
Much like with the Yakuza series, by having an extensive recap of past events, you feel more connected to the game. You’re that much more in the moment with the story because you aren’t left scratching your head as much as you would be otherwise. Unless you’re a longtime fan, all of the events going on won’t really mean much in terms of drama – but you’ll at least figure out the issues Person A has with Vaguely-Human Thing B. Interspersed with all of the dialogue are occasional battles, which will ensure that you at least have a passing knowledge of many of the game’s characters and how they play differently from one another.
The loss of English voice work hurts the story a bit, while the loss of the more formal teaching skits means that the plot goes from being told in amusing skits to a more boring setup. You can bring up a library menu that will catch you up on everything – but it does so in a fairly bland manner. It’s better than nothing, but doesn’t evoke any emotion and feels a bit underwhelming for the final entry in the series.
As is the norm, you get a few new characters added to the roster. Es joins the fray from the Xblaze sub-series, and can enhance special moves throughout the fight. Gameplay revisions return as well, with the biggest one being a countdown meter on your Overdrive meter – letting you know exactly how much time you have left to do optimal damage. Stylish mode is back, but is a bit more of a learning tool than an outright instant win mode. You can do dial-a-combos with far less button presses, and do specials easier – but it just results in it making it easier to have flashier fights. If you can’t actually land the blows properly, then having an easier method with which to do them won’t really help you much.
Mode selection is on par with prior games – you’ve got a variety of player vs. CPU modes, including a traditional arcade mode and a variety of score attack modes. Traditional score attack has a new variant that rewards faster completion time. Those loving a gauntlet rush mode will enjoy the RPG stat-boosting mode that allows you to fight super-tough enemies – but buff up your character’s stats if you win. When you feel like you’ve mastered the game’s mechanics, you can always hop online – although finding games can take a bit of time. Fortunately, finally playing is worth it thanks to a lag-free experience.
Visually, Central Fiction looks outstanding. Arc System Works has their signature art style all over it and it results in a beautiful game. The high-definition sprite work is outstanding and the franchise’s signature blend of fast action, smooth animation, and tons of effects work pays off. You get an experience that never stutters or slows down offline and one that will impress even those who have never played an entry in the series.
Musically, Central Fiction continues the rock-heavy trend of the series. It’s a fast-paced soundtrack that gets your blood pumping, but it doesn’t stick with you very much after playing. Still, for music made to excite you during the game, it works – you just won’t be humming it after the fact. While the music may be a bit lacking, the Japanese voice work isn’t. As a long-time anime watcher, I know good, intense voice work when I hear it and the cast here does a fine job with the roles. English dubbing would have been nice – and made the story easier to follow all around, but what’s here is good. The sound effect work is about on par with past games, so players can expect a fair amount of oomph when you’re using physical attacks while the more supernatural attacks get fitting sound effects there as well.
All in all, BlazBlue Central Fiction feels like a fitting end to the long-running franchise. With sameness seeping in, it was a good time to end things while you could still be left wanting more – and smart to end things before it got too formulaic. Central Fiction keeps everything that made prior games in the series work and adds a lot more layers to the storyline and overall plot for those that care for it. For players that don’t, you still get an outstanding fighting game worthy of your time and an experience that you’ll go back to for years to come.
Reviewed By: Jeremy Peeples
Publisher: Aksys Games
This review is based on a digital copy of BlazBlue: Central Fiction for the PlayStation 4 provided by Aksys Games.