Review: BlazBlue: Continuum Shift EXTEND

I picked up BlazBlue back in 2009, a little while after the release of Calamity Trigger. To be perfectly honest, the main reason I picked it up was because I was looking for a 2D fighter, and BlazBlue looked similar to Guilty Gear. I found out later that the game was indeed developed by Arc System Works, who were also the people behind the Guilty Gear series. The similarities show in the character designs and in the fast-paced gameplay, but that’s about as far as they go.

BlazBlue is a new-style “air dasher” type fighting game. Guilty Gear was really the first of its kind in this area, but since then, games like Melty Blood and BlazBlue have proven to be quite popular. Because of their anime graphical style, these games do not enjoy the same popularity as they do in Japan, but they’re nevertheless solid games with dedicated fanbases. In fact, Dustloop members were the ones that provided video tutorials for all of the characters on a Blu-Ray disc included with the Limited Edition release of Calamity Trigger. Despite its smaller fanbase, BlazBlue is included in a number of Tournaments around the world, including the U.S.

BlazBlue: Continuum Shift EXTEND is the second revision to the second title in the series. Because Arc System Works actively balances the game on Arcade systems in Japan, the console versions generally receive free version updates. However, Continuum Shift has introduced a number of additional characters and new modes, enough that it warrants their releasing a new version of the game. Over all, the game is a well-balanced fighter with solid game mechanics and an exceptionally good storyline for a fighting game. The latter is very important to note as this genre tends to be plagued with bad writing. Thankfully, the initial storyline in Calamity Trigger was written by Nitro+ and has since been extended and elaborated on by ASW staff. Because of that, the Story Mode of the game provides enough draw that those not normally interested in fighting games may find themselves compelled to play this one.

BlazBlue: Continuum Shift EXTEND
Systems: PS3, Xbox 360 (Reviewed), PS Vita
Developer: Arc System Works
Publisher: Aksys Games
Release Date: February 14th, 2012
MSRP: $39.99

As mentioned before, this is the second home console revision of the title. Thankfully, DLC for the previous version is included on the disc and is unlockable via points earned in-game by playing one of the various modes. The previously DLC-only characters are available from the start as well as a new character, Relius Clover. This means that you don’t have to repurchase content if you bought it for a previous version, and you don’t have to unlock any characters.

For those unfamiliar with the game, the mechanics in BlazBlue are pretty easy to pick up. It’s a 4-button fighter that works around Light, Medium, and Heavy attacks in conjunction with character-specific stylized Drive attacks. These are labeled A, B, C, and D buttons, respectively. Combos utilize a chain system that allows the player to link many moves together; they also go into a cancelling system that allows you to link together moves that would not normally link if you had simply entered the inputs. The types of cancels utilized by this system are the self-explanatory dash cancel and (super)jump cancel, along with a less obvious one called a rapid cancel which uses up half of the super gauge (called the heat gauge). There are also various tools for offense and defense provided by barrier bursts, counter assaults, guard primers, barrier blocking, instant blocking, and standard blocking. The game includes a tutorial that works through all of these mechanics and teaches the players their uses and methods of execution. Additionally, a challenge mode shows the player some decent combos and challenges them to learn and execute them.

No better way to discipline your child than to smash him in the face with a giant mechanized fist. Relius Clover: Family Man Extraordinaire!

The characters in BlazBlue all have unique play styles; none of them feel like clones, which is impressive considering the roster totals nineteen characters. While light, medium, and heavy attacks are mostly similar between characters, the drive attacks wildly vary. This creates a unique experience for each character, allowing for a variety of play styles when choosing someone. A few characters are harder to learn than others, with Ragna and Jin being the easiest to pick up. The movesets for each character are relatively small compared to other fighting games, but the combo system allows for a pretty large variety of uses.
 
 
The supers and instant kill moves—known as Distortion Drives and Astral Heats, respectively—are also rather flashy, making the game as much fun to watch as it is to play. Finally, each character has a relatively well-developed back story that’s told through Story mode.

Story mode is very interesting in that it’s told from the perspectives of each character, but they all mesh together well in the end. The downside to this is that you may not understand the plot without playing through nearly half of the characters’ storylines. Prior versions of Continuum Shift may have also left the player at a bit of a loss as the story is nearly incomprehensible without having played Calamity Trigger. Continuum Shift EXTEND remedies this by adding in a new feature called “Calamity Trigger -Reconstruction-” which covers the storyline from the first game, enhancing the already strong Story Mode the game possesses. While Reconstruction doesn’t allow you to play through all of the individual stories from each character that were available in Calamity Trigger, it serves as a good summation route for understanding the events prior to Continuum Shift. EXTEND also adds new storylines for the three previously DLC-only characters as well as one for Relius Clover, adding a good reason for returning players to play through story mode again. Over all, the localization is pretty good, although for some reason Aksys has flip-flopped between using the terms Azure Grimoire and BlazBlue. This may cause some confusion, but the former is never used in the Japanese scripts. Finally, for those only playing the game for the story, a beginner mode called “Stylish mode” allows you to play the game decently by more or less mashing buttons. It won’t ensure you win every fight, but it takes the guesswork out of what button to push next.

One of the new scenes added in Calamity Trigger Reconstruction

Arcade mode is much the same from other versions, except that Makoto, Valkenhayn, Platinum, and Relius are now playable. It’s essentially a semi-randomized ten or eleven match game, where the AI gets progressively smarter and harder as you go along. The difficulty of this and of other modes can be adjusted in the game options. There are six difficulty settings: Beginner, Easy, Normal, Hard, Very Hard, and Hell. These settings mostly adjust how long the AI’s combos are and how well they predict your moves. Whether or not the AI blocks or counters you based on your input is dictated by a probability function: the higher the difficulty, the higher the probability. On Hell mode, the AI will always block and can usually tell what move you input. I usually play the game on Very Hard and Hell, and while most of the fights are relatively winnable, the Arcade mode Bosses are extremely difficult. I can’t relate through words the anger I felt when I lost repeatedly against Unlimited Ragna on Hell because of his life regeneration.

If Arcade on Hell mode isn’t enough of a challenge, Continuum Shift EXTEND has introduced a brand new Unlimited Mars mode. This mode pits the player against extremely intelligent AI that control unlimited versions of all the characters. Every character has an unlimited version that essentially takes their moveset and makes it horribly unbalanced and overpowered. While you can play with these versions of the characters in online and offline versus for fun, they’re very brutal to fight against when you’re forced to play with a non-unlimited character. Some are more broken than others: Ragna comes to mind since he has a very strong combo that chops through nearly half of your health, and his vampiric abilities are buffed so that he gains his life back very quickly.

In this new story mode scene, Relius screws with Makoto's mind, quite literally.

Unfortunately, Unlimited Mars seems to have taken the place of Legion mode, which hasn’t been included. However, Abyss Mode remains with more items and new modes. Abyss mode allows the player to progress through 100, 500, 999, or infinite levels by fighting opponents. You move deeper (higher) the better you do against opponents, but you only have one life bar that refills every time you win a fight. In Abyss mode, you have four stats: Attack, Defense, Speed, and Heat. Attack and Defense improve your damage output and reduce your damage taken, while Speed allows your character to move faster, and Heat allows you to start off each fight with part of your heat gauge filled. Every time you move 20 levels deeper, you’re challenged by a stronger opponent. In general, these opponents are about five points higher in all four stats than the rest of the enemies you face. Winning these fights allows you to choose from one of five items that will either grant you new abilities, improve your stats, or give you more points when you beat the mode. When you begin a new game of Abyss mode, you can purchase the items you’ve unlocked during previous runs using the points collected from playing the various modes within the game. Finally, you can save your progress after a fight in case you don’t have the time to finish everything in one sitting. However, if you lose a fight after you continue, the save will be deleted.

Score Attack remains largely the same, pitting you against computer opponents until you lose, with the primary objective being to obtain the highest score possible. Although I couldn’t test this, there are online rankings for Score Attack and Unlimited Mars. I was also unable to test the Online Versus over netplay as the game had not been released in the U.S. at the time of writing. In addition, all of the rooms created by Japanese players required a low latency connection, which is impossible when you’re trying to connect from Florida. However, the previous titles have had exceptional netcode, so I don’t expect the U.S. 360 release to be any different. New to netplay is team battles, which can be up to a max of three-on-three and either winner goes, where each team member plays until they lose; or individual one-on-one matches.

Over all, the game is good. It’s a solid fighter with a good tool for every situation, so you should never feel like it’s impossible to beat a certain move. The story mode is one of the best I’ve seen in a fighting game, and I truly think it’s worth checking out. I also really enjoy the music. It’s all written by Daisuke Ishiwatari, the same guy behind the Guilty Gear soundtrack. While I enjoyed the Guilty Gear soundtrack, I think his work with BlazBlue is even better.

One gripe I have with the sound in the game is the announcers. For some reason, the default announcer, and many of the DLC ones, have the worst Engrish I’ve ever heard in a game. Granted, they’re all Japanese voice actors, but some, particularly the default one, are absolutely horrid: I have no idea what a “whale of fate” is and I’m not sure I want to find out. Abyss mode is incredibly fun; while Arcade, Score Attack, and Unlimited Mars can be a little too frustrating to play more than once in a while. Suffice to say, Unlimited Mars can probably result in broken controllers, as can Unlimited Ragna on Hell difficulty in Arcade.

If you don’t play fighters often but would like to play this one for the story, or if you’d like to ease your way into this game, the large number of difficulty settings will help with that. If you end up liking the game enough to want to improve your skills at it, there’s a thriving community for it, and Netplay makes it easy to find good players to practice against. ASW has also taken every measure to help those new to the game or genre break into it via the tutorials and challenge modes, and that’s a highly valuable asset to any fighting game.

PROS
* Great tutorials
* Abyss Mode is very fun
* Good storyline
* Fantastic gameplay
* Good difficulty adjustment
* Stylish Mode makes game accessible to players new to the genre
* Has online gameplay
* Balanced versus mode
* Amazing soundtrack

CONS
* Unlimited Mars isn’t really accessible to newbies
* Requires much faster reaction times than Marvel or Street Fighter
* Learning curve can be a bit steep when learning to play against humans
* SNK Boss Syndrome
* Will not appeal to those turned off by anime character designs

FINAL SCORE: B+

Disclaimer: The reviewer was given a temporary review copy of the game for the purposes of this writeup by the publisher, Aksys Games. At the time of writing, more than half of the story mode had been completed, Arcade Mode had been beaten, and a decent amount of time was spent on attempting Unlimited Mars, Score Attack, and Challenge Mode.

Share
Joshua Moore

About Joshua Moore

Joshua has been a gamer for a long time, starting back with the NES as a child. Since then his interests branched from game systems to general electronics; an avid fan of technology and computers, Joshua graduated with honors from the University of South Florida and now holds a degree in Electrical Engineering. His favorite games include Valkyrie Profile, BlazBlue, Left 4 Dead 2, and Ocarina of Time. Additionally, he attends various BlazBlue tournaments and tries to pick up other anime or air-dasher fighters whenever possible.