Duodecim. NOL. The Six Heroes. The Black Beast. If you don't know what any of these terms mean, you probably haven't been keeping up with the BlazBlue series of fighting games from Arc System Works. Hell, even if you have been keeping up with the BlazBlue games you still may not know what these terms mean, as the series seems to relish obfuscating its fast-paced gameplay with extraneous details, and nowhere is that more evident than with its newest entry— BlazBlue: Chrono Phantasma.
Though many, more well-known fighting games such as Street Fighter or Super Smash Bros. relish in their accessibility, BlazBlue: Chrono Phantasma puts depth and complexity first. Fighting game vets will likely delight in how deep the curve of mastery is for their favorite characters, but those with a more casual interest will likely find themselves turned off by the many gauges, meters and variant moves to keep track of. You've got your standard life bar, a heat gauge (a super meter used primarily to execute "distortion drives", aka super moves), an overdrive meter (a comeback mechanic that grants character-specific bonuses, the length of which varies depending on the character's remaining life), a barrier meter for super-guarding and many, many character-specific meters. It's a lot to take in, but those with patience will find delight in spending the many hours it takes to master the minutia of the large cast.
Speaking of which, BlazBlue: Chrono Phantasma presents an unusual entry in a fighting game franchise in that, the more loyal you've been to previous entries, the less worth it is to get this new one. Most of the cast are more or less the same as they were in earlier iterations, and if you happened to purchase any DLC characters in the past, they're here, too, which might make purchasing this new version less desirable since you’re not getting as much new content.
But, on the plus side, BlazBlue: Chrono Phantasma offers a ludicrous number of play modes to help you feel like you got your money's worth. We've got all the staples of modern fighting games— Arcade, Score Attack, Online play, Versus (which lacks a rematch feature, by the way, so not everything here is modern) and more. There's also a very thorough tutorial mode, covering everything from the most basic elements of play to incredibly specific techniques only the most advanced of players will have any use for and a Challenge mode with loads of unique trials for every character. Abyss Mode lets you purchase upgrades and duke it out against similarly upgraded characters in a "dungeon" of sorts; these RPG elements are fun for a little while, but ultimately feel like they’re shallow wrappings to distract you from realizing the gameplay is basically unchanged. Unlimited Mars mode takes a typical score attack set-up, but pits you against "Unlimited" versions of the cast, meaning they have enhanced, overpowered moves that will make you question your very sanity as they decimate you without taking so much as a scratch. Only the most dedicated of players will have fun here, as these battles are so unbelievably brutal even fairly skilled players will likely experience fast and furious defeat.
BlazBlue fans who are in it for the long haul will find a lot to enjoy in Teach Me, (again) Miss Litchi, which is a chibi-fied story primer to help jog your memory on the many characters and events here. Story mode differs from that of most fighting games in that it's 90% lightly animated portraits talking and 10% actual gameplay. It's more of a visual novel than anything, and your mileage in this mode will depend entirely on your tolerance of BlazBlue's flat characters and gibberish story. The voice actors do their best with the material they're given, and there are some standout performances in the cast, but when the material is this weak there's only so much one can do.
Speaking of which, BlazBlue presents a very uneven experience in the audio/visual department. The voice actors are great, but the game insists on having them spout lines that are far too long, so they often talk over each other before and during every match, turning things into audio salad. The announcer, too, could stand to shut up, as hearing the word "counter" every three seconds doesn't exactly enhance the gameplay. The music kicks some serious ass, however, encompassing many different styles and feels. Sometimes things are more orchestral and epic; at others they're more guitar-heavy, rock and roll pieces. Visually, BlazBlue: Chrono Phantasma seems like a game that should have been released in 2009. The sprites are lively, but look terrible in full HD, with jagged pixels practically poking you in the eye. The backgrounds are pretty enough, but they don't exactly take your breath away. And some of the artistic design choices are... questionable, at best. Why are there so many children in a fighting game? Do that many people really want to beat up kids? And why do so many of the women look like they should be in an anime burlesque show? Having such scantily-clad characters makes the whole thing feel immature and insults the intelligence.
BlazBlue: Chrono Phantasma offers incredible complexity to its combat, but often this complexity works against it, devolving much of the gameplay into something akin to its story— overly complicated gibberish. The characters are memorable-looking, but often its due to the juvenile lack of clothing on the women or the bizarre inclusion of so many children in a game about beating people up. Even with its many game modes and customization options, it takes a dedicated fighting game fan (who doesn’t mind a heavy dose of anime in his/her game) to push past BlazBlue: Chrono Phantasma’s various shortcomings to enjoy its rich, if often convoluted, gameplay.
This review was completed using a purchased retail copy of BlazBlue: Chrono Phantasma for the Playstation 3.