BlazBlue: Chronophantasma Extend PC Review
2D Anime Fighting Games have ultimately become a subgenre of traditional fighting games at this point, which is a bit of an odd claim to make considering the number of oldschool aspects are contained within them; while series stalwarts like Street Fighter and Mortal Kombat have evolved in both a visual sense as well as become more accessible for the general audience, Anime Fighting Games have stuck to a more classic hardcore design philosophy while also incorporating flashier visuals and denser mechanics. In many ways, these type of games have become a bit less approachable to casual players, as they demand significantly more time and practice just to gain an understanding of how to play competently.
BlazBlue is one of the most blatant examples of this, thanks to the combination of its ultra-Anime aesthetic and wildly diverse roster; almost every Anime trope under the sun is represented here, and every single character requires a textbook-sized understanding of how they play. The series has only become more inapproachable for casuals with its ever-expanding storyline, spread out across sequels and spin-offs, the latter which also include Visual Novel prequels, Manga side-stories and who knows what else.
Chronophantasma Extend is the third game in the series, with the “Extend” part of the title referring to an expanded version of the original Arcade game. Think “Street Fighter III: Third Strike” in laymen’s terms, as BlazBlue’s multiple iterations are technically unnumbered sequels. This is especially made apparent with the included story mode, which continues from the first BlazBlue game and makes no stops for newcomers to join in; secret governments, alternate timelines, spirit possession, ninja clans, cyborgs, catgirls and vampires are just the tip of the anime-heavy iceberg, along with more terminology and buzzwords than a Final Fantasy game. The BlazBlue series is determined to cram in every single anime trope down players’ throats, and the included glossary of terms could take hours alone to sort through. BlazBlue does earn points for being one of the first fighting games to feature a full-fledged Visual Novel format for its story, and the extensive amount of lore, backstory and alternate endings will undoubtedly be appreciated the most by fans of the VN genre. But the utterly dense amount of story content is still a weird fit for a fighting game, especially when story-based fights are incredibly rare and often trivial.
The story of BlazBlue could pass as a metaphor for the gameplay itself; it goes without saying that most competent fighting games feature a variety of characters with their own strengths, weaknesses and special moves for players to practice with, but BlazBlue’s cast takes it to a whole other level. No two characters play alike, and very few play like a typical shoto-type fighter (that would be the Ryu and Ken school of fireballs and dragon punches). The closest approximation would be series protagonist Ragna, and he still has a few unique tricks of his own in the form of draining opponent’s health with his strong attacks. You’ve got characters who have their own independent meters, other characters who manipulate gravity, others that require charging up for certain attacks, and others that manipulate the actual weather of stages…for anyone looking to play competitively, a thorough understanding of every character could feel utterly daunting.
On the plus side, Chronophantasma Extend also features one of the most in-depth tutorials ever put out, featuring extensive interactive guides on how to learn both the shared mechanics of the game as well as the ins and outs of every playable character. Also included is a “Stylish” control scheme that borrows from Persona 4 Arena, in which players can automatically bust out linked combos with a single button press as well as bust out each character’s trademark special moves with a button and directional combination (similar to Smash Bros). For anyone that wishes to partake in flashy anime fighting without extensive studying, this is the option to pick, though it won’t necessarily help during a truly competitive match between veteran players.
From a graphical standpoint, Chronophantasma reuses most of the assets from previous games, though the hand-drawn character sprites still impress with their fluid animation. The new additions to the roster also follow suit with many variations of animations (and quite a bit of that token anime bounce in the case of BlazBlue’s shapelier female characters), though the majority of stages still remain less memorable due to the receptiveness of their design (steampunk-inspired cityscapes with the occasional inhuman creature lurking in the background). The music is also the standard butt-rock made famous with Guilty Gear, and now includes several remixes.
If there’s one area where BlazBlue dwarfs the fighting game competition, it’s the sheer amount of content; for fans of the overarching story, there’s the utterly dense story mode, which by itself is filled with branching paths, prequel chapters, multiple endings and even gag endings to unlock. There is also a sidestory that revolves around an original character from a spinoff manga, which goes down the anime-trope hole even further (included the age-old classic of a boy being trapped in a girl’s body), as well as the admittedly-cute “Teach Me, Miss Litchi!” comedy segments. For those who prefer less talking and more fighting, fret not; in addition to the Arcade mode, there are several other time-consuming modes such as battling against super-tough AI opponents, pulling off challenging combos, and leveling up individual characters through a dungeon-like gauntlet consisting of rare rewards and super-tough opponents. The online mode is basic, yet functional, consisting of a lobby where players can move around customizable avatars. Unfortunately, the inability to cross-play against console owners makes the PC version a potential wasteland for online multiplayer.
In short, Chronophantasma Extend is the biggest, densest and all-around definitive version of the BlazBlue series, but the overarching story mode and massive learning curve may put off potential newcomers to the series. For those brave enough to venture forth, this mechanically solid and visually resplendent fighter might just have enough features to make a BlazBlue fan out of you.