BlazBlue: Cross Tag Battle PS4 Review
For as widely known and long-standing as fighting games have persisted, the genre has been given a similarly long reputation as being unwieldy and unfriendly for casual gamers. This perception has only increased with the rise of eSports, featuring livestream competitions from a community of fans blasting out terms like frame data, cross-ups and all sorts of terminology that is bound to intimidate most players who can barely even perform the “Fireball Motion” on a controller.
Despite being one of the most celebrated masters of pumping out hardcore hyper fighting titles currently, Arc System Works have taken steps to try and make their seizure-inducing Anime fighters more approachable. This includes simplified controls like one-button auto combos and extended tutorials, not to mention an enticing visual aesthetic such as the astonishingly gorgeous Dragon Ball FighterZ. With their newest fighter BlazBlue: Cross Tag Battle, the developer is using their latest crossover of franchises to introduce even more simplified systems in the hopes of reaching out to more casual players…even if most of the characters may seem unrecognizable to most.
Cross Tag Battle takes a selection of fighters from various franchises, most of which Arc System Works personally owned or developed games for: BlazBlue, Persona 4 Arena, Under Night In-Birth and, for the first time in fighting game form, RWBY. The last pick is particularly interesting as RWBY is actually a Western series with a heavily-inspired Anime aesthetic, and while the core cast has been featured in other games, this is the first time the characters have been drawn in sprite form for a 2D fighting game. The main story is the usual go-to where a mysterious entity has plucked out the selection of fighters from their respective worlds, forcing them to take part in a tournament where only the winner will be allowed to return home. Nothing special, other than an excuse for fans to watch their favorite characters belt out their trademark one-liners and quirks, such as Chie’s love for steak and Ruby’s weapon fetish.
As usual, the real meat is in the gameplay. Though featuring a familiar 2D backdrop as well as the tagging system popularized in games like Dragon Ball FighterZ and Marvel vs Capcom, several changes had to be made in order to balance out the wildly diverse gameplay styles of each character. For longtime fans, the changes made to their franchise favorites will be the most jarring and require a bit of an adjustment period, which is ironic considering the goal of making the gameplay more casual friendly. These changes include the way in which Persona characters can utilize their titular powers, or how most characters now run into a dash on default (but still walk backwards), and many other tweaks that would be too long to list but are otherwise intended to make the game more balanced.
Once again, the casual player will appreciate the simplified stripping down of these systems the most. All the characters now only have two attack buttons followed by a clash button that is expressly used to do a short but powerful team-up attack against opponents. These buttons also allow for the aforementioned auto combos, while special attacks are all performed with the standard Fireball Motion (which, again, is not something that everyone can do on the spot, but with enough practice it can become second nature). There are of course more detailed mechanics to keep track of, such as knowing when to tag out teammates so they can recover health or how to bust out a last-minute power-up when down to one character, but these numerous techniques are once again detailed in step-by-step tutorial guides, which even include tutorials for individual characters.
Unfortunately, the lengthy tutorial system does not carry over to the rest of the game’s featureless content. One common fighting game staple that is sorely missing is the Arcade Mode. Instead, a bare-bones Survival Mode is in place for singleplayer folks hoping to get some practice against the AI. Speaking of missing content, the game suffered a pre-release controversy in regard to its handling of DLC, in which half of the promised roster is stuck behind a paywall. The publisher claims this was done to release the game at a lower price point, but the math arguably does not add up considering the paltry list of available fighters so far (with the majority of characters coming from BlazBlue). As a sort of compromise, the characters from RWBY have all been made free, but this still leaves a significant amount of characters unavailable without forking over the extra cash. Combined with the lack of additional modes that are typically expected from an Arc System Works fighter, BlazBlue: Cross Tag Battle feels significantly smaller in content, and draws to mind the heavy criticisms that plagued Street Fighter V at launch.
Fortunately, the gameplay is a more satisfying serving, if brief. Matches can end much faster than what most fighting game fans are used to, though thankfully they load up much faster as well. The screen can still fill up with lots of dizzying effects and extended combos, but the losing player now has more opportunities to turn things around thanks to the smaller life bars and power ups in place. The sprite animation is still impressive in its own right, even if it doesn’t reach Dragon Ball FighterZ’s levels, and the music is catchy no matter how cheesy the RWBY songs are.
As for the online mode, Cross Tag Battle once again adopts the avatar lobby aesthetic now commonly associated with Arc’s fighters. Players can customize a chibi character to run around a virtual lobby and engage in matches with fellow players. It’s easy to set up and start fighting, but be prepared for the usual problems including spotty online connections and vicious players with a 1000 win streak. Such things cannot be avoided even with the simplified system, but at least newbies have a better fighting chance this time around.
Overall, BlazBlue: Cross Tag Battle is another solid fighter from the newly crowned king of fighters, but it is also a disappointingly smaller package than what fans expect from the publisher. By comparison, Dragon Ball FighterZ and Guilty Gear Xrd are longer-lasting alternatives, but for players have grown tired of both, this would be the next logical game to move to next. Time will tell if more free content will be added to the game, and whether or not the player base will remain dedicated by then.