BlazBlue: Chrono Phantasma Kicks it Into Overdrive

Arc System Works is a studio known for making ridiculous fighting games with even more ridiculous titles. The latest example is Persona 4: The Ultimax Ultra Suplex Hold, which is ridiculous for a number of reasons, not the least of which being that a suplex is a throw. Oh, it always starts out innocuously enough, but sure as night follows day, Guilty Gear: The Missing Link becomes Guilty Gear X: By Your Side becomes Guilty Gear XX λccent Core Plus R. Then when we finally get Guilty Gear 2: Overture, sure enough, it’s a spinoff dynasty warriors clone. These people spit in the face of naming conventions and logic.

BlazBlue is the exception to this rule, in that it is Arc System Works’ only series where the titles consistently make sense.  This might seem like an odd statement, considering that the games are called Calamity Trigger, Continuum Shift, and Chrono Phantasma, respectively. Those sound like your standard nonsensical engrish fighting game subtitles, but if you dig into the labyrinthine stories of their respective games you’ll find them all to be key plot points. Calamity Trigger is about an event that triggers a calamity, Continuum Shift is about a shift in the space-time continuum, and Chrono Phantasma is all about a chrono phantasma. You’re going to have to trust me on that last one.

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For the uninitiated, Blazblue is a fighting game, kind of like old-school Street Fighter but way freakin’ crazier. Whereas street fighter had a man in a hat who could fly and a really stretchy yogi, BlazBlue has a klutzy gun-toting librarian, a giant magnetic hellboy cyborg, a 12 year old magician whose sister is a robot puppet, and a wind-controlling gothic lolita Vampire Princess with a cat who turns into a parasol and an electric frog. Every word I just said, by the way, is vital gameplay information, and that’s just Calamity Trigger. If you thought the fighting in Marvel vs. Capcom was too fast, flashy, and over-the top, BlazBlue will probably give you a seizure.

In case you couldn’t tell, I absolutely adore these games. It’s one thing to throw a fireball at someone, or hit them in the face with a spinning roundhouse kick. It’s another thing entirely to ride a flying icicle into them and freeze them solid, or punch them so hard that they fly into and destroy the moon, taking one point of damage from the impact relative to the thousands dealt by your fists. Arc System Works loves them some special moves. Their games are also known for their instant kills (like the thing with the moon), complex, all-or-nothing match finishers that can only be executed under certain conditions. Arc’s games, BlazBlue in particular, excel at making you feel cool.

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Chrono Phantasma is set to make players feel even cooler with some clever mechanical changes. The guard crush mechanic from previous games has been replaced by the more easily-executed “crush trigger,” an attack that inflicts guard break for a quarter of your special meter. There’s also an entirely new mechanic called “overdrive” that replaces the aggressive burst mechanic from previous titles. Overdrives give characters a unique, temporary powerup and freeze the match timer. These effects last longer the lower a character’s health is, meaning that they’re better used to turn a losing fight around, rather than as a “win more” button.

While these changes are exciting, they form the skeleton of the experience, and aren’t immediately noticeable. Fortunately, there’s plenty of meat to dig into in this latest installment. Chrono Phantasma features 7 new playable characters, as well as some significant tweaks to the returning cast. Azrael, Kagura, and Bullet should please players who like to hit their opponents hard, while Amane and the long-awaited Kokonoe will give more technically minded players a lot to work with. (Amane also has the best instant-kill attack in the game, turning the opposing character into an adorable child.) The remaining characters, Izayoi and Terumi, are alternate forms for returning characters Tsubaki and Hazama. Izayoi uses a more offensive version of Tsubaki’s meter-charging play style, while Terumi is a powerful momentum-based character who uses many of Hazama’s swagtacular animations. All feel like solid additions to the cast, and it’s impressive that with 26 playable characters now, not a single one feels like a clone.

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Most of the changes to existing characters are balancing tweaks, but some have undergone significant transformations, and everyone has a new overdrive to play with. Nu-13 now has the ability to shift modes, allowing her to play a bit more like the notoriously broken Nu 13 from Calamity Trigger. My main, Noel Vermilion, has been given some snazzy new duds to reflect her growth in the story, though she plays mostly the same. Arakune’s bug spam abilities have now been properly balanced, making it harder to curse enemies and punishing you for mashing random buttons to send bugs. Tragically, Bang Shishigami’s Fu-Rin-Ka-Zan install has become an overdrive, meaning that we no longer get to change every background track to his glorious theme song.

Fans of BlazBlue’s story will also find a lot to love in this latest installment. The shorter visual novel style stories for individual characters have been replaced by three longer, intertwining storylines following Sector Seven, the Six Heroes, and everyone else. This means the story is more straightforward (in terms of progression. The actual content only gets crazier with each installment), but worry not, there are still plenty of alternate endings to uncover, including the series’ much-loved gag endings. Golden Tager X makes his return, and it is glorious

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A number of improvements have been made to the game’s interface as well. The new online lobby system sets you up in a virtual arcade where you can walk up to other players and challenge them at your leisure, and once you’re in a match you’ll find the netcode is even smoother than before. The menus in general are more streamlined and better organized, so it’s easy to access what you want to quickly. When selecting your character, palette options are actually displayed on screen, instead of showing up as a random assortment of colors. This makes it easier to see what the options will actually look like in combat, and fixes the rather counter-intuitive problem previous games had where you needed to press square instead of x to select your character with default colors.

All in all, Chrono Phantasma is a solid evolution of the BlazBlue system that’s sure to bring fighting gamers countless hours of enjoyment.