The original Blazblue released in 2008; and since then it has gone on to spawn five sequels, a mobile game, a short-lived anime, and a cult following. Blazblue has taken its spot as my favorite 2D fighter. However, Arc System Works' latest, Blazblue: Central Fiction, is supposedly the end of the road for the franchise. And if so, it's going out with an impressive bang!
Each past version of the BlazBlue series has an extremely in-depth story mode and, "Central Fiction" is no different. And the Story of "Central Fiction" is probably the most complex as it has ever been as its storyline plays with time manipulation, magic, science, and even politics. Some of those elements are more prominent than others, but they all play a role. This time around, Story Mode is much more streamlined than it has ever been before. It plays out like a graphic novel and there are only a handful of fights to deal with, but you no longer have to worry about making incorrect choices or uncovering the “true story”. Outside of Story Mode, there are other modes to indulge in. The basic Arcade and Versus modes return of course, but you also have Score Attack, Speed Star, Grim of the Abyss, and Online modes.
Score Attack has three different courses for players to choose from with the difficulty ranging from Normal, Hard, and Very Hard. Players are also able to set the opponent order, which can make things more or less difficult. Speed Star is similar to score attack because it allows players to choose a course. Yet, unlike Score Attack, the goal in Speed Star is to clear the course as fast as possible. In Speed Star, you take no damage from the opponents. It is a mode based purely on speed, time, and level of skill. Whenever you complete a match it calculates your play and determines the allotted time you’ve lost or gained. It is much more difficult than it sounds.
Abyss mode returns under its new name: “Grim of the Abyss”. Players fight back-to-back opponents in order to gain deeper and deeper depth. Every 20th depth is a boss fight, and in the first three levels, the maximum depth achievable is 100. In order to unlock the additional courses, players must progress through the boss rush course, which is a new addition to Abyss mode.
Of course, with any modern fighting game, BlazBlue has online battles. You can play Ranked matches to test your mettle or Unranked for something more casual. Blazblue continues to impress with its netcode, once again it stands firm as the best online infrastructure for 2D fighters. As smooth as the netcode is, I learned the hard way that there is no reprimand for players who rage quit. If you’re in a match and the opponent decides to disconnect, the game will count as a draw instead of giving you the win. It’s an annoyance that you have to choose to deal with if you play ranked matches.
When "BlazBlue: Calamity Trigger" launched, it featured only twelve characters; With "Central Fiction", you currently have a roster of thirty-five, which includes four new characters and three console exclusive DLC characters. Unlike most character additions, no one from the seven new cast members is a palette swap, and everyone is a genuinely unique fighter. New fighters aside, it’s easy to see that Central Fiction intends to expand upon the foundation that was laid by its predecessors.
"Central Fiction" has updated mechanics to accompany its updated roster. The most notable of these changes are "Exceed Accels" and "Active Flow". Exceed Accels is essentially super moves that can only be used through “Overdrive”. Fans of the series know that “Overdrive” is a state in which the player gains a unique ability for their character. For example, when Jin is in Overdrive, all of his sword attacks freeze the opponent. Overdrive duration is dependent on your character's health - the lower your health, the longer the duration. Exceed Accels are used by activating Overdrive while you’re already in the Overdrive state. Exceed Accels have a pretty quick startup and can be linked into very easily in a combo. When you use an Exceed Accel, whether it connects or not, you will immediately leave the Overdrive state.
"Active Flow" is a boost to the Exceed Accel ability as well as damage output and the recovery of the Burst Gauge. If a player continues to make “active actions” (i.e: playing aggressively, blocking correctly, connecting combos, etc.) they will enter “Active Flow”. If a player successfully executes an Exceed Accel in Active Flow, it does nearly twice as much damage as it normally would. There’s a high risk/reward outcome with Active Flow and Exceed Accels. Do I Exceed Accel early in the match, get Active Flow, and use it again? Or do I save it to get me out of a tight spot later in the match? It’s just another layer on top of the usual rock paper scissors mind game that is a fighting game.
Unfortunately, despite all the additions, revamping, and overhauling, there is one feature missing from this year’s iteration - Unlimited Characters. Unlimited Characters are practically the Shin Akuma form of the casts that are extremely powerful and extremely difficult to fight against. It is possible to fight three different unlimited characters in Arcade Mode, if you meet the proper conditions. Yet, there is no way to unlock Unlimited Characters for personal play. It’s a shame really; it was one of my favorite things to do with friends online. Hopefully, they will be added later in some form, but for now they are a no show.
BlazBlue: Central Fiction is visually stunning running at 1080p 60fps; watching sprites move and attack in their unique ways is truly poetry in motion. The fastest light jab to the hardest heavy attack looks personal and handcrafted for everyone on the roster. The Distortion Drives and Astral Finishes look crisp as they’ve ever been. Crisp is also the perfect word to use to describe the bone crunching blows that characters exchange in combat. The heavy metal soundtrack accompanying the game suits the frantic playstyle just as well as it does its sister franchise, Guilty Gear.
I’m not going to say that Arc Systems can do no wrong, but they have nailed it consistently for eight years. And BlazBlue: Central Fiction is another one for the books. I’m saddened by the lack of unlimited characters this time around, but there is a lot of content to keep me and others plenty satisfied. If this is truly the finale of the BlazBlue saga, then what a wonderful way to say goodbye. BlazBlue: Central Fiction gets a TOV Editor’s Choice Award and 4.5 TOV Stars out of 5.