BlazBlue Cross-Tag Battle is a fun, accessible crossover with annoying DLC-Reviews

When you were a kid, did you smack your action figures together to make them fight? Did you imagine epic battles between characters from different universes that have no plausible reason to meet each other, let alone beat the crap out of each other? Wasn’t it cool!?

Well that’s exactly what makes crossover fighting games so popular. From the early days of Marvel vs. Capcom to the recent inclusions of the Ninja Turtles in Injustice 2 and Noctis in Tekken 7, the raw appeal of seeing characters from different properties fight each other has been more than enough to sell some of the biggest fighting game properties.

Which is why Arc System Works’ new fighting game, BlazBlue Cross-Tag Battle is so much fun to play. It doesn’t just crossover two franchises, it crosses over four: their flagship fighting franchise BlazBlue, Atlus’s Persona series of RPGs, French Bread’s indie-fighter Under Night In-Birth, and Rooster Teeth’s beloved internet series, RWBY. With a supposed leak of Senran Kagura characters and the possibility of further inclusions from franchises like Skullgirls and Fate in the future, it’s clear that ASW wants to capture the same childhood joy we once experienced when smacking action figures together. For good measure, they made it as easy to play as smacking action figures together as well.

Story

The main characters of the BlazBlue, Persona 4, Under Night, and RWBY franchises get summoned to an alternate world by a wisecracking fanfiction computer. Now they have to beat each other up in a tournament held with possible nefarious motivations.

It’s a fighting game!

Fighting games aren’t well-known for their plots, though BlazBlue tends to be the exception. Most BlazBlue games have extremely long 40-hour visual novel-styled stories filled with clones and time-travel and all sorts of anime nonsense. They aren’t award winning literature but they are interesting enough to keep you playing for the 40 hours that they last.

BlazBlue Cross-Tag Battle is filled with even more nonsense than your typical BlazBlue. It’s never adequately explained why characters are here and where they are and why they are fighting. So if you are playing this for the core narrative, you’ll be disappointed.

Except, you aren’t playing this for the core narrative. I know you aren’t, because it’s a fighting game, and no one plays fighting games for the narrative.

What you get instead is on-point character writing. Seeing these characters from different universes interact is just a treat. It’s fun to see how Blake and Makoto bond over being part animal. It’s fun to see Waldstein and Azrael monologue about strength at each other. It’s fun to see how exasperated Ragna is when he has to fight Aigis and Vatista, two robot girls, with his own robot stalker Nu. Though all of these interactions are basically throwaway scenes, they are amusing enough to keep you smiling until your next match.

BBCTAG’s story mode is split into four campaigns, one for each universe. Unfortunately, every campaign except for BlazBlue’s feels like an afterthought. BlazBlue’s campaign has branching paths and multiple endings while every other story mode has only one path and one ending. They end in some hilarious jokes, but that too is disappointing since they still take multiple hours to play through and you will want to see some serious resolution at the end rather than a one-off gag.

To see the game’s true ending you have to complete each branch 100 percent and, to be honest I still haven’t done that. I’ve sunk countless hours into this game and gone down every branching path I could in the BlazBlue arc, yet I could never seem to reach 100 percent completion. This is going to be one of those games where you end of following a guide because as amusing as the writing was, it wasn’t enough to keep me replaying the same story branch five or six times just to see what secrets I missed.`           

DLC

Before we go any further, let’s talk about the downloadable elephant in the room. BlazBlue Cross-Tag Battle came under fire a few months ago when it was announced that half of its roster was going to be locked behind DLC pay gates. Since the game was going to be offered at a budget price and DLC characters were going to be offered at a similarly cheap price, this scandal has since died down.

However, I have to believe it’s going to fire up again after everyone plays story mode because characters from the first three DLC packs will face you as opponents. The data is right there, on disk, and yet you can’t access it.

Gamers tend to get upset when DLC ends up on-disk, but I personally don’t think it’s such a bad thing. Heck, a lot of DLC is “on-disk” and we just don’t know it. What I have a problem with is the inability to pay for and play as these characters right now. At time of writing we have no idea what the release schedule looks like for the first three DLC packs. We just know that DLC pack one and Blake will be available for download at launch. However, if characters like Aigis, Carmine, and Hakumen are already done and playable on disk, why is ASW making us arbitrarily wait to use them!?

Gameplay

Luckily BBCTAG managed to wow me with its gameplay enough that I was able to look past this little DLC snafu. It is insanely fun, even with its modest starting roster of 20 characters.

Much of its fun is a consequence of its accessibility. It is, in essence, a two button 2v2 team fighter. It’s just that both attack buttons have an auto-combo mapped to them, so they all function as multiple attacks.

In fact, auto-combos are kind of the central mechanic this time around. Some characters have their basic two auto-combos, auto combos on command normals, jumping auto combos, crouching auto-combos and even auto-combos off special moves!

You might think all these auto-combos would reduce BBCTAG to a mindless mash fest but you would be wrong. There is a ton of complexity in the combo system when you factor in tags, assists, the cross combo system and more. Combo maestros will have just as much fun squeezing every bit of damage out of their combos as they do in any other fighting game. However, since an auto-combo is always at your fingertips, newcomers can be competitive a little earlier than normal.

That doesn’t mean that they can win. On the contrary, BlazBlue Cross-Tag Battle’s accessibility makes it put a heavier focus on fundamentals. Your invincible moves are now mapped to a simple two button press, so there’s no way you can complain about being unable to do a shoryuken. ASW finally implemented a button dash, so you can’t complain about being unable to instant air dash either. Everything from bursts to push-blocks is done with a simple combination of buttons. The most complicated motion you’ll ever have to do is a quarter circle.

With all the game’s complicated moves at your fingertips the focus is entirely on skill. Throw your excuses out the window because any unblocked mix-up, any dragon punch to the face, any heavily damaging super combo that kills you is a result of your own lack of skill, not the game’s difficulty.

Modes

BlazBlue Cross-Tag Battle has your fairly standard set of fighting game modes. Aside from Story and VS. Mode, there’s a survival mode, training mode, challenge mode, and a fairly comprehensive online suite.

BBCTAG’s tutorial mode is pretty good. It’s not the best tutorial I have ever seen but it’s better than some other recent releases like DBFZ. It walks you through all the basics, gives you a rundown on each specific character’s moves and gimmicks, and then puts you in practical match. Its coolest feature is the returning musical combo training system from BlazBlue Central Fiction which assigns a note and rhythm to every button press. It’s a solid effort, though I’ve seen ASW do better in their other properties like Guilty Gear.

Its training mode is also a pretty good. You can record dummies, practice setups, and switch characters without going back into character select. However, you can’t see frame data or hit-boxes, a function that other fighting games have included.

Online

You will definitely be spending most of your time in BlazBlue Cross-Tag Battles online suite, which inherited much of its polish from DBFZ. Once again you can wander around lobbies, chat with other players, make your own private rooms, and grind for ages for avatars, icons and emotes. It’s exactly as pretty as every other ASW lobby and it functions just as well.

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I have to give ASW praise for BlazBlue Cross-Tag Battle’s netcode. It’s definitely their best yet. It’s not rollback netcode. It’s still the same old delay based system. However, I easily played matches against opponents halfway across the world and it felt fine. Any match two bars and over basically felt lagless and even horrible connections were still playable.

Presentation

ASW is known for making beautiful fighting games and BBCTAG is no exception. It’s a sprite based game, as opposed the games that use polygonal models like Guilty Gear and DBFZ. However, they took all the sprites from the last generation of fighting games, scaled them up, polished them, and drew a ton of in-between frames to smooth out their animation. Their incredible artistic labors have produced sprites that have never looked better. There’s a marked difference between how Ragna, the oldest BlazBlue sprite, looks when compared to Ruby, the newest, but they are still a feast for the eyes.

Unfortunately the same cannot be said for the levels. A few levels have received HD face-lifts but most have been ripped straight from their game of origin. They don’t look bad, of course. Fighting in the Junes marketplace or on the streets in Under-Night is still visually pleasing. It’s just clear that they didn’t receive as much attention as the characters themselves did.

The two graphical aspects of BlazBlue Cross-Tag Battle that disappointed me the most were the character select screen and HD character portraits. ASW is known for making character select screens expand outward in intricate patterns, which does a lot to get you hyped for a match. BBCTAG’s character select screen, on the other hand, is just a couple of boring scroll bars. You can’t even see the whole roster on the screen. You have to scroll off the edges of tiny windows. It just doesn’t feel as if the screen real-estate was used wisely.

The HD character portraits are actually pretty good, but they are the only portraits we get to see. In past BlazBlue titles, characters would be drawn in multiple poses allowing them to show a range of emotions in story mode. Here, characters are stuck in the same pose no matter what they are doing or saying. It really does feel like banging two stiff action figures together.

Finally there is the music which is just exquisite. There aren’t many new tracks here. Most are ripped straight form past game titles and from the RWBY soundtrack. However, this is still some of the best music fighting games have ever produced. From the hard rock of BlazBlue, to the techno beats of Under Night, to the screaming ballads of RWBY, each track gets you pumped for battle and is more than worth being on its own OST.

An Offer You Can’t Refuse

BlazBlue Cross-Tag Battle has me feeling torn. On one hand, I absolutely love this game. From the time I received my copy to the writing of this review I have put in more than 80 hours playing it. It’s incredibly fun and easy to play yet deep and challenging for fighting game vets.

On the other hand, the small 20 character roster is a bit disappointing. The promise of 40 characters with a season pass is a better value, but the slow release of these characters despite many of them being functional on-disk is annoying. Arc System Works also said they were going to continue to expand the roster as long as people are willing to purchase DLC, and if they actually follow through on that promise this might just be the best value in fighting games this generation. However, that is a promise many fighting game developers make and they almost always stop producing DLC after one or two seasons, so BBCTAG’s eventual value is still somewhat of a gamble.

I’d recommend BlazBlue Cross-Tag Battle for any fan of its four component franchises, or even just fighting games in general. It’s a fantastic anime fighter and a worthwhile sequel to the BlazBlue line. It’s just a shame that the wind has been taken out of my hype sails by the way ASW approached DLC content, especially after their outstanding success with DBFZ. Given time, a bigger roster will increase my hype, but most games have to maximize hype at their release, and frankly ASW’s DLC policies are a hype killer, despite the high quality of the rest of the game. I’d even go as far as saying this is a must-buy fighting game, despite its imperfections. Just try to put the DLC out of your mind and appreciate the game for what it is, and you’ll be fine.

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