Arc System Works has finally gotten Blazblue down to a science. The latest installment in the Japanese 2D fighting series delivers the intense battles, lovely sprites and complex, intriguing story fans have come to expect and this package comes together almost gloriously on the PS Vita.
This game is so bulky and content rich that I almost don’t know where to start. Chrono Phantasma picks up after the events in Blazblue: Continuum Shift and shows our heroes traveling to the hierarchical cities of Ikaruga to stop the Imperator and her dangerous allies, including Hazama, Azarael and Relius, among others.
Blazblue’s story is notoriously complex, but Chrono Phantasma makes an appreciated effort to assuage this with recaps of the events from previous games in the series in the form of additional stories in story mode, as well as the needlessly lengthy and rather sloppy but humor loaded “Teach Me, Miss Litchi” segments. These concessions are helpful as refreshers even if you are up to speed on the story.
Even so, I can’t imagine that a series newcomer would be anything but lost amidst all the talk of observers, Azure, cauldrons, the Boundary, phenomena intervention, Ars Magus, Nox Nyctores and so on and so forth. The story mode is again delivered in a visual novel format, with hours of voiced dialogue and various scenes. Although the talking 2D illustrations do seem flat from time to time, the general presentation of the story mode feels a lot more dynamic in this installment. The way the camera zooms in and out on certain parts of the illustrations at different times and the different ways movement is imitated make the story a bit more exciting than it was in previous games.
The story has also been streamlined and there are no longer separate playable branches for each character. Instead, players will control different characters as the story progresses. It’s also much easier to tell where the branching paths begin this time around thanks to the layout at the story selection screen, so you shouldn’t need to keep an extra internet browser tab open to tell you when and where you should choose another option. Learning the motivations and affiliations of the many new playable characters was quite interesting. The story mode is also quite long and completing all of the paths will take several hours.
Chrono Phantasma makes a few deviations from past series entries where the game-play is concerned, but is largely the same deep 2D fighting that fans have come expect.
A new “Overdrive” mechanic lets players sacrifice their ability to burst in return for enabling new attacks and properties. The mechanic works differently for each character, giving you yet another layer of strategy to learn and explore. I was blown away by the absurdly damaging combos characters, like Hakumen, gained access to when they entered their overdrives. A burst is a terrible thing to waste in this type of game, but it might be worth squandering if you can guarantee a KO using your overdrive.
Characters have been changed and given new moves, while existing moves have received new properties. For example, Nu returns and compensates for Lambda’s absence by having a variety of new moves she can only access by shifting phases. Rachel wields a new technique she can use to increase the effectiveness of gusts blown with her Sylpheed mechanic. Although the roster is full of by now familiar faces, so much has been changed that everything feels somehow fresh or new. The new fighters are all interesting as well, with Amane’s range, Izayoi’s speed and Azrael’s frightening damage output making them excellent additions to the already diverse playable roster.
Beginner mode, known in this installment as Stylish mode, is still intact, which is an appreciated feature given the strain I’d put on my Vita trying to seriously execute combos and such. It’s definitely been toned down quite a bit, but I’m still happy to be able to mash my way through story mode without having to put any serious thought into the combat. Additions considered, the PS Vita version of the game does a very good job of delivering the fast paced 2D fights we’ve come to know and love.
The game is captured beautifully on the Vita. Although discrepancies in the visuals compared to the PS3 version of the game are not difficult to see, the action plays out smoothly and without delay on the Vita. The game includes various new stages, characters and flashy attacks to see, driving home the “new installment” feeling that Continuum Shift Extend lacked for me. The character sprites are sharp and detailed and the artwork and new character designs are lovely.
I love how Blazblue’s characters are pivotal to the plot and awesome looking at the same time. Rachel not only stimulates anime Lolita vampire fetishes, but is also an observer, making her relevant to the vast world of Blazblue and its goings on. As always the Daisuke Ishiwatari composed soundtrack brings plenty of racy rock, ambient, orchestral and fusion tracks for you to fight along to. There are numerous new songs in the game, but older songs have been rearranged as well. This adds freshness even to songs you’ve heard many times before.
While English dubs of Japanese games can be outright awful, Chrono Phantasma maintains a quality dub with every character sounding appropriate and distinguished. The entire story mode is voiced but unfortunately there’s apparently no Japanese voice option. You can change the battle voices to Japanese, but not the story mode, where most of the speaking takes place.
You don’t have to play long to see that the game offers a veritable buffet of different modes to enjoy. These include the classic arcade mode, which is handled wonderfully (the screens between the battles and the character intros look great), as well as the single player challenge mode. This mode is intended to help players initially learn to fight with the character(s) of their liking and later on, to really challenge the player with long, difficult to execute combos. There’s also the very challenging Unlimited Mars and Score Attack modes, which are both designed to challenge the player. It definitely succeeds given the difficulty of the AI here, in addition to powered up characters.
Abyss mode let’s players increase various parameters of characters with items gained from consecutive wins. It too gets difficult at a certain point, but things feel more even since you can level up your own characters as well, as opposed to just being pummeled by overpowered AI in Score Attack. The online mode here is probably the most fully featured version the series has seen yet. In addition to the expected suite, including player and ranked matches, players can also customize their player cards.
In lobbies players are pushed into battles with any free members. This means that in a lobby of six players there are three matches taking place, where in most other fighters a lobby of six means that two players are fighting while the other four are spectating. The online play itself is pretty good if you can find a player to whom you have a strong internet connection, as is frequently the case in fighters. There is also of course a mode in which you can view saved fight replays and a gallery containing all of the images, scenes and sounds you’ll uncover in the game’s various modes.
When I peruse the different options in this game, I certainly feel like the developer threw in everything and the kitchen sink from the start. It’s a good feeling, especially in this age of DLC this and DLC that. Of course I can’t let the title off the hook completely considering that various DLC are available for the game, including two addition characters.
I really only have one major complaint against this game and that is the lack of any PS3-PS Vita functionality. The game lacks cross-save, cross-buy and cross-play, which is nothing short of baffling given how the PS3 and Vita versions are practically identical. I made hours of progress in the game’s story mode on the Vita and when I boot up the PS3 version I will have to make that same progress again. Cross-buy I have never been a raging supporter of, but cross-play seems like perfect way to give an already niche game a larger player base. The absence of these features is absolutely a crying shame simply because of how similar the two versions of the game are.
While it doesn’t take away from what we do have in this lovely package, it keeps the game from reaching its full potential. Maybe we’ll get some sort of patch eventually, but I doubt it given the age of the PS3 version at this point. I should also mention that the DLC at least is cross-buy, so you can use it on the Vita version if you’ve already bought it on PS3.
Yet even without the cross PS3-PS Vita features, Blazblue: Chrono Phantasma is perhaps the best installment of the praised fighting series yet. Players will choose from an immense roster of characters (we’ve come a long way –- the first game had 12 fighters), continue a complex and multifaceted story, enjoy a bevy of modes (including a competent online suite), and of course partake in countless light speed battles featuring lovely 2D sprites on hybrid backgrounds, all of which pop from the Vita’s OLED display.
This package will undoubtedly bewitch any series fan, but every Vita owner who enjoys fighters, visual novels, or simply the Japanese qualities of this kind of game should definitely look into Blazblue: Chrono Phantasma.