With three main games as well as numerous repackages and spin-offs under its belt, the BlazBlue series has become an internationally popular fighting franchise. Though the main titles have exhibited a consistent level of quality, the constant re-releases with sometimes minor additions between them have irritated some fans. BlazBlue Central Fiction however allegedly serves as the conclusion in the series’ famously complicated narrative.
Story-wise, BlazBlue Central Fiction does in fact wrap things up, surprisingly neatly when you consider the staggering amount of character arcs and events transpiring. BlazBlue has always presented a narrative volume downright uncharacteristic of a fighting game, but BlazBlue Central Fiction finally achieves a visual novel-fighting game hybrid. The scenes that were at one point rather static exchanges have become dynamic and cinematic.
The camera zooms and pans and there’s a surprising volume of unique event artwork and different character illustrations. The music and voice acting lend to the very animated feeling of the story and there are some very cool transitions. The lack of an English voice track may come as jarring to some fans, mainly because the series has always included an English dub or dual audio.
Hearing the Japanese voices for characters like Carl was a first for me and, while the voices are quite similar and it didn’t detract from the experience overall, I can see the omission being a problem. This series also uses a great deal of unique character dialogue reserved for matches between specific pairs, and without a decent understanding of spoken Japanese this nuance will be lost on English speaking fans, though it was a big part of the charm in all the other games.
The music is as diverse and exciting as ever, with Daisuke Ishiwatari and company delivering whimsical, relaxing, exciting, thrilling and more ambiances with appropriate timing. The presentation of the story mode overall has really jumped compared to Chrono Phantasma. The story itself is as esoteric as ever, but of all titles in the series it makes the biggest strides towards fully explaining every event as simply as possible.
There’s even a massive glossary of terms including characters, events, weapons, places and so much more from the series’ lore. The sophistication and backstory of the characters and huge variety of relationships and developments make the story continually exciting but also difficult to follow. It sometimes seems the game is constantly introducing new factions, motivations and layers of complexity to the overall narrative.
Multiple characters can inhabit a single physical vessel. Fusing with energy from another dimension is the motivation of some characters. There is space time bending, sentient machines, immortal beings that “observe” the goings on of the world from another existence, travelers from another dimension and so much more going that the game itself seems unsure what will happen next.
As a collection of instances into an overall story arc or sequence, things struggle unless you’re adept at remembering bombastic terms thrown out infrequently. Many of these terms are used to explain away things that were already murky but it manages an exciting, very anime-like pace that series fans will enjoy, especially if you feel attached to any of the characters. Never have I felt as moved while playing a fighting game as I had by the time I saw Central Fiction’s ending credits.
For the uninitiated BlazBlue Central Fiction will surely raise more questions than it answers, but for those who have been following this series for the last six years it will feel that they’re witnessing a fitting, almost personal ending to a tale that is quite grand if at least in scope. There are also several optional scenes and reels for you to view after the end of the main story, making way for the humor and charm of the cast.
The story includes an optional recap running a whopping 30 minutes. It does its best to bring you up to speed, but the dozens of hours of story preceding this title could hardly be so condensed. Past the story there are several other modes for players to enjoy. The single player suite is fully decked. The arcade mode returns with more polish and drama. The use of sprites for more dynamic and cinematic scenes before and after the fights make it feel like a mini story mode.
The epic tutorial is back and this time it’s more detailed. You can read up on the applications of each character and get playing fast with practical tips and combos. The challenge mode returns and this time has three difficulties for each character with different challenges between them. I felt like hot stuff when I completed Nine’s normal challenges only to unlock the hard challenges and weep.
Score attack brings its overpowered opponents back into the fray to challenge anyone who thought the hardest CPU setting was still too easy, and the abyss mode lets you grind through “dungeons” building character stats and equipping special skills all while battling increasingly difficult, uniquely talented CPU characters. Score attack has a unique spin on a survival mode; you recover all your health and won’t die of an eventual health deficit but instead from the onslaught of the increasingly difficult enemies.
The challenge feels more well-rounded. Rounding things out is a new time trial mode that tasks you with defeating a string of foes as quickly as possible. As you play BlazBlue Central Fiction you accumulate in-game dollars that you can use to deck out the gallery and customize your online space, among other things.
The net code seems very strong as I noticed very little lag in rooms I had a connection of 4 to, and even rooms with a connection of just 3 were very stable, though I didn’t stray below that. You can use the in-game money to customize a space known as My Room and you can then host fights there to show off. Your player card lets you choose various icons, although I didn’t like having to spend the currency on simple words for the title.
Leaderboards, match replays and spectator mode all work as expected and you get dollars even if you lose the fights. The game features a wonderfully colorful anime visual style. The character sprites are as sharp and crisp as ever, and backgrounds blend 3D elements to make the game beautiful in motion. Attack animations are smooth and satisfying, creating a game that is almost as fun to watch as it is to play.
The new characters bring their own unique playstyles and mechanics. The most compelling of the new additions is very likely Nine the Phantom, a gorgeous character who brings as much game-play depth as she does sass, attitude, and bosom. She is also, like all of the characters, vital to the story. The core gameplay hasn’t changed tremendously since Chrono Phantasma, though all characters sport new and or slightly changed attacks.
Overdrive can still be a game changer in the hands of an experienced player, but whether you attack or defend (as opposed to simply advancing or retreating) most of the match evokes a new active flow system which rewards aggressive play. The overall downplay of turtling by the game’s mechanics makes for organically more exciting matches, but range focused characters can still benefit from the systems.
The addition comes on top of a system already quite deep while simultaneously being open to newcomers with easy combo strings and inputs in general plus a beginner stylish mode which lets you deliver combos complete with specials and supers by mashing a single button. This lets newcomers or fans exclusively of single player content enjoy the game with no difficulty at all while also providing the deep nuances of the stylish mode for more serious genre fans.
There is some pricey character DLC already available for the game, though you could get one character free during launch week. The game is an excellent value, mostly for those who are caught up in the series.
The lingering DLC does warrant concern that we may see a BlazBlue Central Fiction Extend repackage at some point and the lack of an English voice track may come as alienating to some fans, but despite these issues Central Fiction does provide a proper final chapter in the story of the Azure Grimoire.
With an exciting and epic visual novel campaign that will take the fastest readers more than a dozen hours, a huge playable roster of wonderfully unique, personality filled and intricately designed characters, scores of unlockable artwork, movies, additional scenes, full online suite and customization options, BlazBlue Central Fiction is certainly the total package and surely a worthy pickup for fans of visual novels, fighting games and everything in between.