Ten short years ago, one of the industry’s latest and greatest fighting franchises debuted: BlazBlue. 2009’s BlazBlue: Calamity Trigger introduced players to fluid gameplay, an engaging storyline, and unforgettable characters. Three sequels later and the series as we knew it concluded with 2016’s BlazBlue: Central Fiction. While the release offered the climactic conclusion to the series’ narrative, the lack of an English dub and “pay walling” of some characters triggered a mixed response among fans.
Exclusively on Nintendo Switch, Arcade System Works has released BlazBlue: Central Fiction Special Edition. Said to be everything that made the series great, this release has been marketed to fans and newcomers alike.
Is BlazBlue: Central Fiction Special Edition the penultimate series experience?
Unlike virtually every other game of the genre, BlazBlue has always proud itself of its unique story-driven gameplay. BlazBlue: Central Fiction continues and concludes the “C-Series” storyline that began with Calamity Trigger. Once again, the game revolves around Ragna, his brother Jin, and there could-be-sister Noel. Following the climactic battle between the three in BlazBlue: Chrono Phantasma, each party does their best to recover. Jin resides in the medical ward, Noel tries to find herself, and Ragna is all but lost from the world’s eye. Ragna is not absent for long, however, as his true sister, and series antagonist, Saya tricks Noel into releasing his location. What could have been the beginning of an epic confrontation instead becomes a trip down memory lane. As Ragna raises to the occasion yet again, he finds that he has caught a pesky case of amnesia.
After three prior games spanning across multiple platforms and console generations, the idea of jumping into BlazBlue: Central Fiction may seem like a daunting one. Surprisingly this is not the case. This is thanks in part to Ragna’s plot convenient amnesia and an optional mission briefing with the rebel alliance. The series’ most memorable moments are replayed as Ragna attempts to remember where he came from and exactly where he is going. While the plot quickly escalates into ridiculousness, BlazBlue fans wouldn’t have it any other way.
A key to BlazBlue‘s success can be found in its colorful cast of characters. From NOL and Sector 7 to the Six Heroes and everyone in between, there isn’t a dull face. While the main story does revolve around Ragna, Jin, and Noel, each character has their part to play. While some such as Taokaka are there mainly for comedic purposes, it genuinely feels like everyone is there for a reason. The truth really cannot be said about most fighting games. After four main entries, it is these progressing story arcs that give BlazBlue its unforgettable world.
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While BlazBlue has no shortage of loveable (and not so loveable) characters, the writing is only half the battle. Luckily this is an Arc System Works title. Ignoring the Clone Wars that is Dragon Ball FighterZ, Arc System Works has always been known for developing unique combatants for each slot they fill. BlazBlue: Central Fiction is no exception. If anything, BlazBlue: Central Fiction has one of the most diverse fighter rosters out there today. From fan-favorite Noel to the newcomer Izanami, each fighter stands apart as unique without often breaking the balance of the game.
On the topic of characters, one of the original release’s downfalls was the pay walling of three characters. While Es and Mai were arguably cross-over characters from a visual novel and manga respectively, Jubei was another matter entirely. Ever since Calamity Trigger, the series has teased that the Six Heroes would one day all join the roster. None was hinted at as much as Jubei. Even when Central Fiction released on PlayStation 4 as the fourth and final planned BlazBlue title, Jubei was nowhere to be found. Instead, he was released as separate downloadable content. While any fighting title worth its weight in salt will offer post-release content, the pay walling of Jubei felt like an insult to the series’s biggest fans. On Nintendo Switch, however, Arc System Works offers the whole package. With Es, Mai, and Jubei included in the game’s download, each fighter to date is available from the get-go.
Aside from the aforementioned Story Mode, BlazBlue: Central Fiction offers a myriad of ways to play. Most importantly, the game offers an offline VS Mode as well as the online Rank Match and Player Match. These are the bread and butter of the game and a gateway to the game’s superb competitive play. While the Nintendo Switch is far from the best console to play online, BlazBlue: Central Fiction Special Edition features surprisingly stable net code with little to no lag.
In regards to single player options, BlazBlue: Central Fiction offers everything but the kitchen sink. During my review of BlazBlue: Cross Tag Battle I noted my disappointment in the game’s lack of an Arcade Mode. Luckily as a main game in the series, Central Fiction includes it’s very own Arcade Mode. Better yet, it includes all 3 “acts” from the Japanese cabinet. This means that each character can have up to three different paths to take. For those looking for a meatier challenge, the game also includes Grim of the Abyss Mode, Score Attack Mode, and Speed Stat Mode. Each mode provides a unique challenge to players, testing not only their skill but speed.
For those unfamiliar to BlazBlue‘s gameplay, it is inspired heavily by its sister series, Guilty Gear. Honestly, anyone who has played another ArcSys game such as Persona 4 Arena, Arcana Heart 3, or even Dragon Ball FighterZ should have some idea as to what to expect. The game is a callback to the glory days of arcades. Players of Marvel vs. Capcom 1 and 2 or early Street Fighter should feel right at home with BlazBlue‘s 2D action. Each fighter has a combination of weak, medium and strong attacks. Most importantly is their Drive. This is where things get interesting. Each character has access to special Drive attacks that vary greatly from one another. With the intentional exception of Nu and Lamba, the game really makes no room for clone characters. Amazingly, the latest release of the game feels near perfectly balanced. While the likes of Azrael and Kokonoe plagued the leader boards in the past, every character in BlazBlue: Centralfiction Special Edition feels like they have a fighting chance.
To say that BlazBlue: Central Fiction looks good would be an understatement. While many fighters and RPGs attempt to create the visuals of an anime, BlazBlue is one of the games to do it best. Out of battle, the story unfolds with character profiles and CG art not unlike many RPGs and visual novels of Japan. Throughout the game, each character interaction plays out like an episode of an anime. While the game does include animated cut-scenes, a majority of the Story Mode is made up of basic Visual Novel inspired skits. With dynamic sprites and skilled editing, this BlazBlue comes to life unlike any before it!
In battle, BlazBlue: Central Fiction retains its traditional 2D design. Each character looks just as good as they did previously in BlazBlue: Cross Tag Battle and Chrono Phantasma. Honestly, they are probably the very same sprites. Despite being ported to Nintendo Switch, there is not a noticeable drop in quality. This makes BlazBlue: Central Fiction Special Edition the ideal BlazBlue on the go. Rest in peace PlayStation Vita.
Each pair of characters dukes it out within a complementing 3D space. Each attack is as flashy as ever; especially when it comes to Distortion Drives. These special attacks are not only the best way to beat an opponent but are sweet and savory eye candy. Each returning character does so with their previous Distortion Drive in tow. It is the newest specials, however, that truly steal the show.
Now for the elephant in the room. When first released by Aksys Games on the PlayStation 4, BlazBlue: Central Fiction was noticeably lacking English audio. As all three previous games each sported a fantastic dub, this decision did not sit well with series’ fans. Ever since the release, fans have been hoping for either an “Extend” release or a downloadable dub. Sadly this has not been the case. As with the original release, BlazBlue: Central Fiction Special Edition only includes Japanese audio. This fact is made worse by the fact that a majority of the dialog before and after the battle is not even subtitled. For players who started down this road with Patrick Seitz’ Ragna, finishing without him just doesn’t feel the same.
When it comes to fighting games, there are few composers as renowned as Daisuke Ishiwatari. Also known for his work with the Guilty Gear franchise, Ishiwatari has had his hand in each BlazBlue so far. With things coming full circle with BlazBlue: Central Fiction, he returns yet again. While the game’s score is made up mostly of returning tracks, new fighters call for some additions. Each new track blends perfectly with the BlazBlue feel. Meanwhile, each returning track offers a nostalgic reminder of how far this series has grown.
Overall BlazBlue: Central Fiction Special Edition is an amazing fighting title. Not only is it one of the best options on the Nintendo Switch, but one of the best on any platform; period. The story that began ten years ago concludes in an exciting manner. Somehow it is presented in such a way that even newcomers can join in on the fun. BlazBlue: Centralfiction‘s gameplay is as smooth as ever. With every single fighter included, this is a must-have for even the most casual fans. That is, of course, for anyone okay without an English dub.
HEY! HEY!! LISTEN!!! gives BlazBlue: Central Fiction 9.1 Murakumo Units out of 10.