2016 has been a good year for fighters. Titles like; Street Fighter V, King of Fighters XIV, and Guilty Gear Xrd: Revelator (Arc System Works' other fighting game series) have set the fighting game community ablaze. Now Arc System Works return once again with BlazBlue: Central Fiction (sequel to BlazBlue: Chrono Phantasma). Does Central Fiction continue the trend already set in 2016? It does, but like the others, it does come with a few problems.
Let's start with the positives. The practice modes are great for both newcomers to the series and long-time fans, who are looking to brush up on their skills. There are three modes altogether; Training, Tutorial and Challenge. Training plays like your usual practice mode affair, where you can choose a character and try out your moves. Tutorial teaches you the basics of BlazBlue's mechanics, through to its advanced systems. Whilst fans might not need the tutorial, it will be of great help to people who are new to the series, and it does a fantastic job. Lastly is Challenge mode, where you take on missions set for each character. These are set of moves that you have to execute and that get harder.
Central Fiction features an arcade mode (a genre staple), but it does things a little differently. It features three acts and each one consists of eight rounds and at the end of each act, you get a cut-scene for the character that you have chosen. We liked this approach because not only does it extend the longevity of the game, it also gives each character added depth.
The story mode, on the other hand, follows on from the events of the previous instalment, Chrono Phantasma. The story is rather good and comes in at around 10-12 hours (less than 10 hours if you speed through the text). Fans of the series will enjoy the narrative as it serves as a conclusion to the Ragna Saga. It may not be as easy to digest for newcomers, though. There is a glossary that does detail a lot of the lore and terminology that you'll come across, and it's sure to refresh the minds of fans and help players who are new to the series. There is so much information here that it can seem overwhelming.
Story mode plays much the same as in Chrono Phantasma, like a visual novel with fights scattered throughout. Unfortunately Central Fiction doesn't have English dub which could disappoint some (the dub in BlazBlue is usually pretty good), as it's very text heavy. Having said that, it is very well written so it may pull you despite of the sheer volume of text. And of course there are fights scattered throughout the story that help break up the wall of writing.
There are additional elements that add to the overall lifespan of the game. Grim of the Abyss has some RPG elements to it such as levelling up you character and equipping skills to take down bosses. It's quite easy to sink numerous hours into Grim of the Abyss as it can get quite addictive. There's Score Attack which is pretty much self-explanatory, and there's Speed Star mode. This gives you a number of courses to compete in, and if you fight well and finish your battles with a special attack you'll get a time bonus. There's lots to do and that's just offline. Online was good, too, and seemed pretty stable throughout. We spent several hours playing and only had two disconnections during that time.
The character models are brighter and more vibrant than before, and BlazBlue's art style really does shine in Central Fiction. All 35 characters in the game play in their own unique way and it's quite an achievement to keep that feeling, given the amount of characters there are on the roster. Another thing that looks great are the arenas. They all fit the series nicely and are distinct.
As usual another standout areas is the music. Composer Daisuke Ishiwatari delivers his signature style once again, and it sounds just as good if not better than before. There's a wealth of content to unlock, both in the gallery and in the item shop, which extends the game's longevity for completionists. Another thing that we would like to add is that load times in Central Fiction are quite fast, which is very good as it gets the player into the action almost instantly.
Now onto the backbone of a fighting game: its mechanics. Like before there are two styles; Technical and Stylish. Technical is the standard control type and experienced players of the series will no doubt use this. Technical allows for a wide range of control. Stylish is a more simplified alternative more suited for newcomers. It allows for some flashy action and special attacks are easier to perform. People new to the series will find Stylish to be quite welcoming, although we worry that newcomers may become too reliant on it and not move on to Technical, even though they have learned the necessary skills.
The Overdrive meter returns and now displays the amount of time the player has in Overdrive, which is a nice feature. There are two new additions to the game and they are Active Flow and Exceed Accel. Active Flow is granted to the character for being consistently aggressive in the round; it is effectively the complete opposite of the game's penalty for avoiding combat. Active Flow also recharges your Burst Gauge at a much faster rate and encourages an aggressive play-style. Exceed Accel is a powerful special attack that can only be used when in Overdrive, and it's activated by pressing all four attack buttons at once.
The fighting mechanics in the newest instalment in the BlazBlue series feel smoother and faster than ever before, and players both old and new will appreciate its detailed and well thought combat system.
BlazBlue: Central Fiction may have a few problems, a text-heavy and convoluted story being one, but for fans it's worth the extra effort. More gameplay in the story would help alleviate some of the tediousness, and the lack of English dub may be disheartening for some, but, if you look past that you're rewarded with great combat, deep mechanics and a wealth of content that will keep any BlazBlue fan (or any fighting fan for that matter) entertained for countless hours.
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