This is no Street Fighter... but it's not trying to be (just getting that out there). Unlike so many other fighters; essentially glorified Capcom clones, BlazBlue: Calamity Trigger stands out. There's no need to roll your eyes and pronounce your disgust at another entrant in the overflowing fighting game genre.
Developed by Arc System Works (the guys who brought us the Guilty Gear series), BlazBlue takes all the tried-and-true gameplay mechanics and graphics of past, some new ideas and innovative style, then throws them into a blender to create a high-quality fighting game that could very likely become a household name (if your household is a fighting game household). Its bright, colourful presentation, sturdy combat/combo structure, and high-paced action mean it's a fighting game every fighting aficionado (and even those just a bit fight-curious) should check out.
Having said that, going up against the powerhouse that is Capcom's Street Fighter series is a risky move, no matter how different your game is; it's difficult to improve or even attempt to alter what is an almost perfect combat system and control style. But enter BlazBlue, regardless. Focusing on an A, B, C, D attack system; three buttons represent attacks of increasing strength with one button representing a 'distortion drive' (special move) attack. Yes, you can button mash, but this simple control scheme hides some in-depth gameplay with lots of room for the more advanced player to link together amazing air attacks, throws and special attacks into devastating combos. Innovative inclusions such as the ability to cancel special attacks - mid-motion - giving you the opportunity to immediately execute another with no down-time, are welcome additions and make it just that little bit harder to anticipate your adversary's next move.
Astral Heat kills (instant kills) can be unlocked and used in the final round of battle providing a flashy and dramatic kill, ala super finishers in Marvel Vs Capcom, albeit with a little more flare than just a flashing background, which is something BalzBlue does very well.
All the usual gameplay modes are on offer, but the game also provides a sturdy campaign mode presented in mostly static, animated picture-book style. Utlising story branches, depending on your match outcome or conversation choices, this mode effectively fleshes out the convoluted BlazBlue universe and its myriad characters. If story modes bore the shit out of you, well at least you garner results, such as finishing moves for characters, game artwork and all the standard extras. The network option in BlazBlue provided no lag (during my experience) and plenty of options including saving replays of matches for bragging rights or learning where you went wrong.
The visual presentation of BlazBlue is very Japanese Anime, but hey, I'm not complaining. It complements all the game's elements from music to gameplay perfectly. Arc System Works opted out of following the current trend of 3D graphics on a 2D plane and frankly, I'm glad. The traditional style animated graphics of BlazBlue look gorgeous in HD. BlazBlue is quite simply the prettiest 2D fighting game released to-date. Super crisp visuals with no glitching in sight and incredibly realised character animations all oozing off the screen ensure there is never a visually dull moment. This is as close to anime quality animations I have seen in a fighting game. The character designs and direction are also a stand out feature of this title. As with the characters' attack designs, their appearances are all completely individual - Arakune, for example, is a blob-like character reminiscent of No-Face from Spirited Away, and is definitely a personal favourite.
Blazblue's character roster may initially appear weak with 12 selectable fighters and no unlockables as opposed to Capcom's Vs series with 50-odd, however, each character's move list is designed incredibly well with distinct fighting styles and distortion drives, so an increased roster (until a sequel) isn't really needed.
Crunching guitars, electronic, and up tempo J-Pop style techno is the flavour of sounds you will be delivered whilst duelling. BlazBlue contains a good mix of music, never getting on your nerves. All the characters' audio is well delivered and crisp, too. Even the long voice-overs in story mode are decent enough. Although don't expect Bud Tingwell's soothing voice, they are still only on par with your standard smaller anime release.
Arc System Works have been kind enough to provide several bonus features for the home release. Dual language options for characters, the home-release exclusive story mode, new music, animation, and unlockable Astral heat kills, and that's along with all the other unlockables and extras fleshing the game out to be very rewarding for the discerning fighting game fan.
I've made a lot of comparisons to Anime in this review, and I guess that's inevitable, what with this being a title direct from the Land of the Rising Sun, but it's exactly the sort of vibe this game exudes - from the music, to the amazingly animated characters, it's just very Japanese but works as a result. On top of all that the game stands up and proudly announces itself as a new mainstay in the already flooded the fighting genre. Just expect something a little different from the norm and you will be pleasantly surprised.