BlazBlue: Cross Tag Battle Review

BlazBlue is a relative newcomer to the fighting game scene. Its developer Arc System Works is better known for their long-running Guilty Gear series. The first BlazBlue game, Calamity Trigger, was released only ten years ago and was followed by three entries in the main series, not counting in discursions to the portable devices. BlazBlue immediately caught attention with its fast fighting mechanics, excellent hand-drawn 2D art and convoluted storylines set in a world saved from a total destruction by six magical heroes. The world is safe for a change in BlazBlue: Cross Tag Battle. It’s not a canonical entry to the series but a fun diversion where BlazBlue heroes and heroines are joined by characters from other 2D fighters. As opposed to the series’ traditional one-on-one bouts, Cross Tag Battle calls for teams of two to do some tag team fighting.

Other franchises in the mix are Persona 4 Arena, Under Night in-Birth and RWBY. Atlus handpicked Arc System Works to develop a fighting game based on their popular JRPG Persona 4. Two games were released to much success, Persona 4 Arena and its souped-up extension Persona 4 Arena Ultimax. Under Night In-Birth is perhaps the least known game featured in Cross Tag Battle. It was originally made by a Japanese developer French Bread with help from Arc System Works. The result was 2D fighter somewhat similar to BlazBlue but simpler and more grounded despite its supernatural tones. RWBY is actually not a fighting game at all but an American anime-style web series which was made into a third-person hack ‘n slash game. But why are all these groups, unfamiliar to each other, in the same place? A mysterious entity has summoned them to a fake world and the only way out of it is to fight over keystones, as told in the game’s episode mode.

Out of the box, there are disappointingly only 20 characters: ten combatants from BlazBlue, four teenagers from Persona 4 Arena, four fighters from Under Night In-Birth and two girls from RWBY. 20 more characters are promised to join the fray but they’re released as paid DLC content, that unfortunate bane of the modern games. As a resolution of backlash from angry fans, two characters to complete the RWBY cast are going to be free downloads. I can’t personally complain too much about the sparse starting roster as my favorite BlazBlue characters (Noel and Makoto) made the initial cut. I only would have preferred Nu-12 instead of Mu-13 for the character design alone.

Even though 2D fighting games gathered together in Cross Tag Battle share a pretty similar framework, they have individual differences. That’s why the gameplay and fighting mechanics have been unified between them. BlazBlue games has had two settings to fight with, technical or stylish. Both are gone in Cross Tag Battle and replaced with smart combo system which is very similar to the stylish setting. Inputs are relatively easy to pull off so it’s not a question of getting your thumbs tangled up. Despite being reconciled, the characters you may be familiar with from their respective franchises handle pretty much in a way you have come to know them. For example, dual-wielding and fast-firing Noel’s Chain Revolver is beautifully adapted to the new gameplay while Yukiko’s Persona attacks are almost as they were in Persona 4 Arena. A comprehensive Tactics mode with individual breakdowns for each character is recommended for both newcomers and veterans alike to learn the ropes.

There are no pokes or shenanigans as the featured gameplay favors non-stop, all-out blitzkrieg offensive with flashy and devastating combos. Even though Cross Tag Battle is made easy to get into with smart combos providing empowerment and mastery for everyone, learning how to throw in and mix together skill moves, extra skills and distortion skills bring a satisfying depth and creativity to the gameplay. Ex and distortion skills are regulated by points in the skill gauge to balance out the fights. Then there are cross combos and finishing moves to do with the tag partner, providing a wider toolset to wipe out the opponents with. If the tag partner is knocked out, it’s possible to switch on Resonance Blaze to boost up attacks and replenish health bar for 15 seconds. Chances to use Astral Finishes don’t come often but they are all the more spectacular one-hit kills.

In the super-swift fighting of Cross Tag Battle, a few combatants stand out and bring out the best of the gameplay mechanics. A character like Chie from P4A does a short work of her opponents with her swimmingly fast kick combos and her friend Yukiko, calmly kiting with her fans or Persona, complements the dynamic duo. Other characters from Persona 4 Arena and also from Under Night In-Birth perform considerably faster and whippier here too. At the risk of being black-listed by their fans, RWBY girls are pretty dull and predictable compared to the established cast. Then again, their 2D fighting game incarnations were made from the ground up for Cross Tag Battle. Rarely are new characters at their best at their birth. Of course, there are also big swords, screen-sized behemoths and too-cool-for-their-shoes dudes with boastful moves featured in the roster if they are more your thing.

BlazBlue games are known for their extensive single player content so it comes as a surprise how compromised the content in Cross Tag Battle is. Apart from an entertaining yet trivial episode mode divided into chapters for each franchise that recounts the game's story, there are only versus and survival modes for offline play. It makes no sense to omit the traditional arcade mode which has often been the highlight of the series. Maybe Arc System Works found it hard to implement any kind of individual stories because tag teams can be made up from any characters across franchises. Still, that wouldn’t be much of an excuse. SNK’s King of Fighters games had a workaround of having personalized endings for canon teams in the arcade mode while mixed teams had to settle with a shared default ending. A similar solution would have easily worked for Cross Tag Battle. After all, there are canonical pairings in each of its franchises, like Ragna and Jin in BlazBlue, Linne and Hyde in Under Night In-Birth and obviously, Chie and Yukiko in P4A, to name a few.

It seems all the time and effort went to hone the gameplay to accommodate all the different characters and cater for all kinds of players from casuals to veterans. There’s a certain lack of effort elsewhere in the game. Sprites, backdrops and music are all recycled from their respective franchises with only a seeming tidying up (for example, animations and backgrounds from Under Night In-Birth are only slightly retouched). Only the assets for RWBY are new material, and they aren’t up to the standards of the rest of the roster. Presentation art, however, is beautifully drawn and consistent despite matching up a diverse cast. There are optional English voices but I thought they changed characters’ personalities too much.

Even though servers were up during the review period, I didn’t bump into anyone in online lobbies (amusingly presented as a 3D arena where the players’ customizable chibi avatars queue for battle kiosks). Apparently other reviewers were too shy (again) to show up for online games. Luckily, there was an open online beta weekend in Europe with all the characters available so I got my fair share of beating up - and getting beaten up. There are lobbies for casual and ranked matches, and of course private rooms for a group of friends. As one can only assume, taking the fight into online is as fast-paced as in offline. There has been some criticism about health bars depleting too quickly so that there’s not much chances to show off awesome skills when the match is already over. I think it’s only for good. In a game like Street Fighter V, you bide your time for a few lucky pokes, giving an opening to land in more powerful attacks. In Cross Tag Battle, if you so much as stand idle for a second, you have practically lost. In capable hands all characters are equally devastating in their own right so attack is the best defense. Online fights performed generally okay. Occasional lag spikes are commonplace in fighting games, but here they affect the fast gameplay more severely.

I’m torn between the amazing gameplay and the lack of content. Fighting feels fantastic but there's too little where to put it to use. What is this alarming trend that fighting games are put out without their traditional content? One can only hope that three non-functioning arcade cabinets standing abandoned in the game’s 3D entrance are a promise of arcade mode coming sometime in the future – as long as it’s not paid DLC. Then again, locking the characters who already show up in the episode mode behind a paywall as future purchases, is absurd so I doubt anything good comes for free. Greedy business model and thin content eat up the game’s appeal. Too bad as the featured gameplay is so damn satisfying.

Video game nerd & artist. I've been playing computer and video games since the early 80's so I dare say I have some perspective to them. When I'm not playing, I'm usually at my art board.