Blazblue: Calamity Trigger (Xbox 360) PAL  Blazblue: Calamity Trigger (PS3) PAL   

For the longest time, we have seen very little to compete with the Street Fighter series. Most would argue that the blood and gore of Mortal Kombat would suffice, and for a while it did. But since the first 3D incarnation, it went off the rails somewhat with lacklustre changes and the complete removal of unique fatalities. Tekken is a joke compared to old school 2D fighters, and Soul Calibur can hold its own, but relied too much on franchising with Star Wars the last time. King of the Fighters would have made more of an impact if it didn’t get released exclusively for a console that cost over £200 in 1994. Darkstalkers as an IP had a good run, but since the re-release on the PSP launch we’ve heard scarcely little. It’s a little like the premier league for football in the UK; a bunch of okay teams and one or two powerhouses usually slugging it out for the title. One of the underdogs is the Guilty Gear franchise. It showed a promising start, but somehow slipped outside of the radar. So much so, that the developers at Ark SystemWorks decided to bury it in favour of a new IP. This new game is Blazblue: Calamity Trigger, and judging from the artwork we’re in for a completely 2D HD treat. But does this game trigger some long awaited competition for Street Fighter, or is it merely a dud?

If you’re going to start a new fighting title in the 21st century, you need a setting and some background. Blazblue: Calamity Trigger does this, but it is a little abstract. The game is set in the “13th hierarchical city” known as Kagutsuchi. Some event happened prior to this where magic was used to slay a beast. Only problem with it was the world was covered in a dangerous substance and humanity began using the magical devices known as Azures. The army, known as the Librarium have people in a police state, while another organisation known as Sector Seven want to return humanity to an era of technology and science. It is all a little confusing to comprehend, but thanks to a little “tutorial on the world” that is unlocked whilst progressing through the story this is explained in far better detail than one paragraph. For that reason alone, the characters feel far more fleshed out than most in fighting games. It’s not going into as much plot as Mortal Kombat ever did, but it’s not as stupid as Tekken’s.

I'm not even going to comment much. Just look at the pretty images.

The roster is a rather minimalistic twelve characters in total. Compared to the thirty odd in Super Street Fighter IV, some might say that they didn’t try hard enough. But the old saying of “quality over quantity” still stands. Yes, they might not look like much, but then you press the Drive command. It is one simple little button that unleashes the character’s true potential. For example, Jin Kisaragi can freeze your opponents where they stand for a follow up of brutal attacks. It is certainly open for spamming. Thankfully there is an option to cancel out the opponent’s attacks mid-stream by pressing all the face buttons at once. Much like other fighting games of the past, there are ultra moves known as Distortion Finishers. Each character has access to two or three of them and they’re all fairly brutal. Even more offensive are the Astral Finishes, which are only able to be executed when the opponent has less than 20% of their health in the entire match. The game doesn’t really outline this as much as it does everything else, but it’s nice to know you can humiliate your opponent. For those who don’t fancy having their derrieres handed to them on a silver platter by obsessed Japanese players online, the right stick features the entire move set one might need to beat them. Combine them with other moves you learn and you’re an expert in no time.

Character balance is something all fighting games seem to get wrong, especially with the overpowered final bosses. In living memory, only Street Fighter II had the most balanced last boss because he couldn’t kill you in one hit. That honour in Blazblue: Calamity Trigger doesn’t go to the last opponent, but to Hakumen. He has the ability to charge his sword by sitting there, like a fat Japanese guy eating meat buns. At least it is easily blocked though, which is more than can be said for Tekken 5’s Jinpatchi (stupid large unavoidable fireball!). Rarely does the sense of imbalance really surface though as while he can take a large chunk of health with one hit, you’re practically beating him senseless prior to this unfortunate event. The only character I didn’t have fun playing as was Carl. He is a little boy with an amazing top hat being stalked by a marionette. Who does the fighting? The Marionette of course! So what does Carl himself do? Send cogs and mechanical things at close range whilst avoiding attacks from opponents. While all other characters pass in terms of efficiency and fun to control, Carl needs to see the teacher after class.

Blazblue: Calamity Trigger also features a fully blown out story mode. Each character has a multiple path arc in their campaigns which depending on which way you tackle things determines your ending. I have one large niggle about this though, and that is with 100% a campaign. I get going through multiple paths. I get making certain choices to go down those paths. I even get in-fight conditions to get to certain paths such as performing a Distortion Finish. What I don’t get is what you need to do to get the other 20% of the quest completed. You’ll never guess how to do it unless I flat out tell you. One ending for one of the characters is dependent on completing the campaign with another character. For flavour, I don’t mind this so much but it is a little abstract. What I do mind though is this: You need to lose every single battle at least once! Who came up with this idea? If you want to save yourself a few hours, make sure you save often, in multiple slots and concentrate on one campaign at a time; otherwise you’ll have to go through the entire campaign again to find that one elusive loss. In terms of the actual plot, it isn’t bad for a fighting game. Quirky Japanese humour and lots of juvenile reference to the “booby lady” from the female cat or lack thereof on the military girl, but

In the arcade mode, all twelve of the playable characters are unlocked from the outset. In the story mode, two are missing at first but are unlocked once you’ve been through the plot of each character. But here’s an interesting thing to unlock; special moves! A few of the characters begin with their Astral Finishers which are like the Ultra Combos from Street Fighter IV, only more destructive, but the rest are unlocked after completing the arcade mode with said character. It is an interesting idea, and one that works well as you get to try out every character more than once to get used to them. For the more conventional unlockable options, each character has an ultimate form. These enhance their power somewhat in certain areas, such as having Ragnar the Bloodedge’s “Blood Kain” ability constantly active, or enabling Rachel Alucard’s electrical frog to remain on screen even after being hit. There is also a gallery of artwork and sound samples for those obsessed with the making of documentaries to get all giddy about. But the real thrill from this fighter in a single player point of view comes from the challenges. The Score Attack mode puts you in the hardest setting on a fixed path, and the aim is to get as far as you can. It does have an end point, which I think adds to the charm and challenge.

Stages have a distinct theme about them and are colourful. Again, look at the pretty pictures!

The real strength though comes from the online mode. A lot of the time you will come across crazy Japanese people or weird American “otakus” who prefer the Japanese voice acting. Score one up on them and you gain ranks, and depending on how stylish in your fighting you are, you gain bonus experience. While it’s not as fleshed out and extravagant as Super Street Fighter IV’s online client, it doesn’t fill it with needless tedium. The Japanese/Otaku will however completely decimate new players, but when you do win the satisfaction is priceless. Especially when a Japanese otaku messages you to remind you that he lost and didn’t like that fact. Some fights though you do get the odd close one that doesn’t feel one sided. These though are few and far between. Still, get a group of friends together and it should be a brilliant little online fighter to pass the time. As a home brawler, it is even better as you can pretty much make an entire night of it the fear of the land of the rising sun. Local multiplayer is limited to training modes and versus modes, but with such a fun battle system it doesn’t get that old at all.

This might be a surprising thing to say, but I think Blazblue: Calamity Trigger is the best fighting game I’ve played in years. It’s the closest thing to a full blown fighting game with all the trimmings since the turn of the century. While a big roster prolongs the games lifespan, it quickly becomes stale and repetitive. This is where Blazblue: Calamity Trigger shines as the many modes and styles of play never really get too old. Story mode drags on a tiny bit with the 100% completions, but with all manner of distractions surrounding it, there’s something for anyone with a vague interest. The geeky ones can gawp at the gallery content, those wanting an online fix can be beaten senseless by arcade nerd fanatics and on occasion by the normal person and those wanting a real challenge can try their hand at beating the hardest mode. I am of course the latter category, so this suits me down to the ground. Blazblue: Calamity Trigger is by far one of the best original ideas I’ve seen in recent years; won’t give you the blues in the slightest, and I can hardly recommend it enough.