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BlazBlue: Calamity Trigger is the latest offering from Arc System Works, the same developers who brought you the Guilty Gear franchise. Instead of re-upping and cashing in on the established Guilty Gear series, they decided to come up with something new and original. If you’re a fan of fighting games then you’ll feel right at home with BlazBlue: Calamity Trigger. Its play mechanics are very noob friendly, but also challenging to master. Don’t let the fact I just wrote that the game is noob friendly turn you off BlazBlue. You’ll notice right off the bat, once you crack open the instruction manual and read the definition of the game’s technical lingo, that there is an excruciating amount of depth. Then you when you fire up the game’s training mode and try and perfect said techniques you’ll have just barely scratched the surface of how deep the game truly is.

BlazBlue is one of the prettiest, buttery, crisp fighters I have ever played. Arc System Works is known for their flashy, anime inspired style and BlazBlue doesn’t disappoint. Matches (which are called Rebels) start with a view of the stage, and then pan in on both opponents, who are introduced by showing off pre-fight character trait animations. Once Rebel flashes across the screen you’ll be salivating at just how gorgeous it is. If there’s one negative knock I can say about the game is its stage design, which doesn’t have much going in way of the background animations. But, that won’t matter once the action begins because there is a lot happening on screen.

Fights can move slow or fast and character animations are pretty slick. What’s impressive is that between dashing around and the on-screen chaos that ensues from Drives (special attacks), Distortion Drives (Super Special Attacks), and Astral Finishers, the frame rate remains steady. Fighting game vets who like to calculate how many frames it takes to look for what special move is coming, will have their work cut out for them. Most of the time matches are going so fast and your opponent is assaulting you with multiple hit combos that it can be difficult to see what’s coming. Through it all the game moves at a steady pace and continues to look lovely while doing so.

It’s about to go down!

When it comes to control BlazBlue isn’t very hard to figure out. The game plays excellent with the regular 360 control pad, so that’s a definite plus. There are four buttons: A, B, C, and D, which are used to perform light, medium, strong, and special attacks. You can also use the buttons in various combinations to perform throws. Barrier Breaks, which negate damage and can be used for counters, or press all four face buttons to execute a Barrier Burst, which will give you some breathing room if you’re getting clobbered, at the expense of lowering your defense. All button combinations can be mapped to the Left or Right bumpers, and triggers as well. BlazBlue even offers the option of letting players map special moves to the right analogue stick, which will make pulling off Drives and Distortion Drives a cinch. Beware if you plan on playing online this is usually turned off in Ranked matches.

Reading the instruction manual is definitely overwhelming. Luckily, Arc System Works decided to include a how-to DVD with the Special Edition Version of the game. And if all else fails there’s always Dustloop.com and Youtube.

When you finally get a handle on the basic play mechanics and how to utilize them depending on the techniques of the character you’re playing you will get into the heart of BlazBlue – which is the combo system. BlazBlue is all about offense and has one of the most enjoyable combo systems I have ever experienced in a fighting game. Players that like to turtle or spam long range attacks and eat up clock will not have an enjoyable experience with this game. You can only Barrier Break so many times before your Guard Libra (a Barrier gauge) breaks and your defense is lowered. Add the fact that Barrier Burst can only be used once per Rebel leave defensive players with few turtling options.

Noel shows Jin that even though she’s a Lieutenant he still needs to protect his neck

Pulling off combos is pretty easy by pressing A, B, or C in any succession. But when you add the ability to Rapid Cancel, which allows you to cancel a move and resets the combo, connect a special move, repeat or go into something totally different; you can really load up on the hits – which look beautiful and brutal at the same time. My skills on most fighting games fall into the medium class range. I’ve only had the game for about a week and during that time I’ve already managed to pull off a mega 40 hit combo.

There are little nuances that while they are noob friendly, you can be certain they are quite difficult to master. For example, each time your character is about to be thrown or launched into a juggle an exclamation point will flash above their head, letting you know that you have a very short amount of time to execute a counter or get out of trouble. It’s the little touches like these that can turn getting your ass handed to you into a very skilled and technical win.

While many fighting games offer rosters of 20-plus playable characters with a large part being clones of other characters, BlazBlue only gives you 12 to play with. One thing that sets the game apart from the competition is the fact that no two BlazBlue characters play the same. Arc System Works boast that you can find a fighter that fits your ‘style’ and believe me they were not lying with the claim. You can go for speed, all-out offense, passive offense, power, or technical prowess. It doesn’t matter, there is literally something for everybody, unless you like turtling, which as stated before is a virtual no-no in BlazBlue.

BlazBlue visuals are nothing short of amazing when it’s in motion

Rounding out the game is soundtrack and backing audio, as well as gameplay modes. Levels are backed by rock and epic orchestrated tracks that set the tone for an all out combo-fest. When it comes to audio BlazBlue shines once again for the attention that it pays to detail. When two rivals face off, there’s more than a special pre-fight animation that takes place. Characters will actually yell out different cues for attacks, acknowledging that they are fighting someone they have a history with. Take Noel vs. Jin for example, she’ll call him “Lieutenant” and if he loads up on her with a some super special Drive heat (or vice versa) he’ll actually scream “You Bitch!” Sure it’s been done before (most recently in Street Fighter IV) but once again it’s the little nuances in BlazBlue that add to the experience.

Gameplay modes consist of the standard Arcade mode, a Story mode, which takes you deeper into the lore of the BlazBlue universe; Vs. Mode; Score Attack; A Theater Gallery; and a Training mode, and of course Online matchmaking. I’ve played through, as well as played around with all modes and they all are fantastic. Before I wrote this review I had played 30 online matches and the majority of them played without a hitch. There were literally 2 matches that were filled with horrible lag but that’s to be expected every once and awhile.

BlazBlue plays like a very rewarding addiction. Finding a character that suits your style and pace of playing is just the beginning. Getting a handle on the system techniques, as well as pulling them off is a pleasure and opens the game up to completely different experiences with the distinct characters on the game’s roster.

Perverted still pic aside, Hakumen definitely brings the pain.

In my opinion BlazBlue is hands down the best fighting game on the Xbox 360 right now. It leap frogs the competition, not by being re-inventing the wheel, but by managing to take the familiar fun elements of the fighting genre and fine-tune them to masterful perfection, which all come together in a fantastic finished product. For the price of a regular retail game, gamers get The Special Edition version of BlazBlue: Calamity Trigger, which offers the game, a helpful how-to DVD, as well as soundtrack. You can’t beat that. Plus, the game offers loads in the way of replay value as well. Finding yourself familiar with one character, gives way to having to learn a whole new way to play with another character, and complete mastery of the different characters and effective techniques is quite addictive.

If you’re a fan of fighting games then BlazBlue: Calamity Trigger will make a welcome addition to your collection. If you’re remotely curious about fighting games and have been turned off by the steep learning curve of other games in the genre, give BlazBlue a chance. I promise you after you invest a minimum amount of time dashing around the screen, planning how you’re going to connect with that combo into a Distortion Drive and it all comes together, you’ll be hooked.

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