The BlazBlue series has seen a few iterations since the original was released in arcades and on consoles back in 2008, but despite Chrono Phantasma being the fifth game in the series, Arc System Works’ fighter is still relatively new to the scene. Of those five releases, two were iterations on the first sequel with Chrono Phantasma being only the second full sequel. So, hardly long in the tooth then – in a genre packed with seasoned vets, how good can this rookie fighter really be? Well, really good actually.
Despite the series being relatively new to the scene, developer, Arc System Works have been working on fighting games for years (they are the team behind the fantastic Guilty Gear series), and you know what, it shows. BlazBlue, right from that first release back in 2008, was clearly a series aimed at challenging at the very top level, and in Chrono Phantasma, Arc Systems have delivered the finest game in the series to date and subsequently, one of the very best 2D fighters that money can buy.
A technical fighter in every sense of the word, Chrono Phantasma delivers incredible spectacle (this is arguably the best looking fighter on market) alongside deep, rewarding, but in the case of this latest release, a surprisingly approachable fighting system. The mechanics are hardcore to the bone, but thanks to the inclusion of ‘Stylish Mode’ for newcomers, is a game that casual fans and beat ‘em-up veterans can now enjoy in equal measures.
Similar to Capcom vs. SNK’s EO option (Easy Option), Chrono Phantasma’s, ‘Stylish’ option allows for all the spectacle without the need for thumb twisting special moves or intricate combo recollection. It’s aimed more towards the games’ surprisingly comprehensive Story Mode than online competitive play, but it’s just one of Chrono Phantasma’s many welcome additions and a sign that Arc Systems are looking to expand the brand beyond the hardcore fan base.
Of course, for the majority of gamers who pick this up, ‘Stylish Mode’ will be completely out of the question and for those, a comprehensive and really rather entertaining training mode is available. While the option for training in the ‘Stylish’ or ‘Traditional’ control schemes is available, it’s those going the traditional route that will invariably get the best out of this solid tutorial. Narrated by in-game characters, not only is it more entertaining than the majority of training modes found in other fighters, but also offers an ample collection of challenges to ensure that you can take your training to whatever level you see fit.
Even for returning players, a quick run through of the basics is certainly recommended given the array of changes and sizeable list of new characters. ‘Overdrives’ have replaced ‘Bursts’ and, while mechanically similar, are linked to the amount of player health remaining. ‘Crush Trigger’ meanwhile comes in to replace the now defunct, ‘Guard Crush’ and ‘Guard Primers’. These are subtle but nonetheless game changing additions to the BlazBlue template and will take veterans of the series a while to get used to.
On top of the new mechanics, Chrono Phantasma is now home to a huge roster of fighters including all of those from Continuum Shift and its subsequent DLC along with five new characters in the form of, Bullet, Azrael, Amane Nishiki, Izayoi, and Kagura Mutsuki aling. There are then two further characters, Yuuki Terumi and Kokonoe, who are available as paid DLC. I’m not a big fan of paying for characters, but in fairness to Arc Systems, they are delivering a huge cast of extremely varied characters right out of the box, so I suppose two paid characters are a fair optional extra for those that want to go that extra mile.
Issues with DLC aside though, Chrono Phantasma really does deliver an extensive, imaginative and diverse selection of characters. Taking the seven new additions alone, you’ll find a selection of noticeably different fighting styles aimed at everyone from the beginner to the pro and just about everything in between. Add the rest of the cast to the mix and you’re left with one of the fighting genre’s finest cast of playable characters. They might not be as famous as their Street Fighter brethren, but they certainly match them for variety and imagination.
The Story Mode, despite being almost outrageously Japanese, is actually quite a bit of fun to play and encourages players to try out a whole host of playable characters as they progress. The story is, well, mince, but it’s delivered with gusto, expands the universe beyond its predecessors and, like the rest of the game, is available in original Japanese or English dub. Personally, I’d go with the slightly less annoying Japanese cast, but as always, expect a fair bit of high pitched squealing.
Alongside the usual array of extensive online options, local competitive play and solid Arcade Mode comes the rather addictive, ‘Abyss Mode’. This successfully combines light RPG elements with traditional fight mechanics to create a genuinely unique game mode for those looking for something a bit different. Making your way through dungeons, you collect and equip items as you progress through battles in an attempt to increase the stats of your character. It’s an interesting experiment, and like so much else here, is well thought out and a subsequently solid addition to an already extensive package.
Finally, there is the return of, ‘Unlimited Mars Mode’. This was initially introduced in, BlazBlue: Continuum Shift Extend and in Chrono Phantasma, once gain offers up the most extreme challenge that the game has to offer. In this mode, players fight ten consecutive characters who are all set at a higher level than the top difficulty setting available in other modes……each character is essentially turned up to eleven, because, you know, eleven is one higher than ten. It’s as simplistic as it sounds, but for those who truly want to test their BlazBlue skills, there really is no better place than right here.
Chrono Phantasma’s re-drawn characters and fantastic animations look better than ever, making BlazBlue: Chrono Phantasma the prettiest game in the series by some way, while its collection of beautifully hand drawn backgrounds arguably make it this the best looking fighter currently on the market. A heady claim indeed, but preferences between 2D and 3D fighters aside, this really is an absolutely stunning game blessed with gorgeous art design and an extraordinary attention to detail.
It’s still lacking the mass appeal of a Street Fighter or a Tekken, and given its art design, will probably always fall short of genuine mass market success. In fairness to Arc System though, while BlazBlue continues to appeal directly to the hardcore, they are making moves towards ensuring that this notoriously technical fighter is more palatable and approachable for the casual crowd. Either way, hardcore or casual, veteran or newb; Chrono Phantasma certainly has enough content to make it worth a look for either end of the gaming spectrum.
REVIEW CODE: A complimentary Sony Playstation 3 code was provided to Bonus Stage for this review. Please send all review code enquiries to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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