If there are a couple of things that you can rely on, it would be that the BlazBlue games not only come with preposterously silly titles but that they also boast some of the finest and most deeply refined fighting systems around. The same principle applies to the latest instalment, the maddeningly named Chrono Phantasma Extend (just how the heck do you ‘extend’ a ‘phantasma’ anyway?), which developer Arc Systems Works has managed to craft into one of the finest fighters of the year.
Aside from a penchant for daft names, the BlazBlue games have also garnered themselves a bit of a reputation for being some of the most hardcore 2D brawlers in recent memory. BlazBlue’s 2015 entry does little to dispel this impression, but what it actually does do is make the abyssal depths of its magnificent fighting system open to all players and not just the ones who go to sleep dreaming of combo input strings and frame counters.
The ‘Stylish Type’ fighting system that sits at the core of BlazBlue’s newfound accessibility is a great thing indeed, as it allows fighting game newbies to hit the ground running with all manner of impressive looking combos and bombastic special moves without the stress of performing the requisite finger gymnastics to pull it all off.
Further helping to make the game a welcome proposition for newcomers is a raft of tutorials which all do a top job of schooling the player on the finer aspects of BlazBlue’s fistic pursuits. Where these lessons in face-smacking excel particularly well, is in an ancillary selection of tutorials that focus on each of the twenty-seven fighters in the game and thus make learning new characters a far less daunting prospect than it might otherwise be.
Clearly, while this latest incarnation of BlazBlue is the most accessible the series has ever been, the sheer wealth and depth of scrapping on offer hasn’t been sacrificed in the slightest and it’s great that both skilled and rookie players can now enjoy it in equal measure. Lest the ire of the former be raised by this simplification of the controls, they too can rest easy in the knowledge that the standard controls, with the full suite of hand-cramping inputs, are also available too.
For newcomers and old hands alike, it’s abundantly clear that BlazBlue: Chrono Phatasma Extend has further refined what is already one of the premier fighting experiences on the market. Already a pixel-perfect and ultra-responsive brawler, the addition of the guard destroying Crush Trigger ability and refinement of the Overdrive system, in addition to the revamped combo-breaking Break Burst and fight-ending Astray attacks, all underlines BlazBlue’s already impressive calibre.
Of course, a supremely well-thought out and tactical fighting system is just one part of the evergreen appeal that BlazBlue has, the other is a roster of colourful bruisers who are as different to play as they are varied to look at. From the crimson adorned, sword wielding Ragna who is a good bet for beginners, through to the hooded Terumi, whose arcane-laced offence is more suited to higher level play, there’s something for everyone in Phantasma Extend’s charismatic gallery of rogues. Even better is the fact that the roster is competitively balanced, so moving onto another character after mastering your first is never some sort of insurmountable undertaking, but is instead invited by Phantasma Extend’s engaging suite of combat systems.
If there is one complaint, albeit a relatively minor one, it’s that the BlazBlue: Chrono Phantasma Extend doesn’t actually offer a whole lot beyond what we’ve already seen from the most recent instalment in the series. Roster-wise, you get two extra fighters and that’s your lot, which quite honestly, are slim pickings by any measure.
Still, if the lengthy act of learning the idiosyncrasies of just a single fighter isn’t enough, the developer has chucked in a mountain of additional single-player content to keep you occupied for JRPG-shaming stretches of time. As well as the usual smattering of practice, online, local multiplayer and arcade modes (the latter boasting individual stories for each character with pre-fight dialogs and animated endings no less), Chrono Phantasma Extend also throws in a bunch of other modes for would-be digital pugilists to get stuck into too.
In addition to twenty challenge missions for each of the game’s twenty-seven fighters, the game also brings back Abyss Mode from BlazBlue Continuum Shift Extend, a neat take on survival mode where the player can use accumulated piles of money to purchase status boosts or special abilities for their character. A great little progression element comes into play within this mode too; since the rewards become greater and greater the more floors players take on within the abyss, making it a blissfully entertaining game mode to get plough time into.
Elsewhere, the Unlimited Mars Mode tasks players with fighting highly intelligent CPU combatants who each focus on a particular fighter. Brilliantly, rather than just being an aimless fight against a high-level opponent, the Unlimited Mars scenario also keeps track of your progress against this elite level opposition and compares it against other people across the world. Naturally, this has the result of either providing ego-stroking bragging rights, or as is more likely the case, causing the sort of deep-seated feeling of inadequacy which only comes when you’re compared to your immediate peers. For me, I frequently felt the sting of the latter.
Finally, sitting alongside a wealth of other minor modes that we simply don’t have time to get into here, BlazBlue Chrono Phantasma Extended also proffers not one, but three story mode scenarios for players to abandon their social lives for. The first of these is a properly bespoke, branching episodic story mode that is held together by some gorgeously animated cut-scenes, high production values and frequently hilariously nonsensical writing. It’s the sort of story mode that many games might have had as their sole attraction if they could, let alone have it supported by all the other content that Phastasma Extend offers.
Next up, is the Teach Me More mode that seeks to educate players on the story events of previous games. Hilariously told as a series of classroom lessons by characters from the game itself, this mode is a refreshingly light hearted way for new players to become familiar with the series lore and is certainly recommended before jumping into the story mode proper. The third of these story modes meanwhile, falls a little flat sadly. Titled, ‘Remix Heart Gaiden’, this scenario is essentially an overly long and strung out comedic visual novel that doesn’t really mesh with the rest of the experience and feels largely pointless as a result.
Rounding out the whole package is a brilliantly conceived library mode which provides hugely useful dollops of exposition on everything from the minutiae of BlazBlue’s lore through to the clarification of the fighting game jargon that the game employs throughout. It’s a hugely useful and thoughtful addition to the game that many other developers should really think about aping for their own efforts. Arguably, the embarrassment of riches on show here for the lone, experienced, solo or social player is almost numbingly immense and will keep players busy for hundreds upon hundreds of hours.
Traditionally, one of the most eye-catching aspects of BlazBlue has been its strong art and aesthetic design and in this, I can happily report that with the power of PS4 buzzing under its hood, Chrono Phantasma Extend is no exception. With blistering 1080p, sixty frames per second visuals smoothly animating a gorgeously eye-catching canvas of traditional 2D sprite animation and imaginatively conceived 3D backgrounds, this is arguably one of the best looking fighters on the market.
It’s not just the visuals which set the senses on fire either, Chrono Phantasma, like all the other BlazBlue games before it packs an absolutely belting J-Rock soundtrack whose scintillating strums and beats do a great job of complimenting the manic on-screen action.
A great stomping, anime-hued juggernaut of a fighting game, BlazBlue Chrono Phantasma Extend shows the long-running series operating at the zenith of its power for both newcomers and veteran players alike. If you have even a passing interest in fighting games, BlazBlue Chrono Phantasma Extend is as essential as it gets.