Arc System Works’ BlazBlue fighting series has been a huge success ever since releasing in arcades in 2008, and rightly so. This is a franchise that takes traditional 2D fighters to a whole new level with its deep combat system, wealth of game modes and array of incredibly unique characters. In an attempt to further expand the user base of the series, Arc System Works decided to port over what was, at the time, the most up-to-date version of the second BlazBlue game. BlazBlue: Continuum Shift II contains all of the DLC characters and their stories released to the PS3 and Xbox 360 versions, as well as balance tweaks and the brand new Abyss mode.
One of the most appealing aspects of the BlazBlue series has been its complex plotlines. For those unfamiliar with the series, forget what you know about the so-called stories in other fighters; this is no Street Fighter with simple opening and ending pictures and bits of text at the end. BlazBlue has a very in-depth and deep Story mode, and this game carries on only a few days where the original left off. A recap of Calamity Trigger’s events brings players up to speed, letting them dive right on in. Every single character has an individual story arc, complete with impressive full English and, should you so wish to use it, Japanese voice acting, with 2D character portraits and a range of animations portraying events in-between battles, in what are actually pretty lengthy episodes. Characters speak different lines mid-battle depending on who they are fighting, and anime action-packed cut-scenes play out at certain pivotal moments in each chapter, drawing players in, and further pointing to the creative and visual effort that has gone into the game’s tale. As each character’s storylines are completed, the vast plot comes together and extra chapters can be unlocked, in a chronicle that quite literally does have everything and will last a good chunk of time.
Speaking of having everything, whilst not the biggest selection of combatants ever seen, the 18 that are there for picking quite literally come from every corner of the imagination. A badass with spiky hair and huge blade, a sexy large-bosomed woman, a cyborg samurai, a blob-like creature with a mask, a young upper-class tea-sipping vampire, a hyperactive squirrel girl...This diverse cast of personalities each has a distinctive move set that ensures every single one plays differently from another -- something that is much more appreciated than the clones seen in other games of this ilk. Due to the range on offer, players will quickly find their favourites.
Whilst there are six difficulty options ranging from ‘Beginner’ to ‘Hell’ to appease all levels of players, the most satisfaction comes in mastering the battle system and annihilating opponents on tougher difficulties. Continuum Shift II has an incredible amount of depth to its combat, and it is by no means easy to conquer. Thankfully, a terrific Tutorial mode not only details the basics in how to play, but also offers in-depth strategies on dealing with opposing attacks, as well as teaching advanced techniques and how best to utilise each character if you wish to master them. Each lesson is spoken in full English by Rachel the Vampire, who often throws in her own humour to save things from getting too boring.
Rather than simple punch and kicks, the four face buttons by default produce various individual moves unique to each character, with directional input and simultaneous presses delivering further advanced techniques. Fighters can unleash insane special attacks once their ‘Heat Gauge’ has filled up, and let loose incredible match-winning moves in ‘Astral Heats.’ Once certain conditions are met in-game, an Astral Heat can be activated, and a short cut-scene, some with brief animated images, will play out as the character discharges a devastating finisher to secure victory. They are flashy, over-the-top, visually impressive, and oh-so-satisfying!
Unfortunately, what lets the game down is that movement can only be done with the tiny and uncomfortable D-pad. Whilst some will manage with it, and there is an option in the settings to help diagonal commands register, due to the nature of the game there is a lot of movement on the D-pad to pull off the huge range of attacks available, and this can be extremely taxing on thumbs and hands. More time with the game means players will learn to adapt and deal with it, but it almost feels like a crime that the option to use the Circle Pad is non-existent. This is especially more confusing given that all the other buttons are freely customisable, with the up and down inputs of the Circle Pad even available for commands. It would have made sense to have the ability to switch control between the D-pad and Circle Pad, especially as other fighters on 3DS, like Dead or Alive Dimensions, have proven that Circle Pad control can be incredibly smooth and comfortable for this genre.
Continuum Shift II is by no means short of content. Apart from the brilliant Story mode that players will spend a lot of time in, there is the standard Arcade and Score Attack, as well as some more unique options. These include Challenge, where the player is tasked with performing specific moves and combos; Legion 1.5, which places players on a map, building a party of fighters and raising their statistics as they conquer each grid; and Abyss, which was, at the time, a mode exclusive to the portable versions of Continuum Shift II, tasking players to battle through an endless stream of fighters and bosses as they work their way to the depths of the chasm, levelling up their character as they go. Unfortunately, there is no way to save and resume from the depth level you are at in Abyss mode, so it will take many tries to complete. Tons of unlockable content ranges from artwork and movies to costume colour alterations and powerful ‘Unlimited’ versions of fighters.
A core part of BlazBlue is its intense online multiplayer. In an almost shocking move, though, there is no online play of any sort in the 3DS’ Continuum Shift II. Whilst there is local multiplayer, the chances of finding someone else with the game are slim, so it comes as a great disappointment that players cannot engage in frantic fights with others over an online network, or even receive extras through SpotPass. Anyone after some online fighting action with their mates on 3DS would have to look at Dead or Alive Dimensions or Super Street Fighter IV. Owners of any of the console BlazBlue games looking for a faithful portable rendition may want to think about purchasing the PS Vita’s BlazBlue: Continuum Shift Extend instead, since there hasn’t been any indication the 3DS will be receiving this enhanced edition. If online isn’t a priority, though, and a quality 2D fighter with an engaging combat system that is packed to the brim with content is exactly what you are after for 3DS right now, BlazBlue: Continuum Shift II is highly recommended.