Cards on the table, I am a huge Blazblue fan and have been ever since the first game, Calamity Trigger. Mixing bizarre and complex characters with an anime aesthetic and a convoluted yet compelling story makes Blazblue an amazing franchise that is very near and dear to my heart. So, when Blazblue was set to get a new game, only this time with characters from Atlus’ Persona 4 Arena, Rooster Teeth’s RWBY and Arc System Works’ own Under Night In-birth, I was understandably excited. So then, what happens when you cross four incredible franchises and have their characters face off in 2v2 tag battles with high octane action, and add some competitive fighting game action for good measure? Well this is what we’re going to look at on this trip down the otaku rabbit hole, where we’ll be looking at the game Blazblue Cross Tag Battle. For this review we’ll be checking out the Nintendo Switch version of the game, although the game does also appear on the PS4. With that out of the way, lets find out if this game takes the best pieces from the four franchises that make up its parts to make a glorious hybrid, or if it becomes a horrific chimera with a sting in its tail.
As we’re going into a competitive fighting game, it’s only logical that we start with the gameplay itself. Fighting games have always lived and died by their combo system and the intricate, complicated way that this system functions. However, this system has always presented a blockade that can really punish newcomers to the genre, preventing them from having the best experience. Previous Blazblue games have attempted to rectify this with a Beginners/ Easy mode option that performs automatic combos for you when you button-mash. However, without disabling it, many of the more spectacular combos and moves would be unreachable. Cross Tag Battle does something that I love, in that it overhauls the combat system entirely with a simplified system that is both accessible for newcomers, enabling a button-mashing style of gameplay, while also giving a surprising amount of depth for veterans. What really pushes this over the limit though, is the inclusion of a second party member during battle, and how both characters can be combined and swapped between in the heat of battle at will. This allows every player to experiment with character load-outs and their special moves to see which combination works best for their gameplay style and is a perfect melting pot for both casual and competitive players to try their hand. My personal favourite character from the Blazblue franchise, Hazama, returns in this game and I have found that pairing him with the titular Ruby Rose of RWBY is my favourite loadout. I’ve had a blast working out how they work together and in nailing the the best timings to allow their moves to combo off one another. The battle system overhaul is a truly fantastic addition to the franchise and is something that I truly hope Arc System Works takes forward into future games. Executing combos is always satisfying and is now something that players of any skill level can experience as it is not locked behind a steep learning curve that, in past games, may have proved too daunting for newcomers.
Story mode was where my problems really started with this game. Blazblue, for those who are unfamiliar with the franchise, is well known for its lengthy and sometimes convoluted story, filled with interesting and diverse characters, each with their own motivations – be they superficial or incredibly complex. This is the same for Persona 4, though I can’t comment on either RWBY or Under Night In-birth. Given the fact that this game is named after, and thus included as part of, the Blazblue franchise, I was beyond disappointed with the story mode, as the story was so shallow it may as well have been non-existent. Characters that had been well developed in their respective games, such as Blazblue series regular Noel Vermillion, were left side-lined and reduced to a shallow mess. Terms that would only make sense to a series veteran such as “the azure” and “observers” were also shoehorned in clumsily and never felt as though the game gave them the explanation they deserve, and this occurred in every story mode I played.
Each story is roughly an hour in length, and although there is some enjoyment to be had, I can’t personally recommend a repeat playthrough of any of the stories, as there’s very little in the way of rewards if you do. There’s little to no replayability in this game as, with the exception of the Blazblue story with its small number of optional dialogue branches, I was able to 100% each story mode in my first attempt. Despite the small amount of enjoyment I got from the Persona 4 Arena story, I more often than not found myself bored. I personally found that three story mode playthroughs is more than enough for me and I have not completed the RWBY story as of writing this review – and have no intention of doing so. While the battles are fun, and it provides an excellent chance to try out the mechanics and character combinations, it also does something that I find truly unforgivable – but more on that later. Overall, the story doesn’t feel in any way well rounded and, worst of all, feels totally inconsequential for the characters involved and the wider world they inhabit. This is not a great way to get your player base to build a rapport with your characters and is a sin I can’t easily forgive Blazblue Cross Tag Battle for committing.
While story modes in fighting games are far from the main focus, this is some of the only single player content we are given in this game, with the Arcade mode, a staple in traditional fighting games, having been totally removed in Cross Tag Battle. Considering that not everyone who picks up this game will want to dive head first into the online or competitive scene, a decently well-rounded story mode would have been appreciated, but as of now, that is something sorely lacking in this game – an issue made far worse considering its status as a Blazblue game.
As I’ve already touched upon, the game modes in Cross Tag Battle are limited to say the least. In single player, you’re treated to a Versus mode, where two players can face off in 2v2 tag player action or you can face off against the AI if you’re on your own. This is the perfect means to test your skills in a controlled environment, but is drained of any sense of reward after the 100th match against the AI.
This also gets far more tedious after you realise that this is the only real single player mode that’s available that isn’t the Training mode or the Tactics mode that teaches you how the mechanisms of the game work or how to master your favourite characters.
The new addition to the game is the Survival mode, where you can face wave after wave of battles until you lose. The difficulty seems to increase over time, but the biggest challenge you’ll face in this mode is overcoming the repetitiveness that this brings. There are only so many battles against the AI you can play in a row before boredom begins to set in, and I found myself debating whether or not to throw a match to end it all early. That definitely isn’t the best feeling in a fighting game and I feel that adding an Arcade mode instead of this would have been a better addition, thus helping combat the monotony that seems to come in every single pixel of single player, so is far from ideal.
Cross Tag Battle is filled with vibrant backgrounds that draw inspiration from all corners of its source materials and is the perfect nod to its roots. The character models during combat are silky smooth and pixel perfect, so that’s a pleasure to watch the dance that happens on screen during every battle.
The initial roster of characters sits at 20 when you boot up the game. It is a pretty solid character roster with unique playstyles and aesthetics from across the franchises that make up this game, even if some fighting styles are recycled between characters from different franchises. However, the execution of the character roster in this game is something that I find to be unacceptable and hate to my very core. It is possible to expand the playable character total to 40, BUT this total comes in the form of paid DLC. While the DLC characters are very appealing, having to pay a frankly ridiculous £22.14 for the DLC – a total that sits almost equal to the games retail price of £25 as of writing this review – is deplorable.
Now to answer the issue I brought up earlier of what this game does awfully in its story mode. This game has you fight against many characters during the story, some of which are from the DLC roster. This shows that the assets and models for these characters are already coded into the game, and that they are simply locked behind a paywall and could have been included immediately. I find this to be insulting to the player base, as many players will be coming off the previous games and wanting to play as their favourite characters only to, more often than not, discover they’re either not in the game at all, or are locked behind said paywall. Many people, myself included, would likely have paid more up front to have the whole roster available from the start, and I find that the micro-transaction method Arc System Works has chosen to go with leaves a bitter taste.
The roster is also laughably small for a game whose source materials are filled to bursting point with exciting and colourful characters. If you consider the roster size for the previous games Blazblue (36 characters), Persona 4 Arena Ultimax (22 characters) and Under Night In-birth (20 characters) and ignoring the RWBY girls, you’re doubling the pool of available characters to choose from compared to Cross Tag Battle’s measly maximum of 40. Now, while I’m not suggesting that the developers include every character from every game, certain iconic characters that should be included are often left forgotten on the side-lines. If you consider Teddie from Persona 4 and Litchi Faye Ling from Blazblue, you would expect them to be included over some of those who ended up in-game and I often find myself cycling through the characters with a sense of disappointment, and that’s something that’s never good. Hopefully there will be more characters added in future games, or in future DLC, but right now, this game’s character roster is incredibly underwhelming.
For any competitive fighting game, how can I overlook the online competitive element? Well, I have the answer to that. There currently isn’t one, or at least I haven’t managed to find it. For the Nintendo Switch version, the version used for this review, I’ve never managed to find more than 6 people online at a given time, which is tragic given the capacity of each lobby to hold a maximum of 640 people.
If you do manage to find a player, though, there may be another wall in your way, that being incompatible game versions. When I finally managed to find a person to play against, I was met with an error saying that the game versions weren’t the same, and thus we could not play. Honestly, this was awful to see as I was putting my hopes on the online content to save this game. I can’t be too unfair about this lack of players right now, however, due to Nintendo’s online subscription service having only just come into effect. I will admit, I personally got the subscription to play this game only to be met with a totally lacking online service – which was a truly tragic experience. The incredibly lacking online experience in this game isn’t something that I’m happy with. However, if the online community on the Nintendo Switch were to grow to a point where online battles were possible, that may be a point of redemption. For now, though, we’ll just have to wait and see.
This game had some true potential and great source material to be working with. The combat is the best it’s ever been and mixes up the stale fighting game mechanics of old, updating them with a fresh and accessible coat of paint. This is where the game’s virtues end though and what’s left is a husk of mediocrity and disappointment, with the need for paid DLC to make the game better. While the battle mechanics are great, they can’t keep the game afloat indefinitely and I have to admit, as a long-time fan of both Blazblue and fighting games in general, Blazblue Cross Tag Battle doesn’t even begin to compare to the other titans of the genre, or of its own franchise. As such, I’m left with no alternative but to give this game a measly…
This may seem a little harsh, but I feel that, apart from the combat, every other aspect of the game is lacking. If you want to pick up this game, I would probably recommend you wait until its either reduced or get a cheap pre-owned copy, but don’t hold your expectations too high for this one.
Well then guys, thanks again for joining me down the otaku rabbit hole and until next time, keep it weeby!