Arc System Works delivers some of the tightest and most engaging 2D fighting games out there, and it looks to continue the trend with a crossover game that brings together classic fighters and a few new faces. Crossover games can be a sordid affair (here’s looking at you, most every Shonen Jump game series ever), and pulling them off right takes a solid combination of mixing mechanics, story writing and a love for every world included. Luckily, Arc System Works seems to have gotten the mix mostly right with BlazBlue: Cross Tag Battle.
This is a beautiful 2D fighter with finely crafted sprites that stand out from each other distinctively. Characters have signature gear and weapons that are shown in exquisite detail. All of the flowing trench coats, capes and physics-defying cleavage you’d expect in the genre is right where it should be. Heroes and villains get the same stylish treatment; Azrael looks every bit as good as Ruby Rose (from an objective point of view). The result is an attention to detail that looks much better than the banana hair and chain-clipping issues that some other AAA titles have shown at launch.
Arc games share an aesthetic across multiple series, and this is one of the elements that help the crossover mesh so well in this title. The cutesy avatars from Dragon Ball FighterZ make a return, and it’s great fun to see fan favorites in a super-deformed state. The distortion and astral hits are truly a thing of beauty. These capture the feel of the individual worlds every bit as much (and in some ways more than) the game’s actual story.
BlazBlue: Cross Tag Battle doesn’t skimp on the sound either. The production values are top notch all around. From the traditional theme to BlazBlue-inspired riffs on Persona and RWBY tunes, the music is a great addition. While there’s no iconic “Guile’s Theme” to captivate audiophiles, the wide variety of fighting background soundtracks means that there’s something for everyone.
More importantly for a fighting game, the voice acting is top notch. The character voices are all amusing, and it’s easy to rally behind your favorites when they’re yelling in support of their tag partners. Characters still yell the names of their attacks, sounding great in Japanese and hilarious in English. Every hit lands a satisfying response from the opponent. Carmine and Azrael fans are sure to enjoy this aspect, relishing the "oofs" of their foes.
The story mode in any crossover is sure to be a sticking point. BlazBlue: Cross Tag Battle does a lot to ensure that the stories make sense to fans of any of the four (very different) settings included, but it’s still constrained by its existence as a crossover tag fighter. That means all fights must be in a two-versus-two format. The dialogue can quickly become redundant as the game’s host (one of the best parts of the story, otherwise) constantly repeats this limitation. It’s not quite lampshading and not quite straight-laced. In short, it doesn’t quite work. If the game falls a bit short anywhere, it's here.
Still, with four distinct story modes and multiple endings, there’s sure to be something for fans of any title in the crossover. As a big fan of RWBY, and just about everything that received Monty Oum's Midas touch, I found myself falling over laughing at some of the commentary when Ruby Rose, Weiss and Blake made cameos in some of the other stories. Unfortunately, there's a lot of jargon that may leave players unfamiliar with existing series a bit confused. The game usually glosses over these quickly to return to focusing on character personalities and delivering hilarious quips. For some, this might trigger an interest in the series. For others, it'll leave you wondering what the heck an In-Birth is and moving on.
The meat of the game is its gameplay, and it's easy to see that this will be a top title in game stores and conventions just about everywhere. Gameplay is every bit as tight as you’d expect from an Arc System Works 2D fighter. Hitboxes are tights and hits are frame-perfect. The super mechanics might seem a bit strange to fans of Persona 4 Arena, but the EX, Distortion and Astral Hits of BlazBlue translate decently into their Persona counterparts. Swaps are simple and intuitive. Crush attacks launch a series of hits and sport an animation sure to remind Dragon Ball FighterZ fans of the “throws” of that game. Guard breaks are back with a vengeance. Holding or double-dashing back (a cheap tactic used to exploit lag in online fighting games) can get you in trouble fast.
Each character brings variety to the table. Even characters who normally fill the same role in the various games or use very similar weapons (Gordeaux and Ruby, for instance) have plenty of quirks that keep them from being clones in combat. Then there are the truly strange ones, like the rabbit and the squirrel. If you're a BlazBlue fan, you know and love them. If you're picking up this title after years of loving the Persona, you're in for a few excellent surprises. The extreme reach of a couple of fan-favorite characters seems a little imbalanced at times. Also, some normals seem a bit overpowered in their ability to interrupt oncoming attacks from many different angles. Still, they’re not infallible once you figure out their weaknesses.
BlazBlue: Cross Tag Battle has plenty of options for play. A robust training mode, a versus local battle, arcade mode, story mode and a tactics mode all await players who want to stay offline and hone their skills. Multiplayer includes support for tournaments and casual or ranked matches. Tactics mode lets you quickly and easily go through the moves of each of your favorite characters to discover their bread-and-butter combos, EX attacks, Distortions and Astral Hits. It's also a great way to get the feel of characters that give you a tough time in matchups.
The online lobby system works well for matchmaking. There are friendly NPCs everywhere that help new players figure out how to use the stations. The game synchronizes players in matches from the start. There was no lag playing multiple opponents from around the world, but it will be interesting to see if the servers can handle the load with more people on. For now, multiplayer is near-seamless and sharp, with no noticeable frame-lag input difference from offline play. Even days after launch, the battle continues without hiccups when playing online.
BlazBlue: Cross Tag Battle Review | Final Thoughts
All-in-all, BlazBlue: Cross Tag Battle delivers an excellent fighting-game experience whether you’re a fan of the four series included or just looking for a new 2D fighter to beat your kid brother. It doesn’t revolutionize the genre, and it’s unlikely to appeal to those who aren’t fans of the fist, but the story and characters are engaging enough to make me wonder how I missed out on Under Night: In-Birth and want to go learn more about those guys. Pick this one up if you're a fan of fighting games in general, and hone your techniques for tournament play. It's sure to be a hit at conventions this summer and for the next few years.
Our BlazBlue Cross Tag Battle review was conducted on PlayStation 4 with a code provided by the publisher. It's also available on Nintendo Switch and PC via Steam.
- Tight Gameplay
- Stunning Visuals
- Good Soundtrack and Voice Overs
- Variety of Modes
- Simple Matchmaking
- DLC Characters at Launch
- Story Struggles in Places