What would happen in a bizarro world where Street Fighter III got the love it deserved? You’d get a lot more games like BlazBlue, that’s what.

BlazBlue was Arc System Works’s answer to fans’ cries for more Guilty Gear. It’s a highly technical fighting game that can at times be unwelcoming to less than seasoned players. It’s also one of the most gorgeous 2D fighters out there, and one of the few still using hand-drawn sprites.

A Lost Art

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BlazBlue is a prime example of how impressive 2D games can be. Character sprites are detailed and well animated. Those like Azrael above boat an impressive amount of effort, with flowing hair and flapping jackets and the like. They’re great to just watch in motion. Games like BlazBlue are few and far between these days, and that’s an utter shame. Now with the Guilty Gear series having followed in the footsteps of Street Fighter there are even fewer.

If you know anything about early 2000’s fighting games, BlazBlue’s art style will feel immediately familiar. The 2D sprites on 3D backgrounds evoke memories of Marvel Vs. Capcom 2 and the Capcom Vs. SNK series. Don’t get me wrong though, there’s far more to BlazBlue than some alternate future-style nostalgia banking going on here.

Stylish Mode

Stylish mode isn’t new to Chrono Phantasma EXTEND, but was new to last year’s plain ol’ Chrono Phantasma. It’s worth mentioning here though, anyway. You see, as I mentioned before, BlazBlue games are almost punishingly technical. Traditionally it’s been hard to just hop in and play efficiently.

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Compared to other fighters, BlazBlue games have pretty short hit stun, meaning you need to get combos out quickly, or else your opponent is going to punish you. Stylish mode, basically, allows you to mash your way into complex combos, execute special moves with a single button. It feels kind of like what would happen if BlazBlue were ported to a mobile platform without enough buttons.

Importantly, it makes a game that’s punishing for newcomers a lot more approachable, and that’s a really great thing for a game that’s somewhat niche like BlazBlue.

Frantic, Fast-Paced Fighting

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If you’ve never played a BlazBlue game (and you love fighting games), you’re in for a treat. While not as fast-paced as Marvel Vs. Capcom 3 or anything, characters move quickly. The game is all about thinking about on your toes and executing perfectly. Even the slightest misstep can leave an opening your opponent can exploit to end the round quickly.

Every character has a double jump and an air dash. BlazBlue heavily favors fighting up close, thanks to its reliance on its combo system. Players far better than I can string together air combos that blur that line between this and Capcom’s Vs series as well. In the right hands, just watching BlazBlue being played can be damn impressive.

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Lore Management

There’s no nice way to say this. Fighting game stories are always ridiculous. Over years and years of sequels, upgrades and other crazy iterations, it becomes very hard to keep track of who’s involved with whom and what means what after a while. This is pretty much par for the course with fighting games these days.

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Thankfully, like Guilty Gear Xrd SIGN before it, Chrono Phantasma EXTEND offers a couple of options for studying up on your BlazBlue lore, if that’s your thing. There’s your traditional library, which has a shitload of entries about things most of us likely won’t read, but is still cool to have, and then there’s “Teach Me, Miss Litchi!” In this mode you get the stories of the previous games explained to you via some rather, uh, lengthy cutscenes.

It’s cool that there are two different ways to take the story in, but it doesn’t make the story any better. I’m sure there are fans of it, but stories in fighting games have been, and will continue to be superfluous.

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Online Lobbies

Unfortunately, it seems like Arc System Works hasn’t learned much since their last online fighter, Guilty Gear -Xrd SIGN-. The same crazy-weird choices they made for that game hold true in Chrono Phantasma EXTEND. You have to choose your characters before searching for an opponent in a ranked match, and every other type of match happens in a weird virtual lobby that looks like a bad attempt at making a “fun” IRC client from the early 2000s.

I wasn’t sold on those decisions then, and I’m not now. Fortunately, online play is lag-free, and that’s a great improvement, at least.

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I’m not good at BlazBlue. Not one bit. Despite that, I enjoyed every minute of playing it. It’s the kind of game that rewards good, clever play, and while I wouldn’t go as far as to say it punishes poor play, it’s a game that you need to learn if you want full enjoyment from it.

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If you crave an experience that favors skill over luck, and you miss the arcade fighters from the turn of the millennium, BlazBlue is absolutely a love letter penned just for you.