BlazBlue is a fighting game franchise near and dear to my heart. The original BlazBlue: Calamity Trigger marked the start of both my college and competitive fighting careers. I’ve been there for every high and low the series has had, from horrible infinites to one of the most emotional EVO finals out there. BlazBlue: Central Fiction is the supposed last game in the franchise, at least within the immediate future. This has been one hell of an eight year journey for me and many other fans, and I can’t think of a better closing game to the series than Central Fiction.
BlazBlue’s playable cast has grown from a meager twelve to a sizable thirty-five over the past eight years. Each character stands out, and even those that look similar play in wildly different ways. The large cast remains varied thanks to the game’s “Drive” mechanic, which gives each character their own exclusive gimmick. For instance, Nu-13 and Lambda-11 are robot-like characters with the exact same visual design and similar move sets, but very different playstyles. Nu is a ranged character, and her drive shoots projectiles that help her zone her opponents out and stay out. She’s a slippery fighter that does best at range, but falters in close-quarters. Lambda is the exact opposite. She has a similar drive to Nu, but her projectiles are much smaller, and are better for punishing other zoning characters since most of her damage comes from her melee-ranged normals.
Behind the large cast and varied playstyles is an “easy to pick up, but hard to master” system. Damage is equalized for most of the roster at the lowest level of play, making it easy to jump on anyone and feel like you’re doing something. The game also has a “Stylish” mode, which takes away special inputs but adds in auto-combos. It limits your options compared to the classic fighting game layout, but serves as a nice doorway for newcomers or casual fighting game fans. These elements do not detract from the overall depth Central Fiction has, and the reward for actually learning how to play a character and the game far outweighs the limited options Stylish mode gives you.
BlazBlue often overhauls one aspect of its core gameplay with each new major release, typically some aspect that deals with rewarding aggressiveness. In Continuum Shift this was the “Guard Primer” system, and in Chrono Phantasma they removed this and instead added guard breaking moves and offensive Overdrives. Central Fiction’s “Active Flow” system builds off of Chrono Phantasma’s mechanics rather than reinventing them. Active Flow rewards players that continually force their opponent onto defense by increasing their damage output, the rate at which their Overdrive recharges, and other properties of their moves. This system makes matches much faster and aggressive. In Chrono Phantamsa it was often better to save your Overdrive for a defensive burst that would reset pressure, but in Central Fiction it’s better to use it offensively since you can quickly use and gain your Overdrive back in the same round.
Central Fiction boasts a large amount of tutorials and modes to help players learn the game’s mechanics. The base tutorial comes in chapters that breakdown not only the basics of specific characters, but also those of fighting games in general. Challenge mode is the next step, where players can learn a character’s specific combo routes, even if the combos demonstrating them are sub-optimal. There are of course fighting game staples like training mode, arcade mode, and score attack, but Central Fiction still manages to bring variety to these. Arcade mode has multiple paths, each inspired by different patches that the Japanese arcade version received over the course of the last year. Central Fiction also has Grim Abyss mode; It’s a weird fighter/dungeon crawler hybrid that allows the player to buy stat upgrades for their character of choice while continually fighting harder and harder opponents in a survival-like match.
One of BlazBlue’s most unique aspects is its story mode. The series helped start the stronger focus on fighting games receiving fully-fleshed out characters and plotlines, and Central Fiction doesn’t disappoint on this end. It is hard talk about the actual main story without delving into spoilers, but the game does provide a nice conclusive ending to Ragna’s journey that started eight years ago in Calamity Trigger. That said, this really isn’t a newcomer-friendly story. Despite having a nice, optional, thirty minute recap in its first act, the game doesn’t touch on everything and everyone within the BlazBlue universe. There’s an encyclopedia of sorts in the game’s gallery that explains some terms, characters, and locations, but anyone interested in delving into BlazBlue’s world is better off tracking down the now cheaper prequel games and playing through the story first hand.
Story mode’s biggest weakness has to be its lack of an English dub. Scenes play out like a visual novel. There’s not much actual “scene” and instead it’s mostly character portraits talking to each other, or still images representing what’s going on. Despite there being an option to turn on a function to name who is talking, it’s very easy to get lost in who is saying what if you’re not familiar with the Japanese cast. It’s a little depressing to not hear the English voice actors reprise their roles for the potential final entry, but it doesn’t negatively impact Central Fiction in any way other than its story delivery.
Every mode gives in-game currency that can be spent on a variety of things such as extra color pallets, music, and decorations for the game’s online mode. It’s pretty cool, as in the past these things were often locked behind paid DLC walls. BlazBlue’s soundtrack is an interesting mix of rock and pop, and really shows off the wide range musical talent that series composer Daisuke Ishiwatari has. Many tracks have been remixed over the game’s lifespan, and it’s nice that Central Fiction gives an easy way to listen to the original mixes of older theme songs through its shop system.
Central Fiction’s online experience is one of the best not only for the series, but of fighting games as a whole. It copies a lot from Guilty Gear Xrd, another ArcSys franchise, and it really pays off. Players can face each other in online ranked matches or in a variety of player match setups, the best being the global online lobbies. Lobbies allow for cross-console play between the PS4 and PS3 versions of the game. Normally a PS3 player cannot receive a game invite from a PS4 player, but lobbies circumvent this by allowing people from either console to join the same room. Lag is minimal, if even present. I’ve been playing the import for the past month, and in my time I’ve play against people from the North East and West Coast with practically no dropped inputs or frame skips. Even when playing with people across the Pacific, lag was minimal and would typically clear itself up quickly.
BlazBlue: Central Fiction is an excellent example of a solidly constructed fighter. The game’s large roster and polished mechanics make it the strongest entry in the series. The fast-paced combat of the series feels like it has reached its peak. The new Active Flow system keeps combat fluid and rewards aggressive players. Its visuals and audio are perfectly demonstrated by the game’s diverse cast, second only to Guilty Gear. The story mode provides a nice conclusion to a journey that’s been eight years in the making. BlazBlue: Central Fiction is the fighter I, and many others, have waited several years for, and is a must-have for any fan of air-dasher or combo-intensive fighting games.
‘Life is Strange 2’ Episode 5 Review – “Wolves”: A Worthy Send-off
The final episode of Life is Strange 2 may take a while to get going but it does offer a solid conclusion to the Diaz brothers’ journey.
Life is Strange 2 hasn’t made any bones about being a political game over the course of the last year. The 5th, and final episode, “Wolves”, doesn’t just continue with this message, it doubles down, and in a big way.
Set near the Arizona-Mexico border, “Wolves” follows the Diaz brothers on the final leg of their journey. Having escaped from the cult that held Daniel up as a messianic figure in the previous episode, Sean and Daniel are camping out in a sort of pop-up town filled with outsiders like themselves.
The location provides Life is Strange 2 with its final breath of relaxation before the story enters its high tension endgame, and it’s a much needed reprieve. Unfortunately, it does seem to go on a bit longer than the player might like, and that makes things drag a smidge.
To give you some idea of how long you’ll be spending in the village, 4 of the 6 collectibles are found here. So, yes, this starting area is the main place you’ll be spending “Wolves” in. To be clear, the area isn’t bad per se. There’s a lot to see, a scavenger hunt to go on, and a few interesting characters to speak with, including a surprise cameo from the original game. The bummer of it all is that players will be feeling the time here more laboriously simply because there isn’t much of anything happening.
In the 2nd or 3rd episode of this story it’s perfectly fine for an extended bit of down time. Episode 3, in particular, benefited greatly from allowing you to settle into the setting and get to know a diverse and likable new group of characters. However, by the 5th episode, players will be so eager to see how things are gonna settle up, they won’t be able to get out of this area fast enough.
On the upswing, once Sean and Daniel leave the village, the story moves at a pretty solid clip to the credits. As the key art and trailer for “Wolves” might suggest, the Diaz brothers do indeed challenge the border wall in the final leg of Life is Strange 2. Where things go from there, I won’t spoil, but rest assured that Daniel will absolutely go through the crisis as you’ve trained him to do.
By this I mean, you will see the final results of your choices throughout the game, and they’re pretty impressive. With 4 possible endings, and 3 possible variations on those endings, Life is Strange 2 can ultimately play out in a variety of ways. How yours plays out will, of course, depend on the choices you’ve made and how you’ve influenced your brother throughout your journey.
Either way, though, Life is Strange 2 closes off “Wolves” with an emotionally satisfying and generally fulfilling conclusion to your journey. It might be a necessary evil that the events can’t be intense the whole way through, being that this is not an action or combat-focused game, but the fact that things take so long to get going in the final episode is a bit of a problem.
Still, fans worried that Life is Strange 2 might fail to stick the landing can rest easy. “Wolves” might not be the best, or most satisfying, episode of the series but it does what it needs to do and it does it well, particularly in the back half.
‘Yaga’ Review: A Bittersweet Fairy Tale
Some games feel perfectly suited to their genres, as if they fulfill every ambition that their genre could promise. On paper, Yaga from the developer Breadcrumbs Interactive, should be one of those games. This roguelike RPG is meant to bring traditional Slavic folktales to life, and its procedurally generated structure allows the game to change in every playthrough, just like how the ancient fairy tales it’s based on can change in every telling. Yaga immediately shines on a conceptual level, but as a game, the most important question remains: will this fairy tale be enjoyable to play?
From start to finish, Yaga uses the rich source material of Eastern European history and folklore to create a vibrant, fantastical world. The entire game is framed as three elderly women telling the story of Ivan, a heroic blacksmith who has been stricken with the curse of bad luck. These women spin a fanciful yarn, one in which Ivan is constantly plagued by horrors from traditional fairy tales such as the hideous One-Eyed Likho, along with more realistic foes, such as a corrupt, overbearing Tsar. The game thrives on this balance between history and fantasy. Its world is filled with peasants who face daily, universal struggles with war and agriculture, while massive ogres and goblin-like Vodyanoys haunt the surrounding wilderness. This mixture creates a strong setting that finally gives Slavic history and mythology its long-overdue representation in games.
“Take the presentation and story together, and Yaga becomes a playable portrait of the lives and superstitions of Eastern European peasants.”
The frame story always remains the same: Ivan will always have to serve his Tsar while avoiding bad luck in every playthrough. However, beyond these core details, the old women are extremely flexible storytellers, often switching events around or changing story beats entirely. In some playthroughs, you may discover a woman raising an enormous chicken; in others, you may instead encounter a band of thieves waiting to rob you. You will frequently face important decisions to make that will dramatically impact the outcome of your quest. yes, you can always break into monster hideouts with hammers blazing to slay every creature before you; but more often than not, you are also given the opportunity to peacefully talk your way out of these toxic situations. Even more dramatically, oftentimes the game will zoom out to the old women storytellers and allow you to choose how they tell the rest of Ivan’s story. Yaga is at its best when it doubles down on this player freedom. It makes every moment engaging and allows its stories to truly come alive.
Yaga’s writing and presentation only serve to make this world even more striking. It features a distinctly dark sense of humor – for instance, a man may ask you to push a boulder into a well behind his house, but he will neglect to tell you that he has also thrown his wife into the bottom of that well ahead of time. Much of this dialogue is even written in rhyme, enhancing the otherworldly, fairy tale atmosphere. On top of that, nearly all dialogue is fully voice acted, with most voice actors delivering some eccentrically charming performances that make the game feel as if it’s a playable Disney film. The visuals look like they’re taken straight out of a Russian children’s book of fairy tales, while the music incorporates traditional instruments and language into an electronic, hip-hop fusion soundtrack that captures the cultural heritage that Yaga focuses on while connecting it to modern culture. Take the presentation and story together, and Yaga becomes a playable portrait of the lives and superstitions of Eastern European peasants.
However, this leads to the gameplay. Quests may be randomized each time you play, but nearly every one of them takes the same general format. One character will request help, and then Ivan will have to venture out into the world to fight some demons or recover an item. Worse yet, the levels are just as randomized in their procedurally generated design, and not in a particularly clever way, either: most of them likewise follow the same formula, being little more than arenas full of enemies connected by copy-and-paste environments. Many paths in each environment lead to nothing more than pointless dead ends. The combat has a satisfyingly simple basis, with basic moves like long- and close-range attacks, roll dodging, items to use, and a variety of different weapons to equip, although his trusty old hammer is generally the best choice. However, while this simplicity makes the combat enjoyable on its own, there is very little depth to it, and the inherently repetitive design of the mission only serves to highlight how paper-thin combat can be. Most battles involve little more than hacking away at enemies until they die, which becomes increasingly repetitive by the end of the roughly ten-hour campaign.
At the very least, the robust customization system helps add a little intrigue to the combat. As a blacksmith, Ivan is naturally gifted with the ability to craft weapons for himself to use. By scavenging parts and items from fallen enemies and treasure chests around the world, Ivan is able to create the most powerful weapons. Crafting is simple to use yet extremely ripe for experimentation, requiring only one base item and a handful of accessories to create unique new items. With dozens of components to discover and use in your forging, there are plentiful opportunities to create the best possible weapons.
“All told, Yaga achieves a bittersweet ending: it’s bitter as a game but sweet as a fairy tale.”
The crafting system would be the standout aspect of the moment-to-moment gameplay if it weren’t foiled by another one of the game’s systems: Bad Luck. Ivan has been cursed with perpetual Bad Luck, which grows constantly throughout the game – whenever something good happens, Bad Luck is sure to increase. Whenever the Bad Luck meter fills all the way, Likho will appear and strike Ivan, generally breaking one of his weapons or stealing his money.
On paper, this mechanic makes sense, since it prohibits the player from becoming too overpowered and also fits into the folklore style off the story. In practice, however, it is an infuriating limitation on player progression and invention. It effectively punishes players for putting thought and care into their weapon crafting and character-building – at any moment it can all be washed away in bad luck, so what’s the point? Considering how enjoyable the crafting and combat systems are, it’s a shame that Bad Luck seems to exist solely to diminish the very best parts of the gameplay, leaving the game feeling like it cripples itself.
Your enjoyment of Yaga depends heavily on what experience you want out of it. If you’re looking for a deep and satisfying RPG, then it likely won’t deliver. Although it features satisfying combat and customization systems, the frustrating randomization of its level design and Bad Luck system only serve to foil these good qualities. If you are instead looking for a faithful, fleshed-out image of Slavic cultural heritage, portraying both the harsh realities of peasant life along with its fanciful folklore, then Yaga is a clear triumph thanks to its emphasis on player choice, its excellent writing, and its beautiful hand-drawn visuals and inventive soundtrack. All told, Yaga achieves a bittersweet ending: it’s bitter as a game but sweet as a fairy tale.
‘Remothered: Tormented Fathers’ Review: I Want My Remummy
There’s merit to be had if you just want a quick bash at a quirky, indie horror game, but with so many flaws, I can’t recommend Remothered.
It feels like a while since the ‘survival horror but you can’t fight back’ genre was at its peak, especially with the recent, tradition-tinged revival of the Resident Evil series, but back in 2017 when Remothered: Tormented Fathers was being developed for PC it was all the rage. Like any indie game that’s had even the slightest amount of interest or acclaim during the current generation, Remothered has received the now-obligatory Switch port. Although its modest technical requirements clearly made a successful transition to the platform more than manageable, they don’t help to hide the game’s very obvious shortcomings.
Players take control of Rosemary Reed in her attempts to investigate retired notary Dr. Richard Felton, who is currently undergoing treatment for a mysterious disease. Oh, and he has a missing daughter that he probably murdered. The plot of the game feels a little cliché, but it’s undoubtedly its strongest facet. However, suspending your disbelief at the ropy animations and dodgy voice-acting is needed to avoid being sucked into feeling like you’re watching Theresa May running around a big mansion trying to escape from a John Cleese impersonator with his arse hanging out. Alas, I clearly failed in this endeavor.
Remothered is essentially a game of ‘go there, fetch that, bring it here, use it’ with an added element of ‘don’t let the annoying old man kill you in the face with a sickle’. Yeah, one of those ones. The story takes place almost entirely within Felton’s huge mansion, and navigating the ol’ girl is by far the game’s toughest element. It’s made especially harder while you’re constantly on edge, trying to avoid the stalking lunatic without a map, weapons, or a proper objectives system. Be prepared for your bearings to be quite considerably lost.
There are a couple of ways to avoid that face full of sickle. There’s a dodge button (provided Rosemary isn’t too tired to actually dodge), a run button, distraction items, and defense items that will automatically be used to escape a grab attack if you have one equipped at the time. Remember those crappy bits in Resident Evil 4 where you had to play as Ashley? This is like that… for a whole game.
While a little tired in 2019, there’s nothing inherently wrong with the formula of the weapon-less survival horror game – it’s just that in Remothered, it’s not implemented all that well. Enemy AI routing is weird, which should be grounds for an unpredictable fright-fest, but leans more toward the annoying and/or hilarious. It seemed like the stalkers would either sit directly outside the room I needed to enter – barely moving and refusing to be distracted for longer than a few seconds before returning immediately to their original spot right on my current objective – or simply bugger off to another floor and never come back.
Even with his penchant to completely vacate the area, and despite his advancing years, Dr. Felton possesses supersonic hearing. It seemingly doesn’t matter how far away you are – if you run in this game, he will hear you. To make matters worse, the sound design just doesn’t make sense. With every press of the run button, enemy dialogue would instantly change to indicate they’d heard you and then loud footsteps would permeate every room you enter as if they were right behind you, when they most certainly are not.
It’s either a cheap scare tactic to give the impression of enemies constantly being within touching distance, or the fallout from a combination of naff sound design and the limitations of my Switch’s Pro Controller not having a headphone port. What makes it worse is that everything is so campy that it’s seldom scary in any tangible way. When the man trying to murder you is constantly shouting about how he hasn’t got anything to eat that isn’t moldy while you hide in his cupboard, it’s not exactly bone-chilling.
As a result of the big-eared murderers and their impeccable radar tuned to the sounds of running, I spent almost the entirety of the game… well, not running. Unfortunately, Rosemary walks slower than an asthmatic ant with heavy shopping, and this made exploring the mansion a monotonous chore – especially when getting caught and subsequently having to run up and down floors to hide before slowly sneaking back to restart the investigation.
Puzzles are that old school type of obtuse where you’re tasked with finding everyday items to fix problems. The puzzle itself lies in realizing the item the developer decided should work, finding it in the giant four-floor mansion, and slowly returning to the its intended area of use without dying. For example, in order to get into an attic, you have to search rooms at random to find an umbrella to pull down the door’s previously-out-of-reach cord. It’s such a shame that Remothered eschews any type of self-contained puzzle for a string of confusing fetch quests, as everything feels more tedious than taxing.
It feels a little unfair to bemoan the lack of polish for a two-year-old indie game, but Remothered is full of niggling issues. Animations are janky, lip-syncing is non-existent, and the camera wigs out after the QTEs to fight off enemies have finished – always pointing you in the wrong direction. I also encountered a couple of game-breaking bugs where Rosemary did her door-opening animation without the door actually opening, and I couldn’t enter the room without rebooting the game. Lastly, and I don’t want to be too harsh to an Italian developer, but the in-game English is pretty abysmal, and lots of the game’s expositional notes and articles border on illegible through their poor translations.
There are some people out there who can’t get enough of the whole hiding under sofas schtick, but I like my survival horror games with better psychological tension, a (limited) means to fight back, and coherent puzzle-solving. There’s merit to be had in the game’s labyrinthine setting and short length if you just want a quick bash at a quirky, campy indie horror game in the Haunting Grounds model, but with so many flaws and such a frustrating gameplay loop, I can’t recommend Remothered: Tormented Fathers outside of anything other than morbid curiosity.
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