Historically, my relationship with the BlazBlue franchise has been strained at best. Initially wowed by its visual splendor, its gameplay complexity was impenetrable to me. As they had done previously with the Guilty Gear franchise, they stacked character-specific mechanics on top of an already steep list of system-level mechanics onto BlazBlue, making for a game with an incredibly steep learning curve. Even now, as someone with almost a decade of serious fighting game experience under my belt, mainline BlazBlue is too much for me to handle.
When news of a BlazBlue tag-team spinoff arose, I didn’t bat an eyelid. Having been burned by the first two entries in the series, I wasn’t ready to try again. However, after having spent some time with the demo, I realized that this wasn’t the same type of BlazBlue game that didn’t work for me back then.
Before I deep dive into the mechanics, let’s take a step back and provide some context. Through the powers of rote anime writing, the worlds of BlazBlue, Persona Arena, Under Night In-Birth, and the YouTube anime RWBY collide in a 2v2 fighting game. If you really want to know how this came to be within the context of the story, you can play through the game’s abysmal Episode mode, where fights are broken up by extended interludes of character stills and cheesy dialogue backed by a well-worn plot about dimensions colliding. Thankfully, the Episode mode can be very short if you skip all the dialogue. Play it once for the achievements and never look back. Sadly, for single-player combatants, that’s all the game really has to offer besides a handful of trials and Survivor mode.
Where the game shines in its combat. Unlike previous entries in the BlazBlue series that were built around gameplay systems stacked on top of gameplay systems, Cross Tag Battle takes some meaningful steps to streamline the experience. For one, special moves are all now performed with standard quarter-circle motions, allowing you to more easily jump between characters. Character-specific mechanics have also been removed, leaving one universal set of rules for every character to abide by.
Not to say that all of the depth has been stripped away. Unlike Arc System Works’ last title – Dragon Ball FighterZ – where every character felt like slight riffs on Goku, every character retains a lot of individuality through their unique moves and attributes. Between the slow brutes like Tager and Waldstein are slow brutes who rely on powerful strikes and grabs, speedsters like Chie and Noel, and zoners like Yukiko and Gordeau, this roster covers the gamut on every major fighting game character archetype you would want. While the reused sprites look a bit pixelated, especially compared to the sharp sprites for the RWBY characters, they still look great, animate smoothly, and their attack properties make for interesting offensive tools.
On top of that, this game has a tag system that riffs on some of the ideas first established in games like Marvel vs. Capcom. For example, your off-screen character can jump into the match at any time to perform an assist move, giving you new defensive and offensive options that normally wouldn’t be available for a solo character. What makes this assist system unique is that each character has access to three unique moves at any time, all of which generally fit an assist archetype. As such, your choice of characters probably won’t be overly reliant on what assist you have behind you, as every character can perform pretty much any function you’d want an assist to do. Having this in place prevents scenarios like in Dragon Ball FighterZ, where many players rely on Vegeta solely for his powerful assist.
If you time your switching just right, you can even start a combo with one character and continue it with the next. There’s even a mode you can trigger that for a brief period of time, allows you to attack with two characters at once. It’s not necessarily as free-form as what you’d find in Marvel vs. Capcom: Infinite, but it does feel like there’s lot of room to explore.
Overall, its combat system settles in at a nice depth where I can grasp this game at a base level and I know what I need to do to get better. I’m also excited to further explore the offensive and defensive opportunities that the game provides.
Of course, playing with friends locally is the way to go, but the game does feature your usual assortment of casual and ranked play options. As with their more recent fighters, BlazBlue: Cross Tag Battle uses an avatar system to manage online play, where you’ll move your avatar in a space in order to square up against opponents. I despised it in fighters and I still hate it here. Worse yet, there’s no matchmaking for casual play, requiring you to manually seek out an opponent in one of the game’s many lobbies. At least the netplay was fairly solid, save for matches with the lowest connection ratings.
I have glaring concerns with the game’s outer trimmings. The paltry single-player content is disappointing, and Arc System Works’ insistence on using its clunky avatar system online makes getting into matches more difficult than it needs to be. However, I’m so glad that they got the foundation to a place where I – and presumably many others – can enjoy a BlazBlue game. Cross Tag Battle makes some smart adjustments to where it places its depth so that a larger portion of the player base can enjoy it without sacrificing too much depth. For most people, I would recommend checking out more feature-complete games before this, but if you’re really in the market for a more accessible BlazBlue, that time is now.