I'll start right off the bat with the fact that I am not a fighting game fan. I cannot speak for the gameplay elements in comparison to other mainstream titles such as Street Fighter or Tekken as I've only spent a little time playing either franchise's more recent editions. I wasn't much for either, mostly because I suck at both but also because there was just something missing from it all. Then I heard about BlazBlue.
To avoid any confusion, BlazBlue has three games in the current lineup. Calamity Trigger is the first game, followed by Continuum Shift. The product here is Continuum Shift EXTEND, which is sort of a package deal and this being the limited edition, it comes with some goodies that I've always been a sucker for but most of them are worth it for the price I paid.
EXTEND contains everything found in Continuum Shift but includes the latest gameplay balance changes that to my understanding are what you will now find on modern BlazBlue arcade machines. It includes all of the extra downloadable characters for Continuum Shift but allows you to play them in Story Mode, where as Continuum Shift did not. Each character has their own fully realized storyline this time.
BlazBlue has a high learning curve for a fighting game or so I'm told, but my own experiences know this to be true. One must input commands faster and smoother than other games I've played to pull off some of even the most basic combos. However, EXTEND has a "Stylish" mode that allows you to cheat a bit by letting you string together combos by simply pressing the attack buttons and occasionally inputting a direction. This doesn't turn you into a pro-fight gamer by any means but it can help you feel more comfortable with fighting games in general.
Something else to make the player more comfortable is the most extensive tutorial system I've ever seen. I learned about fighting game terms such as "Cancels" and "Mix Ups" from a vampire midget whose instructions were both amusing and mean, but that's why we like Rachel Alucard. Anyway. The tutorial goes over everything from the most basic of basics (This is how you jump, this is how you block) to more advanced mechanics. It even includes tutorials for each individual character so you can understand a bit about how each is played and that is extremely helpful.
This is because one of my favorite points about this game is that each character plays so entirely different from others. This is due to the fact that each character has their own gimmick, or in this case, "Drive" that allows them to really change the way things work. Ragna the Bloodedge can drain the health of his enemies and restore his own using his drive attacks. Rachel Alucard can summon gusts of wind that alter several of her attacks, making them faster or allowing her to escape into the air and out of harms way. Lichi Faye Ling can fight both with her pole in hand or without, actually being able to plant the pole on the battlefield and then use it remotely, alowing for some very interesting combos. Each character has a very radical gimmick that adds a new level to your basic fighting game.
Other gameplay features of note include the Barrier Guard and Burst systems, each adding another layer of complexity to defensive gameplay by allowing you to completely avoid damage from attacks that would normally break through your defense, or to buy you much needed space from a relentless opponent. In addition to all these actual gameplay mechanics, the game encourages a variety of unique gameplay modes. By variety I mean lots.
Story Mode, Arcade Mode, Versus Mode, Score Attack, all pretty much your standard fare. I'll get to the story mode in a bit but here's where things get crazy. You get access to Unlimited Mars, which is where you fight powered up versions of the normal characters at a high degree of difficulty. The first time I tried this mode I was taken down in two rounds, in less than twenty seconds without landing a single hit on my opponent. My first opponent. So if you're looking for a challenge, you've got one in Unlimited Mars.
Abyss mode is where you go through a gauntlet of fights, where each fight one takes you deeper into a "Abyss". The further you get the more difficult the fights become as additional modifiers are added to the enemy. You can add modifiers to your own fighter, and unlock more as you travel further into the Abyss. Depending on how you did in the fight and how deep you're going, the depth you travel changes, allowing you to skip quite a ways down the Abyss if you're good enough. There are three difficulties with the second two unlocked as you complete the previous challenge, each going deeper than the next.
Challenge Mode is where the game challenges you to attempt to pull of combinations of varying degrees of complexity using each individual character. Each character has their own list of challenges for you to complete and this is excellent practice in getting used to a fighting game's mechanics while also giving you a taste of what each character is capable of.
There's a gallery mode which is frankly huge. Each time you clear a hurdle in any of the game's modes, you will earn points. Collect enough points and you will rank up, unlocking the ability to buy things in the gallery with said points. Music, Artwork, System Voices (the announcer), Unlimited versions of the characters and alternate costumes. You can also watch any unlocked cinematics or endings here, from both Arcade and Story mode.
Diverting from gameplay for a bit so I don't forget, the Limited Edition of EXTEND comes with a small calendar, an artbook and a soundtrack cd. Now the calendar, while cute, is out of date and the artbook is mostly for those who enjoy having such things or want to further appreciate the great 2D art and animation of the game, the soundtrack is wonderful. BlazBlue has an amazing soundtrack. Hard Rock and Metal guitar riffs feature prominently, mixed in with that old school, quality BGM music that fighting games used to have. Capcom needs to take some notes here, their fighting game lineups have had absolutely horrendous music attached to them in recent years. Youtube "Indestructable" or whatever the intro theme was to IV if you want a laugh.
Now lets get down to my favorite thing about this game: The Story.
BlazBlue's story appears at a first, second or even third glance to be convoluted and senseless. This is because each character is offered only a small piece of the puzzle in each of their respective story lines. Some get larger pieces than others but relatively, they are all small. The game also does not hold your hand when it comes to the story and so attention to detail is necessary.
Now if you haven't played Calamity Trigger, don't worry. EXTEND contains a sort of condensed version of the events in Calamity Trigger for you to watch and play through. It isn't as good as playing the original but it does a good job of bringing you up to speed on the really important bits, though you might not get the full picture. The story progresses individually for each character with several choices being able to be made at different points along the way which can change your overall outcome. It also contains two side stories which go deeper into certain characters histories together and takes a deeper look at another group of characters in the past, bringing to light a few answers and more questions.
Each character has a "True Ending", a "Bad Ending" and a "Gag Ending", with the exception of Hakumen who is too serious to have a Gag Ending, though he is featured in others. These Gag Endings are hilarious, with the exception of one which isn't so much a Gag ending as a somewhat heartwarming and sad diversion, and they're totally worth grabbing. Bad Endings are exactly what they sound like. They don't end well for the parties involved but when you get a Bad Ending you get to enjoy a little theatre with tiny (chibi) versions of characters, giving you a few hints as to where you screwed up and these are also pretty funny.
The "True Ending" of each character is exactly what it sounds like. I want to say more but I can't. Once you unlock "100%" of all the character's possible gameplay routes, you unlock the chance to play the "True Ending" of Continuum Shift's storyline, which is what sets up the next game, announced for 2013. Needless to say, there is a lot of gameplay value here. Nevermind the fact that each Arcade mode has it's own ending as well. You'll be busy for quite awhile, especially if you're looking to unlock everything in the gallery.
The storyline itself is interesting, complex and worthy of a hardcore RPG as opposed to a fighting game. It's very deep and satisfies that RPG player and avid reader inside me but I can't mention much without taking away some of the surprise. This is an odd after thought but it bears mentioning that the voice acting in this game was excellent. I actually prefer the english language version. It fits each character better than their Japanese counterparts do, though partly due to the way the dialogue was translated. That said, the personalities of their English speaking versions are much better in my opinion. I hate dubbing with a passion, in all media but this? This is great. I stress that. You will enjoy the game more with the english dubbing.
Man it's really hard to sum up BlazBlue. If you're tired of your fighting games taking place in yet another "Worldwide Tournament" for either fame, fortune, glory or the pursuit of genetic perfection for super-soldiers, etc, than get BlazBlue. If you miss the look of 2D animation in your fighting games, get BlazBlue. If you're a fighting game pro looking for a new arena to test your skills, get BlazBlue. If you want a unique fighting game experience, get BlazBlue.