Editor’s Note: This review was written a week before the official release of BlazBlue Cross Tag Battle. While some information regarding downloadable content is now dated, the critique of its practice still remains.
Blazblue Cross Tag Battle feels like a game that was bound to happen. Fighting games have been pushing the envelope in terms of guest characters and franchise crossovers this generation, and it has lead to some entertaining mash-ups. There’s even a fighting game featuring characters from various indie games. Arc System Works developing a spin-off game featuring their various successful franchises colliding was a smart call.
However, after spending time with the game, I couldn’t shake the distinct feeling that the whole thing was half-baked. A game that has some inherent entertainment value, but was rushed out the door before it could fully collect itself.
In The Phantom Field
Blazblue Cross Tag Battle’s first impressions are a bit shaky. Instead of a regular menu, the game instead gives you an avatar and puts you into a hub area to access different modes. It’s not a bad thing since another popular Arc System Works fighting game, Dragonball FighterZ, does something similar. But here, it feels like the game is trying to hide some of its features.
For example, while the offline modes have the usual staples like tutorials, practice mode and one-on-one versus, there is no Arcade mode. One of the biggest draws for me in a fighting game is being able to rack up points and sharpen my skills with tougher opponents. The closest answer to this is a survival mode, but it’s not exactly the same.
But much like the main series, Blazblue Cross Tag Battle does have a story mode. Presented in a visual novel style, the plot is very loosely tied around an interdimensional disturbance causing the warriors of Blazblue, the Huntresses of RWBY, the Investigation Team from Persona 4 Arena, and the characters from the new (to the West) series Under Night In-Birth to be pulled into some weird other dimension. All to be combatants in a tournament for survival by an unhinged godlike entity.
Hands down, the story mode is where the game comes alive. The entire conflict is set dressing, barely one step above a kid grabbing a bunch of action figures and bashing them together. But the fun is seeing the various characters interact with one another. Ruby Rose the weapon nut going bananas over Ragna The Bloodedge’s buster sword. Makoto and Chie Satonaka firing each other up with martial arts poses. The list goes on.
Each one of the franchises gets its own story branch you can play. The largest and meatiest of these stories is the one for Blazblue. This is due to it having several endings based on crucial dialogue options you get throughout the various chapters. None of the other stories have these branching paths. It’s Cross Tag Battle’s way of saying this is primarily a Blazblue story with the other series just coming along for the ride.
My only real complaint about the story mode is that despite so much potential for shenanigans and conflict, it does the bare minimum. If you sit down and grind through all the different endings, you’ll get maybe five to six hours of content with no real incentive to replay anything. This doesn’t mean the story mode is bad by any stretch, just that there’s not a lot there.
Can’t Escape From Crossing Fate
Much like all of Arc System Works’ fighting games, Blazblue Cross Tag Battle is a fast and visually arresting brawler. As the name suggests, you select two fighters and at any time you can tag one fighter out for another. Your partner can even come out for brief assist attacks and devastating co-op clashes.
Thankfully some changes have been made to keep this fighter from becoming incomprehensible. First, all characters’ movesets have been greatly simplified, making it easier to just pick up and play. Also, mechanics like charge powers, secondary health bars and super/alternate modes have been stripped down, all while still retaining the core of each character’s special appeal.
The result is a fighting game that is very easy to pick up and just jump in. Which is a good thing since matches can go by at lightning speed. I don’t think I had a single match go over thirty seconds long during my time against Hard mode AI bots or other players in my brief time with the online. But even when I lost, the shear energy and exciting speed that the fights had kept a smile on my face. A real testament to the love and care the developers have taken with the visual and technical polish on display.
Wait… Where is Everyone?
Blazblue Cross Tag Battle unfortunately carries a large caveat to all of this quality. In addition to some thin single-player content, there is the problem with the roster. There are currently twenty playable fighters in the game right now, and the producer has confirmed that twenty additional fighters would be added as downloadable content. It’s a move that baffles me since the very unique selling point of Cross Tag Battle is seeing the various characters… well, cross over. The most contentious cutting of content is on the side of RWBY characters. Half of the series’ main cast, Blake Belladonna and Yang Xiao Long being sold separately.
An argument can be made that since the game is being sold at a lower price of $49.99, these fighters will be released as a drip feed of content. But I cannot buy into that argument for two major reasons. First, the story mode is clearly handicapped by the small playable roster. Second multiple battles in story mode give away the fact that while twenty characters are coming out, ten of those characters are actually on disc. Ten. Playable. Characters. On. Disc. There is no excuse for that level of paywall.
Blazblue Cross Tag Battle does have some fun parts, but on the whole, feels lacking. The actual combat feels as satisfying as ever and the tag mechanic is a welcome addition. But the offline features are threadbare. The story mode is over too quickly, despite its moments of gleeful fan service. The playable roster is noticeably uneven and pared down. And the long-term business model, while having the best of intentions, feels wrongheaded.
If you really do love any of these franchises and are willing to put up with all of these issues, there is some good to be found. Just don’t be surprised if you’re left wanting more after that first initial high.