Preview: BlazBlue Cross-Tag Battle is a simpler BlazBlue

Arc System Works was nice enough to give us a look at the final build of BlazBlue Cross-Tag Battle before the game releases on June 5. There’s a lot we can’t talk about until our official review goes up, but we were able to give you a small preview and overall impressions of the final game. In short, this is a very fun game that easily competed with Dragon Ball FighterZ for the title of best fighting game of the year. More specifically, BBCTAG has a lot of interesting systems that keeps it appealing for series veterans, but appealing to newcomers.

Characters are Vastly Simplified

BlazBlue Cross-Tag Battle is, in essence, a two button fighter, and this has a lot of people worried. However, that doesn’t necessarily mean that characters can do less. They are just far simpler.

Essentially, ASW took a look at every character’s moves and put aside any that were only used as combo filler. They then made these moves part of each characters auto combos. Essentially, characters can only lead with the most common moves they would lead with anyway.

This does result in some odd controls for people who are used to older BlazBlue games. Tager’s standing light is actually his standing heavy from previous games. Ragna’s jumping light is similarly his jumping heavy, and he actually combos backward into his jumping medium. This will seem a bit weird at first, but it only takes a few hours of remapping your brain to get used to the new control scheme.

Despite this simplification, it never feels like characters can’t do what you want them to do. All the major combos are here and accounted for, from Azrael’s kick loops, to Tager’s Gadget Finger mix-ups. If you don’t know what any of this means, then the game will feel even better! With just a few button taps you’ll find yourself doing high level combos.

Characters Still Have Their Old Tricks

It’s actually pretty amazing how ASW managed to squeeze all the complex mechanics of three separate fighting games into one simple system. You might think this would make each character feel “samey” but on the contrary, they still feel very much like their original incarnations.

For example, nearly every character has an air dash. However, BlazBlue characters have quick forward air dashes while Under Night characters have an arcing air-dash, more similar to their pursuit dash from their game of origin. BlazBlue and Persona characters can only combo weak moves into stronger moves but Under Night characters can reverse beat, again like they could in their game of origin. Persona characters usually have their Persona mapped to heavy attack, and they can desynch with it, just as they did in their old games.

When it comes to individual character mechanics, some concessions had to be made for the sake of simplicity. Tager still has his magnetism, but instead of activating when he hits the opponent with a magnetic attack, it’s always on. Rachel can still control the wind, but she does so by hitting a direction after a number of unique attacks. Persona characters can no longer cause negative status effects but they can still buff themselves with positive ones.

The Depth is In the Tagging

With individual characters being so simple, you might be afraid that the whole game ends up being simple, but you’d be wrong. The tag system is incredibly deep. You can cancel an assist with a tag on the first frame, meaning you can essentially tag any time you could call an assist character. Since you can do this any time except during supers and reversals, nearly any move can be used as a part of a tag mix-up. It’s a sort of free-flowing tag system similar to Marvel vs. Capcom: Infinite.

Even more depth is added with the Cross Combo system, which allows both characters to be on screen attacking at once. It’s barely getting used in these early days of the beta, but pros will eventually find combos that lead into Cross Combo activation and a ton of damage.

High Damage Heavy Fundamentals

Damage in BlazBlue: Cross-Tag Battle is very high. If all you use is auto-combos it still only takes about four touches to kill a character, and more advanced combos can reduce that to two or three. Despite the simplicity of each character, this is not an easy game. Mashing will get you killed and will get you killed fast.

This puts a heavy focus on fighting game fundamentals, which to be honest is quite refreshing. Blocking, poking, and movement are emphasized at all times. Every character has access to a universal reversal, meaning the core mind-game of “should I attack, throw or block” is constantly taking center stage. Every character has access to universal lows and overheads, meaning everyone has access to high-low mix-ups as well.

ASW Focused on Accessibility

It feels as if ASW has truly listened to every single piece of feedback they received in the past 10 years.

For example, they have finally implemented a button dash, making it easier for pad and stick players who have issues with double tapping. Reversals are one button, overheads are one button, throws are one button, sweeps are one button, in fact the only moves that aren’t one button are your special moves which are only ever quarter circles forward and back. There are no pretzel motions, no 360s, not even a simple DP motion.

They’ve also included an exhaustive tutorial that covers everything from basic systems, to character specific mechanics and combos, and even advanced matchup examples. It’s not the most exhaustive tutorial I’ve seen, but it’s certainly one of the better ones. It also, wisely, takes you through each character in the game before it tackles you with advanced concepts, ensuring that you always know what you are up against.

Designed for a Controller

Interestingly enough, I found it more difficult to play BlazBlue Cross-Tag Battle on a stick than a pad. There’s not really a fantastic stick layout to choose. Using the basic layout forces you to stretch your hand across the buttons do to things like burst or Cross Combo. Altering the layout to the standard BlazBlue layout makes it a little better, but it awkwardly puts the partner button on the lower middle button which isn’t all that great either. Switching the location of tag and partner makes the most sense, except that too causes you to play awkward finger gymnastics in order to hit all your button combos.

Easy Unlocks

BlazBlue Cross-Tag Battle loves to throw money at you. You get money for beating story modes, playing in online battles, even just talking to random NPCs around the lobby. Titles, icons, and character colors are all super cheap and easy to unlock. All these unlocks are really just formalities. Anyone who plays for a couple of hours will easily be able to unlock anything that they want.

The Netcode Really Works

I have to say, ASW surprised me. The netcode is, unfortunately, still delay based, which is a little disappointing. However, it is by far the best implementation of delay based netcode I have ever seen. Zero and one bar matches are still completely playable. The delay is noticeable, but it’s not so much that you can’t combo, for example. This is helped by a very, very generous combo buffer. Of course, this is just the early days of the beta we are talking about. The full game will release on June 5, at which point it will have to contend with a much bigger server load. Hopefully we will continue to see this level of match quality even then.