Arc System Works’s pair of flagship fighting game series, Guilty Gear and BlazBlue, specialize in an atypical over-the-top-ness in both aesthetic design and combat mechanics that sets them apart from the rest of the 2D-brawler crop. Of the two, BlazBlue is decidedly more execution-based and less moody in its atmospheric tone, jettisoning much of Guilty Gear’s black-hearted, gothic vibes and obsession with late-’80s/early-’90s hard rock in favor of glossier scenery and a central storyline that relies on action-oriented anime tropes. BlazBlue: Chrono Phantasma is a direct sequel to 2010’s BlazBlue: Continuum Shift, and while, at its core, this new entry is very much a thorough lacquering of the signature flamboyant calamity that fans have come to know and love, the developer has done an admirable job of making time-worn techniques seem fresh again by hurling a batch of premier characters into the fray, rebalancing the gameplay, and enhancing the already exquisite high-definition sprites and hand-drawn backdrops, making Chrono Phantasma just about the sightliest and best-playing title in ASW’s extensive repertoire.
In comparison to widely popular franchises in the genre like The King of Fighters and Marvel vs. Capcom, BlazBlue functions on a distinctly different, highly stylized kinetic plane. With a heavy focus on purely offensive strategies, operating on a strict paradigm, mastering each fighter’s singular set of traits is an isolated challenge in itself. Thankfully, Chrono Phantasma’s variety of in-depth tutorials and canonical history lessons (complete with blackboard) are accommodating and detailed enough to get inexperienced players reeducated on the eccentricities of BlazBlue. In addition to the established lineup from Continuum Shift Extend, seven combatants make their respective debuts in Chrono Phantasma: Amane Nishiki, Bullet, Azrael, Izayoi, Kagura Mutsuki, Yuuki Terumi, and Kokonoe (those last two are only available as downloadable content, but they’re definitely worth checking out for curiosity’s sake). If sticking with BlazBlue mainstays like Ragna the Bloodedge or Noel Vermillion is your prerogative, Chrono Phantasma does enough tinkering with its original cast to make playing as them feel modernized yet not radically altered to the point of creeping unfamiliarity.
The battlefield alternations from Continuum Shift are obvious but not overwhelming: Gone is the patented Gold Burst maneuver (Green Bursts are still active, but sporadically so), replaced by a more maximum-capacity punisher dubbed Overdrive, which incorporates some Distortion Drives and increases in effectiveness the lower your health meter is. Defensive tactics, though definitely not as vital as they could be, rely on a Heat-consuming ploy called Crush Trigger, which combines the general schemes of Guard Primer and Guard Crush to form a counter that’s useful against AI opponents, but may not be so beneficial when it comes to experienced players who understand the standard tricks of the trade and frequently utilize Barrier Blocks.
ASW has been known to take risks with their intellectual properties, and more often than not these gambles pay off. With Chrono Phantasma, however, ASW takes a chance on comprehensively reformatting BlazBlue’s story progression, and the result is a bit of a mixed bag. Instead of each primary participant receiving their own individualized narrative, per usual, the entire arcade anecdote has been compacted into a condensed yarn split into three groupings (Chrono Phantasma, Sector Seven, and Six Heroes), eventually melding multiple arcs together. The downside to this is the dramatic increase in dialogue sessions without appropriate chapter bookends and justifiable conclusions for separate acts. There’s an apparent decrease in character development and an overall muddled feeling to the tale Chrono Phantasma is attempting to tell, and this is a problem, be it that BlazBlue has consistently been more focused on solo campaigns than Guilty Gear.
ASW’s handling of Persona 4 Arena’s story mode was done so well that they shouldn’t have had any issues here. Admittedly, Persona’s source material is much meatier, and even with the setbacks, reaching the end of Chrono Phantasma’s glorified visual novel is hardly a slog, and necessary if unlocking every character is a priority. The survival-style Abyss scenario and slew of online contests (easy to navigate and largely devoid of lag) make for a considerable amount of replay value, which represents a potent chaser to the slightly sour aftertaste of the game’s weightiest structural changes. On the whole, Chrono Phantasma meets its goals with nuance and flair, satisfying BlazBlue devotees and piquing the interest of anyone who occasionally dabbles in intensely offbeat 2D warfare.