There’s a fundamental center to the BlazBlue series—a warm, appreciable core of fast, unique, flashy fighting-game mechanics, bolstered by beautifully intricate anime graphics and a vast, demented menagerie of a fighting-game roster. That core, however, has always been surrounded by an impenetrably dense narrative mish-mash of half-baked quantum physics and pure anime drivel, and Chrono Phantasma Extend is the game that finally chokes the life out of that core once and for all.
The problem is that BlazBlue’s plot gets even more complex in this third installment, while the gameplay hasn’t advanced past what was offered in Continuum Shift, which in itself didn’t advance much past Calamity Trigger, the first game in the series. BlazBlue is still operating off the same strong foundation of fighting-game mechanics as before, and the roster is diverse and bizarre enough for every character to feel like the player has to learn a brand new game. A few new techniques have been added for making light work of an opponent’s shield, and Overdrive, allowing characters to boost their strength and defense temporarily, now refills on its own, as opposed to having a set number of times. Like many fighting series, BlazBlue’s modus operandi is “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” and that’s not necessarily a deterrent, especially since Chrono Phantasma Extend represents the series’s first beautiful outing on the PS4.
Unlike most fighting series, however, BlazBlue has no intention of allowing the story to step out of the player’s way in order to get to the fun. New players lured by the temptation of gorgeous high-def sprites will be stuck from the first minutes with the game’s interminably specific Training Mode, which is easily two-to-three hours long. Every specific lesson, even the ones explaining basic movement, is bookended by the characters needing to banter among themselves. Anyone who hasn’t played a previous BlazBlue may want a primer on who these people are and what’s happened. There’s a special mode specifically tailored to do just that, and this, too, is rendered malignant by nature of the history lesson being delivered at a snail’s pace by a chibi-style teacher, her magical girl pupil, and a cringingly obnoxious cat girl.
Players who were once able to hole up in Arcade and Online modes will find themselves unable to escape having to deal with execrable platitudes about helping series antihero Ragna the Bloodedge slay his enemies and free his sister, with cutscenes in the middle of Arcade Mode stopping the frantic action dead in order to deliver the story. It’s the same brick wall of a problem Netherrealm Studios has been running into since Mortal Kombat vs. DC, of trying to add depth where it’s mostly unnecessary. Where Netherrealm has at least made efforts to refine and humanize its characters to make them worth watching, Chrono Phantasma Extend doubles down on trite, infantile blather in service of a needlessly labyrinthine plot.
The ultimate irony is that the game’s actual story mode contains no actual gameplay, just moving, talking portraits of a kind that should have died around the time of the PS2. It’s three branching paths all converging at the end, far too much of which involves the cat girl following around the least interesting characters.
To get the most out of BlazBlue beyond the all-too-brief arcade mode is to become a BlazBlue scholar, utterly immersed and engrossed. One must major in every character, from its wild-haired, profanity-spitting nothing of a hero to the child wizard who gets magical powers from his dead-faced puppet, to all the giant-eyed women who all seem to have loaded their personality and agency in their breasts. You must know when, love them, and study them. There’s a plethora of material with which to explore every facet of them in Chrono Phantasma Extend, but it’s a rare thing that adding so much to a game has ever amounted to so very little.