BlazBlue: Chrono Phantasma Vita Review: Hand-Drawn Action in Your Hands

BlazBlue: Chrono Phantasma Vita Review: Hand-Drawn Action in Your Hands

Arc System Works shows the Vita love with the latest version of its best-selling fighting game series. (Not that one, the other one.)

When the PlayStation Vita was first announced, the pitch was "console gaming in the palm of your hand." Sony told us they would bring all those excellent Playstation 3 games to Vita so gamers could play them on the go. In hindsight, that wasn't the best pitch for the portable; the current indie push is great, but it's probably not helping move Vitas off retail shelves. But every now and then, a 100 percent perfect console port is what the PlayStation Vita needs.

BlazBlue: Chrono Phantasma for PlayStation Vita is a functional clone of its PlayStation 3 counterpart. All twenty-six characters, an extensive story campaign, the additional Miss Litchi lore compendium, arcade mode, network play, the RPG/CCG-esque Abyss Mode, score attack, a fully-voiced tutorial mode, the button-mashing Stylish Mode for new players, and the match replay viewer. The game plays exactly the same, the animation is all here, and for the most part, control has translated over to the portable PlayStation.

Chrono Phantasma is the fifth BlazBlue release, but it's actually the third major story release for the series. Since 2008, we've had BlazBlue: Calamity Trigger, BlazBlue: Continuum Shift, BlazBlue: Continuum Shift II, and BlazBlue: Continuum Shift Extend, but the "Continuum Shift" titles are all just arcade revisions. Chrono Phantasma has new music, redrawn animations for certain characters, rebalanced old characters, and new mechanics.

These new mechanics streamline and replace mechanics found in Continuum Shift and its revisions. Distortion Drives, Guard Primer, Guard Burst, and Gold Bursts are all gone, replaced by the new "Overdrive" and "Crush Trigger" mechanics. Overdrive increases attack power and adds additional character-specific effects for its duration. Overdrive duration is inversely-proportional to character health, so if you have a larger health bar, your Overdrive is smaller. It also freezes the stage timer, making it perfect to quickly turn the tide of fights near the end. Crush Trigger costs a fourth of your Heat bar, breaks normal blocks, and drains an opponent's Barrier gauge. CT can be cancelled into from other moves, increasing players' combo potential. While Overdrive is for everyone and Crush Trigger is a deft weapon in the hands of experts, both make Blazblue a more aggressive game overall.

Chrono Phantasma also beefs up the playable cast with seven new characters: Amane Nishiki, Bullet, Azrael, Izayoi, Kagura Mutsuki, Yuuki Terumi, and Kokonoe. While the former five are available in the game naturally, the last two are DLC-only characters as part of BlazBlue: Chrono Phantasma's extensive DLC offering (more on that later).

Amane is a kimono-wearing young man equipped with this Spiral drive that turns his clothing into a weapon. He's strong with the anti-air and rather adept at keep enemies within specific areas, but has a few moves to pressure opponents. Azrael is a heavy fighter, using teleports to close distance; his The Terror drive opens up limited-duration weak points for big damage. Izayoi is the unlocked form of Continuum Shift character Tsubaki Yayoi (who is still in the game). She's a mode switch character, with her drive changing her into an offensive Gain Art mode as a strong contrast to her normally defensive play. The mercenary Bullet is a student of the Makoto/Mu-12 school of skimpy character design and stands as almost a pure rushdown character. Her Lock-On drive helps her keep the pressure on and if that's your style, she's a great choice to play.

Iazayoi, classy. Mu-12, less so.

Moving on to the odd ones, Kagura Mutsuki is a very weird character and the only included character you have to unlock. He only has two special moves, and his drive allows him to switch between three stances in combat. Mutsuki does some high damage, but he seems to be a feast-or-famine character: either you're dominating or getting dominated. Yuki Terumi is another form for Hazama and he's built around improved Meter gain, meaning he can draw on stronger moves more quickly than other characters. Finally, Kokonoe is visually-reminiscent of Taokaka, but far outstrips the power found in that character. With her strong offensive capabilities and her unattached Graviton drive, she can put out some crazy combos in the right hands.

Every character is different, thanks in part to the Drive system, and they all slot in right next to the existing cast. Adding new characters without creating clones or destroying balance in a fighting game is hard, but Arc System Works seems to have it down.

While BlazBlue: Chrono Phantasma is a great game, the infrastructure surrounding the game brings the entire package down. For one, the game is not cross-buy or cross-save compatible with the earlier PlayStation 3 release. The DLC is fully-compatible, but if you want to play on PlayStation 3 and PlayStation Vita, you need to spend $45 and $40 respectively. I'm reasonably sure that Arc System Works realized they need the DLC at least to be cross-compatible because there is a lot of DLC for BlazBlue: Chrono Phantasma.

In addition to the two characters, you can expect 53 other downloadable add-ons for the title. The two characters cost $7.99 a pop. If you're too lazy to unlock Kagura, he's $2.49. There's a number of system voice packs for $5.99, additional background music for $3.99, and additional character colors for $2.49. It's not cheap. Most of it is optional stuff, but seeing the sheer amount of it is enough to give you pause. That's in addition to paying full price for the upgrade even if you own BlazBlue: Continuum Shift Extend; in contrast, Capcom's Ultra Street Fighter IV allows you to upgrade from Super Street Fighter IV for $14.99. It's a bummer.

To be fair, I can't really hold that against BlazBlue: Chrono Phantasma too much. The lack of cross-buy, or even cross-save hurts the full package, but what Arc System Works is presenting despite that is pretty good. I'm not as tied to the BlazBlue series as I am to Arc System's licensed fighter Persona 4 Arena, but it's still a damn good fighting game. A great roster, fully hand-drawn characters, and a ton of modes to keep you occupied if you love BlazBlue. It's not my favorite, but it completely justifies Sony's original pitch for the PlayStation Vita.

Visuals
Arc System Works continues to support the fighting game community with hand-drawn animation. The new characters look amazing.

Sound
BlazBlue still has one of the best fighting game soundtracks.

Interface
Everything is shining and moving every which way, but the interface still does its job.

Lasting appeal
Abyss Mode, Score Attack Mode, and Unlimited Mars Mode will extend the life of the game if you're not into playing online.

BlazBlue: Chrono Phantasma is a great package if you love the series. New characters, streamlined mechanics, and the same animated fighting action you've been playing since 2008. DLC brings things down a bit, but if you want to play a console fighting game on the go, BlazBlue: Chrono Phantasma is a perfect candidate.

4/5

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Mike Williams

Reviews Editor

M.H. Williams is new to the journalism game, but he's been a gamer since the NES first graced American shores. Third-person action-adventure games are his personal poison: Uncharted, Infamous, and Assassin's Creed just to name a few. If you see him around a convention, he's not hard to spot: Black guy, glasses, and a tie.

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