I have conflicted feelings about BlazBlue: Cross Tag Battle. When it was first announced, I assumed it was just BlazBlue with some additional characters from Persona 4 Arena, Under Night In-Birth, and RoosterTeeth's RWBY. That's not the case, as evidenced by a roster that starts smaller than BlazBlue: Chronophantasma Extend; if this was just BlazBlue, all those characters would make the transition, since the game doesn't redraw any of those characters.
Instead, it's best to treat this as a different beast entirely. This is an entry-level title in the Arc System Works pantheon. It's designed to be a bit easier to get into without completely losing depth and veteran-level play. Given that the developer is responsible for a number of the leading modern fighting games, this is arguably a good idea.
Cross Tag Battle drops the the number of basic attack buttons from three to just two: Light and Heavy. The animations and attacks that would have fit in BlazBlue's three button system are now folded into auto combos, which can be done by pressing Light or Heavy Attack four times in a row. Characters move much faster and ground/air dashes can be mapped to a single button press.
Special moves are done with input commands, but everything is quarter-circle or down-down inputs. There's no Dragon Punch commands, though nearly every character has an anti-air Dragon Punch-type of move. Supers are done using the same motion for every character. There's an invincible reversal move. All the higher level moves, including recoveries, EX moves, are still here, just with more streamlined access.
BlazBlue: Cross Tag Battle is a 2v2 fighter, and even tagging in is dead simple: you can tag in with the bottom button (B on Switch, X on PlayStation 4) or have your parter use one of three Assist moves with the shoulder button and a direction. Alternatively, if you need your partner in the fight immediately, you can activate Cross Burst, which brings them in to interrupt an attack, but prevents you from using them in combos for a short period of time.
Cross Tag Battle is simplified, but it's not like the skill gap is gone. This is a heavily offensive game; it's not as fast as Dragon Ball FighterZ, but the damage feels pretty high. Most of the moves above, like the Cross Burst, are easily punishable if you know what you're doing. Plus, traditional timed combos are still available here. Combined with the cancelling into a tag and you can set up some crazy combos.
What the easier and more accessible mechanics add to BlazBlue: Cross Tag Battle is the ability to jump from character to character. Learning a new character is less difficult for a neophyte because all the basic motions and moves are the same. The important part is learning what type of character you're dealing with. You still have zoners, grapplers, or those who lean towards rush down play; it's just a matter of what suits you.
As I mentioned, the starting roster is a bit small, and that makes it feel like Arc System Works is rushing this release a bit. The game is launching with a cast of 20 characters from BlazBlue, Persona 4 Arena, Under Night In-Birth, and RWBY. The roster heavily on the BlazBlue cast: you get 10 characters, with mainstays like Ragna and Jin joined by fan-favorites like Rachel and Azrael. Yu, Yosuke, Chie, and Yukiko make the transition from Persona 4 Arena; Hyde, Linne, Waldstein, and Gordeau come from the relatively niche Under Night In-Birth; and Ruby and Weiss are all-new characters hailing from RWBY.
Things get a little weird when you realize there are actually 40 characters planned for release this year. Arc System Works has promised that at least 31 characters will be available by Evo 2018, with BlazBlue: Cross Tag Battle being one of the headlining games. But getting all those characters is a bit confusing. RWBY's Blake is available for free now, and the last member of the crew, Yang, will be available for free as well. Platinum from BlazBlue, Kanji from Persona 4 Arena, and Orie from Under Night In-Birth are available now as part of the Cross Tag Character Pack 1, which is free for the first two weeks, but will return to a $4.99 price tag after that. Finally, there's the All-in-One DLC Combo pack for $19.99, which gives you access to all six Character Packs planned for release.
Essentially, if you want the entire roster—and note, some of these characters are already opponents in base game's story mode, so you're just paying to unlock them—you're going to be paying a total of $70. And you have to wait for their release. After going out of its way to simplify the mechanics, it's a bit mystifying that Arc System Works made getting all the characters so complex.
Waiting in the Lobby
BlazBlue: Cross Tag Battle is tied together by the Entrance, which is the same lobby system that Arc System Works has been using in Guilty Gear Xrd and Dragon Ball FighterZ. From this hub you can wander around, tackle the story in Episode Mode, learn the ins-and-outs of the game in Tactics Mode, using the Training Mode to practice your moves, Versus Play with a friend or the CPU, or really challenge yourself in Survival Mode. Playing online and offline nets you currency that you can use in the shop to buy Entrance avatars, tag stickers, or alternate colors for your fighters.
You can also jump into an online lobby to take on other players. Arc System Works is an old hand at online netcode and I didn't have many problems in my matches during the review period, even though I was playing on the Switch. There's a bit of lag and hitching when matches first connect, but the matches themselves ran fine. Only one match of mine was a bit of a mess, but your mileage may vary, especially around launch.
The rushed feeling of BlazBlue: Cross Tag Battle is carried forward into some of the additional modes. The tutorial, which is listed as Tactics in the menu, definitely teaches you everything, but it does so in such a dry manner. Episode Mode has a story that tries to explain why all these characters are together, but it's nowhere near as good as story modes from Persona 4 Arena or Dragon Ball FighterZ. And the Gallery mode is pretty threadbare in terms of extras.
BlazBlue Cross Tag Battle is a solid fighter. I like the idea of streamlining some of the cruft that the BlazBlue series has acquired over the years and making a game that appeals to new players. As a new beginning, something that Arc System Works can build upon with characters from almost anything, I think this works. But the roster is pretty small unless you get into the mire of DLC. And the additional modes feel like the developer could've put forth a bit more effort, especially given some of their past work. It's worth your time, but I can't heartily recommend it.
BlazBlue: Cross Tag Battle has some great ideas, simplifying the mechanics of BlazBlue for newer players and bringing in characters from Persona 4 Arena, Under Night In-Birth, and RWBY. The core of the fighter works well, but the character roster is a bit small until you get into a mess of downloadable content. The additional modes also feel a bit dry and threadbare compared to Arc System Works' past efforts. This crossover is solid, but could use some tightening up as a full package.