Half now... Half later...
Whether it's Marvel vs Capcom or Street Fighter and Tekken, seeing several massive franchises coming together is a truly spectacular event. While it has been years since I have played a BlazBlue title, I was eager to jump into this latest installment with the addition of Persona, Under Night In-Birth, and of course, RWBY.
While Persona has been a massive and well-known JRPG success, as well as a fighter with its release of Persona 4 Arena, I was completely unaware of what Under Night In-Birth was and I'm probably not the only one. Both of these franchises join BlazBlue as having a varied history in the 2D fighting space. The newcomer to this genre is RWBY, the franchise among these four that I am the most familiar with, and frankly, one of the main reasons for my purchase of the title. The cast of RWBY is no stranger to combat, so their addition here feels just as natural as would a new character in a traditional Blazblue game would feel. Their upbeat and charming personalities also help with the four separate story campaigns that accompany the title. As much as I would have loved to include a few captures of the story campaign, screenshots were unfortunately blocked on the Nintendo Switch.
BlazBlue: Cross Tag Battle made waves months before its release with news that while the game would ship with 20 available fighters, 20 more would be released as paid DLC. While a few characters were then offered as free DLC, it still didn't address the fact that nearly half the roster would come at an additional cost. While this isn't the first time that additional content has been released after the release of a fighting game, it is worth noting that many of these characters are featured in the story mode as opponents, indicating that these characters are currently on the disc or in my case, the cartridge. Had these characters not been ready for release, then ok, but the fact that many are already here sours the experience significantly.
The story mode is also lacking as while each franchise has its own story to tell, they are incredibly similar. Each set of characters are transported to a strange world and are given crystals they are told to protect and that there are more to collect. The first team to gather them all up will be allowed to go home. This has you constantly at war with each of the other characters and while you will team up and mix within each series, your goal is the same across each campaign. The humor and writing is top notch and the fact there is voice acting for all of it is truly fantastic, but diving into the 3rd or 4th time of hearing a similar story did lessen the appeal of going through each of the four campaigns. I also found that some characters felt added here to promote the DLC a bit too much as while they would appear to offer a few lines of dialogue, it felt like bait to pony up the extra cost of these additional fighters. That being said, I've heard rumors of Senran Kagura joining this game, so I'll be all for purchasing them should they appear.
The story mode is told not just with voice acting, but via a visual novel of sorts with illustrations of each character. It is really interesting to see the RWBY characters in 2D since they are from an entirely 3D animated series. I would have loved to have seen more illustrations per character as having Chie Satonaka from Persona Arena have all of her conversations in mid kick is a bit odd. You do get additional art as you complete each campaign, but even small alterations would have been greatly welcomed.
Cross Tag Battle feels very much like that of previous BlazBlue games, and even those of different 2D fighters. You have your basic attacks, throws, dashes, special moves, overheard strikes and more, offering a familiar but deep setup that can compliment those who study every combo and special move, and even those who simply want to button mash and hope for the best. Given this is a tag-battle game, you can also rely on your teammate for assistance during battle or just simply tagging in during the fight with a quick button press. Each character has various partner assist attacks that can take a bit to get used to as you can use them in a variety of different encounters. There are also massive attacks that feature both characters on screen that can wipe out health bars like they are going out of style.
As is the case with nearly every fighting game, you will rely heavily on a super meter at the bottom of the screen that charges up during battle. Saving this meter for your special attacks, which are called Distortion Skills is always a consideration, but you also have EX moves to keep in mind as well as various combo attacks with your partner. When that partner has been eliminated from the match, you have a mechanic called the Resonance Blaze that lasts for 15 seconds and it enhances chip damage, fills your super meter, recovers health, and allows for more skill cancellations. It also unlocks an instant kill strike, should you have enough super meter saved up.
All of these special moves, and even just learning the basics of the dash mechanic, can all be learned and perfected through the tutorials and tactic modes featured here. These modes will teach you each and every system and if this is the first time you've entered into this franchise, it is highly recommended to visit these modes before you dive into anything. Unlike most tutorial modes in other fighters, Cross Tag Battle allows you to learn the in's and out's of each character, not just the basics that generalize the core combat mechanics via one single fighter. The Tactics mode is mission based and you will benefit greatly from spending some serious time here.
While there are some moves I still have trouble pulling off, the core gameplay here is extremely fluid, fast-paced and immensely enjoyable. While I have a sense of how certain mechanics work, I am mostly a button masher when it comes to the genre. There are some characters I preferred using more so than others as Ruby, Ragna, Makoto, Waldstein, Noel, and Blake are all characters that I would alternate between frequently. Since I am usually a sucker for complete editions, I did purchase the game and all its DLC as there were several characters included in the DLC pass that were a must for me, so if you come into this via the core game, you will, unfortunately, miss out on some great choices.
My time with BlazBlue: Cross Tag Battle was with the Nintendo Switch as I wanted to take the experience with me, but boy does the Switch version look far less impressive than that of the PS4 and PC versions. The sprites are nowhere near as sharp and it can be even more noticeable when docked. It is still a visually fun and impressive game, but there is a clear winner here when you compare these various platforms. If playing portable isn't the sole reason for wanting this game and you have access to Sony's console or a decent PC, then I strongly suggest purchasing the game there.
BlazBlue: Cross Tag Battle features an avatar based lobby that should feel familiar to those who played both Dragon Ball FighterZ and Guilty Gear Xrd. You'll pick your avatar from an item shop, customize your player card and choose from a variety of stations such as the item shop, the story mode, various tutorial modes, and of course, the online offerings that might very well be where you spend the majority of your time. Online matches seemed to have decent matchmaking, and of course, offered little to no lag during the few matches I took part in. While there are some enjoyable aspects to the populated lobbies with everyone' avatars running around, I still would have preferred snappy and quick loading traditional menu's.
I've never been a competitive fighter online or one to master each combo or special attack, but I found considerable enjoyment with Cross Tag Battle. My whole intent on purchasing the game was to experience the story mode and while I don't think I got my money's worth from that mode, Cross Tag battle is still a solid fighter to jump in and complete a few fights while you are waiting for your bus, on a lunch break, or alongside a few friends. The roster here is varied and charming, but the fact that nearly half of the total fighters are behind a costly paywall is certainly going to discourage many gamers. If you are approaching this review as a PlayStation gamer, then you have far cheaper and varied options to choose from, but for those gaming on the Nintendo Switch, this is easily one of the best fighters on the platform.