It is hard to believe that Arc System Works’ Blazblue franchise is already turning a decade old. Even more baffling, it took those ten years for one of the series main entries to arrive on Nintendo hardware. Yet as you can probably gander from the title BlazBlue: Cross Tag Battle is far from a conventional sequel.
Cross Tag Battle is an ambitious crossover that remains first and foremost a BlazBlue title, something that is reflected in the game’s extensive deluxe roster. Along with series poster boy Ragna the Bloodedge come his brother Jin, Rachel, Hazama, Noel, the demented Azrael, Tager, Makoto, Nº 13 and Es. From the Persona 4 Arena fighting franchise you can pick from Yu, Yosuke, Chie and Yukiko. From the visual novel/fighting hybrid franchise Under Night In-Birth come Hyde, Lyne, the gigantic Waldstein and Gordeu. Lastly the most leftfield franchise and one not under the direct banner of Arc System Works are characters from the RWBY animated series, represented by the titular Ruby and Weiss. Unless you are willing to pay for DLC, this is the default 20 character roster you play with. We will address that specifically further along in this review.
The game uses a straightforward five-button control scheme. You can customise these as your wish on your controller and as a welcome bonus you can assign double-button actions to any free buttons on your controller of choice. While the Joy-Cons offer perfectly acceptable performance when attached to your Switch in portable mode, we recommend that due the amount of button presses going on in an average battle you should truly play this game with a Pro controller or your arcade stick of choice.
All characters share the same basic commands: ‘A’ is your weak fast attack, ‘B’ is your slower stronger attack and ‘C’ is for clash attack. ‘D’ and ‘P’ will let you mix things up by respectively switch or call an assist from your partner of choice. ‘A’+‘B’ will perform a useful aerial dash, ‘A’+’B’ will execute your character’s reversal move while ‘B’+‘C’ will execute your character’s throw. Last but certainly not least, hitting ‘D’+‘P’ will do a ‘Cross Burst’, briefly get both your characters into the battle, allowing for all sorts of combo shenanigans. Do not worry about feeling overwhelmed by these, part of this content heavy offering from Arc System Work is the offline ‘Tactics Mode’ where you have access to extensive tutorials on both game mechanics and every character. It is quite an achievement for a game of this genre to be both casual friendly and hardcore in equal shares. But do remember that those ready-to-use auto-combos will only take you so far...
Personal choices aside, what makes each character unique is their set of special moves (all are catalogued on the ‘Command List’). These are accessed by standard fighting game control motions and button presses and it is an absolute delight to explore how best to use these to chain combos or fool your opponents into opening up their guard to received a ton of damage. With enough Skill Gauge numbers in reserve, you might even call up your partner mid-special move to extend combos further. Even if you end up losing one of your team members, fighting alone isn’t a definitive loss since you can use ‘P’ to get your character into an awakened state for bonus damage and even pull off a single one-hit killing blow reminiscent from the original Guilty Gear that will end the battle in your favour. Since these require nine Skill Gauges to execute you will probably not see them very often, which makes for an even more spectacular sight to behold when they do happen.
As you might have discerned already, each and every single battle is an absolute spectacle of special moves, counters, super jumps, double jumps, dashes, timed ukemi (recovery from a knock down) and maximising combo potential with the aid of your partner. While the CPU and the several difficulty settings will provide more than enough challenge, it is when you sit a human opponent across the sofa and both go at it is when BlazBlue: Cross Tag Battle shines the most. This is an obvious cliché to mention in a review for a fighting game, but in this day and age where couch multiplayer seems to have taken a back-seat to online multiplayer we indulge upping word count to do so.
On the subject of online play, you will probably not be surprised to learn that the game takes cue from Dragon Ball FighterZ and ditches traditional menu-driven interface for a three-dimensional lobby system. You pick (or buy with in-game currency) your super-deformed 3D avatar and run around with it in the several available sections, being that one of them is the online lobby. While it is impossible for us to predict how a lobby with hundreds of players will behave upon official Western release of the game, the few matches we played with fellow journalists offered some hiccups during synchronisation sequences, the actual fighting was mostly done lag free. Considering we are reviewing the US version and were thus playing all the way cross the pond this was a pleasant surprise. We can only assume Arc System’s works previous network tests and experience with net-code have paid off. If you don’t have a friend to play against with you, there will most certainly be eagerly awaiting opponents all across the globe to take on your tag team of choice.
Even if you don’t like competition, there is a generous amount of single-player content in the form of ‘Episode Mode’. After a brief prologue featuring Ragna, you get the choice of four individual chapters, one for each of the franchises feature in this crossover. We won’t be giving out spoilers on these, but do know that each chapter is presented using still scenes using your character’s lovely art work and impressive voice acting, usually a prelude to a tag team battle until you figure out the mystery of this world everyone ended up getting sucked into. Not only this allows to explore the plot but it is also a great way to sample many of the characters on offer since you get to tag team with pretty much everyone in the roster (and even fight against the DLC characters). The BlazBlue episode even offers multiple choice questions and several endings to further push up replay value. This mode is also very good training for the fights ahead so do consider jumping into this prior to online battle mode.
It does, however, seem a bit odd to have one third of the complete roster locked behind a paywall. Platinum, sentient cat Jubei and Hakumen from Blazblue, Kanji, Aegis and Naoto from P4A plus Orie, the deranged Carmine and Vatista from Under Night In Birth are all already in the game, but you can’t play with them unless you pick up the DLC. Community backlash was so harsh that Blake and Yang from RWBY have since become free release day DLC. We fully understand that this is seen as standard practice in the industry nowadays, but how would you feel if you picked up the latest instalment of Super Smash Bros. with only two thirds of the roster available to play? A puzzling, non-consensual practice that will surely continue to divide fans in the foreseeable future.
While ‘Episode Mode’ provides a generous slice of single-player content, the actual combat sequences are quite far apart thanks to all the plot exposure going on. It is thus a bit baffling to notice the omission of a traditional arcade mode, even more so when there is clearly a section reserved for it in the lobby. Those wanting to grab a quick pick-up and play sessions are as such confined to ‘Survival’ or the ‘Vs CPU’ modes. We hope Arc System Works adds this mode down the line, we were surprised at how much we sorely felt it's omission.
It is true that of the character sprites do recycle content from previous games but it is hard to fault that since the sprites are simply gorgeously detailed and animated. The numerous backgrounds use da mixture of two dimensional and polygonal models to provide a pleasing hybrid aesthetics and everything moves along at a very pleasing and stable fps rate. You will not find the Switch experience to be in any way different to the other consoles or PC counterparts. The soundtrack is sublime as expected from Arc System Works franchises and you can change up the phenomenal voice acting from English to Japanese to your pleasure. Even during the most explosive visual confrontations combat usually derails into we found no noticeable performance differences between docked and portable mode. This is not a downgraded port to please Switch owners starving for a current generation slice of fighting action, this is the real deal (unlike the strange world everyone ends up stuck in).
BlazBlue: Cross Tag Battle is an utterly accomplished 2D fighting game. Bursting with content and featuring the visual spectacle of combat that uses up every single trick in the book while doing so with the possibility of calling up a second character into the fray on demand sets Arc System Works title as the de facto current generation game fighting game to own on the Nintendo Switch. While we certainly appreciate the likes of Capcom and SNK (via HAMSTER) safely releasing previously proven hits of the genre, we were beginning to wonder when companies would notice that Switch is more than able to accommodate current generation titles as well. A few strange decisions aside it is very hard for us not to recommend you make this title a priority among your future acquisitions if you’re a fighting game fan. Even if you're not a fan of any of the franchises represented in this game, you most certainly will be by the time you're done with this stacked fighting package.