Plot. That’s what I always look for when judging a video game story as a success or failure. It doesn’t have to make me lose my footing, but kindling the fire of passion within me definitely takes a bit more effort and investment than just silly skits and emotional one-liners. BlazBlue: Calamity Trigger is a game that I think fits the bill, even if narrative stories aren’t usually the main focus of the fighting game genre.
BlazBlue follows traditional 2D anime-style combat shenanigans, as you’d expect from an Arc System Works franchise. You have a number of varied and formidable fighters, and a set of special moves that each can use to devastate their opponent (mainly notably the two types of finishers, named Distortion Drive and Astral Finish). The characters themselves are unique and interesting enough, and each of them feels like they have their own identity and fighting style. That’s not the only thing that’s special about the cast, though.
The real charm is how these characters and their stories have been integrated into the evolving overarching narrative. Unlike, say, Mortal Kombat 11 or Guilty Gear Strive, they aren’t featured as performers in some kind of movie. Instead, their unique attributes and traits are integrated into the overall design philosophy of the game itself. The game puts you, the player, in front, leaving the keys to progression in your hands. You do this by winning (and losing) battles, identifying those design tricks, and overcoming them.
This type of approach has been heavily experimental and may be unconventional. However, with the advent of games that make heavy use of multiple perspectives such as 13 Sentinels, Octopath Traveler, and the upcoming return of the classic Live A Live, I think it’s time to talk about BlazBlue again.
I want a fighting game story to keep me engaged. Not just in the moments the characters are on air during story cutscenes, but every moment of their journey. Sometimes I don’t even know why I should go out of my way to play any character besides the few I’m comfortable with. Except because my favorites got nerfed or someone on YouTube said they weren’t tournament material. Even when I can try them out, it’s hard to get a clear picture of what to do or how to have fun with a character the way it was “intended”.
Most fighting games, especially Under Night In-Birth and King of Fighters, usually have a sterile story mode that is indistinguishable from any normal Arcade mode. The usual random, non-canon cutscenes ensue between matches, along with a short epilogue that is often pushed aside in favor of future storytelling. Most of them are also static, with little to no player engagement or interactivity, which can be considered rather boring by default (looking at you, Guilty Gear Strive, with your five hours non-stop animated cutscenes).
In BlazBlue, everything is important and engaging, but fragmented, like a prism. Every route and character journey is canon and takes place next to each other. There are even cast members who are aware of the meaning of the story and its strange arrangement and try to free themselves from it, adding an extra metafictional layer to the whole thing. Plus, you have the choice to approach the story any way you want and piece together the clues, which made the whole process several times more fun than expected.
The choice system in Calamity Trigger is very clever. You must not only win all battles, but also lose all battles in order to complete each course 100%. Then it is necessary to complete some fights with Distortion Drives or Astral Finishes in order to progress towards the true route, or at least unlock additional scenes that count towards completion. It works thematically, because you just don’t know how to get out of this multifaceted situation. It was created by science, magic, and other powers beyond your control.
You have to try everything, make mistakes and even write down what you have learned. You have to experience just like the characters and feel the spiral of pain they’ve been thrown into. Sometimes you’ll find characters who lament their inability to carry on, as well as others who are already used to it. It’s always fun and engaging to be able to interact with a fighting game’s narrative in more ways than usual, especially those that are specific and unique to that story.
This vision wouldn’t have worked as intended without writer Toshimichi Mori who shaped the world so masterfully. The result is a very in-depth story that left us wanting to try out different characters, and even more eager to commit to the lore of the BlazBlue series. Each character’s individual plot felt like a window, showing one aspect of this fantasy realm of sealed creatures and mystical weapons. Usually, most fighting game scenarios revolve around a single focal point, like the Soul Edge in Soul Calibur 6 or the Skull Heart in Skullgirls.
A creator laying out the entire roadmap from the start is very rare. Even taking that into account, however, Mori went the extra mile to incorporate multiple layers of intrigue and mystery into BlazBlue’s design ethos itself. As such, there’s always room for discussion about what could possibly happen or what certain things mean. There are even many real science concepts (and beyond) that have been used as inspiration to lay these fancy foundations.
For example, the character Arakune is a scientist who has sacrificed almost everything to pursue his futile goal of gaining power. Other characters like Noel Vermillion have a similar design to a character tied to the past story, which makes Noel intriguing not only because of what she does, but visually as well. Some connections are directly stated and others are suggested.
This is another reason why I think BlazBlue’s starting point has always been the characters, and the creator designed the game system around their attributes and traits. You have Ragna the Bloodedge, the protagonist who feuds with his nemesis Jin Kisaragi. Ragna also has significant ties to virtually every other cast member, and they’re all explored. Every time you watch, you’ll find an intense amount of depth and love that’s virtually non-existent in the modern fight scene these days.
From my point of view, it’s the responsibility of a fighting game (or a video game in general) to take me out of my comfort zone. More importantly, a title should allow me to have fun with everything it has to offer. In BlazBlue, I strongly believe that was the case. Each character’s movements, motivations, and route choices (even the gag scenes) strongly reflected their worldview and foreshadowed the addition of other relevant characters in future entries. Here you can at least get a general idea of who and what to expect from upcoming entries, in terms of playable characters and story progression, instead of what’s popular or trending from the point of view. editor’s view.
There aren’t many creators now who would go the extra mile to establish a new series or worldview, not just in the fighting game scene but in the industry in general. Many sometimes seem to do the bare minimum and decide the rest based on fan reception, but BlazBlue: Calamity Trigger decided to go all out from the start and I really appreciate that. I intended to keep spoilers to a minimum in this article, so there are plenty of surprises in store for those who embark on this fascinating and involved adventure.