First announced at the Evo 2017 and releasing later this year, BlazBlue Cross Tag Battle is looking to take the fast-paced, frantic-yet-technical BlazBlue series in a direction that few Arc System Works fans expected. Bringing together popular characters hailing from several notable fighting games including BlazBlue, Persona 4 Arena and Under Night In-Birth, BlazBlue Cross Tag Battle is shaping up to be an interesting addition to Evo 2018’s lineup later this year. While getting to this point hasn’t been an easy journey for series creator Toshimichi Mori and his team, it has been an incredibly rewarding one.
While many following BlazBlue were aware of Mori’s desire to try out tag-based combat in the franchise, few expected a project at the size and scope of BlazBlue Cross Tag Battle. When asked about the game’s inception and inclusion of characters from outside the BlazBlue universe, Mori’s explanation was simple: “I’d been interested in a tag battle game for a long time, as a fan of Tekken Tag Tournament, Marvel vs. Capcom and others,” Mori explained. “For me, with BlazBlue Central Fiction wrapping up Ragna’s story arc, it seemed like a good time to try something new and explore the tag battle genre in a different way.”
A new "Blue"
Combining characters and mechanics from multiple fighting game franchises would be challenging for any developer, but Mori’s team went even further: adding characters from a franchise that would be entering the arena of fighting games for the very first time. Through a special collaboration, characters from the internet pop-culture phenomenon by Rooster Teeth, RWBY, would also be locked in for appearances in BlazBlue Cross Tag Battle. Working with a studio outside of Japan like Rooster Teeth presented new opportunities (and new challenges) for Mori’s team.
Aside from the language barrier, there were other challenges as well, such as finalizing decisions around character design for the new fighters. One interesting anecdote from Mori: “Rooster Teeth volunteered to assist with special move design for RWBY characters. When we previously built movesets for characters in BlazBlue titles, technique names were often chosen based on sound/pronunciation. Rooster Teeth was far more interested in the meaning behind each technique’s name.” While differences like this made development challenging at times, it was clear from talking to Mori that those challenges also led to plenty of positive collaboration across both teams.
Whittling down the game’s cast from an incredibly dense, rich pool of dozens of potential characters across four popular franchises down to the final 40 playable fighters also proved substantially difficult. It was also a collaborative effort. “While both character popularity and game balance concerns were part of the equation when deciding which characters would make the roster, there were also character suggestions made by both Atlus (for Persona) and French Bread (for Under Night In-Birth) that led to some interesting considerations,” Mori said. “As for the BlazBlue fighters, well, let’s just say we had many difficult internal discussions.”
Once the diverse cast was chosen, the gameplay needed to be addressed. BlazBlue, Persona 4 Ultimax and Under Night In-Birth are distinct games with distinct mechanics, and getting parts of each franchise to coalesce into a complete whole in a fun, fair, and interesting way is one of the biggest challenges of creating a crossover fighting game. For Mori, there were two distinct concerns. The first was creating a game system that could keep each character’s identity intact.
The second was balancing the characters in such a way that the tag system made sense. The actual mechanics for BlazBlue Cross Tag Battle are a natural evolution from experiments this development team has conducted over the years. “As you may know, previous BlazBlue games have a Stylish Mode [that, when active, transforms sequences of button presses into basic combos]. That Stylish Mode mechanic was the basis for the combat system of Persona 4 Arena,” Mori stated. “We took another natural evolution of that mechanic and adapted the Under Night In-Birth characters to work with those kinds of controls, which was admittedly difficult. Then, the RWBY characters were added, and we ended up optimizing the controls of the game around a gamepad rather than an arcade stick. It was challenging to say the least.”
When asked for a comment on which franchise was most difficult to adapt to this new system, Mori thought for a long time before answering. “Probably the Under Night In-Birth characters, like Gordeau. I saw my team members struggling a lot while trying to adapt them.”
Admittedly, the game’s new mechanics do feel foreign to BlazBlue fans. When going hands on with the title at Evo Japan, it was immediately noticeable just how many liberties had to be taken with the basic control scheme to accommodate the new fighters and tag mechanics. Instead of 4 attack buttons, there are just three: a light attack, a strong attack, and an overhead attack that punishes opponents guarding low. A fourth button is reserved for raw tags. Series fans expecting their combos from Central Fiction to carry over will most definitely need some time to adjust to the controls. Surprisingly, however, Marvel fans will feel right at home. “Partner Skills” aka Assists are present this time around, along with “Crash Assaults” which fans of Marvel games will recognize as Delayed Hyper Combos.
Both of these mechanics are accessible with the press of a single button. In addition, a player can burn meter to bring both of their characters onscreen for a limited time to disorient and mix up an opponent and rack up a dizzying amount of damage in a “Cross Combo.” The evolution of Persona 4 Arena’s auto-combo mechanic Mori previously discussed is known as “Smart Combo” here, and it behaves as an important tool to pressure an opponent this time around. Players can also push back an opponent while blocking by expending meter via a “Reject Guard.” Though the controls have been changed, the blistering pace and tight combat is pure BlazBlue and should be immediately recognized by fans of the series.
No discussion around BlazBlue Cross Tag Battle would be complete without bringing up the significant fan backlash to the game’s substantial DLC plans. Initially, Arc System Works announced that while the base game would ship with 20 characters across all 4 franchises, the roster would be expanded to 40 via six separate Character Packs. Fans reacted poorly to this news almost immediately, frustrated with what was seen as a low initial character count as well as a perceived attempt at keeping substantial content locked behind an arbitrary paywall.
Mori had a lot to say when queried about this topic, and some of his answers were surprising. “There was a sense of surprise from the team [due to the fan reaction], but more than that, we felt that we let our fans down with the way those announcements were made. There should have been more details up front.” For example, Mori stated that the two missing RWBY characters, Blake and Yang, were already set to be announced as free DLC later this year (and would not be included as part of the Character Packs). However, Mori said, “Due to the large number of events scheduled late last year and early this year, the plan was to provide updates little by little. Unfortunately, because of this, the big picture was distorted.” Announcing small details bit by bit is much more common in Japan than in the West, so this was definitely a learning opportunity for Mori’s team. “Because this title targets an international audience, moving forward we need to make sure our announcements reflect this and find new ways to delight our fans around the world.”
Devil in the details
Mori and the team at Arc System Works also provided a few new details concerning the game’s Western release plan. BlazBlue Cross Tag Battle will feature a full English dub and launch at a MSRP of $49.99 for either the physical or digital version of the game. The DLC characters will indeed be bundled into six separate Character Packs for $4.99 each, though there will be an additional option to purchase the entire set for $19.99 as well. Character Pack 1 will contain Platinum the Trinity from BlazBlue, Orie from Under Night In-Birth and Kanji Tatsumi from Persona 4 Arena, and that pack will be free for anyone purchasing the title at launch. Blake and Yang from RWBY will also be available for free for all players.
Finally, Mori has a message for fans of BlazBlue or any of the franchises that are set to be included in BlazBlue Cross Tag Battle: “It’s really difficult to design a fighting game for gamers who are not into fighting games, but we’ve put a lot of effort into making sure BlazBlue Cross Tag Battle is a game that will appeal to fans of all skill levels — including those who haven’t gone too deep into fighters before. I would be very happy if you give it a try.” BlazBlue Cross Tag Battle is set for launch in North America on June 5, 2018, and will be making its appearance as a main title later this year at Evo. Clearly, fans of Arc System Works games have a lot to look forward to.