2D anime fighters like the BlazBlue series are often intimidating for their elaborate movesets and demand for precise execution. However, BlazBlue: Cross Tag Battle breaks from tradition by simplifying its gameplay systems, and bringing in characters from three other franchises to join the fight. By no means does the simplification make Cross Tag shallow–the dynamic tag system and the clever ways you can mix mechanics are where Cross Tag shines. Factor in the charm of these distinct worlds and you’ll have plenty of reasons to consider this fast, flashy, and endearing fighter.
Across four mainline games, BlazBlue developed a complex fighting system, while Persona 4 Arena and Arena Ultimax distilled the formula and captured the charisma of the eponymous RPG. Under Night In-Birth (from developer French-Bread in collaboration with Arc System Works) had its own twist on a deep, yet accessible fighting game. The RWBY animated series makes its fighting game debut, and the cast’s talents and flair make the transition incredibly well. Cross Tag Battle unifies all four series as a five-button fighter with two main attack buttons, a universal overhead attack that can also function as an EX attack, a tag button, and the partner skill. While it may seem a bit too straightforward, even the most historically complex characters on the roster remain true to form where it counts. By distilling classic fighting mechanics, the focus is shifted from performing elaborate directional inputs to creating openings for sweet high-damage combos through easy-to-execute attacks.
You’ll recognize familiar moves with similar properties from respective games, but the conditions for execution have changed. Basic attacks, smart combos, and even Supers (called Distortion Skills) are easy to pull off, though the number of techniques mapped to the limited controls can cause some inadvertent activations of very different moves–particularly throws and Distortion Skills. Auto-forward dash on most characters may also be jarring to fighting game veterans. But it doesn’t take much effort to adjust to this game’s quirks and pace.
Partner skills will take time to grasp; every character has unique back, forward, and standing assist attacks where they fly in from off screen to lend a hand. Cross combos take the tag system one step further by letting your duo pile on damage simultaneously; pulling these off will make short work of opponents if you can expertly control your tandem. These are key to maximizing the effectiveness of combos, creating openings, or pulling yourself out of a rut. With this in mind, you’re encouraged to either experiment using different duos or form your own collaborative attacks with the pair you love most. It’s chaotic and tough to nail down in live matches, and it’s where the depth of combat comes from.
Most of your advanced moves require you to expend meters that charge during the course of combat and it’s critical that you keep an eye on them at all times. Meter management requires you to think about using up the skill gauge for distortion skills, laying down EX moves, or saving up for back-to-back supers with your tag partner. Cross combos and tag counters to get out of combos use up the two-bar cross gauge. And when you’re down a fighter, the Resonance Blaze (the comeback mechanic) kicks you into overdrive for 15 seconds by regenerating health, adding chip damage, automatically filling the skill gauge, and strengthening Distortion Skills–be sure to use that time wisely.
Cross Tag Battle has a lot to absorb, and it’ll take time to get comfortable with the fighting system and unravel all its intricacies. Thankfully, the onboarding process is top-notch. Tactics Mode walks you through the basic terminology, mechanics, and their use-cases, and each character has a tailor-made tutorial that gives you the opportunity to perfect specific combos. On top of that, there’s a slew of missions in Tactics Mode that pit you in difficult challenges to build awareness of the more specific situations you’ll encounter in matches.
All the pieces of a fast, smooth, and endlessly fun fighting game exist within Cross Tag, but it truly shines by channelling and fusing the personality and charisma of each franchise. Whether it’s the stylish super moves, battle cries, or fluid animations, this large cast is bursting with charm. While many of the assets have been repurposed from previous games, this is the first time we see members of RWBY in 2D with anime-inspired models. Under Night’s cast also gets redrawn portraits to better fit the BlazBlue aesthetic. Despite their differences, the combination of worlds works so well that each fanbase will find something to love about seeing their favorite characters in unexpected scenarios.
Mixing up teams brings about collaborations I’ve always wanted to see. Sure, Hyde, Ragna, and Narukami may play like the standard sword-wielding boys from their respective worlds, but having either of them work together makes for a badass team. As a die-hard Persona fan, having the Investigation Team reunited at Yasogami High for a hectic brawl while bumping the Arena mix for Reach Out To The Truth warms my heart. Especially smaller moments, like the unique chatter and interactions between two characters before fights commence, makes this feel like more than a rehash of multiple assets or collection of characters thrown together all willy nilly. When I’m hopping from Under Night’s Riverside stage in one fight to BlazBlue’s Cathedral the next, using my favorite duo of Chie and Ruby while listening to Hyde’s battle theme, Cross Tag Battle evokes and amplifies the fondness I have for this roster.
The crossing of worlds primarily plays out in the Episode Mode, where the four factions of fighters are forced to fight in a fake realm by a mysterious, omnipresent AI that creates arbitrary rules. By obtaining color-coded keystones, and eventually uniting to fight this AI, they’ll be able to return home. The overarching plot sounds ridiculous, and it’s borderline nonsensical. Each of the four campaigns play out as a visual novel with static character portraits and fully voiced dialogue; actual fights are embedded within each chapter to keep you an active participant. It’s all quite trite, sometimes eye-rolling.
Some character appearances feel shoehorned for the sake of making an appearance, but despite its absurdity, moments of cross-franchise fan service stick the landing. Ruby’s obsession with fancy weapons permeates her encounters with the likes Ragna and Hyde. References to Chie’s obsession with steak, and Yukiko’s inability to make curry call back to the moments I first met them in Persona 4; even Noel gets caught up in the mix as she’s completely oblivious to how bad it’ll taste. And as each episode concludes, I was rewarded with heartfelt scenes that reminded me of why I’m invested in these characters.
Story mode highlights something odd, though. DLC characters take part in the story as opponents despite not being available in the playable base roster. Their movesets, character models, theme songs, and voice lines are in the game, but they’re gated as add-on content. Half of RWBY’s cast is offered for free, but to see several Persona, BlazBlue, and Under Night folks so obviously withheld feels unfair.
Taking the fight online is where you’ll spend most of your time after getting your feet wet in single-player. Cross Tag online component consists of multiple lobbies for different skill levels where players walk around as chibi versions of their favorite character. Customizing your player card with character portraits and familiar catchphrases is another avenue to express your love. It’s cute and lighthearted, magnified by the adorable batch of emotes that often take the edge off exhilarating fights. And thankfully, jumping into matches works seamlessly. After hundreds of rounds online, both in the casual lobby and ranked matchmaking, we can say that netcode is solid and that latency is a non-issue with a decent connection.
Players that want a more competitive environment should be happy to know that we had little trouble finding a fair fight in ranked matchmaking. In both victory and defeat, memorable moments abound. Although it can be frustrating, I’m always taking note of how high-level players get the better of me. I’ll also never forget making a comeback from being down a teammate, activating resonance blaze and perfectly timing both Chie’s power charge and God Hand super while my opponent was in mid-tag to take them both out in one hit.
Whether playing through the story mode alone or against hardened opponents online, Cross Tag Battle is an absolute joy with a surplus of possibilities within its wide roster and versatile fighting system. Even with all the ridiculousness of the overarching plot, I reveled in the charm of my favorite characters and embraced the many moments of fan service. It’s a masterful unification of styles and mechanics from four different universes that compels you to dig deeper and dedicate the time to getting the most out of the beloved members of this cast.