Blazblue has always been in kind of a weird place for me. A spiritual follow-up to Guilty Gear (much like Persona 4 Arena), Blazblue has always felt like GG's younger, prettier, dumber cousin who talks way too much. It's a solid fighter, but it's always felt too wrapped-up in its own lore and being flashy instead of being a dependable, competitive fighting game. After four iterations, the series' balance has fluctuated severely, with a distinctly untouchable top tier and some hilariously scummy tactics (that I will also totally use at the drop of a hat).
On the other hand, each version of Blazblue has provided a very complete package for fighting game fans who never step into the ring against human opponents with a fully fleshed-out visual novel-style story mode, an all-star Japanese voice cast including Tomokazu Sugita, Yuichi Nakamura, Aoi Yuki, and Junichi Suwabe, and drop-dead gorgeous 2D-animated visuals with massive, smoothly-animated character sprites and detailed backgrounds. The series fast, flashy gameplay and stylized character designs have given the game a well-deserved cult following.
Taking all that into consideration, it's safe to say that Blazblue: Chrono Phantasma is the strongest entry in the series, making better inroads to both the competitive and single-player communities. Since the whole point of fighting games is to play against other people, let's talk about that, first--specifically, what Chrono Phantasma has in store for longtime hardcore players. Chrono Phantasma introduces six new playable characters: lightning-fast rushdown machine Bullet, hard-hitting punisher Azrael, infuriating keepaway specialist Amane, Tsubaki-alike (on the surface) Izayoi, and DLC-only characters Kagura and Kokonoe. While these characters each bring something new to the table, it's too early in the game's life to determine who's majorly overpowered--although I will say that playing against comfortable Amane players is a real test of one's patience and willingness to get hit. We also get a new mechanic, as Continuum Shift's Gold Burst system has been revamped into the new Overdrive system, stopping the clock and giving characters a split-second chance to lop off a chunk of health, in addition to smoother, faster Guard crushes (it's now called Crush Trigger, costs a quarter-bar/25 Heat, and is hilariously handy).
Casual fans get the next (and possibly final?) chapter of the Blazblue story, told as usual in lengthy visual novel-style cutscenes, with battles playing out as actual in-game matches. I'm just gonna come right out and say that I'm not the biggest fan of Blazblue's hilarious plot, but let's just say that adding time travel to the mix is not the most intelligent of moves. For those of you new to the story (or if you missed an installment, like me), there's a surprisingly concise recap told in cutesy, super-deformed style that will quickly acquaint you with the major events of the series. I think it's fair to say that absolutely none of this matters to me--fighting games are meant to be played with people, so while I couldn't find any real faults with the Story and recap modes, but longtime, more experienced visual novel fans may find issues that I missed.
In Persona 4 Arena, an interesting compromise was reached for button-mashers and experienced fighters alike: the Autocombo. By mashing the weak attack button, a player could burn through their meter for freely-linking moves, and sometimes end with an automatic super at the cost of a little health. It was actually worked into the game's mechanics and balance, but BB:CS' "Stylish" control setup doesn't even go halfway on this. Much like Marvel vs. Capcom 3's "Simple" controls, the Stylish setup allows a player to perform expert-level combos simply by jamming on the buttons. This is excellent for players who don't give a crap about frame data and just want to play, but short of an absolute skill deficit, there is next to no way for a "Technical" player (using normal controls) to fight someone using "Stylish." Is someone playing Noel Vermillion or Mu-12? Get ready to get f**ked, because they don't have to do anything to put up a powerful keep-away defense (or conversely, mount an unstoppable ranged offense). When two people play together on Stylish, it doesn't come down to any sort of skill--whoever mashes buttons faster and harder usually comes out on top.
Chrono Phantasma brings a solid, complete package to an imperfect game. It lacks the technicality, intelligence, and overall balance of other fighters, but it gets most of the way there--that's not a bad thing at all. Barring the inclusion of a few rather pricey DLC characters ($5 for one who you can actually unlock in-game, $8 for the other, and neither one is necessary or particularly jaw-dropping), Blazblue: Chrono Phantasma won't disappoint. Just, y'know... be careful who gets a hold of Stylish controls. That's a good way to ruin a friendship.
+ Huge value--a sometimes-overlong visual novel grafted onto a pretty damn good fighter caters to both casual and hardcore players
+ Large, varied cast of characters with slick designs, gorgeous animation, and an all-star voice cast
+/- "Stylish" control scheme allows newbies to have fun, but it isn't balanced into the game and is horrendously, hilariously broken
+/- Online experience is serviceable, but should be much, much better for a fighting game
- DLC characters are kind of underwhelming