The process of videogame localisation is one that frequently manages to batter all semblance of personality out of a game, and occasionally even renders it impenetrable or just plain nonsensical. Aside from the experienced big hitters like Nintendo, Square Enix and Sony – who’ve all chalked up several years worth of experience in the importance of a solid localisation job – fresh-faced young developers still fall into sizable beginner’s traps with alarming frequency. Which is one reason (of a great many) that Blazblue: Calamity Trigger deserves to be celebrated.

The buzz on Blazblue has been steadily building for months, and it isn’t hard to see why. Causing genuine, old-school fervour in Japanese arcades when it emerged out of nowhere in late 2008, anyone who wasn’t around to see it obviously had questions that needed answering. How did a bonkers and seemingly flippant new IP emerge at roughly the same time as 2008’s very best arcade game (Street Fighter IV, obviously) and end up nonchalantly standing toe-to-toe with it?

Now that the (pitch-perfect, according to the enthusiasts) arcade ports have arrived to both the PS3 and Xbox 360, beat ’em up fanatics and general gaming connoisseurs can see what the story is, and it’s this: Blazblue Calamity Trigger is nothing less than totally outstanding. Almost everything about it works, but the icing on the cake is the witty and careful localisation, which has shrewdly put an emphasis on the ridiculously dry humour inherent throughout. Fighting games often falter when they feel the need to shoehorn in a plot, but Blazblue wouldn’t feel quite the same without one.

“Story mode” is actually several story modes in one – with each playable character taking you on a different path through a completely different plot. In between bouts, a (deranged) character-centric tale unfolds via the JRPG-style combination of static artwork and voiceover, and though they’re too unhinged to be truly involving, you’re very likely to laugh frequently, because of a localization process that was clearly embarked upon with real vigour and passion. Branching paths keep things lively too, with different routes equalling different unlockables (of which there are a varied plenty) and Blazblue is definitely not short of replay value.

Some previously esteemed beat ’em up franchises have fallen by the wayside in recent years, primarily because they’ve often let quality slip by assuming that a surfeit of arbitrary content or overly flashy visuals are what everyone really wants, which couldn’t be farther from the truth; and Blazblue succinctly demonstrates it. It may appear almost retro to some because of its (sumptuous) 2D anime visuals, and the fact that there are only 12 playable characters, but this has allowed for an undue amount of scrutiny to be placed on the right things.

The fighting’s core emphasis is always on taking the offensive tack (which is extraordinarily refreshing), the game’s “drive” mechanic is ingenious, and the online features are undoubtedly the best that have ever been constructed for a beat ’em up. The sense of community online is completely endearing, and the vast wealth of options is (at first) slightly daunting. Blazblue’s developers Arc System Works have said that they wanted to appeal specifically to arcade gamers who were snobbish about the prospects of online gaming, and they’ve pulled it off with real aplomb. It’s as close as you’re going to get to the atmosphere of a real arcade from the comfort of your living room.

As with the magisterial Street Fighter IV, the real depth and nuance of the battle mechanics are there only if you want them, and the special edition of Blazblue includes a pretty extensive tutorial DVD. It is a tad dry and somewhat humourless but also extremely direct and helpful, and newcomers are going to find it basically essential if they’re getting involved with friends who are already knee-deep in Blazblue’s nourishing complexities. Hardened genre enthusiasts (needless to say) will want to leap straight in blind and soak everything up without being led in any specific direction.

But if all of this sounds overtly complicated or involved, it’s not. If you want to know whether or not Blazblue is for you, the best way to do it is to simply play a couple of rounds. If it takes you any longer than that to get mercilessly hooked, then check your pulse. Because this really is a stone-cold classic.

Watch the Blazblue Calamity Trigger trailer here…

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