Thanks to Nicalis for the review code
Title: Blade Strangers
System: Nintendo Switch
Release Date: 08/28/2018
In this crossover fighting game, you take control of one of 14 characters, who are chosen by a group of sentient computers and their goddess to take out a dangerous being known only as Lina who plans on absorbing data across all dimensions!
Taking a cue from 2D anime fighters such as Blazblue and Guilty Gear, Blade Strangers is fully animated in 2.5D, meaning that all the characters in stages are cell shaded in such a way that they look like they’re from an anime, although they’re still technically 3D models despite being on a 2D plane, being well animated although not to the same standards as ASW titles. Character cut-ins can be turned on in the option menu if you’d like some extra flair in battle, although most of the stages look pretty generic, save for the ones that represent the guest characters, since they seem to have a lot more detail put into them than the ones from Code of Princess or Yumi’s Odd Odyssey. Another cool attention to detail comes from one of Curly’s Ultra Skills, where if you strike an enemy with it while holding down it’ll take you to an 8-bit version of the stage you’re in before Curly and her dog friends deal damage to the opponent. Yes, this applies for every stage, which is an attention to detail I wish some of the other guest characters could bring with their own ultras. (Save for Gunvolt, who does similar cut-in moves like in his own series) There’s the occasional anime scene here and there, and by that I mean the intro movie and the quick ending movie that plays before the credits in story mode for every character.
When it comes to sound, the menu sound effects are ripped straight from Code of Princess EX, which isn’t surprising considering how the same developers of that game are behind Blade Strangers as well. Most of the music is pretty good, although I found the tracks that played in the story mode to be pretty bland, except for a really emotional piece that plays right before certain characters are “awakened” before their final boss fight with Lina. The real highlight are the remixes from the guest characters’ stages, since they all are remixes from the original source game said characters came from, and some of them are fantastic, such as the Lich Yard, Sand Zone and Downtown themes, (though much to my dismay Lich Yard doesn’t play the actual Lich Yard BGM, but rather the Shovel Knight main theme instead) while I’m pretty positive that the balcony remix on Quote’s Stage is the most godlike rendition of that song to date. It’s just so outstanding, which is why being a little underwhelmed by the tracks for most of other stages is a bummer. Each character has a voice to them as well, usually meant for story mode or in-battle lines, and it’s all in Japanese, although unlike Code of Princess EX, I can understand the reasoning behind this since there was no earlier English Dub for the game to go off of this time around. Still, it’s really amusing to hear Shovel Knight speak in formal Japanese…
Blade Strangers ditches traditional fighting game special move systems, and goes for something a lot simpler that can make it incredibly easy to learn every single character’s main moves without even bringing up their command list. You have four main attack buttons, from a light attack that does the standard quick moves, a heavy attack that does a more damaging move, a skill attack that does a move that’s easy to combo into, and finally, your “Unique Attack”, acting a lot like special moves in the Super Smash Bros series in the sense that holding a different direction while pressing the button will lead to a different move being performed.
In fact, that’s pretty much the only way to change up your moves for all of the buttons, since there’s no quarter circles or anything of the sort to speak of here. This makes it very easy to get a combo going once you know which moves can be cancelled into another, and if you press the buttons together in a certain way you can pull off other kinds of skills, which are stronger than a normal attack and will take a meter off your Ultra Gauge, while also providing for extra combo opportunities. (since most of the time, using an EX skill will allow you to go right into a combo) This is also how you pull off a character’s Ultra Skill, a super move that can be stacked twice (or three times in Gunvolt’s case) to deal absurd amounts of damage. You can also use a similar button combination to enter the “Heat Up” phase in desperation, but I barely ended up using this since the standard attacks and combos were more than capable of dealing enough damage without the extra boost.
With the combat out of the way, now’s the time to discuss the modes in Blade Strangers, and this is where a bit of disappointment set in for me. Despite a fantastic, easy-to-learn fighting system, there’s very little to take advantage of it. You have a very short story mode for each character that can be cleared in around 3-4 minutes on Normal difficulty due to how easy the AI is by default, (raising it to Expert is when they finally start giving you a true challenge, and you can increase the amount of rounds if you want to pad out things more) which usually unfolds in the same general fashion of being chosen to stop Lina, or being used as a backup in case Solange falls in battle, and then the story mode ends without much fanfare. They do try and lock off the bottom row of characters from you by default in this mode, meaning you’ll have to unlock them by clearing story mode with other characters several times, but this is hardly a roadblock, especially since the other characters are available for you to mess around with in other modes right off the bat.
Speaking of the other modes, you have a handy Tutorial that explains the basics if you need anything clarified, a Mission Mode that plays like your standard trial mode in a Street Fighter/Blazblue game, (although insanely easy in comparison, with only five missions for each character with only the last one resembling any sort of hair-pulling frustration) a Survival Mode where you fight ten CPUs in a row with limited health regeneration depending on the difficulty, your standard Arcade Mode where you kill time as you wait for online players to interrupt you, a standard local Versus mode, a standard Training Mode, and finally, an Online Multiplayer mode, which seems to be the main focus of the game considering how most of the in-game achievements available in the Profile menu are locked behind this mode, from ranking up in the leagues, to fighting specific characters a certain amount of times. Another odd in-game achievement is spending a whopping 24 total hours in Training Mode. Why anyone would ever spend a full day in a training mode in any video game, even over the course of many weeks is beyond me, but it comes across as a strange form of padding.
Yes, that means there’s no Gallery Mode with tons of cool unlockable facts about each character included in the game, any concept art to discover, and there’s no sound test either, which is really disappointing considering my aforementioned praise for the Balcony remix and how cool it would be to listen to it anytime. The most you’ll get in terms of single player content seem to be unlocking all the in-game achievements doable without online, along with getting the unlockable skins available for each character. I think there’s five per character based on my time with the game, as I seemed to have found out how to get them by doing the following for each character:
Skins 1 and 2: Default
Skin 3: Beat Story Mode
Skin 4: Beat Arcade Mode
Skin 5: Beat Survival Mode.
So if you want to have absolutely everything unlocked, then you will have to learn every character and play extensively with them, although it will get repetitive real quick if you just focus on that. That’s why I hope the online mode will be great and provide lots of fun when the game fully launches, since playing locally was loads of fun and I can easily see this being a great multiplayer game to pull out and play with friends and family, although as someone who played this prerelease, it does rub me the wrong way that the game’s a bit lacking on content compared to most other fighters and puts a lot of the focus on an online mode that’s dependent solely on if the game takes off or not.
In conclusion, Blade Strangers is a crazy crossover that few of us could have dream of predicting. With several indie guest stars joining the fight, along with an incredibly easy to learn combat system, this is an excellent fighting game to learn and play with your friends, even if they aren’t into most fighters. It’s easy to learn, but difficult to master, and unlike most fighters I played, not a single character of the bunch I would consider to be absolutely horrible to play as, so they did a good job of making the characters not too tough to grasp. It’s just a shame that the single player side of things is so lackluster, from an incredibly easy mission mode, a very brief and basic story mode, and a repetitive survival mode.
This game’s a must-buy if you play with friends and are looking for an easy fighter to get into, but unfortunately, without knowing how the online will be or if it’ll even turn out to be active in the future, it’s disappointing to see a lot of the in-game achievements and most of the focus go to the online mode, and while there are skins to unlock for each character when you’re offline, I feel that Blade Strangers could have done much better if it included extra things like a Gallery Mode or a Score Attack mode, something along the lines of what Blazblue did to allow for plenty of local and online content. Blade Strangers is definitely worth checking out for the crossover and the easy to learn mechanics, but not if you were hoping for a robust, lengthy fighter.
I give Blade Strangers a 7 out of 10.