Learning curves are a bitch. And Arc Systems' learning curves are even bitchier. And when it comes to learning everything in an Arc Systems beat-em-up to play it competently then, well, the game is going to make you its bitch.
Thankfully, though, the limited edition comes packaged with a DVD that explains just what the hell is going on with all the characters. But if you don't want to shell out any extra money then it's probably worth noting that some people have already uploaded the tutorials to YouTube. Of course this then means that you end up sitting on the sofa, pad (or stick, preferably stick) in hand as your laptop gently warms the cushion next to you while you try over and over again to replicate the combos found by other more skilled people than yourself.
The problem is that Arc Systems' beat-em-ups are so incredibly tech and the characters are so diverse that it takes bloody ages just to learn one of them. There is a typical sequence to learning a character: first you mash, then you look up the moves and try them out, which involves a lot of pausing and going to the moves list, checking and re-checking making sure you've got the directions correct. And then, because everyone is so weird in games such as BlazBlue and Guilty Gear, you have to make sure you are actually doing the specials rather than normals because their attacks are just as strange and varied as the weirdo names they're given.
Then! You've got to learn all the terminology such as the Heat Gauge, Distortion Drives, ordinary Drives, Barrier techniques, instant guarding, dash cancelling , guard stuns, double jumps, Astral Heat, rapid cancels... and of course how to use them all effectively. There are a lot more techniques in BlazBlue than those just listed above but it was getting boring typing them out.
This is all when you're trying to learn just one character, so you can see that the learning curve is really something steep because you've then got to apply all that to every character you're going to play with. It takes patience, practice and a hell of a lot of determination to try to get the best out of each oddball fighter. Even the character select screen is weird as it has you guide a cursor around the screen rather than the usual menu selection.
Now, for people raised on Street Fighter you might think that these would come easily and naturally enough, but by comparison Street Fighter, even Third Strike, is an absolute cake walk when compared to the technicalities of BlazBlue. Basically it's not an entry level fighter. It's one for people who own two arcades sticks in case their arcade stick owning friends come round to play and can't be arsed lugging a stick on the bus. No, of course it's not totally unplayable on the pad, you can get by, but it's just annoying when your attacks don't come out as planned or you unintentionally jump straight up instead of across the screen, and further problems come when you're trying to air dash and air block and so on.
Did we mention how many different ways there are to block? Nope, but there is normal blocking, normal blocking in the air, instant guard when you block at just the right time and you get a frame advantage, plus then there is the Barrier system. The Barrier system is a stronger block which negates chip damage, but it's on a meter and if that depletes then you're at a serious disadvantage as you'll enter the Danger Condition and take more damage for the rest of the round. It's useful for ending opponents' combos and pushing them back, and you can even totally disperse it to knock them flying, again at the cost of taking extra damage. Despite all this incredibly tech defence stuff it's still not as fun as the parry system in Street Fighter III. Oh and you can't block too much thanks to the Negative Penalty system that sees you taking double damage if the Guard Libra bar fills.
BlazBlue is so filled to the brim with all sorts of tech stuff that you really begin to feel tired if you think about them all for too long. But once you start getting into it the whole thing begins to open up and all of a sudden you're playing one of the best 2D fighters around today.
When that happens, and it eventually will, you've got various modes to play through. It's probably best to stick with Arcade mode for a while because you just get fight after fight without any of the total and utter Japanese-ness of the Story mode, and you'll unlock those match ending Astral Heat attacks for the characters. The Story mode is confusing and the scenes have more in common with a JPRG than anything else, which means lots of cut-outs of the characters blankly staring at you while they say things like "..." and even more nonsensical stuff. It's bizarre and it doesn't really add anything to the fighting; in fact it kind of detracts from the whole experience because you're still wondering what the hell is going on when you're busting out a juggle combo.
BlazBlue does, however, make a case for 2D sprites, much more so than King Of Fighters XII because the graphics are a lot smoother and they don't go all pixelated if you get too close to the screen. Also when in battle the characters talk to each other; a lot of it is just shouting but occasionally a reference pops in there and it makes the fights feel a bit more personal.
This whole fighting game revival has been instigated by Street Fighter IV. And while it's great to see many more fighters being released such as KOF XII and the recently announced XIII, Marvel Vs Capcom 3, Samurai Shodown Sen and of course BlazBlue: Calamity Trigger (and its sequel BlazBlue: Continuum Shift which is getting released on consoles in America and Japan in July) there is a limit to how many of them you can take. But really that's up to you to decide.