The Dreamcast Legacy - BlazBlue: Cross Tag Battle

In a new series of articles (perhaps only a short-lived series, as I only have this and one other lined up), we will be exploring modern games that owe a debt to the blazing trails left by the games and developers of the bygone Dreamcast era. In this issue, we will be looking at the upcoming Arc System Works title BlazBlue: Cross Tag Battle, a new 2 vs. 2 tag-team fighting game coming soon to PS4, Switch, and Steam. Apart from the obvious correlations with similar Dreamcast heavyweight titles such as Marvel vs. Capcom 2 and the Capcom vs. SNK series, this new crossover beat-'em up shares a little more Dreamcast heritage than you may initially realise.

Arguably, the Dreamcast was the last battleground for the golden age of one-on-one fighting. It played host to some of the pinnacles of Capcom and SNK's output (see episode 34 of our podcast for more details) and as a fitting swansong to the era, the Dreamcast was also the place to be to pit these mighty titans against each other in the incredible Capcom vs. SNK titles that were released late in the console's twilight years.
This battle is about to explode! Fight!
Many of these titles would later be ported to other consoles, but in the years following the demise of the Dreamcast, the one-on-one fighting genre kind of fell out of favour with the mainstream gaming public, and both Capcom and SNK had difficulties following up the unassailable highs they had previously achieved. There has been a welcome resurgence in fighting game love very recently, but for a long while the genre was a bit lost in the wilderness.
Game over, man. Game over!
During this time, while Capcom and SNK failed to insert coin, new challengers appeared to offer up something new for the hardcore beat-'em up community: Arc System Works, French Bread, and SUBTLE STYLE.

Arc System Works are most famous for their Guilty Gear series of fighting games. The first Guilty Gear was published on the original playstation, but the series would soon find its way to Dreamcast with the next game, Guilty Gear X. Eschewing the jazzy playfulness of the Capcom games, Guilty Gear X would set itself apart with a hard rock/metal aesthetic and utilise the high resolution 640x480 VGA graphics mode to stand out as one of the most beautiful games of its kind on the system.


Arc System Works
As you can see, Arc System Works was charging into the future with twice the definition in their spritecraft 

Guilty Gear X would also be the first in the series to find its way into the arcades, thanks to the Dreamcast architecture of the Sega NAOMI hardware. While no more games would be ported to the Dreamcast itself, the Guilty Gear series would find its home on Dreamcast-based arcade hardware for many years to come.
  • Guilty Gear X Ver. 1.5, Atomiswave, 2003
  • Guilty Gear XX ("excess"): The Midnight Carnival, NAOMI, 2003
  • Guilty Gear XX: #Reload, NAOMI, 2003
  • Guilty Gear Isuka, Atomiswave, 2003
  • Guilty Gear XX: / ("slash"), NAOMI, 2005
  • Guilty Gear XX: ^CORE ("accent core"), NAOMI, 2006 
While these titles would also be ported to other home consoles and handhelds of the time, they were developed for and released in the arcades first, so they can still be considered as part of the extended Dreamcast library.

Heaven or Hell? Duel 1, Let's Rock!

At some point after the merger of Sega and Sammy in 2004, it seems that some of the IP rights to Guilty Gear and its characters were transferred to Sega under the new SegaSammy Holdings company, as Sammy had been the main publisher of the Guilty Gear games up until this point. While these rights were being negotiated and re-acquired, Arc System Works would continue to hone their craft on a brand new fighting game franchise BlazBlue, with the first game in the series, BlazBlue: Calamity Trigger, launching in 2008 on the Taito Type X² system. This new game continued to feature the studio's flamboyant style and hard rock soundtrack, applying their skills to a new batch of characters and settings.

The wheel of fate is turning. Rebel 1, Action!

French Bread started out life as a dōjin circle (essentially the Japanese equivalent of an amateur indie team), producing games for Windows PC between 1998 and 2004. One of their most popular original titles, Melty Blood, was co-developed with the visual novel dōjin team Type-Moon as a fighting game/visual novel hybrid and first released on Windows in 2002. A refined expansion followed in the form of Melty Blood: Re-ACT in 2004. This game was then adapted for the arcades, dropping the visual novel elements, and published in 2005 for the NAOMI hardware as Melty Blood: Act Cadenza, with the help of publishing house Ecole Software Corporation.

Cadenza, isn't that a kind of sideboard cupboard?

A sequel to Act Cadenza then followed in 2008, Melty Blood: Actress Again, and this would be one of the final titles released on Sega's NAOMI hardware. At the time, there were rumours that the Melty Blood games could be making their way home to the Dreamcast as well, but this unfortunately never happened, and might have been more wishful thinking on behalf of the Dreamcast community then a verified concrete rumour. Further balancing revisions to Actress Again would also appear on Sega's Ringwide arcade hardware in 2010 and 2011.

Much like French Bread, SUBTLE STYLE is another dōjin fighting studio that's been around since 2000. They also released a fighting game on Windows PC in 2003 called Akatsuki Shisei Ichigō, which was followed up by the sequel Akatsuki Blitzkampf in 2007. The latter game would form the basis for their self-published NAOMI arcade title Akatsuki Blitzkampf: Ausf. Achse in 2008. These entries to the versus game genre were well received and praised for their old school mechanics and high resolution sprite work, set in an alternative universe during World War II.

No mercy! Fight it out!

With all of these fantastic 2D fighters, the NAOMI system became the rightful heir to the throne left vacant by the venerable Neo Geo MVS. While Capcom and SNK were notably absent in the later years of the NAOMI's heyday, these fresh-faced up-start companies were making their mark on the fighting game genre, pushing the scene forward with impressively flashy, high resolution sprite work, new fighting styles and mechanics, while also humbly respectful to the deeply embedded roots established by the old school stalwarts.
The second best arcade system of all time
Sega attempted to attract these developers and others away from the NAOMI to their shinier and newer systems over the years, but the likes of the X-box based Chihiro, Gamecube based Triforce, nor the Pentium 4 powered Lindbergh could persuade studios to abandon the evergreen NAOMI. Developers were more than happy to stick with the near decade old Dreamcast architecture, as the distribution of the system amongst arcade centres was much more prolific than anything else, and releasing games on the GD-ROM media was cost-effective for both publishers and arcade operators alike. Sega would eventually put a stop to this by ending GD-ROM support, which effectively killed off the NAOMI by the end of 2008.
Go on mate, stick your tokens in Dynamite Deka EX, you won't be disappointed 
It appears that years later, in an effort to make up for this decision and to try and recapture the dōjin spirit that propelled the NAOMI's fortunes forward, Sega actively sort out these companies for the launch of the Ringedge 2 hardware in 2012. The French Bread, Type-Moon and Ecole team would join forces with SUBTLE STYLE to create a new fighting game franchise Under Night In-Birth as a launch title, with two special cameo combatants carried over from the preceding Melty Blood and Akatsuki series. Several balancing updates would follow in 2013 and 2015.

Recurring VOID Effect, 1st CLAUSE, DIVIDE!

Arc System Works also assisted in the Under Night In-Birth series, and would mend fences with Sega after their IP kerfuffle by contributing the final "Plus R" revision of Guilty Gear XX: Accent Core to the Ringedge 2's launch in 2012. They would then proceed to completely blow this away by releasing the next phenomenal entry in the series, Guilty Gear Xrd: SIGN, on Ringedge 2 in 2014, with its amazing adaption of the Unreal 3D engine to display anime style cel-shaded characters in a 2D fighting game.

This is still the greatest reveal trailer of all time

The culmination of this journey that began over a decade ago on the Sega NAOMI brings us back to today, where Arc System Works recently announced the next instalment in the BlazBlue franchise would be a crossover title with their dōjin comrades' Under Night In-Birth series. This crossover has rekindled the same kind of mind-blowing buzz and wonder that surrounded the announcement of Capcom vs. SNK, but this time for a new generation. Characters from the Atlus RPG Persona 4 will also feature, previously trading blows in the Arc System Works developed fighter Persona 4 Arena, as well as characters from the Rooster Teeth web series RWBY.

I'm not sure who half of these people are, but it looks awesome

Apart from these ring ins, it really does feel like a NAOMI System All-Stars Battle Royale, with character designs and fighting styles that were refined and evolved over the years from those early days on Dreamcast-based arcade hardware. While Arc System Works has been coy about the possibility of Guilty Gear characters entering the fray of this exciting new mash up, I'd be more interested in seeing some of the more obscure characters from the Melty Blood and Akatsuki series' roster pop up, re-imagined and retooled to fit into the current fighting system and art style.

C'mon, say it with me: "WE WANT BLITZTANK!" "WE WANT BLITZTANK!" 

So, if you can tear yourself away from your beloved Dreamcast for just a moment, and admit to secretly (and possibly ashamedly) owning some current gen consoles too, it might not be a bad idea to keep an eye out for BlazBlue: Cross Tag Battle, due for worldwide release sometime during 2018. You could even possibly justify its addition to your collection as a vaguely almost kind of Dreamcast game if you like, as per the ammunition above. No need to thank me, just doing my job.


If you're looking for some more Dreamcast Legacy style articles, check out Ross's Lastfight review from May 2016, which previously covered an indie game with more than a passing resemblance to Capcom's Power Stone games.


Blondejon said...

Wow what a great article, as a Saturn and Dreamcast owner I love the IPs both Capcom and SNK brought to both platforms and there is something about a 2d fighter that I find beautiful. Id never heard of Melty blood but Ill be looking for more info on the game and look forward to a 2d resurgance on my PS4, good job I just sourced a new mayflash F300 arcade stick

MKKhanzo said...

Im always sad that later Naomi titles never got ported to our beloved DC.

Im about to write to Subtle Style to see if they could license one of the 2 Windows Akatsuki titles, wich may be easier to port (?)

way2easy said...

Great article Scott! Your knowledge of arcade hardware and history is truly awe inspiring.