Like all fighting games, Blazblue hates you.
It hates your stupid hands which can't keep up with your stupid brain which can't keep up with the cheese-tastic AI or the bloke sitting alongside you or the sod on Youtube who keeps posting combo videos which make your feeble four-hit efforts look like a half-incher in a big willy contest. It has no tutorial, is loaded with nonsense - Guard Libras, Heat Gauges, Revolver Actions, Barrier Bursts, Distortion Drives, Negative Penalties, Astral Heats, and other impenetrable jargon - and would probably rather you just effed right off.
Even Blazblue's release date hates you. The eight month delay brought about by European publishers too bloody rich and massive to publish 'some fighting game' has made every gamer in Europe a soft target for our online chums to the east and west. It's been so long, Blazblue has already seen its first revision in the Japanese Continuum Shift arcade update, with new characters and a rebalance across the board. For flip's sakes, eh?
But even with the SNES-era monstro-delay, Blazblue feels like a fighting game from the future. It's built on the foundations laid by Arc System Works' Guilty Gear series, but like SFIV it strips out the more exotic mechanics and slows things down a little to make it playable by mortal hands.
With no Ryu or Ken to ease you in and more gauges than the bridge of the Starship Enterprise, Blazblue is a harder sell than Street Fighter. It's not nearly as recognisable nor as spookily intuitive, but it lures you in with some of the best 2D graphics in gaming history and keeps you involved by being more familiar than you might have expected.
That Guard Libra is just a new twist on the old block gauge, the Heat Gauge is a rebranded version of the Super Move bar, Distortion Drives are your super moves, and Astral Heats are insta-kill Fatalities which milk the entire Heat Gauge for a massive final-round finish. The Revolver Action system makes simple combos easy - in any situation your weak attack will combo into any medium attack, which will combo into any heavy attack, while the Negative Penalty system weakens any fighter who isn't fighting aggressively.
There are only three regular attacks and a final 'Drive' attack on the fourth button. Drive is every character's 'do something awesome' trigger - for ghostly Arakune it places a curse, for roboman Hakumen it's an instant counter, for gun-toting dimwit Noel Vermillion it's a beautiful combo-starter which opens up chains of new moves.
Blazblue's cast is small but every fighter is unique; each has their own look, their own way of controlling space, their own mindgames to play, and a gimmick entirely tailored to themselves. Mastering one character only guarantees you know their options, not which options you'll need in any given fight.
Blazblue is the game SFIV would have been had Capcom's team used Third Strike as their jumping-off point rather than building on the safer foundations of Street Fighter II. While SFIV's El Fuerte and C Viper offer a glimpse of what's possible in a modern fighting game character, every face on Blaz-blue's roster is a long, hard look at the future of fighting games*. With the exception of heavyweight Tager, they're all hyper-mobile, with aerial double-jumps and lengthy air combos dished out using the flexible Revolver Action system. They're so diverse that the 12 fighters make for 12 different fighting games and every fight is a new story with its own start, middle, and end.