When the first BlazBlue fighting game was released for consoles in 2009, it was eye-catching, to say the least.
It had a level of animation fluidity never before seen in fighting games. Each and every frame was hand drawn, and the game-creation process was labour-intensive.
But developer Arc System Works came up with a way to streamline the process by creating 3-D models of each character, animating them, and then tracing over them for the 2-D visuals. This became an industry standard.
Five years on, BlazBlue, in its third instalment with Chrono Phantasma, features 26 playable characters (seven of them new), a new story mode that further expands upon the game's universe and even sharper visuals.
Though technically superior, this sequel's graphics lack the visual impact of the 2009 version. In spite of that, Chrono Phantasma still manages to be one of the most innovative fighting games on the market.
The developer has turned its keen eye for detail towards the game's modes of play and features. Some of the features in this game are so advanced, they make fans of other fighting games turn green with envy - think the Redmi of fighting games.
For instance, the responsiveness of the multiplayer mode is so good that I was able to play against random opponents from the United States and Europe without much difficulty. There is some input lag, but it is slight. Otherwise, the matches we played ran smoothly.
Matches against Singaporean, Taiwanese and Japanese players were lag free.
Then, there is Chrono Phantasma's equivalent of dual-SIM card slots in an Android phone: a Ranked Match Entry feature which lets you wait for an opponent online while partaking simultaneously in almost any other play mode.
As you wait, you can go into Training mode to practise your combos, try to clear hard-to-perform combo manoeuvres in Challenge mode or warm up by fighting in Arcade mode.
You can even watch match replays - your own or those from the leaderboards - to develop better fight tactics while waiting.
When an opponent is found, a pop-up notification will appear. From there, you can check your opponent's connection rating and choose to accept or decline the match.
Fans of fighting games may also appreciate a new 64-player lobby system which replicates the arcade experience. In it, you are represented by a super-deformed avatar on screen and you can text chat with other players online while waiting for a stranger to challenge you.
If you are new to fighting games, Chrono Phantasma provides an in-depth tutorial mode which explains some of the lingo used by genre fans - such as what it means to be "on advantage".
But if you would rather jump straight into the game, you can just play with the "Stylish" control scheme, which replaces the regular buttons with context-sensitive ones that perform combos when you tap a single button repeatedly.
Chrono Phantasma is the most accessible BlazBlue entry yet.
The only problem for beginners is that, if you are not already familiar with the game, then the Story mode may not make any sense to you as the narrative begins where the previous game left off.
A concise retelling of the events will be included only in the PS Vita ports of the first two games, which will be released later this year.
The PlayStation 3 version focuses on a very specific type of player: the kind who likes to hone his fighting game skills and combos using an arcade fight stick.
If, however, you are more intrigued with the game's fantasy setting, then waiting for the PS Vita port might be a better option.
Sim Cheng Kai is a freelance writer.
Price: $56.90 (PS3, version tested), $69.90 (PS Vita, Japanese version)
This article was published on April 30 in Digital Life, The Straits Times.
Get a copy of Digital Life, The Straits Times or go to straitstimes.com for more stories.