A young vigilante boy who carries around a life-sized marionette he refers to as his sister. A vampire whose talking pet cat morphs into an umbrella during combat. A tips mode entitled, ''Teach me, Boobie Lady.'' If you were looking for proof that Japanese developer Arc System Works is insane, here it is. Fortunately for the rest of us, BlazBlue also doubles as an enjoyable fighting game.

The story begins in the 13th Hierarchical City of Kagutsuchi, a mystical world were humanity has infused technology with powerful magic called Armagus -- argh! You know what! Who cares? BlazBlue's longwinded mess of a story will make you appreciate how most fighters keep a narrative simple. The real thrill here is the frantic one-on-one combat.

Anyone familiar with Arc System Work's Guilty Gear titles will feel at home here. This 2D brawler has some of the hottest animations, a host of outlandish attacks, and gorgeous mixed 2D/3D backgrounds.

Unfortunately, mastering the combat system requires a fair amount of dedicated erudition. Blaz can be a fairly defensive fighter -- a wide variety of different counters, cancels, and blocks complicate the battle system, and newcomers will take their lumps before mastering the intricacies of each character's special drive attacks. In the hands of an expert fighter this game is stunning, but joystick jockeys who are out of shape might want to start an intense training regimen.