March 02, 2009
Let us examine the X-Blade box art for a second (assuming you have the PAL or Japanese version anyway). Now if the first thing, the absolute first thing, you notice is not the lead characters rear end then I have to wonder if this is the game for you; but never fear, as I am not entirely sure if this is the game for anyone. The problem with the box art is that it is obviously designed to sell the game to hormonal young men with more money than sense and it may well work. What the box also tells you, if you use your common sense, is that this game is going to be remarkably shallow. It is a shame really, as from the previews this looked like a game that could really have stood out.
Developed by Gaijin Entertainment this game was obviously meant to compete with similar hack and slash behemoths like Devil May Cry or Ninja Gaiden. It follows many of the same principles as these illustrious counterparts but somehow fails to draw all of the elements together to make a solid game. While there is undoubtedly some fun to be had here the overall level of enjoyment will soon fizzle away into a pretty shallow experience.
The presentation of the game is fairly appealing as there is a unique anime style to the lead characters; Ayumi in particular (buns of steel and all) that really stands out and a number of the backdrops are fairly lush too. The storyline though completely lets the side down as it swiftly devolves into a load of nonsense about ancient evil and treasure, kind of like the Tomb Raider series but without the entertainment value. The voice over work is also laughably bad with the lead character sounding like a cross between Miss Croft and a ten year old, and everyone else sounding like they merely turned up for a paycheque. Never have I heard someone shout ‘nooooooo’ in such an unconvincing manner. With the plot pretty much non-existent then it comes down to the gameplay to pull things back from the brink. Oh dear ...
Basically the entire game is made up of a series of interlinked rooms, all of which have a bevy of monsters or a boss of some kind within them. Defeating all of your foes will open the way forward and, well, that is it. So every single room comes down to a major slash fest against a number of generic foes with most of the bosses being just overgrown versions of some of the minor beasties. Obviously this is a formula that has been followed before, with a lot of success, but here it just feels extremely stale. I think the major problem comes down to the attacks at your disposal or, rather, the lack of them. With ALL physical attacks being handled by one button you have pretty much zero flexibility; even Dynasty Warriors offered light and heavy attacks for crying out loud. The rest of your arsenal comprises of your guns, which are worse than useless and take five minutes to dispatch even the weakest foes, and a variety of magic spells.
The problem with magic is that it takes an age to charge up and is prohibitively expensive at lower levels. Beating up foes will fill up your rage (magic) gauge but by the time you have filled it most of your opponents will be dead. Polishing off foes nets you the souls you require to purchase new spells and bullet attacks but you get so few souls early on that you will be hard pressed to afford anything. Not to mention the fact you simply HAVE to use certain spells to defeat some opponents and thus progress. It means your hands are tied when it comes to what you have to purchase and by the time you are flush with millions of souls, you are practically at the end of the game. It also seems rather perplexing that you get four buttons for a variety of magic attacks and yet only one for the basic sword attack – especially as you will be using your swords far more than anything else.
I have been fairly nice up until now (well in my mind anyway) but it is time for the gloves to come off. The real problem with this game is the fact it is so short and has been artificially lengthened just to drag it out. About halfway through the game you will be sent back to almost the first level and will have to fight through all the same levels you defeated previously, only this time, they have slightly different enemies. What a slap in face. What a bone lazy way to make the experience last a bit longer. Even with this joke of an idea you will still probably run through the game in less than seven hours even on the harder difficulties. Throw in a ten second long ending (of which there are two but they are both as bad as each other) and you will have no inclination to play this game ever again.
Other, less serious but probably more annoying, issues come in the form of the lock-on system and the controls in general. Holding the trigger lets you lock onto an enemy so you can direct your attacks. The problem here is that you seemingly have no control over which creature you will target as it does not always go for the nearest foe, nor does it immediately switch targets if the creature you have in your sights expires. This is especially annoying on levels that require you to kill off a specific beast only for you to be unable to separate him from his cronies. Locking on also changes the controls so that Ayumi will roll from side to side instead of moving. This can be quite frustrating as she will often roll off ledges and the like, when you are sure you did not even move the stick. Throw in some dubious collision detection when enemies will leap for miles in the air or hit you even when they should not have, or spend five minutes trying to smash a pot right next to you and failing, and the whole thing becomes incredibly frustrating.
Contrary to the rest of the game the achievements are actually fairly well thought out, if not exactly hard. Points are on offer for amassing certain numbers of souls and getting a ton of kills – both of which stack through numerous plays for your assistance. You also get points for upgrading your skills and finding hidden artefact pieces, not to mention for beating up certain foes. You will have to play the game at least twice due to the need to unlock the toughest difficulty by completing the game – but as you will be used to everything on offer it should be no more than a dash through. A solid list, with some variety at least.
X-Blades tries extremely hard to keep you entertained but seems to shoot itself in the foot at every turn. When you compare this to the likes of Ninja Gaiden or Devil May Cry it just cannot compete and even regular hack and slash games like Dynasty Warriors at least offer a bit more fun. You might have a bit of fun for a while but the repetitive combat and poor A.I. will mean you soon grow bored of the whole thing. Even as a rental this game is impossible to recommend because I cannot even guarantee you will get even a few hours of joy. This is one scantily clad lady that people will be more than happy to get rid of.
The voice ‘talent’ is laughably poor really and the script often does not match the subtitles to boot. Add in the ludicrous story and nondescript background music and it is a poor offering.
Probably the best aspect of the game as the funky anime style is pleasing on the eyes and the backdrops and levels are quite fancy too. Some strange A.I. and collision detection issues let the side down though.
With a limited repertoire of attacks and extremely poor A.I. this is not a game that will test you – it is more a case of endurance than enjoyment.
A game that tries to ape any number of successful franchises but falls down flat thanks to poor controls and shoddy enemies.
The achievements are actually not too shabby and most of them are stackable so you only have to play through the game a couple of times to snag them all.
This game is exceptionally derivative and remarkably sub-par. The real problem though is that it is just not that much fun – and that is a problem that no game can recover from.