Those who remember Gaijin Entertainment’s poorly received effort, X-Blades will likely look back with a critical eye at its mundane hack-and-slash antics. With a female lead designed to appeal to fans of anime and sporting little more than skimpy underwear, it soon became clear that while the presentation was stylish, the gameplay just wasn’t solid enough to attract the bigger masses. Those who found something to love in X-Blades will be in for a treat however, as Ayumi returns to try and make good on these transgressions in Blades of Time. The adventure has arrived at a budget price and to very little fanfare, but was Konami wise to keep quiet with this one?
Developer: Gaijin Entertainment
Platform: Xbox 360 (Reviewed), PlayStation 3, Windows PC, Mac OS X
Players: Single-Player, Co-Op, Multi-Player
Genre: Action-Adventure, Hack-n-Slash
Release: PlayStation 3 / Xbox 360: (EU) March 16th, 2012, (JP) March 8th, 2012, (NA) March 6th, 2012 / Windows, Mac OS X: April 18th, 2012
The introduction sees Ayumi and her partner rebel against their order in an effort to travel to the mysterious Dragonland. Following this event, it soon becomes clear that Ayumi had failed to do her research; she’s about as clueless in this new land as we are… which is strange given her determination to make the trip. The premise may crumble at the starting block but it’s all in the name of giving the heroine (and by extension the gamer) something to discover. The good news is that Dragonland has been designed with a good sense of artistry, even if it fails to impress on a technical level.
There’s no denying that we’ve seen better before as the game’s production values weren’t all that high. Textures repeat, the lip-syncing is nothing short of dire and the same music tracks repeat constantly throughout the game. What Blades of Time does have is decent level design and some genuinely imaginative vistas, with the night sky of the Skyguard desert serving as a particular highlight. Multi-coloured flowers and saturated lighting effects are commonplace, providing the world with an identity which combines fantasy themes with those of science fiction. It’s hard to be too down on the environments created here and that’s just as well given how much of them you’ll be seeing thanks to the distance of the in-game camera.
It’s not just aesthetically designed either, with gameplay elements incorporated into the landscape. The desert features burning sunlight with moveable walls for Ayumi to shift, whilst her ability to travel quickly between floating stalks allows her to access out of reach places. Being on the lookout for hidden chests can yield rewards too, such as offering new weaponry and special items packing different effects. The puzzles will keep you on your toes even if they do tend to be of a similar type, although there are a few head-scratchers to be found on occasion and the game makes deft use of the power that serves as its namesake.
Only a short way into the game, Ayumi is granted the power to rewind time. This results in a doppelganger (or a number of them, should you rewind multiple times) which can stand on switches or provide covering fire from a distance, even serving as a distraction for you to perform a special move in certain battles. It’s a clever premise that functions well, though the garish red hues which quilt the action during this phase distracts more than it should. The odds are you’ll be content to slash and blast away to your heart’s content through most of the game, save for the moments when time manipulation is required. The lack of a block button encourages rewind as a form of defence, so it’s a good idea to fall back on this ability when things get heated.
Ayumi has certainly changed since her initial appearance, with an obvious shift in personality, accent and clothing to point out the most obvious few. She comes well-armed with her twin blades and ranged weapon – be it a rifle with stylish reload animation or machine gun for mowing down multiple enemies – and you’ll want to switch between these methods of play at various points in the journey. Mines are best dealt with at range, for example, but many times Ayumi will find herself swarmed and be forced to dish out some swift melee action complete with finishing moves.
She can be ruthless at times and her motivations are questionable at best. The game does reference these actions in a surprising case of self-awareness, but Ayumi just shrugs off the woes of others in favour of her own drives, always determined that she’s in the right even when the player is left scratching their head. She never shuts up either, rambling to herself ad nauseam about one thing or another; you’ll either learn to tune it out or laugh at every line, as it really is that ridiculous. Ayumi fails as a likeable character even if she does hold a certain degree of sex appeal, so it’s left to the locales and satisfying combat to pick up the slack.
The inclusion of magical powers adds another layer to the combat, as everything from screen-filling earthquake attacks, fire powers and slide attacks are upgraded at the alters scattered throughout the land. It won’t be long before you’ve settled on a favourite or two, with the strongest of these having the power to damage every enemy within a reasonable proximity. There is a tacked-on co-op and online multiplayer component, but it’s likely to falter quickly given this title’s lack of marketing – the single-player campaign isn’t left wanting in length, surpassing the usual eight hour mark in favour of something more extensive. The experience is entirely linear however, pushing you ahead on a set path as is expected of the genre.
Ayumi may not have earned a place among the gaming greats such as Dante or Kratos, but she’s returned in style with a title providing plenty of action at a reduced price. It’s very much the B-movie of video games but whether it’s meant as a reboot, sequel or spiritual successor, Blades of Time provides a fun journey set to appeal to action fans with a bit of spare cash and realistic expectations. If you don’t mind corny dialogue and a budget feel, then Blades of Time may just be your guilty pleasure of the season.
7.0 – Good. Entertaining but is held back by a couple of flaws. It will certainly capture its intended audience but it won’t appeal to everyone.