Blades of Time
Publisher: Konami Digital Entertainment
Developer: Gaijin Entertainment
Platforms: Xbox 360, Playstation 3, PC
Release Date: March 6, 2012
Price: $39.99 – Available Here
Blades of Time originates from the game X-Blades that hit the Xbox 360 and PS3 consoles mainstream in 2009. Dealing with the powers of light and dark, X-Blades offered powers to the protagonist Ayumi that could directly affect her actions towards the end of the game. Similarly, magical powers are offered to the remastered Ayumi in Blades of Time. Considered as a spiritual sequel, I can only guess the storylines mesh like Link’s character in the Zelda series – character stays relatively the same but story changes.
Whenever I hear the term ‘hack-n-slash’, I automatically believe that I will be tearing limbs off my opponents. This mentally isn’t completely evil but does emanate a strange expectancy out of the visual effects for this genre. Will Blades of Time satisfy your bloodlust?
The story begins in a cult-like cathedral with an elderly man directing a masked crowd of warriors. Commanding attention to the sphere before him, he briefly begins to mention the portal to the dragon lands where many treasures await them. Simultaneously as he projects the perils of the awaited land, a fireball crashes into the center of the building. A brawny man bursts through the front doors and offers a quick snap of his blade to his oncoming foes. Our protagonist – Aymui – slips in behind the commotion and directs her katana at the robed elder. He admits that he has been expecting her and will not delay her intrusion if she so wishes to use the sphere. Her friend, Zero – the brawny fellow, calls to her to hurry, and so Ayumi grasps for the sphere.
Feeling almost as a dream, she is transported to another world or realm. The dragon lands have kept many secrets from the human race, but none in this land has encountered the likes of Ayumi – the treasure hunter.
Hack-n-slash games normally are straight forward and divert little from the central mechanics of gameplay. Blades of Time is certainly an oddity as the mixture of puzzles directly affects the use of abilities when new mechanics are brought in throughout the game. First, let’s discuss the basic fundamentals that provide the foundation of gameplay.
As you are conjured into the dragon lands, you are immediately thrown into battle. A slash attack with (X) will offer several momentous swings of Ayumi’s blade in the direction of choice. Vertical damage can be administered as well by providing an upward kick with swirling blades by a press of (Y). Adept in evasion she can also perform a dash technique by touching the right trigger. Dashing can provide a quick escape or a direct line of continual attacks – my preference is the latter.
By pressing down on the right analog, players will bring up their gun. Wait, a gun in a hack-n-slash? That is correct. While the gun is up left trigger can be used to aim at your opponent and right trigger is now used to shoot. Depending on the type of gun, you may be able to run around with the equipped weapon. The default gun is a rifle and becomes useful in taking down opponents from afar. As a core mechanic, it is necessary to understand shooting methods as it can be essential to bringing down heavily armored foes.
Advanced abilities stem from mystical dragon shrines. At first, very few skills are available to choose from. Advancing through realms opens up the skill tree even further and allows for greater player customization. Magic attacks require certain amounts of rage in order to initiate. Basic attacks require small amounts of rage that can be easily attained by continual attack combos. After hitting the first dragon mark on the rage meter, a player can attempt a basic magic attack. Such magical abilities include fire, ice, and heavy strike.
Upon selecting a magical ability, you will enter a testing ground to try out your new skill. Magical attacks begin with the combo starter (B) and ends with another button(s). If you had selected fire strike, the combination would start with (B) and end with (X) to unleash a blaze of fire. Once again, this would only occur when you attain the first dragon mark on the rage meter. The testing grounds provide a continual source of easy to kill foes, and you must execute the skill enough times to leave.
Having weapons, guns, and magic is great, but what if you could rewind time? Eventually the skill is begotten upon you by your overseer which allows you to rewind time, but retain control of your present self. This may sound complicating because it truly is. Holding down the left bumper for the full duration will turn the environments to a bright red hue and recapture previous moments of your recent adventure. A perfect example of using this ability is by opening a gate that shuts almost immediately after letting go of the lock mechanism. You may think this game has just become impossible to beat; however, time rewind can place you right in front of the gate as it had previously opened.
Ever-changing opponents create moments of tactical maneuvers and insightful revelations. In several instances there are opponents that cannot be killed by normal means. A jungle troll that has a magical barrier cannot be kill by the edge of Ayumi’s blades. However, this is when your gaming skills coming into play. Combining several shots from a ranged weapon and time rewind, you can create a chain attack with your previous avatars as well as your active one. Continual use of time rewind will break through the barrier and drop the troll with ease. And he thought he was invincible…
Boss fights provide further headaches if you truly believe a hack-n-slash effort is all that you need. One boss in particular has a rejuvenating life tank on his back. Delivering constant melee attacks will take down his health, but his energy pack recovers lost health when nearing death. You are even initiated to make an in-battle response by tapping the right bumper to jump to the skyguard’s head. Continually stomping on the head will not kill the beast either. Detaching the energy pack was a given solution, but the know-how was problematic. Eventually, time rewind alongside stomping on its head provided the necessary distraction. Then came the endless bladed assault.
So far all that has been discussed is the story mode. Outbreak is a neat little addition that plays out as an action tower defense game. Like the story mode, the player can choose magical abilities to enhance the characters effectiveness on the battle field. However, the neat addition is that you can choose between three characters: Ayumi, Zero, and Michelle. Only difference that can be noted among characters is the appearance. Additionally, trinkets you find in the story mode can be altered in Outbreak to help you defeat the horde of enemies.
Outbreak begins with two opposing sides that are vying for decimation of the other team. A series of towers are placed in between each base which automatically attack enemies within its range. Each side spawns AI bots that attack opposing forces. As one of the three characters, the challenge becomes clear to defeat the opposing force by removing each attack tower. As a player advances closer to the base, stronger AI units are unleashed to turn the tide of battle.
While Outbreak can be enjoyed cooperatively or versus online players, you can also access single player matches to test your bronze against the computer. Single Outbreak might be the best bet for a match unless you have friends that have purchased the game as well. This mode is fast-paced and can seem overly complicated to beginners that have not played the game fully. Understanding the game mechanics is essential to provide fluid skill combinations as well as executing evasive maneuvers from deadly towers.
Voice acting in junction with animation is one of Blades of Time’s unappealing qualities. In the opening cinematic we can clearly tell that vocal movements are a bit off from the actual animations. I realize that creating facial animations can be tough to master, but I would have expected a little bit more quality from an experienced studio. However, this minor distraction does not deter from actual gameplay because the main focus is hack-and-slash. Additionally, in-game there is active dialogue which projects Ayumi talking but not yield visible facial animations because of player control. While the facial animations are annoying because of miscues, they can be overlooked by the engaging amounts of in-game material.
Alright, so the talking animations aren’t that great. But the environments are incredible. As you are dashing around as a skinful treasure hunter, it is hard to escape the beautiful tree-encased jungle or the harsh glaring sun of the desert. Eventually, Ayumi makes her way to the snowy landscapes of the Brutal Lands where winter never ceases. Passing through a portal on the mountain landscape only escapes you to a broken down town equally deserving of the title ‘brutal’.
Customization brings in some wonderful aesthetics. As a player progresses through each level, they may find hidden treasures. New weapons in particular will provide additional attributes to the character as well as offering a new skin. For instance, there would be a drastic difference in look by switching Ayumi’s rifle for a machine gun. Both appearance and controls are affected, but this differently provides a wider range of potential gameplay. Another aspect of customization can be noticed by acquiring new suits for Ayumi. Entering the Skyland domain, she will dawn a metallic type of armor that reflects the imagery seen in the foes you meet. Suits can be interchanged at any time, yet it is hard to resist the initial ‘skinful’ skin.
An addictive game makes a gamer want to play more, and that is how I felt about Blades of Time. The facial animations were not the best, and the story may not have been presented as well as it could have. However, the game did provide a continual learning environment that expanded the normal endless hacking into an art of developing talents. Not only are players allowed to choose abilities akin to their own playing style, but they also need to think outside of the box to complete puzzles and kill bosses.
I will admit that Blades of Time is not for everyone. The normal hack-n-slash turns into a complex battling system that will intrigue combo fanatics and role playing enthusiasts. If you are interested, try out the demo first to get a feel for it. Enter the dragons lands if you dare, some just can’t handle the fun.