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Honestly Old School
on April 24, 2012
So many reviews of this game have been nothing but disparaging. People give it horrid scores due to the fact that it is "repetitive", that the plot is "bad." None of these things are very true, in reality. This is not a bad game. It works like it should, it's fun, and it's a nice way to spend some time and money. "Blades of Time" is a throw-back to a simpler time in games, when playing as a cool protagonist with cool weapons and running through imaginative worlds filled with menacing creatures, all framed within some solid gameplay, was enough to have a good time.
The plot follows Ayumi, a blonde treasure hunter for the mysterious Guild who has no hints of being even remotely Japanese. This organization sends her to a cursed island from which no other hunter has ever returned, all in hopes of gaining an illustrious amount of gold to share with them. There's a reason that no hunter has ever returned from the place, which would be because it's crawling with massive amounts of enemies and traps that utilize unseen types of weapons and magic. With the aid of a fiery dragon goddess who grants her the ability to manipulate time, Ayumi must find her lost partner, Zero, and find the treasure before the island takes her life.
This is a pretty intriguing set-up for the very honest game that "Blades of Time" is. By honest, I mean that the game never tries to pass itself off as something it's not. It never overwhelms the player with tired RPG elements like so many hack-and-slash games nowadays do, nor does it make any attempts to be "edgy" by throwing in language, excess gore or idiotic amounts of fan service. In fact, one of my favorite things about this game is how earnest it really is at heart. A lot of people call games with grueling difficulty and intentional frustrating gameplay "old school", but to me, that type of "old-school" feel is too manufactured and exploited by too many companies. Trying to artificially recreate what made older games so enjoyable takes away part of the charm at the end of the day. Here, Gaijin has accidentally made a good old-fashioned return to early PS2 action game conventions, and in the process created a very mindless but nevertheless fun game.
There are a few unique quirks to this game, though, and those quirks are actually "BoT"'s biggest flaws. The first of these has to be the underdeveloped "time rewind" ability that Ayumi gains. Using the power creates clones of Ayumi, so as to distract enemies and team up on them from where they're least expecting it. Some enemies with heavy shields actually cannot be defeated without this power. The problem lies in the fact that the game explains how to use it in a very poor fashion, and when you're using it, it feels like the most confusing and arbitrary aspect of the game. With no proper measure of your clones' longevity or abilities, you're left making clone after clone and hoping that something works. "Hope" is not a word that should apply to being able to work a key component of a game. Mechanics as instrumental as that need to work how they're intended or not be included in the finished game at all, period.
Another quirk is the game's gunplay, and to be blunt, it's utter shite. While I admire Gaijin's attempt at putting the element in there, Ayumi's accuracy is beyond awful, and her ability to move when aiming is hindered greatly. This becomes frustrating when the game expects you to volley off shots at airborne enemies at a rapid pace while they're shooting at you with powerful projectiles. If you could shoot your rifle without being forced to use an over-the-shoulder camera, a la "Devil May Cry", it would be a much better system. It's unfortunate that it ends up being the absolute worst aspect of the gameplay.
What this game does best comes down to Ayumi's duel katanas and her arsenal of magic abilities. Hacking through enemies with new swords is a fun and simple pleasure, and her fluidly fast movement makes most of the battles fun, brainless excuses to lay the law down on evil denizens. Ditto for the magic abilities, which end up turning many battles into some wicked and creative fun. My favorite is a type of forceful push that splits apart into a wide array of blasts, much like a spread shot in "Contra." The funny thing about this game is that the most basic, cliche gameplay elements are the ones that actually end up producing the most fun I've had with it.
Also impressive are the graphics, which, while not gorgeous, are used to create some of the most creative and inspired environments seen in a game this year. Typical RPG-esque fantasy realms are avoided, and even the dungeons never feel recycled or dull. Every once in a while I had to stop and move the camera around just to take in the wonderful surroundings, filled with lush meadows, steampunk airships and majestic temple ruins. While it should again be stressed that the textures used to render these things are not top-of-the-line, the objects and locales themselves are lovely to look at, especially on the PC version (available on Steam.)
For all of it's issues (bad gunplay, poorly implemented time rewinding, uninspired acting), the good parts (fun swordplay, imaginative environments, cool magic upgrades) balance out, but never outweigh, the bad. What players are left with is a game that is "budget" in every sense of the word, but not lame or bad by any means. "Blades of Time" is well-priced, and for what you're paying, you're getting a fun and cheap experience that will last you a decent amount of time. If you're expecting a game-changer, then look elsewhere. But if you're ready for a few relaxing afternoon sessions of cathartic button mashing and dungeon exploration, then Konami has got the game for you.
Overall: 7.5 (Enjoyable)