Russia’s Gaijin Entertainment caught my eye with the release of Wings of Prey a couple of years ago. A pretty, well polished game, Gaijin earned my trust and sat comfortably on the same shelf in my mind as 1C, another Russian developer/publisher. A developer that aims to sell to multiple markets, both Western and Japanese, I was confident that they could produce a decent hack and slash for both Eastern and Western markets.
Published by Konami in both the east and the west, Blades of Time aims to bring console oriented spectacle-fighting, of the Japanese persuasion, to the PC market. A typical albeit functional port-to-PC, Blades of Time doesn’t look like much. Although relatively bug-free and with decent enough controls for both keyboard and mouse, and xbox 360 controller mapping, Blades of Time is marred by ugly low-resolution textures – caked with effects and vibrancy in a sort of vein hope that the player doesn’t notice.
Of course, graphics don’t make a game – but Gaijin (perhaps at the fault of Konami) haven’t made a valiant effort in their PC release of the game. Perhaps this merits the RRP of £24.99, but I was left feeling as though Blades of Time is an indie development with a AAA price (for a port.) It seems reasonable to pick on the visuals of a 3rd person spectacle fighter, since breathtaking battles a-la God of War etc. are helped tremendously by great looking visuals.
Still, Blades of Time does have it’s strengths in the game-play…
Ayumi: Stop Talking.
You play as a scantily-clad blonde treasure hunter, Ayumi, as she infiltrates ‘Dragonland’ with view to acquiring all its various treasures and secrets. Ayumi is incredibly keen on talking out-loud, and every other action I’d taken she seemed to want to announce to me as if I were some blithering idiot with no sense of coherence.
I wonder what would happen if I stood on this button?
Oh, you mean the only button in this empty room that I had to kill 4 stone guards to get to? I was just going to leave that there.
Oh look, it opened that door!
You mean the door I just got a cut-scene over, in which it opened?
Blades of Time pushes conveniently descriptive, utterly cliched dialogue to the point where even the most tolerable players simply have to laugh. Superfluously unnecessary in what she’s saying, she speaks with the earnestness of a child who wants to be rewarded with an ice-cream cake.
I suppose that what I’m trying to say is that although our pig-tailed protagonist with the bouncing breasts and ladder-length legs is pleasant to look at–indeed she is well modeled, as are the other enemies–she too generic, and not as much of a character as either Bayonetta or Heavenly Swords Nariko. Gaijin seemingly succeeded in creating both a character and story about as deep, generic, and forgettable as a twig.
Slashing and hacking through the issues
Although the story and setting is fairly generic (I mean Dragonland… really?) the art-style is quite pretty. Although, as stated, marred by terrible textures giving a really grubby, cheap look, the areas in which you traverse seem as though on paper the artist had done great work. That’s one of the problems with Blades of Time, it feels as though the translation from concept to execution went wrong somewhere along the way.
The game mechanics are fairly solid, though – and where combat isn’t hugely difficult, it is fun to watch. Slashing and hacking is fast and frantic – with flips and spins and special abilities to send enemies flying back. About as polished as any other game in the genre, and much more frantic and fun to watch than Darksiders, combat in Blades of Time is the games saving grace. Sure, if you’re not aggravated by the graphics, story, dialogue, and rough-edges, you could have a whale of a time – but I’m left with this bitter feeling that Gaijin simply bunched a load of mechanics from other games, such as the combat of Heavenly Sword, the lore of any average RPG, and another mechanic which I shall speak about now, into one package with little identity of its own.
Being called Blades of Time without some kind of time manipulation would be mad. That’d imply some old swords. Who wants to just use a bunch of old swords? No. Blades of Time does merit the name in that time manipulation is indeed here.
If I Could Turn Back Time…Okay, I’m sorry. I’ll go now.
If you messed up in a fight, or simply want to watch something pretty cool, you’ve the ability to hit a button on either your keyboard or game-pad and re-wind to an earlier point at the battle. You stand there watching a ghostly Ayumi combating a similarly ghostly enemy mimicking the movies you’d done until you’d hit the button. When the sequence finishes, you regain control and fight the battle how you want. This is a really well done feature – and although it’s been done before, it’s been more of a “oh, there’s a rock falling down. Pause time. Now I can walk across” kind of mechanic that, although cool, was never really all that integral to the battles.
This mechanic is clearly Blades of Time‘s unique selling point. Indeed, one would be forgiven for feeling as though this is all Gaijin actually cared about. It works, though; helping you to navigate, solve puzzles and win difficult fights. It’s a great feature and it’s cool to see it executed well.
Playing with logic, your ghostly image is actually observable to the enemy – so there are moments when as you leave your ‘soul’ behind, you are free to exploit the enemies lack of attention and get a few hits in a better spot – doing whatever you need to do to spice things up. After a while, although cool, you learn quite quickly that you can pretty much do this with every enemy, every time – distract them with your ‘soul’ and leg it round the back and take them down without a fight.
Who are we up against?
Typical, albeit well executed boss battles break up smaller fights from numerous enemies. Although none of the smaller enemies will take your breath away, there are quite a few variations right from the first stage. The problem is, there may be variation in the enemies but there isn’t much variation in the fight-style. There’s no dismemberment, either – which is something I at least expect from a game of this type now’days. 2007′s Conan brought the gore and macabre of hacking and slashing to the xbox 360, bringing grins to our faces – and whilst Blades of Time features a similar ‘execution’ style finishing system, it looks pretty rubbish because you can’t feel or see the impact. It is merely animated.
The bosses are large and exciting – but I found the fights taking far too long. Typically about dodging and striking when you can, the bosses aren’t an unwelcome feature – but they ooze, like much else in the game, generic 3rd person spectacle-fighting averageness.
There are also enemies which require use of a rifle you pick up around an hour into the game. The shooting mechanic is frankly terrible and it doesn’t merit belonging in the game. Although there are some cool moments where other characters in the game are independently shooting at enemies, adding a little depth to the story, I didn’t feel as though I needed it. The enemies that require use of it are so easy to kill it feels as though they’re there just so the gun has some use. It does come in handy for puzzle solving later in the game, shooting switches, and shooting off fungi in order to latch on and jump far distances – but shooting it feels like a BB gun and the aim, with a pad at least, tends to fly all over the place.
Powers and Special Moves
Early on in the game Ayumi meets a statue of some Grim Reaper style character who inconveniences her (she literally says “I don’t need these powers”) by giving her special moves. These scenes are inexcusably annoying. You’re transported to some temporal realm to practice using the special moves. Hitting B and X after one and other isn’t something a gamer needs to practice, yet for some reason the developers throw an endless swarm of enemies at you until you’ve done it 10 times. Hit B, then X, 10 times – then you can leave. I don’t need that. What’s worse if you’ve to do it with every new move. Hit A, then B – 10 times. Well, I think I got it down with the practice of B and X but hey, why not. Little things like this really break my flow, and ground my already wavering patience to point of annoyance.
Still, there’s a healing system in place that gives battles an edge – the player is able to hit a button and replenish Ayumi’s health up to three times, killing more to replenish each use.
A nice touch in Blades of Time is the amount of new swords and items you can equip. The game features a degree of RPG goodness in that various rings and swords carry various stats. They can increase ice and fire damage, strengthening your special movies, and also increase base damage. They also look visually different, too, and aren’t badly modeled.
Is Blades of Time worth my time?
Well, Blades of Time is a mixed bag in the truest sense of the term. Consoles see a whole host of 3rd person slash and hack – spectacle-fighters every quater – some of them expensive AAA titles, others cheaper ones. If I were reviewing this for the PS3, where titles are considerably more expensive, I might say that with all it’s uniqueness in the execution of certain (but few) mechanics, Blades of Time could be a sensible budget purchase if you were really desperate for this kind of game. I’m not on a PS3, though, and as a PC gamer I’m treated to all sorts of AAA title hack and slash games, albeit in less quantity than on consoles, at anything from £3 to £60 depending on how long I shop around for.
Realistically, Blades of Time features some great artwork that hasn’t translated well into the game, and the visuals are left feeling cheap and poorly ported. Although the levels do feature a host of different environments, the effort is negated for the above reason and it never really fulfills its potential there.
Ayumi and her friends and enemies are modeled well, compared to everything else at least, but they are at best forgettable and pretty, and at worst: plain terrible. Her incessant chirpy dialogue deters from what could have been a sexy and intriguing character, and although they get bonus points for not creating the generic ‘moody-cow’, they haven’t done much better hitting the other end of the spectrum.
Combat is fun, and the time mechanic adds a welcome uniqueness – but this becomes easy and stale towards the end of the game, which really sucks the only enjoyment Blades of Time has to offer, right out the door. If you’re still interested because of the multiplayer feature, don’t be – it’s really just another glorified lackluster tacked on horde mode designed, probably, to deter piracy. It’s called a co-op campaign, but it doesn’t merit the name.
With over 40 skills and a host of magical attacks to gain and use at your will, however, hardcore fans of the genre may want to pick it up just to say they’ve covered all corners – but don’t expect anything as good as it looks on paper, on Steam or on the box.
Maybe you think I’m not a hack and slash fan (actually, I am) and maybe I’m too impatient – but I asked to review this title, and I wanted to like it – it simply left me feeling like I was playing an expensive university project – or an homage to better games – with deeper, more compelling story-telling.
Unique for a few mechanics, but generic for too many others – Blades of Time is something that no doubt will be forgotten in a very short amount of time.