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Review #256

X-Blades
Developer: Gaijin Entertainment
Publisher: South Peak Games
Genre: Action
Release Date: 02/06/2009

Ah, X Blades. Yet another foray into the realm of “Action titles featuring scantily clad young women killing a bunch of monsters and looking good while doing it.” What you may not know is that X-Blades is actually two years old, having originally been released was back in 2007 exclusively for Russian PC gamers. Although it was supposed to be exclusive to both the former Soviet Union and computer gaming, money has obviously had the last word as the now titled X-Blades is stateside, an on both the 360 and PS3 to boot.

One other thing to note before we begin, Europe received a royal edition of the game. If you’re really interested in say, an artbook, statue, and more, you can get X-Blades Royal off the German version of Amazon (as it’s the cheapest I’ve found for you) for a hair under 90 Euros. Remember, PS3 games are region free and the European version has English dialogue as well, so it’s as import friendly as it gets for you crazy collectors.

Now let’s take a look at the game all that it has to offer.

Let’s Review

1. Story

What’s interesting is that the beginning of the game, as well as the manual (most of which is written from the main character, Ayumi’s perspective) is quite comical and I found it refreshing. It seemed like X-Blades wasn’t going to take itself seriously and that this was more a parody of Tomb Raider and Devil may Cry than an “oh so serious” action game. After beating the first major boss, The Light, the game actually sobered up quite a bit, which was a disappointment. Ayumi had a real Lina Inverse thing going on for a while, and then the game goes into the typical, “angsty main character with attitude has to save the world” sort of thing. Although X-Blades lighter than most action games of this nature, and it features a lot more comedy than its peers, it was hard to take the game seriously when it was being serious. We’re talking about a girl with less clothing than a Victoria Secrets model wielding gunblades. Ayumi walks that fine line between intelligent parody ala Fighter from 8-Bit Theatre with his swordchucks and just plain stupid ala Mikiko Ebihara from Daikatana. It’s the games sense of humour that keeps the amusing rather than pathetic.

So here’s the plot: Ayumi is a treasure hunter, searching for valuable in old ruins or the remains on long dead societies. I guess that makes her a Tomb Rai…er, no that’s not it. Maybe a Relic Hunt….no not that either. Hmm. Maybe we should just stick to calling her a treasure hunter. Anyway, one day, Ayumi finds a very old map leading to an ancient artifact containing godlike power. Now even though Ayumi knows that no mortal was ever meant to touch the artifacts and that if a mortal touches them, the world will be blanketed with Eternal Darkness (not the Game Cube game though), she sets out anyway to find this mysterious object.

You can pretty much guess what happens next.

Of course the object is the divine power of The Dark, the god of well, darkness. His divinity was being guarded by The Light, the opposing force in this universe, who banished both their godhoods into orbs and made sure that they would each guard the other’s power so as to prevent the world from losing its balance. Well, Ayumi sure screwed that whole thing up. She gets the orb and now she is infused with the power of The Dark himself (Although if you want the good ending, you will never use any dark powers or even so much as buy them. Otherwise, you get the bad ending). Now she’s been transported to a strange island and has to figure out how to rid herself of The Dark’s power or at least not become hideously corrupted by it. There’s also a potential love/comic interest wandering the island wielding light based magic power and of course, if you’ve met the depowered The Light, The Dark is someone waiting for you as well.

Everything else is pure hack and slash with the occasional rare bit of story to progress the why you are chopping and shooting things. There’s not a lot of substance here, but it’s on par for what you would expect for this genre, and the interaction between Ayumi and Jay can be amusing, although I’m still not sure if it is bad translation, the game being so bad it is good, or is the game is generally taking the piss out of its competition. Either way, I was pleasantly surprised with the story and characters of X-Blades, and to be honest, I wouldn’t mind seeing Ayumi show up in a sequel of sorts.

Story Rating: 6/10

2. Graphics

To put it nicely, X-Blades is not what I would call a stunning example of next generation graphics. The game looks and feels more like a late gen PS2 game rather than a game two years into the PS3 lifecycle. Of course, this is due to the fact that it was originally a 2007 PC game. I suppose this is about the same quality visuals as we had in the PS3 launch title Dark Kingdom, but that game wasn’t looked upon too favorably either, now was it?

Although the background and level designs are nicely done, especially effects like sunset reflecting off water at dusk, character designs are…iffy at best. The four main characters: Ayumi, Jay, The Light and The Dark are decently done, they lack a lot of detailing and texturing. In essence, they are pretty bland. In fact both The Light and The Dark are ripped directly from the old PC game Black and White. Just play the game and you’ll know all too well what I mean.

Even worse though, are the rank and file generic monsters you’ll have to face. Once again, these are decidedly last generation’s graphics AT BEST, with a lot of the characters looking no better than amorphous blobs at time, especially when there are a lot of them on the screen. Of course, at times you’re supposed to be facing blobs like monster generations, elementals (just spherical balls of different colours) and badly drawn lizardmen.

The worst offender is probably what are called Giant Galapagos, which are creatures time times the size of Ayumi, but they still are dull, ruddy creatures that just scream “generic monsters”. You would think something of that size would have a lot of detail and design to them, but nope, it’s just a mediocre, uninspired visual effort.

Perhaps X-Blades would have been better served as a port to the PS2 rather than the PS3. As a “Next Gen,” it a bit of an eyesore save for the backgrounds. Although only two years old, X Blades really shows its age.

Graphics Rating: 5/10

3. Sound

The musical score of X-Blades is easily the best aspect of the game. Many of the tracks are ones I could easily see being played at an Electronica or Trance club. The music is fast paced, has a great BPM, and fits the nonstop button mashing nature of the game perfectly. Oontz. Oontz. Oontz. Honestly, if you’re a fan of video game soundtracks at all, X Blades is worth listening to, even if it wasn’t worth playing – much like last year’s Baroque.

Voice acting isn’t bad either. Ayumi’s voice is a bit high-pitched and plucky, but it fits the character design. The Light and The Dark are generically gravelly to match that half-man, half-beat aspect they are going for with them, but the actors manage to give the roles limited life beyond where they would otherwise be. Jay isn’t badly done either, but he’s the worst acted of the characters. I found him just a tad annoying, but otherwise harmless.

Again, I can’t express how great the soundtrack for the game is. Just go to www.x-blades.com and listen to the sample tracks. If you can’t enjoy the score instantly, then you’ve either never been clubbing or been the only sober person at a rave before. X-Blades has some serious issues, but I’ll be surprised if this isn’t up for “Best Audio” awards at the end of the year, even with the voice acting cast (slighty) bringing the overall quality down.

Sound Rating: 9/10

4. Control and Gameplay

In some respects, the controls are what you would expect. One analog stick is for movement, while the other is for controlling your camera. You do have full 720 control over the camera ala a panoramic Adventure game, which is a nice touch, but at times, this can hurt you more than help you. Your attack controls are a bit odd. You see, your gun is the R1 trigger and your sword attack is the square button. This is all well and good as keeping them separate from each other prevents accidentally pressing the wrong one when you are button mashing. The jump button is the X button, and although this is usually the attack button in most games, you get over your instinctive layout quite quickly.

Thing starts to get weird however, when you begin to learn magic spells. You can have four spells mapped to your controller at any time and these spells will listed in a circle in the lower left hand corner, with each spell icon at a compass point. Seeing a spell at 12 o’clock, another at 3, a third at six and the final at 9, one would think, “Oh, you use the D-PAD for casting magic.” In fact you don’t. Magic is actually linked to both L triggers, the triangle, and the circle button. Wacky, no? So you basically have to memorize where each spell is an the little circle helper on the screen actually doesn’t provide you with any benefit. Suck. Once you memorize your spell placement though, the game works exceedingly well and the only time I’ve ever experienced lag between a button press and the actual move occurring comes when slowdown happens.

Yes, there is slowdown in the game, and although it isn’t that frequent, it’s still plagues many a level of the game. it seems to be triggers most by hitting an object like a statue or vase containing a special item. Once you hit this in the heat of battle, things slow down to a bear crawl for about 10 seconds. It’s annoying, especially considering this effect happens less and less with each passing console generation, but it’s still here.

One of the big factors in X-Bladesis the rage meter. Rage is used to power your special attacks and magic. The bar goes up as you cut things or get hit, but it also goes down constantly when you are not in the midst of battle. Thus you can never be charged fully before a boss battle or the like. Still you can charge your meter by clicking and holding down the right analog stick. However, this leaves you completely vulnerable. You have to wonder why you would charge this in the middle of battle, as this will lead you to getting hit and your blades will raise the meter anyway. It’s kind of a silly function.

There are a few other problems with the rage meter. Your more powerful gun attacks use the rage meter, but guns don’t raise the meter. The second is that all of your abilities cost a lot of rage, meaning you can only ever use one or two of them before the meter is empty. This wouldn’t be so bad if you could lengthen your rage meter or reduce the cost, but alas this isn’t possible. You have the same health and rage meter for the whole game.

When you kill opponents, you collect souls. The more you kill in succession, the more souls you get. You then you souls to heal yourself, fill your rage meter, and most importantly, buy new magical powers. Of course a lot of powers are insanely expensive. 10-50 THOUSAND souls. And each level gives you about a thousand or so. Eep. So if you want to get souls, you have to replay a lot of levels. Worse there are trophies where you have to get say, five million souls. Now that doesn’t mean five million souls throughout the game – it means five million stored at once. Good luck with that one.

So besides the slowdown and odd camera wonkiness from time to time, X-Blades plays surprisingly well. Once you get used to what button does what, you’ll find it to be an interesting hack and slash, albeit it one that only rewards you for replaying some levels a dozen or so times in order to advance with the powers you need.

Control and Gameplay Rating: 7/10

5. Replayability

X-Blades offers two endings, one of which is quite hard to obtain, especially since once you get the bad ending, you can NEVER get the good ending if you’re using the same game. There are also four difficulty levels, one of which can only be unlocked by beating the Hard difficulty. There’s also trophies to be earned that can only be received via multiple playthroughs. This means, if you’re OCD about getting those things, X-Blades is going to get a lot of use from your system.

Because there are so many powers and skills to buy/max out, this also increases X-Blades’ replay value. In fact, if you are a fan of hack and slashes, this could be the purchase for those of you unable to enjoy either the Xbox or Wii Onechanbara games.

Replayability Rating: 7/10

6. Balance

This is X-Blades’ weakest category. For the most part, the game is exceptionally easy. Only Pro difficulty gives you some challenges, and that’s because the amount of damage you take is dramatically increased and you no longer regenerate healthy slowly per the previous levels. Enemy AI is almost non-existent, and the general rank and enemies are very easily to kill. Boss fights are only slightly more challenging. After all, you can always heal yourself and the only challenge is the length of the battles, which can actually take some time due to how much health they have.

Oddly enough the hardest time I had with the game was in a level where I was trapped in a room with spikes that constantly went up and down in a particular pattern. I THOUGHT there would be a ledge to jump on, but there wasn’t, Thus I died. The second time, I just kept jumping around, avoiding the spikes, and after a while, I was released. There you go, - that’s the challenge.

If at any time you’re stuck, it probably means you just haven’t purchased the right power. This means a lot of mindless button mashing for hack n’ slashing. It’s a time sink, and an easy one that borders on monotony at time, but for fans of the genre, this will be right up your alley.

Balance Rating: 4/10

7. Originality

X-Blades, at least at first glance, is devoid of any originality or depth. After all, it’s another game featuring a girl in little to no clothing stabbing and/or shooting monsters while being wrapped up into a story where someone wants to rule/destroy the world. How many games DON’T feature that exact plot, and of those that don’t, instead feature an emo spikey haired boy instead?

Thankfully X-Blades mixes things up with the level of comedy in the game, and an interesting set of spells and moves to purchase. It’s still pretty devoid of real innovation or aspects that will set it apart from the plethora of action games that are out there, but at least it tries. Somewhat.

Originality Rating: 3/10

8. Addictiveness

I tend to really like button mashers. Double Dragon. River City Ransom. Dungeons and Dragons Collection. The list goes on. X-Blades however started to drag on me when each level was exactly the same. You run around, you kill the respawning monsters until they stop respawning. You search the level for special items like medallion pieces that upgrade your ability. Then you move on. EVERY level is like this with little to no variety. There are less than a handful of puzzles and because you have to repeat levels to get your soul count up, this makes the game drag even more mainly due to playing the same level over half a dozen (or more) times.

While the game does increase its replay value by doing this, it also dramatically lowers the enjoyment one receives.

Addictiveness Rating: 5/10

Appeal Factor

If you like hack n’ slash games, than you’ll like this. It’s more of the same with some slightly different controls and a snarkier plot than other games from the same genre. If you hate button mashers, or just find them repetitive, then this is not the game for you. Even if you do enjoy the genre, the length of the game and the slightly outdated graphics really don’t justify the sixty dollar price tag. The aforementioned Onechanbara games are far less and a better overall experience, while the PS3 has games like Uncharted and Heavenly Sword which are a better bang for your buck. As enjoyable as Ayumi can be, X-Blades would have found a larger audience as a budget title.

Most gamers will have fun with this title for the short term, but even I found myself getting a bit bored at the halfway point, and I really like this genre.

Appear Factor: 5/10

10. Miscellaneous

I enjoyed my time with X-Blades, but that’s because this was a free review copy provided by South Peak Games. Had I paid sixty dollars for this game however, my mood would be far surlier. As such, X-Blades is probably best left as a rental or on the shelf until the price drops. This was a decent effort from the makers of such classics Russian games like Ostrich Racer, but X-Blades makes no pretensions as to being anything more than it is – a straight forward hack n’ slash button masher featuring a character that is an attempt to possibly build a franchise around.

The graphics are outdated and the character designs are bland, but for an independent game studio, this was an impressive performance and X-Blades deserves to be recognized as such.

Miscellaneous Rating: 5.5/10

The Scores
Story/Modes: 6/10
Graphics: 5/10
Sound: 9/10
Control and Gameplay: 7/10
Replayability: 7/10
Balance: 4/10
Originality: 3/10
Addictiveness: 5/10
Appeal Factor: 5/10
Miscellaneous: 5.5/10
Total Score: 56.5
FINAL SCORE: 5.5 (DECENT GAME)

Short Attention Span Summary

X-Blades is a decent, albeit it overpriced game that is one of the better games to come out of Russia since Pathologic. While the character and monster designs are a bit weak, the backgrounds are quite nice and the soundtrack is outstanding, even if it more fitting for a Cybergoth or Trance club. The bottom line is that X-Blades is a no frills button mashing hack n’ slash, and you find it to be a run of the mill title from this genre with a few new twists. When the price drops down to a more respectable level, it just may find an appreciative audience. For now though, there are better, cheaper games available to you sporting similar gameplay, so you may want to stick with those.

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