Sometimes when you get down with a game and kick things off you just know. Sometimes you know it’s gonna be utter tripe no matter how long you play it for. Sometimes you know it’s going to be the funniest thing ever or the hardest game ever or the best ever simulation of snowmobiles traversing mountainous landscapes. Every now and then you get lucky and from the opening titles it’s obvious to all that what you have ahead of you is an obscenely wonderful piece of art. When you sit down to play Blades of Time however, it’s obvious that what you have to look forward to is a by the numbers affair which only says “meh” at you right from the get go with the low production values and simplistic but mechanistically well executed hack ‘n’ slash attack options. It is highly likely that not one single thing from this point until the end will lead your opinion to waver.
The game looks alright. It’s done well enough but it seems to be based an engine from the first generation games of this round of consoles. The cut scenes are cartoony in visualisation and not in any way cutting edge; the in-game graphics are dependable but full of unvaried environment components (at least early on anyway) with a fairly narrow colour palette within a given area. The voice-acting is really the stuff of B movies. It’s a real shame that the quality here is what it is as compared to that which we have been showered with in recent years - Nolan North and others - it is really off putting and takes you right out of the world that Gaijin Entertainment are trying to create for the player.
It’s a surprise actually that Gaijin have not kept the same graphical engine they used for the spiritual precursor to Blades of Time, X-Blades. Released in 2007 it was a cel-shaded game and frankly that looked more leading-edge than this ever will. That was five years ago but were it released now the effect would still be more than is actually provided. A far superior ideal and surely something which would have helped re-build the world this time around?
Like X-Blades what we have here is a third-person action adventure hack ‘n’ slash in the mould of God of War but with far less bravado and much less pace. The actual fighting is done fairly well, with different moves added over time filling out your repertoire. Ayumi, the main character, is responsive and she packs a mean punch. She responds quickly to the player’s commands and is more than capable of holding her own against multiple foes and delivering judgement with a variety of actions. The fighting isn’t the most exciting though despite its dependable demeanour. Fight five of these guys, three of those ones and repeat. Move to the next part of the area and recycle. There’s no depth to the combat like Dante or Bayonetta deliver; none of the explosive bombass that Kratos provides. Also, giving the girl a gun was a pretty awful idea. It could have worked were it mingled in amongst the various menu items the killing machine has available to her in full fighting flight, but she needs to pause and aim and fire, necessitating the end of any balletic motion, destroying any fluidity and adrenaline rush in the process.
The game isn’t just about beating up the conveyor belt of baddies though, as there are puzzles to solve. Mainly switch pressing puzzles, but something to break up the main aspect of gameplay. Nothing is taxing and nothing is really that interesting but it mixes things up. There are also treasure chests to collect. After all, that is the reason you’re where you are - you’re hunting treasure. Where you are is as already mentioned a fairly non-descript world even though there is a quite noticeable difference between each area. You have water and grass and ceramics and snow but what you do from place to place never changes.
Added to the normal collection of moves are some magics and the pièce de résistance
of the game - the time rewind mechanic. Early on you learn that this otherworldy region, known as Dragon Land - which you entered thanks to getting hold of some cult’s orb at their local meeting place - has certain mystical properties and one of them enables you to clone yourself and this clone can do again what you have just done. Or not. It sounds unique and exciting and it is, at first. Eventually though it gets rather tedious replicating yourself multiple times in order to solve one puzzle or beat one enemy. An actual time rewind would probably have been better, or maybe such a special event should have been restrained more in terms of its frequency of use.
The story is much like the graphics and the acting and the fighting and the puzzling. It will interest some folk some of the time and isn’t (obviously) all that it at first seems - you don’t just hunt treasure after all (this is really not spoiling anything) - but ultimately is just very much something that finds the middle of the road and drives fantastically straight in order to get its licence without considering how it’s going to win the race against all the hundreds of others with the exact same licence.
And so endeth the tale of Ayumi the characteristically nearly unclothed fantasy maiden treasure hunting fighting machine. Blades of Time will not excite anyone. It will not win any awards. It will be a struggle to play at first but if you do try it and do find something you like it’s probable that you’ll still like that right up until the game is over. It must also be said that if you do have that experience it will be good value given the game’s price point at release. The thing is, to find out if you’re going to have such a time with these particular blades takes an enormous leap of faith, and that leap is not one we can recommend to anyone.