IGN Review of Blade Dancer: Lineage of Light
Time to save the world again. And who better to save it than a vivacious young hero out to make a name for himself. The above should sound routine to any fan of Japanese role-playing games. It's a story most developers see fit to recycle time and time again. Such is the case with Blade Dancer: Lineage of Light, the latest PSP offering from Hit Maker and SCE Studios Japan.
You play as a carefree young lad named Lance, who at the beginning of the game sets out on a boat in search of adventure. After landing on the island of Foo, he sets out to prove his skill with a blade by challenging anything that crosses his path. A clich?, yes, but at least you don't immediately start the game in a foreign village with a case of amnesia. Later, the story does increase in complexity, and it's even engaging from time to time.
Problem is, the so-so narrative elements heavily outweigh the unique and memorable ones. Saving the world isn't really the problem, either. That's fine, since really, there's no greater cause, but it'd still be nice to rescue your species through other means than just beating the snot out of the archetypal Dark Lord persona. Failing that, you should get the chance to save the world, however mundane it may seem, with a troupe of genuine, honest-to-goodness characters. Blade Dancer offers a decent cast, even a good deal of voice acting, but the dialogue and relationships fail to really captivate.
Having said that, you will spend plenty of time listening to and reading characters converse with each other. It's not bad, really, though no one character outshines the rest of the cast with witty or thought-provoking banter. And, to be totally honest, certain people do blurt out a few terrible lines - not because of bad writing, but simple due to bad voice work. That aside, it's all standard, serviceable stuff. It works fine to deliver major plot points and narrative twists, but it won't score any writing awards. Together, the story and characters form an epic package, and newcomers will find a lot to like. Veterans, on the other hand, will find things a little worn.
Switching gears, the gameplay in Blade Dancer plays from the third-person perspective, just like in Final Fantasy X. For those who don't know, this means you control the main character with the analog stick and steer him around full 3D environments. Unlike most titles in that series, however, you can actually see your enemies before fighting them. You see them as color-coded skulls floating around the landscape, with harder enemies in black and easier enemies in blue. Even better, these skulls will chase you once they see you, but will retreat in terror if they believe you're strong enough to beat them. But they won't just run - they run and find help, returning with a posse of other enemies.
This is the first of many positive elements in Blade Dancer. The rest of them, surprisingly, also have to do with combat. First, each character has an activity circle. Whenever this circle fills up (indicated by an exclamation mark) you can have characters use items, spells or weapon attacks. The combat system doesn't select available characters for you, meaning if you're not quick, your little army will just sit there and take damage. This makes combat brisk and even a little frenetic, since juggling characters and their abilities isn't the easiest thing to do.
On top of that, weapons don't last forever in Blade Dancer, as each successful hit brings them closer to breakage. As such, you need to spend a good chunk of time finding replacements. You can do this in two different ways: through simple shop purchases or by making them yourself. The latter is the better choice, since the best weapons in the game carry ludicrous price tags. Plus, it's simply more rewarding scouring the game's many environments for specific items to build weapons than just dropping cash. And, since you need new weapons constantly, it becomes stupid in a financial sense to spend hours just accumulating money to buy stuff that you can manufacture cheaply and with greater speed yourself.
Finally, there's the Lunar Gauge, whose sole purpose it is to dictate when to use your special abilities. These come in different flavors, like most magical abilities in games, but generally, they fall in two categories: single or group. What makes things interesting, cool and sometimes downright frustrating, is enemies use this same Lunar Gauge to power their attacks. You can cancel an enemy's lunar attack, and they can cancel yours, so it's this constant battle over this precious resource. It makes combat very tense, but also damn fun to play.
If it sounds like developers disproportionably lumped all the good stuff into combat, that's because they did. Sure, battle sequences are well-designed and enjoyable, but the rest of the experience feels a little sparse in comparison. NPC chatter in towns is pretty bland, as are most of the game's environments and enemies. Control when navigating your characters also comes off a little awkward, and the game's story tends to drag in parts.
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