The hack and slash genre that so many of us grew up with is essentially dead; giving way to more mainstream play styles for the "everyday gamer." X-Blades tosses that philosophy to the wind and presents players with a scantily clad -- the chick is wearing tinsel for underwear and a bikini top instead of armor -- heroine dead set on ridding the world of evil dark powers. Yes, it's all as simple as it sounds, but underneath its moderately unattractive shell is gameplay that some might be able to enjoy.
For a more detailed breakdown of all the big differences between each of the three versions, check out the Head-to-Head here
X-Blades is all about combat, really. The story that's in place is presented in cel-shaded cutscenes and makes sense once you get rolling, but at the onset it feels like you're thrown into a story at its midway point. That's evidenced even further by the section of the manual titled, "Huh? How did this adventure begin?" No joke, it's there.
The nuts and bolts of X-Blades are that the story surrounds a treasure hunter named Ayumi and her trusty gun-blades (swords that are also pistols) as she seeks to find ancient all-powerful artifacts that are currently hidden away in a long-forgotten temple. Of course standing in her way are forces with the same goal in mind. Time for Ayumi to hack and, yes, slash her way through a myriad of arena battles.
Those who played Heavenly Sword on the PlayStation 3 will feel right at home with this one. Ayumi hops from one battle arena to the next with loading screens and statistical breakdowns of her performance breaking up the action. Red gates made of some sort of impenetrable smoke keep you from progressing to the next stage until every enemy has been defeated, but you can always hop back a stage and collect items or kill enemies for their valuable souls which act as X-Blades' form of currency.
See, while most of the action is governed by the X button which players will feverishly tap to link together slashes and hacks, Ayumi can access several magical powers as well. You're able to assign up to four of these powers for use at one time, but the list of available magic expands far beyond that as you progress. Almost annoyingly so as there were plenty of battles that required me to constantly pause and re-slot my magic to take advantage of an opponent's weakness (The Dark at the Great Gates comes to mind).
As with any game worth its mana, X-Blades does not provide you with an endless amount of magic. Ayumi's rage meter determines what spells can be used and that meter builds both when she doles out damage and takes it. The aforementioned souls are absorbed by Ayumi after downing foes and are then spent on powers. Magic is typically based around elements, as are the bosses you'll be facing throughout the plethora of arenas. Surprise, surprise, you'll need to use fire against ice bosses and light magic against enemies using dark powers.
It's obvious that the developers were concerned with the redundancy of X-Blades. They've added distracters like collecting pieces of emblems that improve your aerial striking ability, melee fighting skill, and your proficiency with the gun aspect of Ayumi's sword. Pieces of the emblems are hidden around the environments or in pots and statues that you can destroy. It's a subtle addition, but it helps change things up when you get tired of mashing the same set of buttons over and over.
Despite the attempts of Gaijin Entertainment to differentiate one arena from the next, X-Blades greatest flaw is its redundancy. Enemies, environments and actions will all be extremely familiar territory by the end of the adventure. This isn't helped by the fact that the first portion of X-Blades is spent working your way through arenas in the light of day, then turning around working your way back through those arenas in the evening. It's a serious copout on the part of the developers to not create new architecture and instead relight the same areas. A copout that should not go unnoticed.
Likewise, enemy designs don't change much as you move on. Neither their strategy, nor their look. Oh, and speaking of strategy and enemy intelligence; there really isn't much of either. Your character is sort of like a magnet running around the screen with baddies swiping and chucking projectiles at you wherever you go. There's no rhyme or reason to their tactics other than them wanting you dead. The AI can also be plain stupid at some points (see the battle with Obsessed Jay) as bad guys will sometimes attack the open air.
The controls in X-Blades provide other annoyances beyond the general redundant gameplay design. It's immediately obvious that Ayumi is incapable of finite movements as she jerks forward when you move the stick. I spent plenty of time falling off ledges and getting killed during the few movement-based puzzles. There are also moments when combat is over simplified and allowed me to rotate the left stick continuously while tapping the X button and trust that I'd take out the group of enemies around me. I did so with ease. Not every situation is so easily handled, but a few of the arenas feel tedious in their simplicity.
Those negatives withstanding, there's some charm to be found in X-Blades. It harkens back to a simpler time and makes valiant attempts at differentiating one stage from the next through modest character evolution. It doesn't make up for many of the downfalls, but some will certainly be able to cling to what X-Blades is trying to accomplish.
The look of Ayumi and her lack of general clothing will undoubtedly be a selling point for those who haven't seen daylight in weeks. The rest of the graphical package follows the lead of the gameplay and is quite mediocre. Some of the architecture is impressive and looks to be expansive, but further inspection will almost always reveal a cornered off level that requires a load screen to progress. Framerate issues pop up when the screen fills; a symptom that is exacerbated severely on the PS3.
The lighting is very saturated and every level has a reddish hue that makes everyone look like they were in the sun for entirely too long. Fancy effects are kept at a minimum as there is a lot of action on-screen. Again, the Xbox 360 handles this much better than the PS3 version which can be quite jarring when things get frenetic.
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