Blades of Time comes from that parallel dimension that is so often found in videogames, where a scantily clad supermodel is able to succeed at saving the world, when much bigger, seemingly stronger warriors are unable to stop her sheer determination, as well as her gratuitous use of the reload function. Well, if being half naked worked for Dante and Kratos, how does new-comer Ayumi fare?
Platform: PS3, Xbox 360, Microsoft Windows, Mac OS X [reviewed on Xbox 360]
Genre: Hack and Slash
AGE RESTRICTION: PEGI 16
To call Ayumi a newcomer is perhaps a little unfair. She appeared in 2007’s ultimately forgettable game X-Blades, sporting a more animated look to go along with the aesthetic of that game. Blades of Time is a spiritual sequel, with the only link thematically being Ayumi herself, who is now designed for a more realistic world. Ayumi is a member of a guild of warriors, who together with her partner, stumbles across a mystical artefact that pulls her into a dangerous alternate world known as the Dragonlands. From there, she needs to find her partner again, as well as a way home.
From there, the plot holds no real sense of development: all twists are highly visible, and nothing really unexpected happens. The average player will probably no longer care about it from about 2 or 3 hours in, if they ever did at all. Part of what makes it so difficult to care about Ayumi’s tale is the fact that Ayumi herself is just so terribly annoying to listen to. Firstly, her voice actress seems to have no real sense of direction, or simply flat out does not care, making Ayumi sound bored with every line. Secondly, for the value of the player, she speaks aloud every thought she has, which would normally be fine, except that her lines range from sociopathic at worst to idiotic at best. Upon entering a huge lava filled volcano area, Ayumi proclaims with the utmost of astonishment: “Wow, lava is really hot!” Upon slaughtering an entire boat filled with scared human refugees because she needed a key, rather than asking them for it, she says: “They don’t understand, I needed to do this.” Yes Ayumi, of course they don’t understand, they’re dead now.
The aforementioned lava stage does bring up a point, and just before it seems like there isn’t anything good to say about this game, it’s worth mentioning how beautiful the Dragonlands really are. The background settings and range of areas you fight enemies in makes it quite pleasing to try and get to the next area to see what it will look like. There are old standards such as a jungle area, as well as remixed forms of older standards, such as a desert, that now happens to be on an alien planet. Gazing up at that wondrous alien sky is almost enough to make me able to tune out Ayumi’s next glib comment and just enjoy the scenery. Almost.
But now of course, we need to get to the meat of the game, what everyone would be coming here for. Ayumi carries twin blades, and when you first get control of her, it is an absolute delight to leap and twirl and attack with blade-flavoured death on your enemies. She dodges and runs at a pace that keeps combat frantic and enjoyable. One weakness of it however, is that there are very few combos available with her standard attacks, but that does get remedied in another way.
Upgrades are given to the player at set points, with the player able to choose which power from a set should be learned then. The most basic of these are the various magics that can be unleashed as part of an attack chain once the combo meter has been built up sufficiently. This means that magic is part of the inherit combat, and the player does not have to switch back and forth between a melee and magic mind-set.
A short period into the game, you are also given the mechanic that names the game, the ability to rewind time while on the fly. This is used to solve puzzles and open switches, and all the things you would expect, but is also designed to be used in just about every battle. When you rewind and then stop, a second Ayumi is now in battle, and if you do it again, a third Ayumi appears, and so on. By maximizing the usage of this, you will avoid being outnumbered as badly as you could be. This is sometimes also used to defeat powerful enemies, where one Ayumi is physically incapable of reaching the part of the enemy she needs to destroy, and must clone herself to succeed.
All of this sounds amazing on paper, and indeed sometimes it can make the game very enjoyable. However, there are a large number of things that drag this game down in this area. Firstly, Ayumi dies in about 3 or 4 solid hits from an enemy. Not surprising, considering how little armour she wears. You can of course picture what this means when a group of enemies are out and about. The aim of this is to make the player use their time powers effectively, but the fact still remains that there is no way to dodge the amount of attacks you need to, and because Ayumi never managed to learn how to block, no button does that. So you will die. A lot. There is also a mechanic where Ayumi’s charged combo meter reaches a point where it fills up a spare health meter that can be used to heal you in combat. The annoying thing about this is that it doesn’t activate automatically, meaning that you could die from a stray bullet and still have three full health bars spare. Ayumi has the ability to shoot bullets back with her own rifle of course, which is also used for some puzzles as well, but it is such a large and ungainly weapon that you should definitely only use it when you are forced to.
Blades of Time also features a multiplayer online mode, which combines aspects of the game with simple tower defence mechanisms. It’s a nice addition, and could be a fun distraction if you want something else to do with the game, however, each time I tried to play it, there were never enough players online, so take that as you will.
Blades of Time has some good ideas, and a lot more bad implementation of them, which makes it just average. I usually love this genre, but it got to a point where I realised that I simply was not having fun anymore, which is not a good sign. After dying for about the 17th time in an utterly pointless room, it became apparent that the developers designed the combat system, and made a series of rooms where you’re forced to test it in the manner they designed for you. This means that you never have the freedom to approach a challenge how you want to, you must always use the mechanic they choose in the way they decide, which can feel limiting to players of hack and slash games with more freedom. You should only buy this game new if you are a devoted follower of the genre, or love Ayumi for some inexplicable reason. Otherwise, keep it to a rental or a bargain bin hunt for when there’s nothing else better to do.