7.18.2012

GVN Review: Blades of Time (Xbox 360, PS3, PC)



The premise of Blades of Time was very promising to me.   The game pushed hard to show off the way stylish combat, puzzles, and intense plat forming.  All of this was to be interwoven together with the game’s unique Time Rewind mechanic to offer you a unique gaming experience.  Unfortunately somewhere along the line the developers fumbled while executing this concept and what we ending up getting is a huge mess of frustration.

The moment you start the Blades of Time, you will instantly see where the game goes wrong.  The game’s story starts off with some kind of ceremony being held in a great majestic building y a group of people simply referred to as the Guild.  Our heroine, Ayumi, crashes the ceremony along with her partner, Zero, in an attempt to gain wealth and power by entering a portal opened by the Guild’s leader.  Apparently Ayumi and Zero are part of the Guild and for whatever reason saw fit to kill fellow guild members to obtain their supposed wealth and fame.  No reason given whatsoever as to why they would turn on fellow members in such a violent way.
After some one-sided fighting, Ayumi steps thru the portal and enters the realm of the Dragon Island where her supposed riches are awaiting her at the Dragon Temple.  From here the game continues its downward spiral as the plot holes and lame dialogue don’t do anything to truly progress a story that at points seem to be interesting.  The game tries its best to give you filler in the way of journal pages that are scattered throughout the world, trying to give you a sense of history.  Note that I say try because all these notes and journals pages do is gives you a long paragraph of some old guy’s observation of his short time on the Dragon Island.
The game’s story continues to fall apart as you progress as it throws too much story at you.  On top of Ayumi’s selfish ambitions for wealth, there’s also other humans trapped on the island trying to escape, there’s a group of natives called the Skyguard who don’t like people running amok on the island, and there’s apparently some kind of evil being resting in captivity that the Skyguard are afraid you’ll unleash.  On top of that, Ayumi is looking for her friend Zero, who we never see enter the portal at the game’s beginning, and then there’s this random pixie dragon lady that follows you throughout the game who converses with you about nonsense.  There’s just so much going on and it’s all forced together so horribly. 
It’s one giant convoluted mess and what’s worse is that the story would be decent if they had a better voice actor for Ayumi and manage to give her some form of character development.  The only signs of any form of character development comes when Ayumi goes out of her way to find her partner, but after that she returns to being the cold, boring, cardboard with a single purpose on her mind not caring of who or what she screws over in her quest for riches.  Unfortunately, she’s not the only character who doesn’t seem to have any form of development.  There is the Dragon Pixie lady that follows you throughout the game who pretty much does nothing but state the obvious every time you come to a puzzle or plot point.  There’s the Guild Master who for some reason decides to forgive you for killing your fellow members and tries to help you leave the accursed Dragon Island.  The only characters with character are the overdeveloped Skyguards.  These immortal highly advanced beings that formed a pact of some kind with the suppressed chaos on their island come across as being to fear.  They have legitimate reasons for what they are doing.  My only gripe with them is how they speak in old English and sadly that reminds me of the horrible dialogue from the first Two Worlds.
Blades of Time does have some decent enough graphics that it give you a sense that the world is unique and alive around you, some of the time.  Each level is very unique and almost alien in their level design and each one has a very accommodating environment.  Some levels like the ancient ruins are covered in flora but show signs of wear and tear.  The desert looks desolate, dangerous, filled with rusting technology and has tons of cover from the burning sun which can kill you in mere seconds from exposure.  Easily the most impressive of the levels you explore are the Skyguard’s home turf.  Almost every segment of the level is separated in floating islands that look stunning, covered with exotic looking plants and bursting with highly advanced and detailed technology.  My only complaint is the overuse of blooming lighting effects.  There is a ton of items in the game that give off this glowing effect and at times prevents you from truly seeing any of the nice detail.
The character and enemies models unfortunately are a mixed bag.  With the giant bosses, they look amazing, very detail and something I would definitely be afraid of.   Some of the other enemies throughout the game are at best, decent looking.  Some of the Skyguard grunts look like toned down version of the Commanders but look like they are covered in tinfoil.  Ayumi and other human’s look rather bland looking.  While Ayumi at least looks better as her costume design changes throughout the game, the other humans are merely copies of each other, save for one, and all seem to have their own blooming effects.  Other characters like Zero and The Dragon Pixie are nicely designed but seem to lack anything that inspiring.
Hands down the worst part of Blades of time goes to the incredible voice acting and amazing dialogue.  The woman they picked to voice Ayumi couldn’t be less apparent that she didn’t give a crap about how to deliver her lines.  She is so mono-tone and dry using a horrible english accent and what’s worse is she never shuts up.  She also apparently never seems to have a dialogue coach with her because it seems like she is talking directly at you every time always asking what’s going on, where’s her partner Zero, and demanding other characters to let her roam wherever.
Other Characters like the Guild Master, Zero and even the Dragon Pixie come off more tolerable.  They don’t come off forced and as dry as Ayumi does but their dialogue remains boring and uninteresting to say the least.  The Skyguard are a mixed bag because on one hand they have a voice that matches their giant threatening physique but once they are throwing out the Forsooth and Thou’s their demeanor starts to make them look goofy. Now probably the worst part of the dialogue and this goes against every character in the game, they don’t truly move the non-sensical story forward. They seem to have some inert ability to confuse it even more with how poorly everything has been crammed together.
After you finally get past the non-sense of Blades of Time’s story, voice acting and decent graphics, there is a game here that truly does show that some effort was put into it.   However there are so many issues that were prevalent during my play through.  Blades of Time is a third person action game with a good amount of platforming, stylized combat, and some decent puzzles and each of these areas have lots of potential but each of them contains varying issues that mare this game from living up its potential of being a great game.
Control wise, Blades of Time does a good job responding to my commands on the controller.  The layout is easy to use and it doesn’t try to go overboard with too many button combinations for the game’s combo based attacks.  The game did waver while using the mouse and keyboard.  The sudden twitch of the mouse makes looking and aiming incredibly twitchy and the layout made my hand cramp out a few times as I try to reach out and press keys.  At times I had to stop moving my character around just to be able to perform certain moves and that left me open to some harsh punishment.
Diving into the combat, Blades of Time is a fast paced, combo heavy mash fest along the lines of God of War, Devil May Cry, and the Castlevania reboot.  There are definitely some similarities to Castlevania: Lord of Shadows since both games are made by Konami.  As Ayumi, you have some standard attack and a heavy attack.  The combo based attack system however, is a straight forward hack ‘n’ slash mash fest and really offers no variety in attacks save for using your heavy attack to launch into a juggle.  It’s very easy to just hack away at waves of enemies without changing the pace of your attacks.
The variety of combo based attacks only change when dealing with aerial based enemies.  Lucky for you there’s a nifty lock on dash attack you can use.  Here you can dash skywards towards your air based foes and knock them down.  Unfortunately this is where things get dicey because when you start swinging away at them you have a tendencies to push them away and out of range of your attack only getting in one or two hits.
Now aside from hacking away at enemies, you can even switch on the fly to a rifle, which in itself changes the gameplay to that of an over the shoulder shooter like Gears of War.  The only real purpose to go into this mode is for only select enemies that appear maybe 2 or 3 times in a level; who are out of reach of air dash attacks or have some kind of shield that makes then invulnerable to melee attacks.
As you progress thru the game you acquire lots of new abilities, some useful and others not so much.  Some of these abilities are elemental spells, like fire and ice, that when used can deal an assortment of damage and even status or area effects. You can cast any spells in the middle of a combo and can either perform a deadly fire base area effect spell that can give burn damage by the second or you can freeze enemies in their place.
To be able to use these abilities you have to fill up a rage meter which slowly fills up as you attack your enemies.  Once the bar reaches one or both skulls you can use those special attacks or when the bar fills completely, you get a health cross point to recover any lost life in combat.  And with the bar filling up slowly you actually can’t rush into combat and waste your abilities so there is some strategy involved.  Of course it feels forced considering the lack of balance with certain enemies, but more on that later.
Now unfortunately the downside to your abilities is that you don’t need to use them the majority of the time.  Ayumi’s attacks are incredibly fast and with the ability easily evade with the dash or even juggle some enemies; you won’t find yourself at a major disadvantage.  The only time you might need them is either during boss fights or when you face a horde of monsters that attack relentlessly and aren’t phased by your attacks but they don’t appear until late in the game.
Now one of the biggest things promoted about Blades of Time was the Time Rewind ability.  Using this ability rewinds time and allows for a shadow of Ayumi to repeat the events up to the moment of the ability being cast.  Now if you time this right you can easily make multiple copies of yourself which helps out loads in combat heavy situations like boss fights.  But the primary focus of the ability is for solving the games numerous and bland puzzles.  Unfortunately the puzzles that require the Time Rewind ability are incredibly easy and uninspiring unlike the other puzzles in the game that harness Ayumi’s other abilities.
One of the other abilities and the most useful in the game is the Order spell.  Casting this spell creates a giant aura bubble that surrounds you.  It has the ability to reveal invisible treasure and enemies, giving you a safe haven for combating enemies in an unaffected environment and for solving puzzles.  The first two examples of the Order spell’s use don’t happen that often throughout the game but the ability to solve puzzles occurs pretty often in every level.  The most common puzzles unfortunately are orb transfer puzzles where you have to use the Order spell to move an energy orb from one pedestal to another to activate a device to progress the game.
Now unfortunately I just described half of the puzzles in the game when talking about the Order spell.  The other puzzles involve the Time Rewind mechanic.  It mostly includes a trying to get thru doors that don’t stay open long enough to get to them or multiple pressure sensitive switches that need multiple bodies to get the job done.  So thanks to the Time Rewinds brief cloning effect you can easily solve these puzzles in no time.  It’s truly disappointing that such a novel idea just doesn’t truly get a chance to be taken advantage of in a broader sense.
In terms of playability, the single player campaign is rather short merely only taking about eight to ten hours to complete.  Each stage isn’t really that big but what makes it take so long are the numerous cheap deaths I kept receiving.  I have found myself trying to survive waves of monsters that at times being unable to escape or heal time after time.  Even when using tactics such as the Time rewind to lure away enemies after your copy, most of the time they won’t bite and still swarm all over you. 
What’s worse is how frustrating the combat can be even when you aren’t swarmed.  There are a couple of boss fights with the Skyguard that take way too long.  I was fighting a Skyguard commander and I was using the Time Rewind as recommended by the game and it never really helped, in fact it prolonged the fight.  The Skyguard boss (and the others as well, will ignore your clones and come straight for you.  This completely negates your tactics completely and leaves you with running for your life while trying to recover.  It truly drives me nuts at times but after several tries I managed to get by with off the wall tactics.
There’s also a co-op multiplayer available for Blades of Time but with how frustrating the game can get I truly wouldn’t recommend making someone else play this game.  You might as well forget about this mode since the game is really only a one shot beat it and be done with it kind of deal.  There is no novelty in this game that makes me even want to play thru it a second time let alone force someone else to co-op with me.

This also ties in with the game’s lack of worthwhile replay value.  While the co-op is something I have no plans of doing there are some things that warrant maybe a second play through for some who can tolerate a lot.  Along with higher difficulty setting there’s still the ability to search through each stage and locate the hidden treasure chests, looking for more powerful weapons and abilities.  There’s also plenty of those hidden journal entries that are hidden throughout the game.  But I digress, once you’ve beaten the game and do decide to play through again, the game will be a cakewalk even on higher difficulties because you have the levels memorized.  This makes the treasure and journal hunting a less than memorable experience.
Overall I can see the amount of effort that went into making Blades of Time a worthwhile and unique gaming experience.  All the parts are there.  Fast paced combat, unique abilities like the time rewind, challenging bosses, and decent plat forming are all here.  Unfortunately they are marred by a poorly put together story, frustrating and at times unbalanced combat, horrible voice acting and dialogue and a short single player campaign.  There’s so much promise here and unfortunately it falls flat by its own poor execution.  But in the end,  I did enjoy my time with the game even though I found myself frustrated quite often.  I would recommend Blades of Time as a rental for everyone just to experience the novel ideas that are within but just make sure to check your brain in at the door.

+ Unique skills and abilities
+ Fast paced combat
+ Time rewind is a novel idea
+ Decent platforming
- Horrible voice acting
- Poorly put together story
- Combat can be unbalanced and frustrating at times
- Puzzles are incredible simple
- Lack of polish
Final Grade: C-

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