Playing X-Blades for the first time I felt a little awkward. It wasn’t because the controls were poor or the screen at SouthPeak’s booth was at a funny angle, it was because Ayumi, the lead character of the game, has nothing covering her private parts but a thong. This isn’t a normal thong either, it’s one of the smallest thongs ever, so the entire time you’re playing you’re staring at her naked anime style posterior. Now this wouldn’t be such a bad thing in the privacy of your own home, but on a show room floor, with a female handler explaining that Ayumi is a kick-ass adventure who wears nothing but a thong, it makes you feel a bit perverted. Plus, how am I supposed to tag this with a whimsical word I made up? Assicle? It doesn’t work!
We’ll just have to press forward without one and talk about the gameplay. X-Blades is a beat-em up (in the Devil May Cry sense) with a few RPG elements thrown in. I say that with some hesitation since most of the RPG stuff is pretty basic character and weapon upgrades. Players will take on the role of Ayumi, who is trying to discover an ancient secret relic, and guide her through levels infested with bad guys. She uses her fighting skills, pistol blades and magic to combat these baddies and it’s all done with stylish moves and very little clothing. There are close range attacks and distance ones and new moves can be earned throughout the game. We’ve pretty much seen this before plenty of times and if you enjoy the genre it looks like you will enjoy this too.
There are a few interesting tidbits with the gameplay though. Every time Ayumi enters a battle, a counter will tell you how many enemies are left in that wave. It allows for gameplay with a bit more strategy in battles instead of just tapping attack over and over until you run out of baddies. Also keeping the game away from mindless button mashing is a magic system that has different elements and powers. Every time the player gets leveled up, new magic powers become available. The player can decide which ones to buy and which to ignore and then assign them to a quick use button much like the Zelda games. Magic requires what basically amounts to MP to cast, and players gain it by beating up bad guys and filling Ayumi’s magic bar.
Some enemies may only be vulnerable to a certain type of attack and thus you need to plan all button mashing accordingly. The boss I played, a giant wolf thing, could only be harmed by fireballs. I mapped fireballs to A and started casting. Running out of power to cast I had to beat up on some of his minions in order to gain it back, and then start hurling fireballs at him again. So there’s a bit more strategy than just running in and attacking, but only a bit.
Graphically the game looks decent with what developer Gaijin Entertainment is calling a anime noir film quality animation. The cut scenes looked great but the in-game stuff, while pretty, wasn’t anything that blew me away. Cel-shading with hints of hand drawing predominated, and while Ayumi looked good, these aren’t top end graphics we’re talking about. Of course the game also had the unfortunate luck of being seen right after I saw Prince of Persia, which isn’t really fair to any game, movie or piece of art.
Gaijin Entertainment doesn’t really seem to be reinventing the wheel on this one, but as far as button mashing/action goes it looks like you can do far worse than X-Blades. They’ll have to do a lot of interesting things and have a decent story to keep the game interesting through every level, but fans of this genre are usually pretty forgiving in the repetitiveness department anyway. The game is currently scheduled for a Fall 2008 release on PC and “next-gen console”. Not sure what the latter means but going by the game’s website, the PS3 will be sitting this one out.