Gaijin Entertainment’s Blades of Time is much like a dog sh*t sundae. On the surface it seems rather tempting, all covered in chocolate sauce and whipped cream, but it isn’t until you dig deeper that you realise most of the package is made of poo. While it might be disguised with chocolate and sprinkled with nuts, it’s still just dog poo in a fancy sundae glass.
I’m going to be completely honest here: if this game did not have a half-naked heroine in it, it would have disappeared into obscurity, never to be played by ninety-five percent of the people who actually wound up playing it in the first place.
“But Miklós, surely it can’t be that bad, because bewbs?” I hear from the stalwart hack-’n'-slash junkies, so allow me to elaborate on my previous, canine excrement infused analogy – chocolate sauce, nut sprinkles and all.
Platforms: 360 / PC / PS3
In Blades of Time, you take on the role of Ayumi, “the ultimate female treasure hunter” who appeared in 2009’s X-Blades, making Blades of Time a spiritual successor of sorts. For reasons unexplained, Ayumi and her partner Zero attack the Treasure Hunter’s Guild (which Ayumi apparently belongs to anyway – go figure) to gain access to an orb that acts as a gateway to the Dragon Lands – an island crammed with loot and a veritable Mecca for treasure hunters. Naturally the Dragon Lands aren’t all rainbows and gold doubloons and in next to no time Ayumi is forced to start hacking things up with her swords.
Blades of Time was a frustrating playthrough largely because there was occasional evidence that some thought and love went into the development. The game’s “hook” is a Time Rewind mechanic which allows Ayumi to be in multiple places at once, as each rewind creates a copy of her doing whatever action it was before you hit the rewind button. This leads to some rather neat applications when taking down larger enemies such as Skyguards. It also allows you to “spawn” multiple copies of Ayumi to hack up enemies in unison, which is rather satisfying the first few times. However, the ability to rewind time is occasionally taken away from you for no apparent reason and normally when you’re forced to face large groups of enemies in confined places. This haphazard removal of the game’s main feature is never made clear, but I’m assuming it’s a means to (artificially) increase combat difficulty; it doesn’t work.
A hack-’n'-slash game is reliant on a decent combat mechanic, which is something Blades of Time cannot really boast about despite the game’s official website claiming a “deep combat system”. I consider Bayonetta to have a deep combat system; Blades of Time doesn’t come close.
As you land attacks you’ll fill a Rage Meter. As the meter reaches a third and then two-thirds of the way up, you’ll fill two separate Combo Seals at each point, which then allow you to execute one of the unlockable combo moves. Fill the meter all the way and you’ll earn a Health Recharge token to use whenever you need; you can keep a maximum of three Health Recharges.
As mentioned, you can unlock various combo attacks that result in fire, ice and other effects, but they generally yield identical results only with different colours and different particle effects. Combos are unlocked at altars found throughout the game and you use little glowing orbs as a currency – I think, because you’re never told what these orbs are. You’re also never told how to collect them, how many you have or how much each unlock costs – it’s really just a half-hearted attempt at staggering ability unlocks and adding pseudo depth to an already shallow combat system.
I played the entire game by spamming the same attack string: slash with swords repeatedly until Rage Meter fills up a Combo Seal; execute flame combo; hit Right Bumper to execute an enemy the moment one enters critical state; rinse and repeat… for about ten hours. Incidentally, that’s pretty much how you beat the handful of boss fights as well, give or take a few minor adjustments like substituting a flame combo with an ice combo.
What’s more, all too often combat dissolves into a flurry of blurry confusion as the game’s temperamental camera battles to keep up. Adding to the confusion is the fact that there’s no on-screen indication that you’re taking damage; there’s no flash of red in the direction of your damage’s source, which means you constantly have to shift your eyes from the actual fighting to check your health gauge at the top left of the screen. That, coupled with incredibly fast enemy attacks, means that combat can go either way, whether you’ve beaten the enemy type a hundred times or not.
On top of swords, Ayumi has space for a gun as well as a ring and medallion. There are numerous variations of each item to find, but while they claim to do things like “increase fire combo damage”, I never noticed a difference as a result of swapping any equipment type. This means that you’ll eventually stop bothering to loot hidden chests, because the equipment you find doesn’t really do anything – not even on a purely cosmetic level (weapons excluded).
In terms of the game’s presentation there are some positive elements: it’s nice and colourful and environments are varied, but often at the expense of narrative feasibility as you move from the Dragon Lands to a planet in outer space and then back to some islands. It’s all rather convoluted and confusing. The characters themselves are a mixed bag and it’s almost as if three separate artists had their own vision for the game. Steampunk human pirates, weird alien races (that look like a mix of Chaos Marines and Protoss), and primitive zombie islanders don’t really gel all that well. The result is a game world that has no identifiable artistic direction, and the title suffers for that.
Another negative point I have to raise is about the terrible voice acting. Ayumi does not shut up and she’ll keep you cringing from start to finish with her inane monologues. Enemies have equally terrible voice acting, and the main Skyguard characters are possibly the worst. For a start it’s impossible to understand them without subtitles because their voices have been distorted beyond audible comprehension. Dialogue gems such as: “time ist nothing thou dost not understand” as well as my personal favourite, “betwixt truth and falsery” will make you want to jam shards of glass into your ears.
Gaijin definitely skimped on the audio budget because the game has about two pieces of music that play for every level. It’s not until you hit the last few stages that you get treated to a new audio track. It’s all generic schlock that adds nothing to the already lacking atmosphere.
If shallow combat systems, questionable character design and God-awful dialogue aren’t all bad enough, the game has some dodgy bugs that forced me to restart checkpoints on occasion. On top of that the collision detection is appalling and at times the frame rate takes serious dips when particle effects become all too much.
I’m not entirely sure what Gaijin Entertainment was going for in Blades of Time. The game sits somewhere between budget rubbish and an honest (but failed) attempt at rebooting a forgettable IP. Unfortunately, it tends to lean more towards the budget rubbish side, and in the end it comes across as an utterly uninspired hack-’n'-slash that relies on the sexualisation of its main character in order to gain attention. The fact that Gaijin’s own website describes Blades of Time as having “charm, banter and mystery all tits [sic] own” pretty much says it all. Although I’m not entirely convinced by the “charm” part.