by Liam Edwards
reviewed on X360
Blades of Time is the spiritual successor to Gaijin Entertainment’s 2007 title X-Blades which was met with some very harsh criticism upon release. To my great surprise this didn’t stop Gaijin from releasing a sequel. While set in a new universe, Blades of Time features the same scantily clad mercenary, Ayumi, and she’s back for more treasure hunting.
Blades of Time takes place in a world carrying the unimaginative name of Dragonland. That’s your first clue that the creative juices were not flowing during the creation of Blades of Time and it will not be the last. Dragonland is a mystical world said to be a heaven for treasure hunters. Brimming with treasure, it is the dream of all treasure hunters wide and far but - as cliché stories go - no one has ever returned from Dragonland. Ayumi is sucked into this world via a portal and sets out to be the first to escape.
Time is of the essence
For all the overused powers and game mechanics in video-gaming history, few games have ever been so reliant on one main game mechanic as Blades of Time. The basic premise is clever, though not new: the player is able to manipulate and rewind time. Braid and Prince of Persia used it, and both did it better than Blades of Time. Yet neither really capitalized on the usage of time except for fast-forwarding and rewinding, removing mistakes from their gameplay as a result. Blades of Time makes time manipulation more strategic and also more rewarding when it’s pulled off correctly, but it can still be very unforgiving.
The strategic element to time manipulation in Blades of Time comes from Ayumi’s ability to generate “time clones” that she can use to create something of a plan of attack. If she is attacking from the front, she can sneakily rewind time and then go behind an enemy to attack from there. In the mean time, her original actions of attacking from the front remain active in the form of a time clone. You can continue to create clones and rewind time until the time bar is depleted.
The time mechanic is fun at first and something rarely seen before in other games, but Blades of Time’s biggest crime is its complete overuse of this mechanic. Enemies are too easily defeated by a quick succession of time clone attacks, turning it into something of a dumbed down hack & slash experience. Even battling more notable enemies comes down to creating as many time clones as time allows and then wail on the unfortunate soul who dared challenge you. Doing so, Blades of Time causes its own demise by allowing the player to just make a nonsensical amount of clones, completely wiping out any enemy without even a shred of thought behind it.
By the end of Blades of Time’s campaign, you will be glad to never have to hear Ayumi talk again. She does all her adventuring on her lonesome and insists on talking to herself throughout the entire game. Game logic rarely applies to real life, but if Ayumi would be walking down the street past me talking as she is in the game, I would refer her to the nearest psychiatrist as soon as possible.
The story behind Ayumi’s adventure and the lore and creatures of Dragonland become a small annoyance as the game progresses. There is nothing interesting about either Ayumi or the story. Her constant chatter, pointing out both the obvious and the strange, kills any interest in the story a mere hour into the game. It doesn’t help that the voice acting is absolutely terrible and listening to Ayumi’s voice is dull and almost too much to bare. The other characters, as limited as they are, are no better and suffer from poor performances and a general lack of enthusiasm.
Small snippets of diaries and books can be found around each level, left behind by explorers who have found themselves trapped too. These snippets don’t tell much of the story but rather inform the player of the creatures and enemies Ayumi is going to face within the coming level.
Initially, Dragonland is beautiful and its jungle setting and tall ruins make the game feel epic in size. Unfortunately that feeling doesn’t last and disappears when you start bumping into invisible walls. Up close, textures look muddy and uninspiring, bringing you back down from the bright and shiny world that you thought it was in a loud, uncomfortable crash.
Ayumi has a rather large bag of tricks when it comes to combat but few of the powers and combos are ever really needed. Even pitted against a boss, nine time clones with basic attacks will usually do the trick of bringing him to his knees. Players insisting on more variation can use the ability to combine elemental spells such as ice and fire. These have a pleasing effect, coming out in the form of a dragon flying out towards Ayumi’s enemies. You can also use pistols and rifles though these are mostly useless against the bulk of your enemies. They do come in handy when you need to shoot down flying enemies or give a small push to items that are just out of grabbing range.
In contrast with much of the rest of the game, the gunplay and hack & slash are actually fun. They can get repetitive - and in the case of the gunplay be rather ineffective – but they keep a rather mundane game from being completely irrelevant.
Get it right, there is always next time
I had few expectations going in and Blades of Time gave me little reason to get excited. There are a number creative ideas that - had then been pursued better - would have made the game a lot better than it actually is. The ability to create time clones is a really enjoyable strategic element but it becomes overused quickly. Basic combat is fun and feels similar Devil May Cry’s until you realize just how ineffective it is as compared to the time mechanics and use those instead.
There is a lot of potential but that only makes this story even sadder: Blades of Time is a mess. Even so, it is an improvement upon X-Blades but only by a little. The bare bones story, repetitive gameplay and overused game mechanics bring it down to a lower level than it needed to be.
Creating time clones is tremendous fun...
... until you figure out that that\'s all this game is about.