X-Blades almost snuck under our review radar, and we really wish it had. On the surface, what appears to be a exciting fantasy hack ‘n’ slash adventure, complete with busty heroine and hugely varied bestiary, is nothing more than a dull, flawed and unexceptional journey of relentless button-mashing against some of the most irritating monsters that we’ve ever come across.
The story of X-Blades follows the anime-style character of Ayumi, a stunning-looking treasure hunter who discovers a long-lost map of some ancient ruins. Listed on the map are the locations of two powerful artifacts that wield mysterious powers. It’s up to you to discover the secrets of the artifacts by traveling across a wide variety of locations, from temples to abandoned coastlines, slaying monsters with your acrobatic melee attacks and light and dark magical abilities. Armed with two swords that also double up as a pistol, the action is confined to battle arenas, where masses of monsters spawn out of thin air and descend on you from all angles until you’ve cleared the threat. Rinse and repeat about 40 times and you should get the gist of the X-Blades experience. To say that combat is the main theme of the game would be a huge understatement.
With 30 enemy types to fight against, there’s certainly plenty of visual variety in terms of monster design. The creatures range from the tiny Tyrannosaurs Rex-like Pangos, who arrive in their hordes and bite and stab at you with their sharp fangs, to the six-winged dragonflies that spurt projectile attacks from their solitary eye. Many of the monsters, however, have the same behavioral patterns, more often than not choosing to surround you so you can’t see what’s going on, and then clumsily unleashing their relentless attacks. The fact that monsters, even the smaller ones, take far too long to kill means that combat gets very repetitive and monotonous, whereas the poor targeting system, which makes it difficult to hone in on a particular enemy, makes for a frustrating experience. Throw in the fact that the camera is far too intrusive during close-quarter battles and you’ve got a game that, for the most part, relies on you beating away at your face buttons with little thought or skill required.
It’s not all bad news, however. As you kill monsters you gain EXP, which can then be spent up upgrading magical powers, or improving your melee or shooting skills. You can map up to four spells to your face buttons and switch between them effortlessly. Among those on offer is the "Earthquake," which sees Ayumi rise up in the air and pound down on the ground to send her enemies falling backwards. There are also fire and ice spells, which come in handy against certain enemies, and even a "Transportation" spell, which allows you to warp to a safe area if the going gets too enough. Sadly, it doesn’t allow you to warp to another game, but the PS3’s ‘Off’ button comes in handy for that. Visually, the spells are probably one of the best things about X-Blades, but their use is practically ruined by dumb A.I. monsters, who despite being high in numbers are low on intelligence. Watch out for beasts running into cave walls as they try and work out where you are. It’s a big shame. There are some decent spell upgrades, but because the combat feels such a chore for the majority of the game you probably won’t care less and, like us, will wonder why you’re still playing.
The main reason why we managed to complete X-Blades is because there’s a certain charm to its audio, visuals, and character design (…plus the fact that we had to in order to review the game). The contrast of the anime-style character of Ayumi against the backdrop of some very well-rendered locales, coupled with motion blurring techniques and various spells that illuminate the night sky, means that it does have its few mildly entertaining moments. The musical score also keeps pace well with the action, rising in tempo during the more manic fight scenes to create a bit of drama and tension.
With the beautiful, agile and lovingly designed figure of X-Blades main character, Ayumi, emblazoned across the box, you may well be tempted to pick up a copy. Don’t be fooled by looks though, because behind Ayumi’s sparkling blue ‘come-to-bed’ eyes, long blond hair, skimpy briefs, ironing-board stomach, and huge pair of swords lays the personality of a cardboard cut-out. Sadly, Ayumi’s appeal isn’t helped at all by the game’s weak script, but even more so by the decision to cast a voice actor who has one of those annoyingly superficial High School cheerleader accents. It does irreparable damage to what could have been a memorable heroine, who may have even managed to slip her way into future ‘Top Ten Videogame Babes’ lists if she’d been handled with more care. We wouldn’t mind seeing more of Ayumi, but definitely not in an X-Blades sequel.
X-Blades fails to make a lasting impression because combat is just so monotonous. The grind of killing monsters and putting up with their repetitive behavior soon takes its toll, and even the lure of unlocking costumes to dress up Ayumi won’t be enough for you to want to battle through level after level of inept A.I. beasts and thumb-aching fights. X-Blades has visual charm, but the longer you play it the more you’ll hate it.