Review: She ain't pretty, she just looks that way.
Take one hot teenage girl dressed in a bikini made of dental floss, hand her a couple of swords and let her slash her way through hordes of ugly baddies. Sound like a recipe for success? Well, in the case of X-Blades, it ends up more like a lukewarm casserole slapped together by horny marketing nerds.
X-Blades stars Ayumi, a young treasure hunter who stumbles upon two mysterious artifacts that when joined together, unleashes the evil Dark divinity unto the world. The artifacts also transport Ayumi to a strange land where she has to defeat The Dark and his minions, all while trying to stay inside her barely-there bikini (which for some reason is a popular clothing choice for video game females running into sword battles, but I digress).
The story is merely an excuse to throw waves of enemies at Ayumi who happily cuts them down with her deadly gunblades. X-Blades is another entry in the popular hack-and-slash genre and while you certainly do lots of hacking and slashing, the gameplay quickly gets repetitive and tedious.
Part of the problem is the lack of variety ? you will see the same half-dozen or so enemies repeated ad nauseam throughout the game, with a few unique bosses and mini-bosses scattered about. Maps are very similar and use the same ?crumbling ancient ruins? theme. It also doesn't help that you are forced to play through the exact same maps twice ? once during the day, and a second time in the evening. It's a painfully obvious attempt to artificially extend the game's length, which as it stands can easily be finished in eight hours or so.
Enemy AI is pretty basic as well; essentially, Ayumi is a magnet for mindless enemies who gleefully charge right into her swords. But what they lack in AI they make up for in numbers, as you will constantly be swarmed by a dozen or more enemies at a time with no slowdown or dropped frames. Technically speaking, that's impressive but gameplay-wise, it's not terribly exciting since all they do is charge and beat you.
Enemies are not only dumb, but easy to defeat as well; as an example, some boss fights appear overwhelming with big swarms of enemies attacking you from all sides. However, you soon learn that you can easily defeat bosses by either hiding in an area they can't reach (which may be as simple as slipping behind a pillar) or run away from the minion horde and just attack the boss. Unfortunately, it's about as fun and challenging as it sounds.
As you might expect, Ayumi can perform various combos but since you only use one button for your melee attacks, there isn't much variety as compared to other games. However, you may forgo combos altogether since the ridiculously precise timing needed to pull off some moves is more of an exercise in frustration than anything else.
Ayumi can also fire guns attached to her swords, which is not only handy for taking out distant enemies but also the small crab-like critters that skitter around her feet. Despite wielding over-sized swords, Ayumi can't melee anything below knee level, whether they are enemies or small breakable items containing treasures. Yes, it's dumb and yes, it's annoying.
You can upgrade your melee, shooting and aerial combat skills by finding various artifacts hidden throughout the game. You can buy magical spells by redeeming souls, which are earned when you kill enemies or by smashing pottery and statues (because where else are you supposed to store souls?).
The spell effects are the highlight of the game, full of bright flashy colors and lights, and sometimes accompanied by a brief dramatic cutscene of the attack. Spells use fire, ice, lightning and both Light and Dark powers, and can be used for ranged attacks, powered-up swords, or devastating area attacks. Magic is fueled by Ayumi's Rage meter, which is filled as she attacks enemies or receives damage. You never have to worry about running out of Rage as it fills quickly; if you're low, however, you can smash red crystals or redeem souls to fill it up, or even Rage-up yourself (though you are unable to move or defend yourself if you do this).
There are a nice variety of spells but beware that you really can't pick and choose what you want because the game forces you to use specific spells in order to advance. If you don't have that spell, you won't be able to defeat the boss; and since spells are expensive, this can be very frustrating if you've spent your souls on other, now useless powers. I can understand having certain spells be more effective than others but as it stands, the ?one spell, one boss? system feels like an artificial attempt to increase the difficulty. The system also discourages you from trying new spells since you are forced to save up in case you need to buy that specific spell.
Another annoyingly artificial attempt to increase the difficulty is paralyzing the player when you are hit. You are unable to move for only a brief moment but there are enemies who can attack you with rapid fire machinegun-like ranged attacks ? and if you are unfortunate enough to be caught in that, you can do nothing but watch your non-responsive character slowly die. It's frustrating and cheap to say the least, as is the annoying clipping issue where enemy ranged attacks will hit you through walls. Arrgh.
Also frustrating is Ayumi's jerky movements, which makes it difficult to accurately line up jumps. Fortunately there are very little platforming elements but it is still worth noting.
Last, and unfortunately least, is Ayumi herself. Instead of a heroic character we can cheer for, we are instead given an annoying, immature spoiled brat who thinks of nothing but herself. Why developer Gaijin Entertainment would create such a selfish, dislikable, irritating whiner of a protagonist is beyond me. She is so annoying I was actually happy whenever she died, since it finally shut her damn yap. Think of the most selfish, immature and clueless person you've seen on reality TV and you get the idea of what Ayumi is like. Ugh.