• Black Rock Shooter Review Sony PSP

    The Black Rock Shooter universe is something of a strange, confusing one. Initially starting out simply enough as a drawing, it then inspired a song sung by Vocaloid icon Hatsune Miku, which in turn led to both an anime and manga series (with another anime TV series having just started in Japan). Black Rock Shooter the game is yet another off-shoot, developed by Imageepoch and released on the PlayStation Portable in Japan towards the end of 2011 and due for a Western release at some point later this year.


    There is a fairly confusing back story involving an alien invasion, ultimate weapons and humanity facing a crucial battle against alien invaders, but of more importance to most will be describing the game and how it plays. It sells itself as an RPG but in reality has more in common with a third-person action game, albeit one with traditional RPG trappings such as levelling. In terms of structure there are a number of stages, each broken into separate missions, and clearing all story missions and defeating a boss at the end will allow the player to finish the stage and move on to the next. For the most part, missions are straightforward affairs that involve defeating a certain number of enemies and possibly a boss, or finding a key in an area in order to unlock a door and be able to progress. Every now and then, however, the player will find themselves controlling Black Rock Shooter on her motorbike, hurtling down a road filled with various enemies and obstacles, not dissimilar to the famous bike scene from Final Fantasy VII. These missions provide a nice bit of variety in the gameplay although whether it be racing down a straight section of road or following glowing markers that shuffle the player towards their goal, the game does have a linear feel. A benefit of the linearity is that it keeps the player moving forward, with a goal or target always known, and on a portable system this is a positive, especially with the bite-size mission structure in place. What little exploration that is offered is usually rewarded though, with treasure chests containing items appearing throughout the environments.


    Each stage takes place in a different area of the world, from America to Japan via Russia, and are varied enough that the linearity does become somewhat diluted. The backdrops of destroyed buildings and barren landscapes go hand in hand with the mostly melancholic music throughout - as well as the quiet, somewhat depressed personality of the main character - to give the game a bleak and lonely atmosphere, perfectly reflecting the story of the human race fighting for survival. Certain events in the game also emphasise the barren feeling, but to go into more detail would involve spoilers. Let's just say that an upbeat, happy-go-lucky story this is not, although one positive is that a knowledge of Japanese isn't essential to understand what is going on as the in-game cut scenes convey the important parts well. Dialogue choices can be made a certain junctions which some may feel that they are missing out on without a grasp of the language, but progress isn't hindered by these.


    Whilst traversing the environments, enemies can be seen and either avoided or engaged. If the player decides to battle the enemy, the gameplay shifts to a closed off arena where the fighting is done. There isn't the luxury of having complete control over BRS during battles, instead the O button allows the player to dash left and right in order to avoid enemy attacks. When held down, X blocks and a press of the Square button will fire a blast of the basic gun. Adding more depth to the battle system is the R trigger. When held down and used in conjunction with the face buttons, special attacks can be accessed. The action that each button performs can be tweaked in the menu screen and will allow, to give a few examples, defence or attack to be temporarily raised, a lock-on shot, a powerful combo attack and soon. These abilities work on a cool-down mechanic, meaning that they cannot be used too much and if they are, the player is left unable to move whilst the ability recharges, leaving them vulnerable to attack and so some tactics are required in each fight. Success in battle and levelling up will unlock more of these abilities which can be changed at any point in the menu. Similarly, these Weapon Skills are joined by Passive Skills that can be equipped separately and grant the player status boosts such as an increase in health, resistance to certain attacks etc. With no shops in the game, a close eye needs to be kept on what skills have been unlocked and awarded, so that the mistake of going into a battle unprepared is not made. The battle system is where the game really shines, with the lack of full 3D movement more than made up for by the fact that the need to dash, know when to block or attack, manage special attacks so as to avoid being left open to attack and so on becoming second nature after a short period of time and the real-time aspect of each fight keeping the player on their toes. Combat rarely turns into a war of attrition, with being able to read and react to enemy movements and attacks much more important than simply holding down the block button and spamming attacks.


    Fights against generic enemies are over quite quickly and this suits the portable platform well. The boss battles are more time consuming for the most part, but there is usually plenty of warning given before these takes place as well as well-placed save spots throughout missions and for this reason, losing progress is not something that becomes and issue over the course of the game. In terms of difficulty, most will find the challenge throughout the ten hour or so adventure on the low side for the majority of time, although the bosses at the end of each stage (as well as the final boss) will require more thought and effort. Grinding for levels isn't required too much either, as making sure Weapon and Passive Skills are kept up to date and not too many enemies are avoided will see the player around the required level throughout the game.


    Whilst not a game that many gamers outside of Japan will be familiar with, Black Rock Shooter is one that should have its praises sung. Linear mission structure and a relatively short length for an RPG are made all the more bearable when the fact that it is on a portable system is taken into account. What's more, the stellar atmosphere - even if a bleak one and fun, fast-paced battles provide a breath of fresh air, even on a system with as many fantastic examples of the genre as the PSP does.

    Pros:

    - Unique, enjoyable battle system.
    - Great atmosphere.
    - Well suited to portable system.

    Cons:

    - Linearity may be a negative to some.
    - Not the longest RPG.
    - Some may want a higher difficulty.

    Developer: Imageepoch
    Publisher: Imageepoch
    Other Versions: N/A
    Version Reviewed: Japanese


    Score: 8/10


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