The conception story of Black★Rock Shooter is an interesting one. An original illustration of Ryohei Fuke (he also did the visual works for the excellent “Steins;Gate”), inspired a musical group called, “Supercell” to compose a song with the same name. The song became quite the overnight sensation; as it went on to spawn an original video animation and various manga titles along with a short anime series. Now it has brought forth a full-fledged video game which, contrary to many people’s expectations, has made it here to the States.
To think that all of that could be instigated from a single drawing speaks volumes to the artist’s ability to tap into people’s imaginations and inspire them. If only the game could’ve tapped into some of that which made the original illustration special in the eyes of so many, we could’ve had something truly unique. Instead, we’re left with a game which, while serviceable in its efforts, struggles to stand out from the crowd.
The story begins after a massive alien invasion as mankind is pressed to the brink of extinction. With only a dozen human beings left in the world, the last hope of humanity awakens just in time to face her destiny. To say that it’s an atypical anime story wrapped in the bland pita bread of an apocalyptic setting wouldn’t be entirely inaccurate. Luckily, things didn’t quite play out the way I expected as the game took a rather grim turn mid-way through its campaign. While the door was left wide open to step into new and exciting territory, the narrative never took that step forward into the unknown. Instead, it all ends with too many unanswered questions, which left me unsatisfied.
Still, while I found BRS (the main character) rather generic at first, she grew on me as I found her naive nature to be endearing, and couldn’t help but sympathize with her plight. The supporting cast and villains all play their part well, and while most of them are rather forgettable, the fully voice acted scenes go a long way to portray their personalities to the player. Unfortunately, the narrative isn’t the only place that Black★Rock Shooter falters, as a few missteps in the combat also deters the game from greatness.
In first impression, the game play of Black★Rock Shooter is rather simple. In fact, it’s so simple that I first thought that it was insultingly so. The player controls BRS through a series of small areas that connect with each other to form the level. When contact is made with an enemy in the field, the game transitions into battle mode where the only options are attack, defend and dodge. There are items to use and four skills slots to manage, but it never gets more complex than that. However, as I continued to play the game, I learned that these simple mechanics had significant depth. For example, attacking and dodging both increased the heat gauge. The higher the heat gauge, the less powerful my attacks became, and when I overheated by going past 100%, I was left powerless. The game became a delicate balance of picking the right moments to attack, watching the enemy patterns to dodge to avoid damage and when I should lay off attacking to cool down.
The simple but intense nature of the combat engine is highlighted best during the game’s many boss battles, where I could die in a matter of seconds if I wasn’t paying attention. Unlike traditional turn based RPGs, it seemed entirely possible to beat the whole game without even getting hit once with enough skill. It’s a testament to the elegance of the battle system but unfortunately as I unlocked more skill attacks, I found that I was spamming the most powerful ones I had in my arsenal over and over until I achieved victory. After all, given the usage of skills is specifically a matter of cool downs, it made no sense not to use screen clearing skills anytime I could which, in turn, relegated the vast majority of battles into six seconds of cut scenes promptly followed by the victory chime. It’s too bad when all of the game’s challenge is robbed by the introduction of a few overpowered skills that are easily accessible.
The combat engine aside, exploring the levels themselves was quite rewarding as chests not only contained one-time use items, but also permanent skill upgrades that were very useful. There’s also a decent variety of mission objectives, as at one moment I was tasked with destroying a generator that infinitely spawned enemies and in another was speeding down the highway on my trike (their version of a bike) slicing obstacles in my way.
After the main campaign is finished, there is a good deal of post-game content such as little side stories and an alternative ending which in turn gives access to the final few extra stages. Along with completing dozens of challenges that unlock skills, passive stats and even costumes, there is quite a lot to do in the game. I clocked in at around 14 hours with a number of things left to do so there is definitely enough content here to justify the $19.99 asking price.
In the end, Black★Rock Shooter: The Game isn’t quite the standout title that will entrance the world’s audience, but it offers a glimpse of what could have been and makes me hopeful for the future of the series in the gaming medium.
Fun Tidbit: If you have not played or seen “Steins;Gate”, you should. I highly recommend it.
Review copy of game provided by publisher. Primary play on PS Vita.