On paper X-Blades has everything going for it. Simple hack and slash gameplay with tons of enemies to throw at the player, a scantily-clad female lead character that kicks as much ass as she shows off, and a plethora of magic spells that light up both screen and adversary. Combine this with some enjoyable combat and plenty of skills to unlock and it sounds like you have the definitive action game. Unfortunately there are a few things that keep X-Blades from being fantastical on every level, but that doesn’t mean you should avoid it altogether.
You will take on the role of Ayumi; a half-naked heroine that carries a set of gunblades and an attitude. At first the story will feel confusing, like you are missing vital information about the plotline, but as you go things begin to make sense and it ends up being quite enjoyable. The story is told through anime-style cut scenes that are unexpectedly well produced, and deliver a solid, if not far-fetched tale. For the most part the story is forgettable, and I found myself wanting to skip past some of the cut scenes towards the end, but at least it is entertaining, which is more than I can say for most games these days.
Thankfully the story is not the main focus of the game. X-Blades is all about combat, and in that it delivers by the truckload. The game takes place on one giant island made up of rooms that you must clear before proceeding. These rooms can range from hordes of enemies, to boss creatures to simple tasks of moving past deadly obstacles. This helps keep the flow of action fresh as well as challenging players to find new ways to progress from room to room. You can also backtrack if you so choose and the enemies will respawn giving you a chance to rack up more kills towards Achievements or collecting souls.
Souls are used to purchase new magic powers and upgrades for Ayumi. You collect these from fallen enemies or by smashing helpless pots scattered around each level. There are a ton of souls to find in the game and as I mentioned you can return to defeated areas to collect more, which is essential to purchasing new powers. Mixing in magic with traditional combat is what really separates X-Blades from other games in the genre. As you collect souls you can purchase new powers such as fireball, ice arrows and even dark spells that toss purple energy at your foes. There are two kinds of magic in the game; light and dark, and each one affects how the story will unfold depending on how much you use each one.
Magic is governed by a special bar called the Rage meter. This keeps track of how much magic juice you have at your disposal. There are several ways to replenish this bar including landing combos, taking damage and using items. Your spells are also assigned to one of four buttons on the controller, which works great until you begin to realize that most enemies are weak to different types of magic forcing you to pause the game frequently to re-bind spells. This is one of the setbacks of the game. When you encounter a new enemy it is added to your beastiary where their weaknesses are divulged. You will have to pause the game and quickly find out that this particular enemy is sensitive to ice spells. The problem is that you just spend your last bit of souls on a lightning blade to take care of the previous foe.
Eventually this becomes a problem as spells become more and more expensive and enemies become nearly impossible to beat without having the precise attacks. This forces you to backtrack to previous areas thus artificially extending the life of the game. This wouldn’t be such a bad thing if it wasn’t required, but without knowledge of which spells are more important at what times wasting souls on spells that may or may not be useful breaks the flow of the game.
Combat on the other hand remains relatively solid throughout. You have one attack button, and for the most part you can wail away at will to defeat a large portion of the enemies. Button mashing seems to be a staple part of any hack and slash, but this game takes it to the extreme. You also have the option to fire on your foes by pulling the right trigger, but I found it to be mostly useless against most foes making me question why it was added in the first place. The targeting system can be fickle at times because it auto-locks onto specific enemies at will. You can remedy this by pulling the left trigger to focus in on one enemy, but adjusting the finicky camera can be a nuisance more often than not.
The biggest problem the game faces is its redundancy. The enemy selection feels entirely too limited and while each room has its own unique theme, they eventually begin to blend together. The bright side is that almost every enemy has a different way of taking them down. This encourages experimentation and since each room automatically saves upon entry there really is no penalty for dying. X-Blades also resembles classic games of this type from the glory days of 16-bit which is both a good and bad comparison. Fans of classic hack and slash gameplay will likely find more enjoyment out of the title than gamers weaned on fancy combos and other modern-day gameplay mechanics.
From a visual perspective X-Blades is a collection of glory and disappointment. This is also where the differences between the two versions really stand out. When the action gets frantic the game slows down substantially on the PS3 while the 360 manages to hold out a little better. The lighting effects are nicely done, but they also give off a weird red tint to almost everything in the environment. The architecture is nicely done, but repeating objects become a bothersome occurrence. For everything that the game does well it seems there is something to nitpick. However, as a whole the game presents itself well enough to not hinder gameplay, and that is always the most important aspect.
X-Blades is the kind of game that fans of classic hack and slash will likely find plenty to enjoy once you get past its quirks. The combat is satisfying and the mixture of magic keeps things fresh from beginning to end. The backtracking and repetitiveness cause the experience to drag out longer than it needs to be, but at least you feel like you got your moneys worth when all is said and done. If you are a fan of the genre I suggest checking out a rental and if you take a liking don’t hesitate to take the plunge. While it may not set the world on fire with its originality, it will likely entertain anyone who enjoys tapping the same button over and over for hours on end.