Friday, 17 May 2013

Review: Black Rock Shooter - The Game (PSP)

The first time I saw Black Rock Shooter was at an introduction to Vocaloid panel at a large anime convention years ago. Supercell’s entrancing electro beats played over the elegantly animated illustrations by Ryohei Fuke a.k.a. Huke, transporting me to an excitingly mysterious new world. When Black Rock Shooter: The Game hit the PlayStation Network in North America, I picked it up hoping for a more interactive trip down the Black Rock rabbit hole. Though lacking the visual visceral magic that made the music video so enchanting, the game succeeded in pulling me in.

At the beginning of the game, Black Rock Shooter (BRS) was in a state of memory loss. Her fighting skills were remembered and unlocked for use by completing objectives within each level. Simple tasks, like not taking any damage while riding her bike down baddie ridden streets, were thankfully challenging. The RPG shooter battle system was rather basic, but that wasn’t necessarily a bad thing. The straightforward system provided an easy pick up and play experience.

Disappointment came upon the realization that there weren’t more skills or stages to enjoy. Despite having four or five levels per stage, some level s within the stage felt like repeats with slightly stronger enemies to take down. For the active skills used in battle, there were only about 20 or so to unlock, including upgrades. Mixing and matching skills to find the optimum combination for each battle situation was fun, though it would have been nice to have had a larger palette to choose from.

The satisfactory gameplay was met with a story of equal craftsmanship. With 2012 months behind us, the end of the world plot felt very been there, done that. Witnessing the re-birth and growth of the title character, however, was uncharted territory. The sequences used to intimately reveal character backstories were far more enjoyable than the threat of impending doom. Simple character-driven moments truly carried an otherwise cliché story and it was worth playing to experience them.

BRS was accompanied by the last twelve remaining men of mankind as her comrades in arms. As corny as the supporting cast might sound, the Japanese voice actors brought the characters to life enjoyably. As each stage progressed, I found myself pleasantly surprised by how attached to some of them I had become. A well-cast English dub would have been appreciated, but wasn’t necessary to become fully immersed in the story.

Perhaps the most disenchanting aspect of the game was the clunky graphics engine. A giant floating orange “X” indicating a wrong turn was helpful, but jarring. The level design encouraged exploring, yet the levels themselves were so small little could be hidden away. The music and sounds were hardly memorable, which was such a shame considering the harmony of music and visual art were what first brought the world of Black Rock Shooter to life. For a direct download game, the MSRP of $19.99 seemed a bit steep at first glance, particularly with the somewhat repetitive levels and subpar graphics. However, there was more to the world of Black Rock Shooter: The Game than met my initial eye. Avid fans won’t be disappointed with the purchase, but curious onlookers might want to wait for a sale.

- Asma Malik

The Good:
- Intriguing main character
- Surprisingly good story
- Decent gameplay
- Easy to pick up

The Bad:
- Too short
- Subpar graphics
- Simplistic level design

Score: 6.5 / 10