Black Rock Shooter: The Game Review
Developer: Image Epoch
Publisher: NIS America
Genre: Shooter RPG
Ever since video games began relying on licensed products to move units, there have been very few based upon movies and TV shows that can be regarded as quality products beyond the core fanbase it was originally intended for. Heck, some of them are garbage even to that specific demographic. But once in awhile, we’ll get a game like Goldeneye that rises above the stigma placed upon licensed games.
Anime is not exempt from this. For every excellent title I’ve had the pleasure of playing (Dragon Ball Z Budokai Tenkaichi 3), there’s always a stinker out there that counters it (Naruto Shippuden: Dragon Blade Chronicles). This makes getting excited for obscure titles such as Black Rock Shooter: The Game such a challenge. Will I have to have seen the anime to enjoy it? Is the game so broken that it won’t matter? Having experienced the short campaign, I can confidently say that it is a fantastic game.
Black Rock Shooter takes place in the future following an alien invasion that has managed to wipe out nearly the entire population save for about a dozen. Even worse: they’re all males. Despite that, they opt not to give up, instead staying strong in their convictions to not go down without a fight and give the aliens hell until their dying breath. Fortunately, they’re not alone in the fight as they release a large container keeping a young girl within. It’s unclear what she is, other than someone that can decimate large swaths of the enemy’s military within seconds and humanity’s last hope for turning the tide of war.
Not having seen the anime (yet), I can’t comment on how faithfully Black Rock Shooter: The Game recreates the story and setting that it’s basing itself upon. It does, however, successfully present a very somber and grim atmosphere and gradually showcases BRS’s understanding of her past and what it means to be human. It can be downright depressing at times, but once the hooks are in, it’s difficult to give up the chase to the end before you see it through.
Black Rock Shooter is something of a mix between an RPG and (you guessed it) a shooter. The game is divided into six stages, with various missions tied to each one. Each mission will dump you into a different part of that stage’s map, and during exploration you’ll encounter foes that will give chase as you pass by them. Contact will result in a battle that fixates the camera behind BRS’s shoulder. She remains stationary during the fight, but you can move a cursor around in order to aim and shoot at your assailants. Should they fire back, you can either block the attack for minimal damage, or dodge it entirely. Shooting and dodging will both build up a meter that, when capped, will cause BRS to overheat and leave her vulnerable for a bit. Defeating enemies and building up experience will net her levels that will unlock new skills to bring into combat with her, and enemies will sometimes drop items that will allow her to heal.
Each stage also has a set of challenges that can be performed, such as killing so many of a certain type of enemy or reaching your goal without damage. Success will bring rewards in the form of stat bonuses, skills, and passive talents that you can have enabled all of the time. Some challenges aren’t available until after you complete the stage and then revisit it, which gives the game some replayability.
In scenes somewhat reminiscent of Final Fantasy VII, there will be missions that require BRS to traverse the map via a motorcycle. The object is to avoid any would be attackers, though dodging at the last second with allow her to slash them with her sword up close. Do this enough times, and you can fire your guns for a few seconds to clear any obstacles up ahead. As difficult as these segments can be at times, I enjoyed them immensely and wished I had seen more of them.
Visually, Black Rock Shooter seems consistent with the anime style that they were going for, with character models and animations that seemed right at home on the PSP (though the game can also be played on the Vita). The various cutscenes are all done within the game’s engine as well, and they all look great. Also, the soundtrack manages to match the intensity of the battles that you encounter along the way. There is no English dub in this release, which is understandable given its late debut in the west. Fortunately, nearly all the dialogue is subtitled save for a few battle quotes, so you always know what’s going on.
Now for the bad news: the lack of enemy variety starts to become apparent once you reach the later chapters. Granted, the game is not long enough to grow tired of the combat before its credits roll, though a great deal of late game foes are just palette swapped versions of earlier ones. There also seem to be moments during battles where there doesn’t seem to be any options as far as avoiding the kinds of attacks that are incredibly decimating to BRS. One on one doesn’t seem to be as big of an obstacle since you eventually learn the timing with enough trial and error, but if you’re up against a group of particularly tough foes, good luck to you. There are times when no matter where you dodge you have a devastating attack waiting for you when you get there and the block doesn’t always mitigate the damage all that well.
Another downside is that Black Rock Shooter doesn’t lend itself well to portable play. Rather than any sort of auto-save system or even a system where you can save manually anywhere, you are limited to save points. From a difficulty standpoint, this isn’t a big deal, though it is kind of a nuisance to have to load your last save and then skip cutscenes in order to take another crack at a boss (takes more time than you might think). But if you plan to take the game on the road, I couldn’t find any easy way to suspend your progress and turn the system off. If you play your PSP or Vita tethered to a wall outlet or USB anyway, then you have nothing to worry about.
Despite that, Black Rock Shooter: The Game manages to be well worth the $20 asking price. The main campaign is short, but offers replay value in the form of unlockables and extra challenges to pursue. The combat is some of the most unique I’ve seen in a game, and would like to see it revisited in a future title. And if you like your storylines dreary, you should feel right at home here. Now excuse me while I go track down the anime series.