Few properties have had a trajectory as remarkable as Black Rock Shooter. Originally a collection of conceptual drawings, the composition gradually progressed across mediums- with a music video, OVA, and eight episode animated series gradually expanding the property’s plotline (while three different manga veered in divergent directions). Fans who followed BRS’ video evolution likely distinguished a unifying theme- while the principal setting was a middle school, the escalating tension between the two main characters took place in an alternate, dystopian dimension. While the intent was allusion- using the depiction of clashing women to symbolize psychological friction, in execution the juxtaposition was woefully disjointed, with nearly no substance to conjoin the two realms.
Initially, the release of Imageepoch’s Black Rock Shooter: The Game would seem to suffer the same division. Combining a RPG structure and story with action-driven, timing-based combat encounters aren’t something that been accomplishment frequently, outside of Namco-Bandai’s Tales series. Astoundingly, the NIS America-published title unites the two genres admirably, providing the rare instance of a licensed game which outshines its source material.
The game’s storyline is set in the year 2050, at the end of inequitable war between aliens and humankind. With less than a dozen humans remaining, a squad of soldiers wakes the wild-haired hero up from interminable slumber (with gunfire, uncannily recalling Disgaea: Hour of Darkness’ intro). Wisely, Black Rock Shooter: The Game jettisons the school-age melodrama of the anime, providing a majority of the character’s backstory via black and white cinematic flashbacks which punctuate each stage. While the usage of amnesia as a plot device might unsettle some, the title manages to keep the dialog bits perfunctory, which is for the best considering the game’s oft-eccentric tone.
The game’s collection of stages typically thrust Black Rock Shooter through largely linear urban or flora-filed milieus. Although treasure-filled alcoves invite examination, the game’s fixed route approach and waypoint indicators keep players from becoming disoriented in the labyrinthine levels. Not only is this is prudent decision for a portable title, but it also means gamers won’t have to rely on BRS’ map screen, which only designates a general position in each stage.
Lining BRS: The Game’s corridors are bands of roaming mechanical menaces; coming into contact with one of these foes immediately propels players into combat. Here, enemies steadily encroach on Rock, forcing players to use her cannon to pelt these adversaries into submission. Engaging individual aliens is accomplished by moving the analog stick to select foes. Fortunately, a substantial amount of aim assistance prohibits errant volleys. Although players won’t have to content with ammo management, they do have to concentrate on keeping the massive weapon from overheating. Firing or blocking incoming attacks increases the temperature gauge; when maximized Rock becomes vulnerable for a few seconds. The other defensive ability is dodging, which avoids the small amounts of damage incurred while shielding against strikes. Pleasingly, it doesn’t heat up BRS’s heat meter.
While encounters with regular enemies are stimulating, it’s Black Rock Shooter’s boss battles which reveal the real beauty of the combat system. Here, players must effectively prioritize threats- either juggling multiple antagonists or judiciously dismantling the parts of a hulking attacker. It’s also during these encounters that item usage or assignable active skills prove invaluable. Pressing one of the top triggers freezes the action, allowing BRS to replenish her health or issue up one of four devastating special attack that are regulated by a cool down timer. When all of BRS’ mechanics come into play, conflict becomes especially engaging, tasking players with reading the attack patterns of opponents. While a good sense of timing is advantageous, a muffled difficulty means that players should have much trouble getting through the title’s twelve-hour journey.
Agreeably, the muted challenge level means gamers won’t have to contend with grinding. Although if they want to improve BRS’s stats, the title offers both a leveling system and an in-game achievement system which pays out stat-boosting perks. Considerately, BRS: The Game offers a relaxed save-game policy offering to record progress between levels and the sporadic posts scattered across each level. Dying mid-stage even allows gamers to keep their experience and augmentations. For those seeking additional enjoyment after earning one of the game’s endings, Free Hunt and Extra modes allow players to unlock additional skills, outfits, concept arts, and music tracks.
Games based on anime are often a dicey proposition- often delivering middling play experiences aimed to tempt in fervent fans. Black Rock Shooter: The Game is the exception to that tenet, delivering a title that excels due to an engaging, distinctive combat system. While the game’s two-year localization hiatus might make the game look a bit dated (especially on the Vita’s sumptuous OLED screen), stepping into the shoes of an onyx-haired, bikini-clad, killing machine is a relatively timeless experience.