Black Rock Shooter: The Game
Publisher: Nippon Ichi
Genre: Action RPG
Release Date: 04/23/2013
I have to admit, I’ve always been somewhat taken with Black Rock Shooter since I first saw a documentary on it on NHK (Japanese equivalent of CNN). I was fascinated with how one piece of artwork by Ryohei “Huke” Fuke could become such a massive phenomenon over in Japan, especially when it was originally created as an afterthought. It’s spawned music, an OVA, an anime series, multiple video games and a manga – all of which have completely different stories from each other, including different personalities for the main character, casts, and time periods! Black Rock Shooter: The Game was originally released in Japan back in 2011 and even though I had enjoyed the anime and OVA, I held off on importing the game – mainly because it was done by Imageepoch, who has mainly made some incredibly big stinkers, chief of which were games like Sands of Destruction. I think the kindest anyone on staff has ever been to an Imageepoch release was Aileen with her review of Arc Rise Fantasia, which she referred to as a “decent game.” So with this in mind, I think it’s obvious why I held off. Still, Nippon Ichi decided to localize and release the game stateside (but not the anime, which is odd as they publish both), so when we were offered a review copy, I happily snapped it up. The good news is that Black Rock Shooter is by far the best game Imageepoch has ever put out. The bad news is that, while fun, it’s still flawed in many ways. Let’s take a look at it.
So the story is an odd and often contradictory one. The year is 2051 and the Earth has been attacked for the past nineteen years by a motley crew of aliens bent on general havoc and genocide. The game makes a big point of saying only twelve humans are left – all of which are male, which means humanity is doomed. The remaining humans go in search of awakening…something, which turns out to be the Black Rock Shooter herself. BRS has no memories whatsoever, so she’s kind of a blank slate and just does whatever she is told. Five humans die awakening her, which would mean humanity is down to seven, right? I mean twelve minus five makes seven. In stage two, they make a big deal of naming the five who die, just as through stage one they make a big deal of saying only twelve humans are left on the whole planet. However, right after they grieve for the five dead, you are introduced to the ten survivors. Yep, basic math is either something the humans in this world are not capable of (which would explain why they got trounced) or this is typical Imageepoch and their lack of attention to their own story or detail. I’ll let you decide which.
Anyway, the rest of the game just has Black Rock Shooter running around doing fetch quests or killing X number of aliens for the humans. Sometimes she rides a motorbike. Sometimes she fights one of the seven disciples of the apocalypse in a stage end boss fight (each stage consists of five levels). There really isn’t much here in the way of story. You slowly start to gain BRS’ memories (generally by replaying the entire stage in Free Mode) and are given a bit of the aliens’ motive for what they do what they do, but there really isn’t a lot here in terms of giving the gamer a strong solid plot to keep them interested in what comes next. Generally the bulk of the game’s “story” involved the remaining humans babbling about stuff like TV or infighting while BRS does all the work. No, the thing that is going to keep you interested in playing Black Rock Shooter: The Game is the blowing up of things, not the dialogue or tale being told here. If you want a good story involving BRS, go for the anime or manga.
Graphically, Black Rock Shooter: The Game is…okay. The human character models are decent. They’re not the best you’ll ever see in a PSP game, especially in a late-gen PSP release, but they’re animated decently. There’s a lot of jaggies, especially with BRS herself, but I’m mostly happy with the character models. The rank and file aliens are another matter. Not only are they painfully generic, but most are just palette swaps and are very ugly looking. Wow? Giant red wheels and floating boxes of various colors? That’s the menace that took down the entire population of Earth. Sorry, but my suspension of disbelief went right out the window with most of these. The enemies look like launch game PSX titles with strange movements, terrible designs, and I just couldn’t take any of them seriously. The bosses were at least better as they were humanoid, but most of what you fight is just plain hard to look at. Backgrounds are a mixed bag as what’s here somewhat detailed, but you’ll see the same background screens over and over again as most of the game is backtracking through the same stage for several levels in a row.
The audio is probably the best aspect of Black Rock Shooter as the music is wonderfully done. It fits the fast paced nature of the game nicely and really captures the apocalyptic feel the game is going for. The voice acting is also nicely done. The actors do a great job with the mediocre to terrible lines they are given, which is a testament to the quality of their work. Unfortunately, the dialogue is in Japanese only, so for those who like their games with an English dub, you may be disappointed here. At least you can read the game though, right? The only real downside to the audio is that there isn’t a lot in the way of variety in terms of explosions or attacks. Not that you’ll really be noticing any of that.
The gameplay is going to be what makes of breaks Black Rock Shooter: The Game for most people and I have to admit, I kept wavering on whether I liked it or not. I thought the combat was extremely simplistic but that’s both a good thing and a bad thing. I also couldn’t decide if I hated or enjoyed the motorcycle based levels. In the end, I give a thumbs in the middle to the actual playing of Black Rock Shooter because as interesting as the ideas behind the gameplay were, they still managed to be quite flawed in some ways.
Most of the game isn’t actually combat oriented, but running through stages, hitting switches, or going to specific locales. Combat just kind of breaks up the monotony. When combat does occur, it’s pretty easy. You use your analog stick to aim the gun, hit the square button to fire, the X button to block, and the O button to dodge. You do not move Black Rock Shooter AT ALL, which may be the hardest concept to get around. You are on a fixed plane and, rather, the enemies move. Dodge just moves BRS to one of two possible points. Hitting it twice moves her back to where you started and if the enemy’s attack is still going on, you get hit. Firing and dodging also adds to your overheat meter. If it fills up, you are paralyzed for a time and are subject to full on enemy assaults. It’s better to take battles slow than risk an overheat. Being impetuous will get you killed, especially if it’s your first time against a boss or powerful enemy. Hitting the L trigger brings up your items and hitting R brings up your special moves. Both of these suffer from lag, so be prepared for that. Special Move lag is especially noticeable as you’ll hit the R and then it’ll take a second or two to notice your selection. It’s even worse when you want to do two special moves in a row, say an attack followed by a defense boost. You’ll have to hit the R trigger two or even three times after that first special move for the game to notice, which is annoying to say the least. Basically, there’s not much to combat and as long as you monitor your Overheat meter, battles should be a piece of cake. You get so many healing items and enemy A.I. is virtually non-existent (a known Imageepoch issue) that the only time you should die is when you are brand new to the game or learning a boss’s two or three patterns.
Besides the shooting and backtracking bits, there are also some motorcycle levels. I just don’t get the point of these at all. Use your D-Pad to move the bike between lanes and to dodge enemies. If you dodge an enemy at the last second, you get to attack and kill it. Kill five enemies and you get to fire your gun non-stop with insta-kill bullets for a few seconds. Gameplay is fine, but I just don’t get these levels at all. BRS has unlimited bullets in the other stages so why does she have to do melee attacks, something she can’t do outside of these stages, to get to fire her gun? As well, there are times in these stages where an arrow shows up. I was in the middle lane and an arrow appears over the lanes to the left and right of me. So I was like, “Okay, the game wants me to move into those lanes.” I took damage. Then I thought, “Maybe it’s saying I need to stay OUT of those lanes.” Nope. I took damage again. It turns out those arrows mean, go one past that lane and drive on the walls, which not only is pretty undecipherable, but also something you can’t do except in those exact situations. Oy vey. So yeah, the game is simplistic and both the driving and shooting bits could have been implemented better, but the game is still fun in short doses.
Besides running through each level of the stage, you can replay levels to finish off goals. Goals are specific tasks (usually kill X number of Enemy Y) and once complete, you earn a permanent attack, defense, or hit point boost. Once you finish all the levels in a stage, you can enter “Free Hunt” which lets you play the entire stage without backtracking or any of the level tasks. Here you can earn some more goals, but these tend to be art or video clips rather than in-game bonuses. You’ll also get even more goals in Extra mode, so even though the core story mode is pretty linear and a bit dull at times, Black Rock Shooter: The Game gives you a lot of reasons to replay levels, which is a fantastic touch.
Unfortunately, between the pretty dull story, the extremely easy battles, and the sheer amount of backtracking, Black Rock Shooter: The Game just didn’t live up to the hype – either the amount I built up for the game in my head or the sheer amount anything BSR gets in Japan. I didn’t hate the game. Hell, I had fun with it here and there. It’s just that it was a bit too simplistic and slow for my tastes. It simply wasn’t a game I could play for long stretches because I got bored with it. I’d pick it up here and there but I kept waiting for something interesting to happen, be it a big story revelation or some challenging new opponent. Alas, neither came. When someone who really enjoys the BSR universe couldn’t get into this game, that’s not a good sign. I suppose it’s the usual curse of the licensed game, eh? I mean, I’ve played the browser and iOS versions of Petite Rock Shooter and even Nendoroid Generation for the PSP (which has BSR characters in it) and those held my attention for longer. I think what it comes down to is that Black Rock Shooter: The Game tried to be an RPG/Shooter hybrid and didn’t do either aspect especially well. The end result was a game that had fleeting moments of fun, but that you also had the sense that every aspect of this game not only could have been done better but has been done better in other titles. Again, I have to re-iterate that Black Rock Shooter: The Game is by no means a bad game; it’s just not one I can recommend either.
So who is the target audience for Black Rock Shooter? I’m not sure. I mean the anime and manga have not been brought stateside yet so you have to really be on the pulse of Japanese pop culture to know what Black Rock Shooter even is. Plus there’s the fact most people run screaming for licensed games, so if you DO know what Black Rock Shooter is, the one-two punch of a licensed game AND Imageepoch is kind of a whole bunch of red flags. It’s also a PSP release, which may make me happy to see Sony’s first portable still getting releases for it, it also means it’s going to be overlooked or poo-poo’d by the people who want VITA TITLES! I mean have you read the PS Blog comments ever? Ever game has a plethora of people whose commentary is nothing more than “Vita version?” It’s sad, annoying, and pathetic all at once, like the people who won’t play a game unless it has trophies or achievements. The good news is Black Rock Shooter is playable on the Vita but for the PSP audience is dwindling little by little every day and the fact Black Rock Shooter: The Game is digital only means people who prefer UMDs are not only out but that since the PSP isn’t compatible with all modern internet connections, some that want the game won’t be able to get it unless they also have a PS3, download it to that, and then connect the PSP to the PS3. A lot of work for a game that is decent, but nothing special.
All in all, Black Rock Shooter: The Game is a decent, but sometimes dull and far too easy title. At only $19.99, it’s not a bad price point for someone looking for a new game to play on either their Vita or PS3. Playing it for long stretches will cause your eyes to glaze over since combat is simplistic, the A.I. is less than challenging and the story is not very good, but when BRS:TG is on, it’s really on and you can have a lot of fun with it. It’s definitely not for everyone and I think it’s the least impressive in the BRS franchise so far, but you could do a lot worse than picking up this shooter/RPG hybrid.
Short Attention Span Summary
Black Rock Shooter: The Game is a decent little game for both the Playstation Portable and the PS Vita that combines aspects of both the shooter and RPG genres to create a game that may not make the best use of either aspect, but still manages to be a fun little game in small doses. The $19.99 budget price should ensure that gamers get their money’s worth out of this purchase, but be forewarned that the game is exceptionally easy, the story is a bit dull, and both combat and the sheer amount of backtracking in each level can get monotonous. Black Rock Shooter: The Game does have its moments and for a licensed anime release, it’s better than most of its ilk and is also one of the better PSP releases of the year. Is it going to blow your mind? Definitely not. Is it going to be a nice addition to your collection if you are in need of a PSP or Vita game to hold you over? Possibly. Is it great that Nippon Ichi took a chance and brought this over before even the anime or manga reaches North America shores? You bet it is.