Black Rock Shooter: The Game Review

In this week´s edition of ¨Fun With NIS America,¨we bring you Black Rock Shooter: The Game, a RPG based off the popular anime. While the game has been around for a little while overseas (since 2011), this is the first time it has seen the US of A, and US audiences now have a fantastic new RPG for their PSP and Vita systems.
BRS: The Game is loosely based off the original OVA and subsequent anime and manga series of the same name. While the anime, OVA, manga, and game all take place in their own universe, the character of Black Rock Shooter (the main girl) is a constant. The game takes place in the year 2051, where Earth has been embroiled in a massive war with an attacking alien force since 2032. BRS is awakened from her slumber to aid the humans, but by the time she is awoken and ready for action, there are only 12 surviving humans left on Earth. Yikes.
For all intents and purposes, BRS is a traditional JRPG. All the elements are there; they are just presented a little bit differently, especially as far as combat is concerned. You have your text heavy story sequences, a leveling and inventory system that should be instantly familiar, and endless grinding. The process is very similar to most other JRPGS: story sequence, roaming the overworld, running into enemies, combat, story, repeat, boss sequence…all intermixed with jumping into the menu to upgrade abilities and items.
The thing about BRS lies in the fact that if it were to use the same turned-based combat system that pretty much every other RPG uses, then it would not stick out at all. There would be no reason to play this game over any others out there (unless you happen to be a diehard fan of the franchise). As it happens, the combat is extremely unique and adds a nice twist to an otherwise familiar formula.
The combat is a nice mix of player controlled action mixed with a few tricks to give it a turn-based “feel” without it being too obviously turn-based. When combat is initiated, you are whisked away from the overworld to a combat screen. You’re presented with any number of enemies in front off you. During combat, you are able to control the actual shooting and dodging of BRS. You are not restricted to waiting for your turn; you can attack at anytime at your pace. However, nearly everything you do is tied into an energy meter, and all your combat dodges and attacks and tied to this meter.
Basically, the more you do, the your meter depletes. Once it is depleted fully, you are stuck waiting for it re-fill, which usually takes a number of seconds. Since your enemy can also attack at any time, combat becomes a game of guessing when to attack, when to block, when to dodge, and how all these moves will affect the depletion of your energy meter. For instance, you might be faced with some enemies that are fairly relentless in their attacks, which means you’ll be dodging quite a bit. But with each dodge, you eat away at your energy meter. When should you stop dodging and launch an attack? That will deplete your meter too. Should you save your meter for attacks only, and just take enemy hits, using Repairers (healing) instead? Maybe you have a few Body Coolers in your inventory and can afford to attack and dodge non-stop.

Regardless of whatever tactic you choose, there is a set battle structure that will more than likely play out like this: attack, dodge, attack, dodge, wait for meter to refill, enemy attacks, use Repairer, attack, dodge…..and repeat. Look familiar? By tying combat and evasion into the energy meter, BRS has turned into a turn-based game without actually making the player stop and take turns. You’re essentially tricked into using up all your meter, and then forced to wait for it to recharge. “Turn-based” indeed.
Honestly, the combat is my favorite part of the game. It’s a lot of fun and can get really frenetic at times, though the small number of enemy types can start getting repetitive really quickly. There’s nothing more frustrating than to find yourself in a situation where you are out of energy, you can’t attack or dodge, and you’re faced with an enemy who’s attacks you cannot block. You’re literally stuck sitting there waiting out your “turn,” watching as you get pummeled. Then, as you are able to move again, you realize you have no Repairers left…and the enemy is charging up to unload all over you again.
The remainder of the game is made up off scouring the overworld looking for items and progressing with the story. Other than a few really well made anime cutscenes, most of the story is presented in-game via Metal Gear Solid styled talking heads, similar to the Codex. For all you otakus out there, the game (at least the version I was supplied with) is presented with an all Japanese voice track with English subtitles. I’m neither one way or another with the voice tracks; some games I like to have in English, and others I prefer the native Japanese tracks. I suppose it all depends on the quality of the voice acting. Here, there Japanese cast does a good job, and while the story is no Citizen Kane, it was still good enough to keep me engaged until the end.
The game is available for both PSP and Vita, but playing it on the Vita is a slightly better experience simply due to the camera controls with the right control stick. If you’re using a PSP, you control the camera with the L and R triggers. I’m just naturally more drawn towards swiveling the camera around with a right stick. To each their own. That, and also the fact that the game looks nicer on the Vita’s bigger and brighter screen. And yes, I did try it out on both my Vita and PSP. The difference is noticeable.
Graphically the game looks pretty good, given the restrictions on the power of the PSP. It comes off looking like a PS2 game. Draw distances end pretty much right in front of you, and anything beyond is usually covered in a thick haze or blocked off by debris. It’s a nice little trick that reminds me off the original Silent Hill game, and how getting around the draw distance issue with fog actually added to the atmosphere of the game. Here, the ever present haze gives the impression that you are running around in a battlefield that at any moment, could erupt into violence again.
You can approach this game from a couple of different viewpoints: 1) you can say to yourself “Man, it doesn’t look like these guys (Imageepoch) could make up their minds on what type of game they wanted this to be”, or you can think to yourself 2) “Man, these guys really created a unique type of game by combining a bunch of different elements from different genres.” I tend to lean towards the latter point of view. Black Rock Shooter: The Game is a fun game that should hold your interest from conflict to conflict. Since there is no “world map” and no traveling to town, interacting with NPCs, etc. there isn’t actually much to do.
But this is not necessarily a bad thing. BRS feels focused and linear, which I know has become somewhat of a bad word these days. Imageepoch knows what it is trying to accomplish here; they only want you to listen to the story, and move from battle to battle. It’s a very linear, straightforward experience that is not trying to masquerade as something bigger and more expansive. If you’re someone who didn’t mind the first half of FF XIII, then BRS may just be up your alley. But if you were one of the hundreds of thousands that were upset at how linear the first part of FF XIII was, then BRS will frustrate you to no end. It’s important to know what you’re playing, and BRS, while unique in terms of combat, is very much a “Point A to Point B” game.
It’s a lot of fun, and hey; wasn’t it not so long ago where pretty much all games were just a linear beginning, middle, end in terms of level design? And besides, for $20, what can go wrong? Try something a bit different; you might like what you see.

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