‘Black Rock Shooter: The Game’ Review

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Sony is apparently still keeping up with localizing PSP games long after the system has passed its prime. Here we sit, over a year after the launch of the handheld’s successor, and lo and behold, there’s another obscure Japanese title hitting US shores. Almost three years after its Japanese launch, Black Rock Shooter: The Game is releasing on the PlayStation Network. BRS is an RPG from Imageepoch set in the rather popular Black Rock Shooter franchise, which I’ll admit, I don’t really know much about. I went in cold with no expectations whatsoever. And you know what? It’s not that bad.

In the year 2032, aliens invaded Earth and handily destroyed one city after another. After 19 years of devastation, only 12 humans remain, and as a last ditch effort they activate Black Rock Shooter, a combat android created as a last hope for humanity. While the core premise seems alright on the surface, much of the execution keeps the story from truly resonating. Trite character design becomes a distraction, beginning with the questionable young and barely dressed protagonist. She is by no means the most absurdly dressed character in the game, but her outfit sets the tone for many figures to come.

BRS also loves to let cutscenes linger, which helps and hurts. An attempt is made to present the world of BRS, to try and explain the back-story to the uninitiated, but there’s never quite enough information. As is so often stereotypically attributed to anime and manga, BRS’s source material, the story operates in abstractions. Things like advanced technology are never really explained except in very general, metaphysical terms. Characters will have long meandering discussions with no real concrete purpose, and emotionally engaging scenes can often slather on more melodrama than I could handle. But BRS’s story is never actively terrible, and does a serviceable job connecting the various missions in a complete whole. The meat of these missions are what will keep you playing.

Chapter are broken into individual missions, which place Black Rock Shooter into simple maps, each of which contain a multitude of enemies. Goals for these missions tend to be very simple, with the average objective boiling down to “run from point A to point B.” Enemies become aggressive when near, and in classic JRPG fashion, contact transitions you to a battle arena. Once there, players can shoot, dodge, and block. Each action affects a heat gauge, which if overfilled, paralyzes the player for a short time. Special moves are introduced over the course of BRS, but the core mechanic is the managing of your temperature. While the timing needed to effectively push back waves of enemies is odd at first, the general ebb and flow of battles becomes second nature very quickly.

Which is great, because you will be fighting. A lot. Most of Black Rock Shooter consists of long grinding sessions, as players fight two or three different types of enemies repeatedly within a given environment. Levels usually finish with some sort of unique encounter, but even these crop up multiple times before the story finishes. Chapters usually end with a more complex and intense final boss, and this is where the game comes into its own. The snappy nature of the active time battle system creates a genuine tide of battle. Both sides struggle for the upper hand, and one misstep can mean half  your health. It can become difficult, but there are always patterns, which almost give the bigger fights the feel of a rhythm game. It’s just a shame that there tends to be far too much filler in between these shining examples.

Outside of the actual gameplay, Black Rock Shooter looks, sounds, and feels like a PSP game. Each chapter changes up the locale, but in-game assets are reused liberally. Character models look jagged and muddy under close scrutiny, and the levels themselves just feel small. The age and initial platform really take their toll on the game’s overall appearance. Imageepoch does however try to make the best of what they were given. I was surprised by the sheer number of cutscenes the studio made for BRS, instead of resorting to talking portraits or other simpler routes.

No English voice-overs are available, with the only option being Japanese with English subtitles. The soundtrack is a collection of generic Japanese rock and electronica, which because of the platform, lacks a certain fullness. But as with the story, the music sits well in the background, mixing passingly with the action on screen.

Truth be told, I’m still not really sure who Black Rock Shooter: The Game is for outside of western fans of the franchise. Those unfamiliar will probably scoff at the game’s appearance. But underneath that fluff is a decent, if dated, experience.

Chris is an odd sort of thing from the wilds of central Pennsylvania. You can hit him up on Twitter under @chrishauge, PSN under faceless_page, or Xbox Live under teh sledge.