Publisher: NIS America
Release Date: July 18, 2006
Given the popularity of the RPG genre, it's surprising to see that the PSP console is severely lacking offerings in this area. Only a smattering of titles are available for the handheld, including Legend of Heroes, Tales of Eternia, Astonishia Story, and Generation of Chaos. Two more titles joined the ranks this summer: the greatly acclaimed Valkyrie Profile remake, and a new intellectual property that is the subject of this review, Blade Dancer: Lineage of Light.
The tale of Blade Dancer is told all through the world of Lunadia. He was the savoir who drove away evil 1,000 years ago; Blade Dancer, the Protector of Light, used his powers to defeat the Dark Lord and the Dread Knight, who were bringing darkness to the world. Upon news the evil dictator had been defeated, Blade Dancer was nowhere to be found, but his story is still passed on to this day.
You play as Lance, a kind soul who never heard of this tale, but has coincidentally decided to go to Lunadia to test his strength. Unluckily for him, he is given the task of the Blade Dancer. As with all other RPGs, our character is the only one who can save the world.
Unlike other RPGs, where you can interact with and check everything in the environment, Blade Dancer implements a different system, where only specific objects can be selected. This means that you no longer need to check every vase, bookshelf, or other objects for hidden potions or items. Instead, the game puts the treasure into chests, which your character can see and select using the Square button. The same button is used to converse with NPCs, open doors, and give items to those who have assigned missions to Lance.
During the beginning, all Lance will be doing is running around the town doing errands for the NPCs. It's a very good start because you learn the town layout and the locations of the stores: weapons dealer, equipment vendor, item merchant, crafting broker, appraiser, and inn. One of my most hated missions was delivering lunches to specific NPCs within the town, since you had to figure out where each person was located. Completing the missions will yield lunar points, which raises your lunar bar and credibility with the townspeople, which in turn will result in harder missions.
Lunar points are used for character-specific magic skills. In battle, lunar points can be accumulated by incurring damage or damaging the enemy. These points then get placed into the lunar gauge, which can be used for several different types of lunar skills: Solo, a solo magic attack against the enemy; Assist, additional status effects such as haste; Heal; and Group, group attack. One of the most interesting things about this lunar gauge is that the points are stored in a mutual pool, from which both your characters and the enemy characters can draw. Everyone on screen can utilize this collection of points to attack one another, which makes for some pretty interesting battles. If you're waiting to execute an extremely potent lunar power, the enemy may start casting a spell of his own immediately before, thereby taking away some lunar points from you. However, these lunar points can be regained if you manage to stop the enemy from casting his skill; sadly, this is a two-way street, so opponents can also regain lunar points by stopping your spells. It's still a good idea to carry around HP potions, since there is a chance that the healing skill will not complete if enemy interrupts the casting.
Since we can't always rely on the lunar skills, it's good to have an assortment of weapons available for your characters. These weapons add more damage to the attack, but before you can attack the enemy using a weapon or lunar power, you'll have to understand the battle system. Blade Dancer employs a real-time attack system, which means the enemy will not wait for you to finish your move before attacking. If you aren't paying attention to the game, the enemy can slowly pound away at your character, which makes paying attention vital to winning a battle, especially in selecting the best time to execute a lunar or regular attack. An advantage to regular attacks is that it cannot be cancelled like the lunar powers, but there is a downside; when equipped with a weapon, weapons have a durability statistic, so after a specific amount of attacks, the weapon will break. There is no way to repair a broken weapon; instead, the game implements a very unique crafting system.
The crafting system in Blade Dancer allows the player to create weapons, items, and accessories; it's my all-time favorite crafting system because there's no need for trial and error. Your characters can go to the appraiser to find out the exact recipe for creating an item or weapon, which is great because once you know the recipe, it will appear within the crafting menu, underneath "Craft from Recipe." In addition, the crafting menu allows the player to "craft from ingredients," reminiscent of the trial-and-error mini-game found in other titles. While this is the best way to find new items, it's also very time-consuming.
Not certain if it's a bug or intentional, but the store menu details what each accessory is created from, which makes paying for them an unnecessary step. Instead, you should be visiting the weapons store, items store, and crafting broker to waste your hard-earned money. The crafting broker is excellent because he lets you buy almost every ingredient available at your specified level.
To add more complexity to the crafting system, if you craft on certain days, you may attain unexpected results. To determine the best character to craft items that day, you must look at the color of the moon in the first-person view; if it matches your character's lunar power and/or color, then use them for the day. There is one exception to this rule, and that is when the color of the moon is black; during that time, crafting items can achieve unexpected results.
Adventuring in the game takes quite a bit of time; running from point A to point B is quite slow, but luckily, the system doesn't implement random battles. You'll see skulls on the screen, which represent the enemy, and depending on the color of the skull, it classifies the difficulty of the group. Blue classifies easy enemies, white enemies around the same level, and lastly, red for enemies that are out of your league. Thanks to this system, the enemies are actually quite smart; blue enemies will run away, while white and red enemies will run toward your group. The group leader can also change how the enemy reacts. Lance has no battle effects or field effects, Gozen increases the power of all party members in battle and makes the Monsters more aggressive, Felis decreases item drops but make monsters less aggressive, and lastly, Tess increases the item drop rate and lunar power automatically increases, with no field effects.
Thankfully, the enemies re-spawn because Blade Dancer really requires you to level your characters. Make one mistake against an enemy, and it is an instant game over (believe me, I've done this several times). Running and attacking will not work against re-spawned enemies because the stats do not pass over to the next battle, and the enemy will chase down your character.
There is one set of enemies that won't chase you down, and those are the bosses. Usually, these enemies are huge even on the world map, giving a true feel of how dangerous it may be to face them. These enemies require the most amount of effort to defeat; some boss enemies can only be beaten with lunar skills, while others may just need a high enough leveled party. It's best to equip your characters with the best weaponry and accessories for your character to stand a fair chance of defeating this type of enemy.
Equipping items on your characters is a real pain with this system. Unlike other RPGs, the equip screen doesn't always tell you the necessary requirement to use an item. The best place to see these stats would be at the stores, which will show exactly what level is needed to utilize it. There are about seven slots that can be used to equip items and accessories. Depending on the combination of items outfitted, it will give your character different types of stats. I haven't quite observed the subtle differences this provides to the character, so I always equip my characters with the most powerful items.
Items are dropped by almost every enemy, and usually the best items are dropped from bosses. Another place to get items is from the multiplayer portion of the title, where you can play with a total of four players. One downside about multiplayer mode is that it you don't play through the single-player story mode; essentially, multiplayer mode is just your team of friends playing through a bunch of dungeons. Starting you off with zero equipment, your character has to run around the map picking up items from chests and equipping them as quickly as possible. Once you beat the level, there will be some items which will be transferred over to your single-player game. Sadly, only ad-hoc wireless is available.
The single-player segment of Blade Dancer is actually completely voiced over, allowing the player to choose between two languages, English and Japanese. Like anime, the Japanese voices match the characters better than the English counterparts. Regardless of the audio language, the music in the game is the same and is quite good. The background music matches its surroundings, giving Lunadia a mystical feel.
The graphics complete that mystical feel, giving us great backdrops such as castles, and a nicely laid-out world map, which makes it easy to navigate from point to point. Character models are designed pretty well, especially those of the bosses. Towns are organized to give each their own feel, and each really feels different from one another. The cut scenes are fun to watch, even though they are made using in-game graphics.
Overall, Blade Dancer was a lot of fun, with a few minor downsides – the equipment system and walking speeds. What I really enjoyed was the crafting system because we could craft the item whenever we wanted, even on the world map, thus reducing the need of going back to town to buy healing items or new equipment. This title is really slow to pick up, but it is pretty fun to just learn the system and travel around. The worst part is the walking speed (or lack thereof) through the world maps, but in later portions, your character learns to teleport. Blade Dancer has become one of my favorite RPGs for the PSP; it's great on the go, has a satisfying single-player portion, and with the inclusion of multiplayer aspects, Blade Dancer should have a bit of something for everyone.