Sex sells. From big-budget Hollywood films to body deodorant, this marketing mantra can be found embedded in almost any product. Obviously, video games are no stranger to this commercial strategy, but Gaijin Entertainment makes an exceptionally blatant use of the tactic with a character who remains sans shorts throughout the entire game. While X-Blades' scantily clad protagonist will certainly draw some attention while the game is sitting on store shelves, it's not enough to distract anyone from the extremely tedious and uninspired design once the actual gameplay begins. Remember kids: Looks aren't everything.
In the game, players take control of Ayumi, an "alluring treasure hunter" (there's a new one) who is attempting to track down ancient relics of a long-forgotten war between the forces of Light and Dark. Along the way, Ayumi ends up becoming infected by the artifact of Darkness and will have to enlist the help of fellow treasure hunter Jay to rid herself and the universe of evil. The quasi-anime story line is about as thin as Ayumi herself, with generic villains and unexplained plot twists in which even anime fans will struggle to find enjoyment.
More importantly, the actual presentation of X-Blades is somewhat disconcerting. The characters speak and behave such in a cheesy, immature way that it almost seems as if they were created for a Saturday morning cartoon series. What upsets this idea is the steady supply of blood and Ayumi's ever-present backside, giving the impression that X-Blades might have a conflict of intended audience. There is an option to turn off the blood to make things a little more kid-friendly, but unfortunately, there isn't a "pants setting" for Ayumi. All of this causes X-Blades' "Mature" rating to feel rather misplaced, as the simplistic gameplay and story line don't seem like the title was designed with adult gamers in mind.
One thing about X-Blades that is a sure thing, however, is its status as a straight-up action game; the melee fighting and shooting are very reminiscent of the Devil May Cry series. Ayumi's gun-blade weapons can be used to slash away at insects and pangolins (reptilian warriors) or shoot at distant airborne phantoms. The combat controls feel pretty good for the most part, minus the frustrating lock-on system that doesn't allow the user to cycle through targets, instead forcing him to center an enemy on the screen as best as he can and hope that the intended enemy gets selected.
A positive aspect of X-Blades' gameplay is that it offers a treasure trove of spells and skill upgrades than can be purchased with souls harvested from fallen enemies. A variety of elemental powers can be assigned to multiple buttons and then called upon when Ayumi's rage meter has reached sufficient charge. All of these spells come down to four main elements (fire, ice, light and lightning) and can be unleashed as projectiles, fused with the gun-blades or charged until they release a massive shockwave that eradicates all nearby foes. New shooting techniques can also be unlocked by collecting artifacts strewn throughout environments, imbuing Ayumi with ordnance abilities, like shooting multiple enemies at once or a devastating mega-shot.
A wide array of new skills can be attained to help keep the game interesting, but the actual melee combat never really evolves. Only one basic attack is present throughout the entire campaign, with no real combos to be learned. Sadly, the rest of X-Blades fails to develop as well, and it doesn't take long for the gameplay to start feeling formulaic. Each level, which usually consists of only one area, revolves around taking out multiple waves of enemies and then moving on to the next one. This process maintains its regularity up until the very end of the title, which will have you fighting an increasing number of monsters, most of which can be defeated with plain old button-mashing.
Despite being a treasure hunter, Ayumi doesn't end up getting very much exploring done, probably due to the fact that she is restricted to very enclosed environments with no interactivity. The game takes some slight deviations into platforming, where Ayumi must avoid deadly blade and spike traps, but the sensitivity of the controls just don't feel suited to this style of play, causing users to easily zig when they should probably zag. Don't expect much in terms of puzzle-solving either, as the only task that I can recall involved hitting a series of monster generators until they exploded.
Even the boss battles fail to bring any real departure from regular gameplay, as the strategies for defeating them simply rely on using the right elemental powers. The final encounter will certainly leave players disappointed, since the final boss only needs to be tackled with one — and I do mean one — particular ranged elemental attack. Afterward, one of two possible endings can be viewed, but neither relies on any significant choices made during the campaign, and they're both unsatisfying.
X-Blades might not give us much in terms of compelling gameplay, but nevertheless, it delivers a lot of its mediocrity with a boastful 40-plus levels. The only issue is that the game reaches this high level count the dirty way, by recycling nearly every environment and even forcing the player to revisit certain areas at least three times. The effects of this criminal game design are lessened by the fact that all of X-Blades' environments look pretty much the same, each one taking place within ancient ruins that only have different lighting to set them apart.
X-Blades is a really over-the-top game and delivers everything one would expect from over-the-top anime, such as slow-motion antics and magical energy explosions that rival the size of supernovas. There's nothing wrong with crazy effects, but X-Blades takes things a little too far with a very heavy use of bloom lighting and motion blur that can obstruct the action and inflict strain on the eyes. With the exception of Ayumi, who is wonderfully animated, the rest of the characters look terribly outdated and fail to match the anime tone of the rest of the title. While they are corny, the game's cinematics come with a healthy dose of action and are surprisingly well-directed, but alas, gameplay takes up the majority of the experience, making X-Blades a fairly underwhelming graphical offering this far into the current generation of consoles.
I really want to trash the game's voice acting, but the clichéd and choppy dialogue is so absurd that it borders on being amusing. I suppose it could be argued that Gaijin Entertainment was merely attempting to recreate the terrible American voice-overs of Japanese anime cartoons, and if so, then they have my congratulations. X-Blades' musical score, while small, is well-suited to the game's general presentation, but the most embarrassing error I found in the sound department came from the audio glitches. On a very frequent basis, many sound effects weren't occurring when they should have been, causing my earthquake attacks and gunshots to set off to the tune of dead silence.
Now, I do love a good action game, and I have no real problem with developers borrowing from their peers as long as they remember to replicate the fun of the titles supplying their inspiration. X-Blades fails to do this by offering some very meager gameplay and level design that stays exactly the same from start to finish. If it weren't for the M-rated content, X-Blades could have been easily recommended to kids for its accessible action and anime presentation, which is a shame because the adult crowd is going to be left disappointed with this game, despite its sex appeal.
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