Platform: Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, PC (Reviewed on Xbox 360)
When the first screenshots for X-Blades showed up, many gamers instantly wrote the game off as a second-rate action title that would rely more on T&A than solid gameplay. With the extremely scantily-clad, probably underage Ayumi as its protagonist, it was hard not to make that assumption. Does Southpeak's flagship action title live down to its expectations, or is there a deep, solid game hidden under all that prepubescent cheesecake?
Ostensibly, X-Blades is an action game in the vein of Devil May Cry. You play Ayumi, a trashy, annoying, spoiled little brat of a main character who, as the self-proclaimed world’s greatest treasure hunter, must hunt down two divine artifacts and save the world from total destruction. Wielding a gunblade and a slew of magical abilities, Ayumi can dispatch with her enemies in a variety of ways. Much like Dante in the Devil May Cry series, she is able to leap high in the air, then slowly fall back to earth while firing or slashing at enemies. Likewise, there are plenty of melee combos with which to attack, as well as 20 different spells, ranging from ranged attacks, like the classic Fireball, to area of effect attacks, like the Earthquake, to movement powers, like Teleportation. Almost all of Ayumi’s abilities are upgradeable as well, offering even more combat depth. All these techniques and many more give Ayumi a vast array of offensive options, and makes her one of the most versatile characters in recent memory.
Sadly, all of these myriad moves are somewhat wasted on bland, uninspired enemies who use cheap smothering tactics in place of any sort of actual AI. Throughout the entirety of the game, you’ll only see 8 different types of enemies, many of them receiving palette swaps and new abilities to offer some semblance of combat variety. Even worse than the lack of enemy types is the shoddy, derivative designs given to them. Most of X-Blades’ roster of baddies, which consists of hackneyed enemy types like spiders, crabs and ghosts, look like the result of a two-minute session with the Spore Creature Creator. Enemy tactics aren’t any better; most are weak to only one type of attack, like fire or sword slashes, and appear in large groups, leading to tedious combat sequences that consist of mashing the same attack button over and over again. Boss characters don’t fare much better, suffering from the same lazy design and monotonous combat tactics.
X-Blades is a fairly linear action game, sending you from one large, enemy-filled area to the next. Each area you enter becomes flooded with enemies, and exiting the area requires that you defeat them all. Outside of some crate bashing and picking up items left by fallen enemies, there’s not much to do when you aren’t in combat. Exploration is a non-factor, and platforming is limited to a few scattered hops here and there. Upgrading weapons and skills is really the only focus of the game other than vanquishing tiresome enemies. Cut scenes pop up from time to time, and while they do a decent job relating the paper-thin, nonsensical story, they’re certainly nothing to get excited about.
The one saving grace of X-Blades is its visuals. She may be exploitative, sexist, and vaguely pedophilic, but Ayumi is extremely well-rendered. With her cartoonish looks and impossible proportions, the star of the show really shines, especially when subject to the game’s impressive lighting effects. All of her attacks are well-animated as well, and her many magical attacks yield some impressive particle effects and energy signatures. Environments don’t look nearly as good as Ayumi, and become extremely repetitive after a little while. Of course, the disparity between the excellent character and sub-par backgrounds is made somewhat moot by a frustrating camera that refuses to show you the action you want to see. Trying to move the camera while moving Ayumi is just short of impossible, and your view is constantly being obstructed by environmental elements. In a game where fast, 360 degree combat is essentially all there is to do, a camera this wonky is a huge drawback; almost game-breakingly so.
At first glance, X-Blades looks like a book that’s easily judged by its cover. No respectable action game would resort to the gratuitous near-nudity of its main character, and any game that would must have something to hide. While I don’t recommend it for most things in life, in this case, judging a book by its cover works just fine. X-Blades is exactly what you expected it to be; a mediocre fantasy action game with a heroine that appeals to the basest of men’s instincts. It’s not a terrible game, there’s just not much to care about, and not much to recommend. The wide variety of attack types (and Ayumi's ass) may entertain for a little while, but the awful camera, repetetive enemies and environments, and Ayumi's irritating personality keep this from being a worthwhile purchase.