Reviewed on Xbox 360
When I was younger I occasionally downloaded demos on the Xbox Live Arcade. After all, I had to be more careful back then with spending my cash as I didn’t make much money yet. X-Blades was one of them, and though I did enjoy the demo I ultimately went with some of the few JRPGs the system has. When I became older and earned more money I came across it in a random game store and bought it.. only to put it near my other games and have it fill my backlog. Older Neppy has an obsession with collecting games, can’t help it. Today however, I finally decided to give it a shot. Hot anime girl, hack and slash gameplay; what could possibly go wrong?
X-Blades was originally released as Oniblade for Windows in 2007, exclusive to the motherland Russia. This version was developed by Gaijin Entertainment as the first action/anime-style game to be released over there. SouthPeak games, an American-based publisher, eventually released the game to the rest of the world on all 7th generation consoles in 2009 under the new name X-Blades. The final release keeps the anime/cell shaded artstyle and gameplay. At release the game got.. mixed reception to say the least. Some game critics were positive about the game, and others not so much. Regardless, in 2012 a spiritual successor was created under the name of Blades of Time, which I have also played and will very likely get its own review someday.
The setting of X-blades is surprisingly grand. There are two powerful beings, the Enlightened one and the Dark one, who ruled over the universe. They didn’t really like each other that much—yeah I know, surprising—and their fights could’ve caused the downfall of the entire universe if the Enlightened one didn’t decide to seal the Dark one. Have to hand it to them, Russia now surely knows the definition of anime. The power of the mighty beings have been sealed in artifacts, which are hidden from the rest of the world. And with hidden I mean described on a map which our main heroine suddenly finds. You play as Ayumi the badass treasure hunter, who’s not afraid of any danger. Sporting her sexy outfit and weapons, she hunts down the entire world for its riches. She’s also really stubborn, as the Light being warns her about the catastrophes she would cause by stealing the artifact. But our lady does not listen and ends up being cursed. Now it’s up to her alone to remove the curse and save the entire universe!
The entire game takes place in the ruins where the artifacts are hidden, sometimes inside and other times outside. The ruins are well.. ruins. Not to sound boring or anything and sure, the ruins do look good, but there isn’t a lot of variety. It does not help either that if you want to beat the game you have to go through the first half of the game again. Don’t worry, Ghosts and Ghouls this ain’t, but it isn’t creative either. The game follows a level-to-level progression. You can revisit levels you have been to, but you do have to manually walk there by going through the other levels.
Gameplay-wise.. ugh, bear with me for a bit. I don’t want to outright say the gameplay sucks, but it isn’t exactly good either. X-Blades plays like your everyday Hack and Slash. Ayumi is equipped with two gunblades and magic spells, each having their own distinct skill tree. Skills can be purchased or upgraded by spending souls gathered from destroying objects in a stage or killing enemies. Skills range from new elemental spells, to new sword attacks. Though do not be fooled; those new sword attacks are just cinematic attacks, not actual combos. This means that melee and to an extend ranged attacks remain the same for the entire game with little diversion. There are artifacts hidden in each stage which also upgrade all three combat styles but yet again, minimal. Magic is the most diverse out of all the combat styles with Area of Effect spells and Single Target, and different elements having different effects. Using Area of Effect spells works fine and destroys all enemies around you, but Single Target well.. You have to stand perfectly still to execute those attacks. Not the biggest of issues but unfortunately it does not stop there. Magic can be used by gaining Rage, which is not unlike souls. You get it the same way but can also manually purchase it through the Souls shop.
To ‘’assist’’ you, there’s a lock-on mechanic. You use this by moving the camera around with the right analogue stick, and then pressing the left trigger. For enemies on the ground you don’t really need the lock-on mechanic, but there are quite a lot of enemies in the air. But when you lock-on to an airborne enemy, the camera faces straight up to the target making it difficult to dodge enemies that are on the ground. Levels consist mostly of big enemy rooms, where you have to kill all enemies or just some in certain cases. There is a meter on the bottom right which has to be depleted by killing enemies before you can progress. But not every enemy depletes the meter, which is pretty unclear since it doesn’t show what enemy you have to kill. And here is when the lock-on mechanic becomes troublesome. Monster rooms consist of ever spawning enemies which won’t stop till the meter depletes, and they consist of both aerial and ground enemies at the same time. You can probably imagine to what kind of trouble this would lead.
It is time for some positivity before I go back to negativity: the bosses. X-Blades has a multitude of bosses with their set of unique patterns and weaknesses. For as much flag as I give this game, bosses won’t go down if you just regularly attack them with your swords and instead require a strategy. For example, a boss can only be harmed when the enemies around it are frozen, or a boss is only able to be harmed by Light spells. I appreciate that the bosses have at least some thought into them. The lock-on problem does unfortunately return as bosses don’t come along. After all, if you want to use magic you need rage, and to get rage you need to kill enemies. This makes the lock-on infuriating because it is difficult to target the boss because smaller enemies are in front of it.
Finally, we come to the last major issue with X-Blades, and this is a big one as it applies to the whole game: everything takes forever. Clearing out monster rooms takes ages of just mindlessly slashing around and bosses have a gigantic health bar. Some levels are in length only 30 seconds to walk through, but because of the monster rooms it can easily take five minutes or more before you actually finish the levels. While bosses have unique patterns, it will still take so long before they actually die. The worst offender might be a small puzzle room with spikes coming from the floor which you have to jump over to avoid. It literally repeats the same pattern multiple times, and does so for over five minutes! And it’s not even like the game is that difficult because at any point you can spend souls to regain life or rage, and health items can be found in the levels as well. Instead, it’s tedious and easily my biggest problem with the game.
The game should take you around 7 to 9 hours to beat. There are two different endings to obtain in tone with the Light and Dark theme of the game, which is triggered by using either of the elements more than the other. There are also three different difficulty modes with a fourth unlockable one. Finally there are two different outfits for Ayumi on the highest difficulty which have their own bonusses and.. show less skin? I thought that was supposed to be in reverse, completion should give us more skin to look at! I have not—and likely will not—completed the game and as such, I can’t say how long that would take either. HowLongToBeat says 10 hours, while various other sources on the internet say 14 or even 20 hours. The achievements are not too difficult to get, but the question you should ask yourself rather is whether you want to invest time into the game to begin with. I hope my review helped with that.
The graphics are cell-shaded and overall look good. Like I’ve said before, the ruins themselves look fine—it’s just a shame that’s all you will see. I’ve also noticed (on the Xbox 360 version at least) that some cutscenes would not appear. If this was because of a button combination I used or the game’s fault I’m not sure, but if it was a button combination a confirmation button wouldn’t have done much harm. The music is a fine rocking soundtrack, not really memorable but it fits the game.
Unfortunately it’s difficult for me to be positive about X-Blades. Every time I see something positive like the bosses having unique patterns and the diversity in magic spells, it is held back by the finnicky lock-on mechanic and everything taking forever. There certainly is replayability.. if you enjoyed the game at least. If everything did not take forever, I probably would have enjoyed the game a lot more. The story and our main protagonist Ayumi are both fine but the gameplay department is lacking, and therefore it pains me to say that I can’t give this game a recommendation higher to play it. If you really enjoy it, go ahead and beat it but don’t blame me if I was right. Trust me, I wanted to give this game a higher rating but I couldn’t.
X-Blades is available on three different platforms: Steam, Xbox 360 and Playstation 3. There isn’t really a best version, all three function very much alike and have the same achievements. On Steam there is a mod where you can hide more of Ayumi’s skin if that’s your thing.. why would you though. I like my anime waifus like I like my bananas; who eats bananas with peels???