Gunswords! Magic! Constant near-nudity! With just a few short exclamations, you have the overarching concept of X-Blades. It’s most easily described as "Devil May Cry ultra-lite: Thong Edition," but perhaps best summarized as a wholly competent hack-and-slash action title that never really makes a lasting impact – quite a feat, considering main character Ayumi spends the entire game in her butt-flossing underwear.
X-Blades sports a litany of combat options, though at its core, the "swords and firearms" approach reminds us significantly of the aforementioned action franchise, Devil May Cry. In this case, the two styles are combined via treasure-hunter Ayumi's gunblades (Final Fantasy VIII, anyone?), though in execution the melee and ranged attacks are about as distinct as they'd be with separate weapons.
Additional combos and firing options are unlocked through the adventure and found artifacts, though a significant portion of your arsenal is held within the diverse set of magic spells. Simple projectile attacks and larger-scale area assaults are available via the push of a button (using a filled-up rage meter), with other special moves and weapon-infusing elemental powers also available for purchase via collected "souls."
In a nice touch, you can use souls to purchase mundane-yet-useful things like extra health as well as flashier attacks. Ayumi can even transform into light and dark versions of herself later in the game, though neither form proves to be particularly essential.
What it all equates to is a hack-and-slash game with a good deal of combat variety, as you can purchase new spells at will and bind them to any of the four selected buttons on the controller. Ayumi's adventure takes her through several rooms, passages and arenas of a castle-like fantasy setting, with each simple mission typically centered on the destruction of numerous waves of enemies or monster-spawning orbs, along with frequent boss fights.
The fast-paced and relatively uncomplicated combat generally satisfies (though never really impresses), but a rigid adherence to learning patterns or using only one type of magic attack to defeat later bosses and enemy types derails the otherwise successful kitchen sink approach. In such cases, selected magic spells become a crutch and everything else feels secondary, which seems to defeat the whole purpose of giving you so many options in the first place.
We wrapped X-Blades up in less than 10 hours (despite pre-release promises of 20 hours of play), but action junkies can take solace in the fact that very little of that is spent on narrative and character development. By the end of the game, all we really knew (or cared to remember) about the anime-stylized heroine is that she is self-centered and wears nearly nothing, half of which we'd already discerned from the box art. [There are unlockable costumes as well. -Ed.] That X-Blades remains a decent title despite the lack of compelling missions and likeable characters is something of an accomplishment in itself, though not one we'd recommend advertising from the rooftops.
Feb 13, 2009