Two years after it’s initial PSP release in Japan, Black Rock Shooter: The Game finally arrives in the west; arguably due to the extra exposure it will undoubtedly get from the Vita, which the game can also be played on.
Black Rock Shooter is a franchise which has spawned a Japanese animé series, manga, music and of course a game. This installment takes on a different chapter of the story than it’s predecessors. Prior knowledge of these however is not essential and actually makes the story quite interesting as it progresses.
Our setting for the game takes place some time in the future on a desolate planet Earth that has been ravaged by an alien invasion a few decades ago. The future looks bleak as humanity has been reduced to a meagre twelve survivors. TWELVE! Grim much? In their desperate bid for survival, or rather more realistically just some form of revenge on the aliens, they have finally awakened their last hope. Enter our protagonist, Black Rock Shooter, an enhanced human combat cyborg of sorts. You know the type, the over-sexualised young bad-ass animé girl with an over-sized gun.
The game itself is an action RPG of sorts that despite it’s unsurprising shooter elements actually feels much like a JRPG. In combat you are stationary and aim with the analog stick to choose your target. There’s no headshotting here or precision aiming required however. The game uses a nice auto lock feature so it’s really just a case of picking which target to gun down and when. Your basic options are shoot, block and dodge. A variety of different skills can be assigned to different buttons (regen, increased damage shot, stun shot, gatling shot etc) which use a cool down. Mashing the shoot button fills up a heat gauge which as you can guess stops you from firing when it gets full. This can leave you exposed to enemy attack so it’s best not to let it fill up. A neat feature here is that you actually do more damage the less the gauge is full, leaving you to balance high damage with increased fire-rate.
Overall the combat feels tight and responsive. Blocking is almost instantaneous whereas dodging requires the correct timing, not only to evade the enemy attack but also to actually be able to execute the move. Much of the combat comes down to when you attack and when you dodge/block as well as memorising enemy attack patterns. Get it wrong and you can take more damage. That being said the normal fights are not all that difficult, but the boss fights do certainly step it up a notch. It all gets rather repetitive but it is somewhat fun. Combat is never tedious and you almost find yourself itching to get straight back into it, guns blazing. Out of combat you have third-person roaming. Enemies can be seen on screen which can be avoided if you wish but they will intercept you if you get too near, triggering combat.
Story-wise Black Rock Shooter is certainly interesting, but it does feel like it could have been padded up a bit more. I liked finding out about the human survivors and their situation, but the game doesn’t seem to linger too long there before moving on. BRS herself understands little of the world she has woken up in and occasionally between scenes experiences flashback memories to a previous life, or perhaps someone else’s. There’s some nice interactions between her and Rothcall, an advisor who updates you during missions and stumbles along with teaching her the way of the world and all the strange phrases she hears, taking particular liking to ‘Tally ho!’.
Visually the game leaves a lot to be desired. The graphic elitists among us may want to stay clear of this one. Being a somewhat dated two year old PSP game there are some low res textures on offer here and nothing has been done to spice the game up for the Vita. It’s more than tolerable though and the Vita’s wonderful bi-linear filter option does it’s job nicely. If you have yet to discover this feature then check it out for PSP and PS1 games as it does wonders in smoothing things up. Otherwise though the game is a straight port with no enhancements.
Overall Black Rock Shooter is a highly enjoyable game that despite it’s relative old age platform-wise, certainly holds up well enough. Fans of animé, action JRPG’s and anything Japanese will certainly enjoy it and is well worth checking out. But don’t let it’s animé-esque nature put you off if you aren’t into that whole scene and likewise if you aren’t a fan of shooters.
8 lonely survivors left out of 10