The eponymous character behind Black Rock Shooter: The Game is inspired by a drawing of the same name by illustrator Ryohei “Huke” Fuke. Any gamer would be forgiven if they had no idea that Black Rock Shooter (BRS) had inspired songs, mangas, an anime series and an original video animation. Though BRS has appeared across several mediums, the only unifying constant is this black haired girl with a flaming blue eye and an enormous gun that shoots rocks. And here she is again staring in a PSP game developed by Imageepoch that was released in Japan almost two years ago, which was just localized by NIS America. So is this game from 2011 enjoyable enough to warrant a purchase?
Players will travel through the ruins of Earth as the last remaining people try and guide BRS to victory. It’s a very dark post-apocalyptic yarn but one that never taxes the player’s investment. There’s the mysterious alien threat to understand, the drive to discover things about BRS’ past and the human drama that unfolds but for the most part, it doesn’t amount to that much. Familiar beats from other animes are present and the characters don’t feel all that fresh. Still, the game does push out a few laughs and charm with BRS’ early naïveté and her conversations with the soldiers.
Graphics & Sound
BRS: The Game is a PSP game from 2011 that can also be played on the PS Vita. Even though the PS Vita has been out for a decent amount of time, it hasn’t prevented several Japanese developers from keeping with the enormous install base the PSP has gained over the years. Keeping all that in mind, the game looks fair for the time and tech it was made on. Sure, there are older titles that have managed to churn out equal or better visuals but BRS: The Game still remains very competent. Most environments and characters look like advanced PS1 era models but they are handled well enough that it isn’t a negative. The art direction has a good amount of breathing room and it never feels like the game is truly limited by the older hardware.
The actual level design itself is where the game lacks a lot of flair. At times, levels can feel like a twisted maze of destroyed buildings and similar textures and the player might find themselves backtracking or lost without even knowing it. These issues would have been lessened by an improved map or navigation system. Praise should be given to how smooth the action always remains. From the introductory battle to the high-speed motorcycle sequences, BRS maintains a great framerate that hardly slogs and keeps players in the action. Those playing on a Vita, however, might frown a bit at how grainy some scenes can look at times.
Japanese audiophiles will delight over the fact that an English language track is completely absent from the game. Since the game is relatively old and more than likely not localized on a large budget, it isn’t really a loss. English subtitles are enough and the Japanese voices prevent some of the dialogue from coming off too corny. The soundtrack is also quite memorable (if not on the repetitive side) and sound effects during battle have good impact to them.
Without a doubt, the gameplay in BRS: The Game is incredibly enjoyable. It plays like a very basic action RPG but controls so simply and naturally that it becomes addicting from the opening battle. BRS is capable of three primary actions: shoot, block, and dodge. Shooting is self explanatory, blocking reduces damage from enemy attacks while dodging is meant to avoid them altogether. Like most current RPGs there are no random encounters as enemies appear on the map. BRS might be the savior of humanity but that doesn’t mean she is invincible. Being an android she is prone to overheating. Shooting and/or dodging too much at once raises her heat level. Attacks do less damage at a higher heat level and overheating causes her to lock up momentarily and be open for attack. It becomes immediately clear that timing is everything. Is it wiser to block a hard to dodge attack? Is an all-out attack or timed bursts the best way to defeat a hard target? The one complaint about the initial combat system is that because of the pseudo third-person camera used, dodging usually means the enemy will disappear off screen and the player won’t know if they are continuing to attack or not.
BRS also has a number of skills at her disposal. Every level has a set number of challenges which reward different skills upon completion. Killing ten robot hornets in a level might reward BRS with a passive attack boost while taking down a boss grants a powerful charge shot or healing skill. Items and active skills are activated using the left and right triggers and hitting the appropriate button. Active skills take time to recharge before they can be used again to prevent spamming and encouraging wise strategy; and there’s no limit to how many passive skills can be active.
Though some experience grinding is helpful, the game never feels very difficult. Healing items can be used instantly and save points completely replenish health so being defeated is a rare occurrence for those playing wisely. There’s also a bit of variety outside of the normal battles with driving sequences. Clocking in around ten or twelve hours, the game can run on the short side and some of the bonus content does feel like a little extra padding. But with such a strong core in place, many might not notice.
In light of all of Black Rock Shooter: The Game’s flaws and weak points, there is a surprisingly enjoyable game to be played. Rare moments of quality story and the noticeably aged feel of the overall product will likely push some players away. With a price tag of $20, the game is about five dollars shy of that perfect PSN price point for several quality downloadable titles. Despite all of that, coming back to Black Rock Shooter in short and long portable bursts is greatly enjoyable. Imageepoch achieved an impressive level of polish in their battle system and one that would be welcome in future titles.
Note: A copy of the game was provided to Gaming Illustrated by the publisher for the purpose of this review.