Turn Back the Blades of Time (Review)
This game was reviewed on PC
While storming a monastery, treasure hunters Ayumi and her partner Zero find themselves in a mess of trouble after Ayumi takes control of a mystical sphere. She is pulled to a magical island called Dragonland, where treasure hunters have tread before, but none have left maps or recordings. Worse yet, Ayumi is separated from Zero, and the island proves itself to be a deadly place; filled with monsters and magic. Luckily, she is armed with twin swords and a compass, and the island is also full of treasure and mystical forces to guide her along the path.
I have to admit, I had high hopes for Blades of Time. It’s a hack-and-slash action-adventure – a spiritual successor to 2007’s X-Blades. I’m a fan of action games with strong female protagonists, but this is a deeply flawed game on nearly every level. While admittedly the Ayumi of this title is much less embarrassing to control as an avatar than the Ayumi of X-Blades, there’s not much character development to be found in this game. It isn’t mind-numbingly boring, nor is it too much of a challenge for your average player. While the story is weak, the combat works well as hectic, fast-paced action in the sweet-spot between boring and oppressively challenging. Blades of Time can best be described as mindless and mediocre, although there are a few high spots among the monotony.
When the player first takes control of Ayumi, the controls are very simple. Combat controls are initially limited to just the two mouse buttons and the space bar, but as the game progresses Ayumi learns new skills and abilities. When the controls for this game work, fights are delightfully fun, flashy and vicious. Occasionally though, the control scheme requires the player to multitask to stay alive. While fighting an ancient golem, for example, it is necessary to keep sliding away from his devastating attacks until you can seize an opportunity to launch yourself onto his shoulders, where you proceed to stab away. This is complicated enough, but players may come away from fights with a solid understanding of the mechanics of the game. Failures and deaths often seemed arbitrary and confusing, as opposed to a fair fight.
The confusing deaths extended into the platforming as well. I found myself wincing when a platforming section was about to occur, since there was a tendency for these parts of the game to be infuriating. As an example, the game has a short lesson on how to double-jump by having Ayumi navigate through a volcano as the lava rises. While the lesson was probably intended to be short, it ended up taking me about 15 minutes as I tried in vain to actually execute the double-jump and repeatedly failed. It wasn’t a particularly difficult concept, and I’d like to think I can understand how to press the space bar twice, but Ayumi kept hurtling into pits of lava and I’d have to restart the section. Even when I successfully pulled it off, the animation was so jumpy and poorly done to the point where I wasn’t sure if I had mastered the concept or just glitched over the obstacle.
That being said, when the game mechanics click Blades of Time is fairly entertaining, and at times can be a complete blast. Ayumi uses her double swords and her feet to dish out death to her enemies in a frantic, fluid motion. The game isn’t skill based; as previously mentioned, there are instances where you’ll die and not even know why, but other times you could effortlessly roll over the same enemies. The player can cast spells to incinerate, disrupt or freeze enemies, and there are regenerating health restores you can use in the thick of battle. Although the spells are satisfying to cast, they’re difficult to aim in the midst of so many enemies, which means players will often waste spell casts and have to wait for the recharge before trying again. Ayumi can use guns as well, and it’s possible to cheat the game by whittling down the enemies from high ground, but where’s the fun in that? One thing this game is missing is enemy variety. The first foes you encounter in Dragonland will fight you all the way to the final boss.
That covers the ‘blades’ part of combat, but the ‘time’ aspect is slightly more interesting. The game allows time control to be used in combat and to solve puzzles. Ayumi will freeze time and then move and attack as she wills, while her previous self will continue fighting on. This means you can get out of dangerous corners, fight multiple foes that you couldn’t take alone, and solve puzzles by pressing multiple triggers at once. The time mechanic is so innovative that I wished that I could have seen the developers play around with the concept and take its uniqueness a step further, but since Blades of Time is 10 or so hours, the lost potential is not too great.
Ayumi travels through many environments as she searches through Dragonland. The graphics are bright and have a bit of a plastic feel; there’s more than a slight uncanny valley sense to the cutscenes. The scenery is pretty, but the brightness means that things critical to advancement like treasure chests and puzzle pieces can fade away, requiring some extra searching. The graphics communicate necessary details, however; environments are lush and memorable, monsters look properly threatening, and it’s easy to tell which platforms to navigate to.
Players will probably find themselves enjoying the compass feature a great deal. Ayumi can pull out a comically large compass at any time: the outer arrow will point toward treasure, and the inner arrow will point toward story objectives. The compass proved itself to be useful very quickly, and I took pleasure in searching for treasure chests. Usually I hate the idea of collectibles and achievements, but with the compass I could easily see myself looking for treasure just for fun. In Blades of Time, however, the compass only leads you toward upgrades, and there’s not as much treasure-seeking as you might expect from a game with a treasure hunter protagonist.
When I say ‘story’ objectives, it’s meant in the loosest possible way. The story is very vague. Almost immediately on the island, Ayumi encounters spirits which are bound to altars. The spirits endow her with magical abilities she can use in combat. The spirits are a big fan of circular logic; they want to help Ayumi gain strength so she can walk The Path and they want to help her walk The Path because she is strong. While Ayumi initially displays a reasonable reaction of uncomfortable hesitation and fear, this is quickly thrown away so Ayumi can say “cool!” and “awesome,” learn to throw fireballs or encase enemies in ice, and then run to the next altar. I was slightly disappointed, as I liked the idea of Ayumi struggling to come to terms with an alien world and mysterious altars as opposed to accepting the concept so quickly.
Ayumi is a constant chatterbox, but she has nothing of worth to say. She persistently points out the obvious and useless. As soon as the player walks into a desert, Ayumi chimes in: “This is a desert!” After working her way through a volcano, she reminds the player that we just exited a volcano. Despite her talking endlessly, players will barely remember anything she says because so little of it is important. Her voice actress adopts a faux-British accent in what might be an attempt to sound sophisticated, yet she never manages to muster up any emotion. I’ve heard people react with more alarm to a spider in their kitchen than what Ayumi uses to respond to a volcano eruption or a hostile golem. The monotone accent combined with the constant talking meant that when Ayumi fell off a bridge or died to a spider that I took a small sense of delight in seeing the karma. You’ll find it hard to sympathize with the protagonist at all. The spirits of the altars and monsters of the island use generic spooky voices. The rest of the sound in this game, from music to the noise of combat, is forgettable and average. While it’s not offensively bad, it’s not anything to write home about either.
Altogether, I would recommend Blades of Time only under specific circumstances. If you’re looking for mindless fun that doesn’t require any brainpower and you stumble across this game in a bargain bin, it’s perfect for your needs. Under any other conditions, I’d suggest you pass.
Blades of Time receives a 3.25/5.0
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