Platform: PlayStation 4
Review Date: 5/8/17
Misa is a Japanese high school student who is also a Blade Templar. That means she wears a short pleated skirt and carries an enchanted katana. Her reckless friend Suzuka gets possessed by a Demon Blade, which gives her immense power, but also sucks the life out of her. Naturally, Misa must rescue her friend from the blade's influence, but first she has to fight her way through a seemingly endless stream of sword wielding bad guys, killer robots, and ferocious demons.
This obviously sounds right up my alley, but the presentation is dull, the uninspired graphics lack variety, and the action is overly repetitive. The entire game consists of defeating wave after wave of increasingly difficult adversaries while confined in a small circular arena. The arena changes appearance after you clear each stage, but the enemies pretty much remain the same. The story (what little there is) is told through short scripted cutscenes between stages where Misa repeatedly pleads with Suzuka to abandon the Demon Blade.
Fortunately, the game realizes what it is and can be completed in a couple of hours. The action never varies and the game demands mastery through repetition. The whole thing feels more like a tech demo for a fighting engine than anything else, but the mechanics are deep and solid. As you earn experience, you can upgrade Misa's skills to give her a competitive edge against increasingly powerful foes. While these new skills are flashy and powerful, they force you to rethink how you play the game, because simple button mashing no longer works. This creates a frequently frustrating and challenging learning curve, and the thrill of combat wears off after an hour or so.
Graphically, the game is solidly mediocre. Misa looks fantastic, but the enemies are bland and uninteresting. A couple of the arenas are pleasant looking, but nothing out of the ordinary. Music and sound effects are average, and the uncooperative camera can be a nuisance. Often times, Misa gets attacked by foes who are off-screen, which is always annoying. What I find curious is that even with all of the repetitive gameplay, this sort of "beat 'em up" action is something that I typically enjoy. I think its biggest failing from a design perspective is the fact that the scenery only changes every twenty minutes or so, which makes someone like me lose interest very quickly. If Misa were able to move to a new area after each enemy wave instead of just having more enemies materialize out of thin air, it would create a sense of progess and treat the player to new art. That would be something the player could look forward to, instead of just waiting for a "Stage Clear" message to eventually appear.
As a budget title that can be downloaded for less than $15, it's not a bad way to spend a couple of hours if you have a thing for sword fighting school girls. Of course, I had to get the limited edition physical disc, which costs considerably more and isn't really worth the extra expense. But I hate digital downloads and I choose to support physical media whenever I get the opportunity.