I wanted to like Blade Dancer much more than this. I liked what NIS showed me at E3, and the concepts behind this game seemed sound at the time. But after getting my mitts on this superbly average RPG I come away disappointed and at times infuriated by the things this game does to suck out what fun I had previously anticipated. It follows the old ‘one step forward, two steps back’ axiom and winds up being a lot more frustrating than it should have been. Strictly vanilla is the best way to describe this title, with its generic characters, plodding story, and generally unfriendly interface. It’s hard to find anything to love about this game. What’s worse is that this is still one of the better RPGs in the PSP library, and barely has enough to keep it endearing enough to play through.
Here’s a little time line of events as I went through this game. Within the first hour I had no clue on where to go, I had to deliver sandwiches to three people in town and I was supposed to make my way to the Lunar Tower. I spent the second hour appraising items and then selling stuff to find the components to craft the stuff I had just broken down. By the third hour I’m out and about in the fields running in to mobs of monsters, I’m digging the battle system, but I’m getting really pissed off that my weapons are breaking. I’ve found this guy in the forest who attacked me for little reason and then decided to join my party. I still have no idea on where to go… Okay by the fourth hour I’m wandering through zones with an idea on where to go, just no direction on how to get there.
I made a good amount of progress from there, recruited the rest of my party and started to make my way across the island of Foo in an attempt to stop the Dread Knight. I would like this story more if the game gave me the proper direction in which to go. I find it painful to slog through this deluge of zones without a map indicator to lead me back to my point of origin or to my intended destination. I’ve got a number of the zones memorized but I still find myself getting lost quite a bit. There is no large map to tell me what zones connect to where and it puts a major hurt on this title. Couple this with the fact that you move across the world at a slow pace and you’re going to put this down faster than you picked it up.
As you struggle to wander through the requisite forest and desert landscapes you’re going to run in to a large number of monsters. If Blade Dancer didn’t have such an enjoyable battle system then I would have shelved this game a lot sooner, but it has a very functional system that plays like how I would expect something like Final Fantasy XI or even World of Warcraft to. None of this auto-attack nonsense that I have no control over. Instead you see an enemy out on the field, you can check to see how difficult a fight it will be or how many enemies you’re up against, and then you run in to their avatar. Once battle begins there is a timer for each character, once it completes a rotation then you can make a move. There is a meter at the top of the screen called the Luna Bar, which functions as magic points for the entire party. This bar is also shared with your enemies which provides for a nice amount of strategy in fights. Do you save all of the Luna power to let out one massive attack? Or do you use it as the Luna Bar is filled keeping the amount of available energy low? Early going it’ll be rough, with one party member the weapons break frequently, and it’s easy to get outmatched by some of the mobs.
The only downside to battle is the fact that weapons have durability. This causes for a great deal of frustration as there is no numerical value to give you a rough idea on how many more attacks you get, only a colored bar below the HP meter that is at times difficult to keep your eyes on. Also defensive equipment is murderously expensive and weapons cannot be repaired, only crafted or purchased, this is to gently push you towards the crafting element of the game which is quite complex but more than it really needed to be. For instance you find a piece of armor, first it needs to be appraised which will cause it to break down to its components. The problem here is that they are not the base components, so what you may end up with is a lower level piece of armor and one crafting item to augment it. Once a weapon or piece of armor has been broken down you are given the recipe to make the item again. If you don’t want to check for recipes the equipment stores will tell you what the item is made of. It is possible to craft multiple items depending on who is crafting them and if they match the item’s element. Take Lance, he can craft one potion, and is of a fire element. Felis is of the water element and when she crafts the item then she can make three of them. The chances of failure and success are also dependant upon the color of the moon so be aware of that when you attempt to make new stuff. I must say that I hated this system at first but it eventually grew on me just because I was able to save so much money.
Sadly this game isn’t much of a looker, with graphics that are circa 2000, this game looks like a late generation PS1/first generation PS2 title. The locales are very bland, save for a few that look very impressive on the PSP screen. The characters models are probably the best looking things in the game, monsters and NPCs have a good amount of detail to them, but the overall look of the game is very plain. Music is fairly basic as well, but I like it a lot better than the music of the last game I checked out; Valkyrie Profile. The other major thing about a good RPG, a story is also severely lacking. The characters all seem very shallow, and have little definition to them; they feel as though they are just along for the ride. The main antagonist the Dread Knight also just feels far too plain, and doesn’t instill much fear or hatred I could normally have for a great enemy. When story segments occur they go by very quickly and only serve to give you a weak reason to move from point A to point B.
One of the interesting little additions to this game is the use of a network mode. You and three others can team up in an ad-hoc game and play together. The online game takes place in special instance dungeons that yield items that can be brought back to the normal game. Weapons that normally break also don’t lose durability here, and treasure is determined by the party member you choose to use. In Network mode you can have a party of whomever you like, even multiple characters. The only downside to this is finding four people locally to play this game with. If this had an infrastructure mode I think it would have flown much better.
Blade Dancer wound up being a big disappointment to me, mainly because it’s a bunch of little things that make the experience more difficult than it really needed to be. Map icons would have been a massive leap towards fixing what has to be my biggest issue with the game. The story also hurts this game when it should have been its greatest strength. The battle system is enjoyable, and the crafting system is fun, even if a bit overwhelming at first. It’s not much to keep this game running on and you’ll be hard pressed to see this one through to the end. But if you’ve got an itch for an RPG that needs a scratching or if you really cannot find a better way to spend your time and money, then this may be right up your alley.