The year is 2051. Earth has plunged into chaos, having been turned into a catastrophic warzone from an unexpected alien attack 19 years prior. What is left of humanity are twelve men fighting for their lives in this futile war, preparing for the worst. In this dark time, there is no wish more desired than a saviour. Someone that can stand toe-to-toe against these heartless invaders. That saviour is named Black Rock Shooter.
At first glance, Black Rock Shooter: The Game appears to have the potential to deliver an interesting premise, with a multitude of characters and a dark setting. The gloomy atmosphere and the fear of being alone is one of the game’s major themes, but somehow the story fails to offer any kind of emotional impact over the course of the game, spiralling into a horribly disjointed experience. The plot is a confusing hodge-podge, providing near zero background knowledge of the world and its characters, leaving players confused as to what’s actually going on within this supposedly complex war.
Over the course of her journey, the Black Rock Shooter finds out more about herself, but only to an extent, and by the end of the game, it really doesn’t matter much, due to the weak writing and gaping plot holes.
In addition to the weak and confusing storytelling aspect, characters in Black Rock Shooter: The Game are constructed from the stereotypical clichés present in most anime. Furthermore, character interactions feel forced and unnatural, and listening to them interact in-game can be awkward at times. For example, the game attempts a Metal Gear Solid-esque vibe during communications in-game, where a system similar to MGS’ Codec is used. Unlike MGS, though, the conversations range from laughable to aggravating, and provide no real help in understanding the story or setting better. Character motivation are underplayed, and as a result, it is very difficult to care for any of the characters introduced.
Black Rock Shooter’s one saving grace aside from its aesthetics is its gameplay, where it attempts to splice a third-person shooter element into what is essentially an RPG. It seems bizarre at first, but the system really works, as the main character utilises a cannon to dispatch her enemies. In BRS, enemies are visible on the world map, and coming into contact with them will shift her onto a different plane where gameplay switches to a third-person shooter style. There are 3 basic actions BRS can do in combat—shoot, guard and dodge.
Shooting and dodging will slowly fill up your Heat Gauge, and when it is completely filled, BRS will go into an overheated state and become unable to perform any actions. Guarding, on the other hand, does not fill up the Heat Gauge, but it will completely halt its recovery. Managing the Heat Gauge is essential for survival, and enemy attacks can get quite varied in the later stages, which makes battles quite intense. Learning to dodge and guard at the best possible moments can be a challenge, and coming out of a battle unscratched can be quite satisfying.
Skills are another essential feature of combat and they must be equipped in a loadout before they can be used in battle. BRS can equip a maximum of four combat skills in a loadout, and unlimited amount of passive skills, assuming she has learnt them beforehand. Learning skills involve BRS completing challenges, which can range from killing a certain amount of enemies to killing specific enemies with specific skills. Usually, it’s the former. Skills do not require MP to cast, but they have a specific cooldown timer, with the stronger ones requiring longer cooldown.
In the event that you need to heal, you can access an item menu that will the provide necessary resources for healing. When the item menu is opened, time will also stop, giving you ample moment to strategize or even take a breather from the relentless enemy attacks before deciding on the best course of action to take next. However, caution must be applied as items can only be obtained from enemies and treasure chests. There are no shops in the game, sp to stock up on healing items, you’ll need to kill several weak enemies first and hope they drop the necessary item before taking on the more difficult bosses.
As an RPG, Black Rock Shooter is a sharp steer from the traditional format since there’s also no equipment to be found, no shops selling items, and no NPCs to talk to throughout the game, aside from a single mission.
Black Rock Shooter is structured for portable play. Load times are non-existent , which is always a plus in a portable game, and story missions are separated into bite sized chapters, which makes it perfect to play on the go. Missions are usually around the 10 – 15-minute mark; unfortunately, save points are the only method of saving and there is no suspend save function to be found in game. Dying is also not penalised, as challenge completion is still counted whenever BRS dies, as long as the “Retry” option is selected instead of “load”.
On the downside, Black Rock Shooter feels like it’s been artificially padded a little too much at times. Quite a number of missions require BRS to defeat all the aliens in the area before proceeding, which can be bothersome when you are trying to speed run through the game, or to just enter the battle phase and end it with a single shot due to being over-levelled, wasting precious time. Additionally, while it’s commendable that the game tries to include variety in its missions by having a level dedicated to dodging and slashing enemies on a bike with style, this aspect of it is very underutilized. The bike missions are quite enjoyable by themselves and it would have been nice to see more of these levels but with different enemy attack patterns.
Ultimately, Black Rock Shooter: The Game looks like an anime and plays like one, but a mediocre one at that. The combat manages to eclipse the weak writing, but only to an extent, and it feels like none of the potential the story had was tapped even in the slightest. The main story can be completed in roughly 9-11 hours, and there’s some post-game content for completionists to unlock as well, ranging from costumes to concept art. Unfortunately, the game simply tries to pack too much into a short amount of time and the result is less than satisfactory.
Food for thought:
1. BRS’ soundtrack is amazingly good. Imageepoch has some really good composers in-house. Check out the Fate/Extra and 7th Dragon 2020 soundtracks, too, if you’re interested in hearing some of their work.
2. BRS comes with Japanese audio with subtitles. Some boss encounters are not subtitled, but these consist only of a few spoken lines.
3. The Character designs by Black Rock Shooter creator Huke are fantastic, and they translate well into polygons. Overall, the game is very stylish.
4. There are some localisation discrepancies with the aliens’ names, but these are for the better, as the original readings are impossible to pronounce and the localised reading are taken from the aliens’ katakana names.