In all honesty, when I first heard about this game, I expected a saga of hacking and slashing and general ninja-ing that would have Bruce Lee turning in his grave; I expected very Japanese-style action with oversized, compensatory sword-waving and I expected cut scenes that screamed anime, playing host to scantily clad, heavily endowed women and men who could crush a real human skull between their buttocks. In fact, not all of these turned out to be true, as will be explored later. As one yet to be fully swayed by the likes of Devil May Cry and Ninja Gaiden, though not averse to those types of games, I entered into my first play of the demo with an air of trepidation and a mild feeling of unease.
With the menu screen, the game greets the player with a panoramic cityscape, sky-scraping edifices and bright lights dotting and dashing their way across the screen. Opting to start the demo, not that there were any other options, I take a deep breath and prepare to discover whether my preconceptions will get the better of me, or whether I will enjoy the game.
Hawked as a “Cinematic Action Game” from the off, I was not surprised to be met with a cut scene. While the textures were nicely implemented and the facial expressions of the characters were pleasant on the eyes, the voice acting didn’t come up to scratch, amounting to a very tired “for honour!” style monologue set to the throaty groan of the plane. Yes, the plane. Clearly, the generic qualities of the sky-dive opening were lost on creators FromSoftware, who subsequently zoomed right past the exit for Originaltown and raced on ahead to Quick Time City. Yes, the first input I get in the entire game and it’s a quick time event. By now, I am apprehensive to say the least.
During the long, languishing gaps between any button-pressing during the drop, I am left to look at the visuals, which while of good quality, have very few distinguishing features about them. The cityscape could quite easily have been copied from fellow Slasher game, Ninja Gaiden II, from which Ninja Blade (henceforth ‘Blade’) seems to have modelled itself. Lacking the beautiful, heavily stylized architecture and environment design of Devil May Cry 4’s first level, Blade’s graphics are very forgettable.
Finally being able to jump into some action, I am not surprised to see that the controls bear the same set-up as with many games in the genre: X and Y. There are, of course, other buttons, but again, as with many other games, none are needed. Taking my trusty blade to my first rival, I am led to discover that the fluidity that is inherently tied with Hack’n’Slash games has been lost. Somewhere along the line, one of the designers has decided that attacking enemies should no-longer feel like a hot knife through butter, but a fat man trying to chew his way through a brick wall. The attacks are just not rewarding enough to make it an enjoyable feature of the title, and as all of the game is hinged upon this pivotal mechanic, things are not looking good for Blade.
After slicing (or chewing, slowly chewing) my way through the first onslaught, I am met with another, strangely extended, quick time event: Running from a monster. This time, while still not requiring any demanding level of input, the much lauded “cinematic” experience makes its first true appearance. The animations are smooth and realistic and the quick time section climaxes in a visceral sprint DOWN the side of a building. Some interesting moves are observed here, as the dimension of the fighting changes dimension to a vertical, on-wheels scenario. All that is left is the giant spider-thing, Arachne.
With my hopes raised by the cinematic prowess of the previous section, I was looking forward and up to an apocalyptic battle with the giant, fire-breathing, many-legged freak, but was disappointed with what proceeded: A sigh-inducing, hack, hack, hack more and repeat situation. The battle ends with a mildly intriguing finishing sequence, again a quick time vent, and with very mixed feelings milling around in my mind, the demo came to an end.
With such fluid cinematic sequences and quick time events, I am left baffled as to why FromSoftware removed the flow from the game with a laboured battle mechanic and a clunky boss battle. If the demo level is representative of the rest of the story, players could find themselves becoming bored with the beautiful, yet repetitive quick time events and the tiring, unrewarding monotony that is the main combat.
With the demo set to slowly slice its way out of the closet on Monday the 9th of March, and the full game releasing on the 3rd of April, I can only recommend that you download the free demo and have a bash at it yourself. The game is only likely to resonate with Hack’n’Slash fans, but I question whether that group of players has already been spoiled by titles such as DMC4 and NGII.