Impressions: Bladestorm

Koei’s latest takes us to unfamiliar territory – Western Europe. Instead of duking it out with exaggerated caricatures from Romance of the Three Kingdoms, Bladestorm sets you right in the middle of the conflict between England and France during the Hundred Years’ War. It’s a much more somber experience that plays as differently as it looks and feels.

Instead of forcing you to choose one side or the other, you play the role of a mercenary captain who can control groups of soldiers at will. Once you’re on the battlefield, you’ll see various squads (footmen, cavalry, and archers in the demo, though there seems to be many more in the final game) that you can take the reigns of just by walking up to them and hitting X. From there, combat lies someone in-between Koei’s other series Dynasty Warriors and Kessen. What you’re going to be doing most of the time is running headlong into the enemy holding R1 to have your soldiers auto-attack.

Certainly each type of squad has its own nuances, though, mostly characterized by style of movement and three special skills that are mapped to the other face buttons. Most of them run on a timer, meaning that you can’t apply them in succession and will need to strategize depending on when and how you might need to use them. Do enough damage and you’ll raise morale enough to go into Bladestorm, the titular and perfunctory “super” mode where you’ll deal more damage, faster, and take less in return. I found that the demo doesn’t really tax your tactical ability too much, though, which makes me wonder how essential it will be to use your abilities in the retail version. The presence of these mechanics imply that they should be, but I didn’t have much of a problem pile driving through enemies with a simple auto-attack (aside from using the archers, whose only attacks are their special skills). I’m going to give it the benefit of the doubt and chalk it up to the low difficulty scenario that the demo throws you into.

The way the gameplay is structured makes it feel much more strategic than the hack-and-slash stylings of Dynasty Warriors, but the pacing is undoubtedly going to turn some people off. I’m not even sure what I think of it at this point, as it appears to have potential when tossed into more exciting conflicts, but I just wasn’t seeing it here. The enemy AI is just about as brain-dead as it is in any Koei game, so that might be part of the problem, but it’s nice to finally have your fellow soldiers back you up (and even that’s only because you’re controlling them like a band of puppets).

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Bladestorm remains a Koei game through and through, from the demure (but smooth) graphics and terrible voice acting (dear god, the French accents!) to the depth of character customization. As usual, you can equip your captain with trinkets and equipment that will enhance their abilities and you’ll gain levels by slaying the opposition in battle. There weren’t many options for toying with these aspects in the demo and that, as with so many other buts, is something I expect to be expanded upon when Bladestorm is on the shelves.

I can’t say I had a spectacular amount of fun with the demo, but certain ideas intrigued me and I’m not sure that combat on a mass scale has been handled in the Bladestorm deals with it before. It’s also nice to see Koei attempting to tackle non-Asian historical conflicts, though either through a lack of knowledge or notable historical figures, it doesn’t end up as ornate or overblown as their previous games do. Usually, that’s half the fun.

I’ve got far too many other games to buy this season and I have a feeling that Bladestorm just isn’t strong enough to purchase right now. It certainly seems to have the breadth and length to last a long time (you can play the demo missions for pretty much as long as you want), but Bladestorm sounds like something to buy during the post-holiday slump, if at all.

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~ by Cavin Smith on October 7, 2007.

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