|What can I say about Blaze and Blade that hasnt already
been said? The game was originally released in 1997 for the PlayStation, so weve had
a lot of time to get used to it. Just lately its been ported to the PC, and from the
early reviews it wasnt exactly highly anticipated. What hasnt been said yet
about Blaze and Blade is what great fun it is and how you cant live another day
without it. Id say that, but then Id be lying. And my mamma taught me not to
So, what sort of beast is Blaze and Blade, then? The big hook for the game this time around seems to be the "anime-styled characters." I remember when Septerra Core was released and the PR spin similarly relied on the "cool" factor imparted upon your product by giving it an anime slant. But the whole "anime-styled" thing is bogus. Go ahead, I dare you to find a half-dozen RPGs imported from Japan that arent "anime-styled." Its not like the Japanese have made a big secret of their drawing or animation style, and you can buy a book in any comic shop about how to create your own anime-styled characters. I love my manga and anime as much as the next otaku, but dont be suckered in by the whole spiel its like selling the game with the big promise, "Its Japanese and it looks Japanese!"
But I digress. Blaze and Blade does, in fact, have anime-styled characters. And the images on the box and in the FMVs are dang cute. Its a mostly standard RPG featuring "superdeformed" (Id like to see them use that phrase in a press release) sprites and 3D, rendered backgrounds, along the lines of the better PSX titles Xenogears and FFVII. You begin the game watching a pretty cool cinema sequence, then creating your party. You can make as many characters as you want, choosing from the pseudo-medieval basics: wizard, rogue, fighter, etc. You turn over point cards to determine how many bonus points each character will get. You can keep turning over the cards until you get the maximum number of points, 18, or bored. Odds are it will be the latter that gets you to move on to the screen where you can assign them to different run-of-the-mill attributes such as strength, magic, constitution, etc. After assigning bonus points, you can name your character, associate them with a particular element, which affects the skills and/or spells you begin with, and pick a style of language, cool, old, polite, etc.
At first all this seems a little overwhelming, but fortunately not much of it matters at all. The language difference is shown through the use of different caption frames, and there is no real dialogue in the game. Occasionally youll happen upon a situation where you need a character of a certain profession, e.g. a rogue to pick a lock, but you can always restart that section with a different member in your party. You choose four characters for the party, and you can play with up to four friends. But get this: You cannot play a multiplayer game via a network. Nope, you all have to huddle around the keyboard and game pads. It sounds strange, but after beginning the play it makes sense.
In Blaze and Blade your party trails around right after the leader. If you are playing with others, each person can move around his/her character as they wish. In single player games the computer controls the other characters. The AI is pretty decent. Computer controlled characters will dutifully whack at monsters, although they are easily fooled by flying beasts and the like.
You begin the game in the Inn, where you can save your game and talk to some of the locals. Eventually youll hear about an adventure to go on, nothing too complex or interesting. After asserting that there is, indeed, nothing to do but explore the ruins or whatever, you head out into the world map. From there you pick the area you want to visit, and you are transported to the beginning of things that seem very similar to levels. As you wander around different monsters pop up and you fight them. Eventually you get to a bigger monster, beat some important foe, or find what you were looking for, and the whole routine starts over.
Its the little things that ruin Blaze and Blade. The lack of dialogue is bad, and highlighted by the option that allows you to pick the "style" of speech for your character. As you wander around, you are forced to talk to everyone you come close to, even if youve heard their drawn out monologue a million times before. The control is awkward on the keyboard, really being customized for game pads, but the game also doesnt necessarily like all gamepads, including my very basic MS SideWinder. The background graphics are slightly improved over the PSX version, of course, but the character sprites are absolutely horrible. Sharp edges and pixelated textures make the anime-styled cuteness a moot point. In addition, the game just keeps going and going. There is no real story to it, and no real incentive to keep playing.
All these small things, while not enough to add up to an unplayable game, make Blaze and Blade thoroughly unenjoyable. Even on the PlayStation it wasnt a stand-out title, and the PC version is no different. While a truly Japanese game is something of a novelty on the PC, this isnt the title to start with. If you were even only slightly disappointed with FFVIII, youll hate Blaze and Blade. Unless youve got a hankering for some old-school console action, in which case Id suggest forking over the $50 for a used PSX, admire the anime-styled artwork on the box and move along.