Other than hamburgers and The White Album, the one thing most people seem to be able to agree on is titties. Ever since the dawn of mankind, these lumps of tantalizing chest flesh have taunted men and lesbians alike, causing some of the greatest conflicts in history. Helen Of Troy was known as The Rack That Launched A Thousand Ships; the Crusades were started when a bunch of repressed Christian males got jealous of a few sexually liberated Muslim societies; and I’m fairly sure that Albert Einstein discovered the theory of relativity to help explain why breasts bounce at such sultry, delicious speeds. Yes, breasts are the spice of life, but just like nutmeg and saffron, they don’t go well with everything. X-Blades is a game that realized somewhere along the way that hack-and-slash gameplay had evolved a little since Gauntlet and, in a panic, someone must have decided to slap chest hams all over it. While it’s far from shockingly terrible, X-Blades is a rare example of a game that is brought down by its art design, not propelled forward.
Taking the role of Ayumi, who is a treasure hunter or real estate agent or hooker or something, players must navigate through a labyrinthine island full of monsters and… well that’s pretty much it. After a completely bizarre introduction featuring no dialog whatsoever, Ayumi decides that she’s never going to shut up, ever, and steals a ball from an angry werewolf, or something. The ball turns into goop, and eats her, I think, and then she wakes up on said island and must fight everything. I’ll be frank; even by fantasy standards, the story is laughable, and Ayumi’s grating character design doesn’t help. Not only does she dress like a mentally challenged stripper, but she acts like one too; her voice is like some abrasive form of aural cleavage, something that-would-be-nice-to-experience-every-now-and-then-but-for-God’s-sake-put-it-away-thank-you-very-much. What’s worse is the fact that the developers aren’t hiding the fact that they’re trying to appeal to the anime-loving otaku crowd, but for some reason, failed to design a character that would actually appeal to them. The whole thing just comes across as phony.
It’s a shame, really, because the basic gameplay isn’t half bad. X-Blades feels like Devil May Cry thrust into a classic Gauntlet-esque situation, giving the player a vast arsenal of stylish magic attacks, as well as swords and guns and what have you. Controlling Ayumi is simple, and her animations are sleek and smooth. Unfortunately, the level design is a huge let-down. While the general action is fun, it takes place in a dismal style that was old when the SNES hit the market – enter an arena, beat everything up, move to the next arena, beat everything up, and so on until the level is over. That’s it. No exploration, no puzzles worth mentioning, not even a clever presentation to cover up the simplistic gameplay. There is literally a giant portal that appears, spits out enemies, and then disappears after you’ve beaten enough. To add insult to injury, “enough” often means “way too many”, making an already tired mechanic even more boring.
It’s too bad, because in some ways, X-Blades could have been a fun exercise in self-aware game design. Instead, it doesn’t really know what it wants to be, and it never puts anything forward to justify its existence. Ayumi is annoying, the gameplay is boring, and the acting is absolutely atrocious. Devil May Cry already did the whole campy hack-n-slash satire thing, and to be frank, did a better job of showcasing lady lumps as well. In the end, X-Blades is a whole load of bad ideas pushed together into one colossal mistake. It’s pretty and titillating, but just like a real prostitute, your money is better spent elsewhere.