Black Rock Shooter: The Game has had a rough time leaving Japan. First announced by developer Imageepoch in 2010, a localisation was later confirmed to be handled by NIS America. After the announcement, however, both Imageepoch and NIS America went almost totally silent, every so often tossing out a brief reassurance that the game was still on the way when suddenly at the beginning of April this year it was announced that the game would indeed be released later that month via PSN.
Surely, since NIS America held onto this game for so long it must be rather special. A glorious note in the PSP’s swansong.
As it turns out, despite being the best game based on a music video that I’ve ever played, that’s not the case.
In 2023, Earth comes under attack from a mysterious alien threat. The ensuing conflict devastates the planet, turning it into a warzone. 19 years later, the last 12 surviving humans awaken an android named Black Rock Shooter in one final bid to win the war and avenge the 7 billion people whose lives have been claimed so far.
The plot isn’t anything special, but I rather enjoy the basic setup and the way everything is told in the first few chapters. As you make your way through missions, the 12 soldiers will constantly chatter over radio, discussing things like movies, their favourite foods, and potential birthday celebrations. It never rises above typical sci-fi fare, but it’s entertaining enough that it never really bothered me. Sadly, as the plot slowly shifts focus away from the soldiers and onto BRS and the alien threat, the story becomes far too convoluted for its own good, the writing simply isn’t strong enough to capitalise on the ideas present.
Things are a little better in the gameplay department, but not by very much. The combat is a curious third person shooter-esque system. BRS stands in place and can fire at targets, block incoming attacks to reduce damage received, or attempt to dodge attacks and avoid taking damage entirely. Players can also map four special moves to be used in combat by holding down the R button and pressing one of the four face buttons.
These moves perform various functions ranging from simply dishing out damage to boosting stats temporarily. Attacking and dodging gradually fills a Heat Gauge that sends BRS into an overheated state if the gauge fills entirely. When overheated, BRS is unable to perform any actions whatsoever, and must wait for it to empty before acting again. Shots also gradually get weaker as the gauge fills up, so players must act with care rather than shooting and dodging with reckless abandon.
The combat system contains several decent ideas that never feel fully fleshed out, and the combat never changes outside of the introduction of passive skills that confer various bonuses during battles. Combat is also fairly frequent, so the game succumbs to repetition more often than not, in spite of this, the core combat system is somewhat enjoyable, if not particularly noteworthy.
In fact, repetition is the game’s biggest flaw, really. The combat is repetitive, the mission structure feels like someone stretched Crisis Core’s side missions out into a full game, leaving missions feeling samey, and exploration is never more than simply wandering around, occasionally venturing slightly off the beaten path to find items and terminals that unlock bonus content. There are challenges in every mission that unlock things such as stat bonuses, costumes and concept art, but they ultimately stick to a very basic template and they’re never particularly difficult, usually just tasking the player with “killing X amount of enemies”.
When the game makes an effort to inject a little bit of variety, it’s greatly appreciated but ultimately feels rather half-hearted. For example, there’s a mission early on that requires BRS to commandeer a bike. The biking sections are enjoyable enough if a little long-winded, and they ultimately feel like a welcome change of pace, but they exist in that mission and that mission only.
BRS is fairly short, and can be completed in around 10 or 11 hours, a little more if you want to complete every challenge. This brevity is honestly welcome, as the mechanics, while somewhat tiresome over the course of the game’s runtime, would become endlessly boring in a far longer game.
As down as I sound on the game, I can’t say I regret my time spent with it. The game is visually decent for the system and despite the poor writing, I didn’t have a bad time with the story. The combat is largely disappointing because of what it could have been had the developers spent a little more time working on it rather than what it is.
Imageepoch is a studio brimming with ambition and genuinely solid ideas; they just don’t have the skill nor the drive needed to really make use of it. With a little more time, BRS could have been a great game, but as it stands it’s decent at best. Fun in short bursts, grating in extended periods, I wouldn’t tell anyone to stay away from this one, but caution is advised should you choose to pick it up.