Black Rock Shooter: The Game is a pretty unique prospect. It arrived in Japan in 2011 as the first videogame follow-up to the popular manga and anime series, and now, two years later, it’s ready for an international release.
As a mix of both RPG and action concepts, describing Black Rock Shooter: The Game is fairly difficult. One thing is for sure though — the experience is the very definition of “niche.”
The concept of the Black Rock Shooter franchise is fairly simple to grasp. Throughout all of the IP’s various bits of media, the universe may change, but there is one constant — there is always a mysterious girl named Black Rock Shooter, and she always kicks major ass. In this particular world, the year is 2051, decades after a galactic war ravaged the planet. Black Rock Shooter herself awakens during the apocalypse, and has to assist the last humans alive in ridding the world of aliens. That’s where you come in, as you blast baddies into oblivion for roughly 15 hours of play.
Black Rock Shooter: The Game is entirely a subbed affair with full voice acting with Japanese audio. Right there, that would be enough to alienate a lot of people, not to mention the fact that it essentially plays out like an anime OVA in videogame form. Now, that’s not a bad thing of course, because BRS is actually a JRPG with some pretty cool concepts. Despite the fact that it looks like a full on action shooter, this is a classic “roam the overworld until you’re touched by an enemy, swish-transition screen starts an encounter” JRPG — like Chrono Trigger, but with more involved combat.
After coming in contact with a foe, BRS has her massive cannon and weapon arsenal at her disposal — but she can’t just blast them willy nilly. If you utilize too many attacks or dodge too many times in succession, you’ll overheat, which leaves you open to attack. You have to constantly manage your block, dodge, and offensive abilities as you decide which enemies to take on first, and which weapons to use in what situations. It makes combat more engaging, and serves to eliminate the feeling of “ugh…not again” when you fight in the most menial of encounters. To be clear, there isn’t 100% freedom of movement like, say, Phantasy Star Online, but it’s not turn based either.
Things never really get that difficult at all, but the ability to be slightly more mobile in combat than your average RPG makes it feel more advanced than your average static JRPG turn based engine. While a full-on arena based combat system would ultimately be preferred, fans of the genre will still feel right at home, and satisfied. Exploration is also a key factor, as hidden chests and items may augment your skills permanently, which inspires you to check out as much of the environment as you can using basic platforming mechanics. Yep, there’s even classic JRPG save points as well, which really brings the old school veneer to the forefront.
When I say “old school,” I really mean it, as the antiquated graphics look outdated, even for a PSP release. Note that this is not a proper Vita game; it’s actually a two year old localized PSP title. The Vita can utilize second analog nub (if set to L/R) to control the camera, but you’re going to see a distinctly PSP experience, mostly due to the extremely limited draw distances, despite the fact that the art and character designs are as gorgeous as ever.
In terms of content, while the game is a JRPG, it’s on the lighter side at around 15 hours of play. There’s a decent amount of post-game content after everything is said and done, as well as another ending, extra stages, and unlocks. Given that the game is offered at the budget price of $19.99, there’s a ton on offer here.
At the end of the day, Black Rock is a very niche game that won’t really appeal to anyone who isn’t already aware of the franchise. But at the same time, it has a solid foundation of action-RPG tenets that should resonate with a larger audience. If you’ve been jonesing for a JRPG, and enjoy easy to pick up yet deep combat systems, Black Rock Shooter may be your huckleberry.
This review is based on a digital copy of Black Rock Shooter: The Game for the PSP, played on a PlayStation Vita.