Amongst the PC gaming community, there’s a definite negative attitude towards console games. Chalk it up to elitist attitudes, different taste in games, or even the fact that games that cross between the two types generally aren’t that good, or are poor quality ports. RPG fans in particular are notorious for their dislike of console RPGs. One can guess that it’s because console RPGs tend to be much more linear and story-based, whereas PC RPGs stress exploration and non-linearity.
Or perhaps its just dislike based off of one too many console-to-PC ports like Blaze & Blade.
Yeah, there are demons and treasure and stuff.
Long ago, in a generic fantasy land like any other (it has a name, but in all honesty, I can’t remember what it is – moreover, it’s entirely irrelevant), there was an ancient, powerful civilization. Twelve of the leaders of this civilization, known as the Twelve Wise Men, decided to use their powers and began creating demons. While one can question how wise you really are if you’re creating demons on a regular basis, the inevitable happened – they messed up, and created demons more powerful than themselves. As a result, the civilization was destroyed.
Somewhere down the line, humanity is recovering nicely, despite the setback of being nearly eradicated. However, as anyone with knowledge of videogame clichés knows, there are two things that must hold true in such a scenario:
1) Where there are demons and monsters, there’s treasure.
2) Where there’s treasure, there’s a motivation to go kill things and get rich.
And so, adventurers routinely brave the land, looking for their meal tickets, and possibly a name for themselves.
You control one such band of adventurers, looking for ruins and loot. And that’s really about it. Honest.
I don’t know what to say about the plot. I mean, it’s there, and it gives a bare justification for running around killing evil creatures, but that’s about it. There’s not even any attachment to your adventurers – they have no personalities. Actually, they do – when you create a character, you get to choose their personality, from such options as “quiet”, “polite”, and “old” (yes, old). This determines their dialogue when they read a sign, open a trapped chest, or taunt an Evil Boss Monster(tm). You also get to choose what hair/clothing color they have (from 4 choices per character type). If choosing from 8 sets of sparse, poorly written lines and 4 hair colors constitutes character personalities, then Blaze & Blade delivers.
I should mention one bright spot about the plot – near the very end, you can choose to either retire a filthy rich bastard, or kill the Ultimate Evil(tm). It’s nice to see a game allow you to be greedy and say, “Screw humanity!” Or maybe I was happy to end the game an hour early. Whatever.
Help! My hair disappeared like a cheap toupee!
Another thing many people have noticed about modern games is that bad games often have good graphics to make up for their other shortcomings. All rules must have exceptions, of course.
Blaze & Blade is a port of a PlayStation game. While I don’t know the exact year offhand, I’m guessing that it was fairly early in the console’s life span, or maybe it was THQ’s first attempt at polygonal graphics. Anyway, it shows. Character models are very low polygon, displaying a dismaying resemblance to those Fisher-Price(tm) people we all played with during our early years, but without the personality. Because of the low number of polygons, the characters sometimes break up, so that their hair falls out or their clothes half disappear for a brief time. I found this an amusing diversion from looking at the dungeons or monsters. Dungeons feature repeated textures over and over again, such as innovations like red lava, stone walls, and even desert sand. Monsters are equally low-polygon, and many are card-carrying holders of the Palette Swapping Club (apply now!).
The animation is very simple. When your warrior swings his sword, his arm goes down, and so does the sword. Priestesses do the same, only it’s a staff instead of a sword. Hunters pull a bowstring back and arrows magically appear in the air. You get the idea. Monsters mostly run into you rather than attacking – perhaps they lack joints, though the flying creatures do flap their wings (to their credit). When you jump, your characters appear to rise into the air without actually exerting any motion. It’s an impressive trick, actually.
There are also really brief videos as you begin and end the game, but the impact of seeing video is lost when you realize that it’s almost entirely text (along with what appears to be a stereotypical fantasy narrator reading it), and very poor video quality nonetheless. Still, the game’s on a CD, so it makes sense to use the space somehow. There is also anime-style artwork that appears occasionally, but your characters bear so little resemblance to the artwork that you have to wonder why the developers bothered in the first place (aside from the unwritten rule stating that console RPGs must contain anime influences).
When in a tavern, there must be tavern-style music!
I’ll be honest and say that I can’t really comment on the music. Not because I wasn’t listening to it – I had it enabled, and even had my speakers on. I just can’t remember a single musical phrase – a single one (I’m not kidding). I do remember that it was vaguely MIDI sounding, though. And it sounded like the kind of music that a medieval society might indeed produce.
The sound effects are also quite generic. When monsters die, there’s a monster dying sound. When you pick up gems, you hear a gem-picking-up style sound. Treasure chests have those required squeaky hinges, and big doors open in that big-door way we’ve come to know and love in our RPGs. Elemental magic also sounds like it should – ice spells sound like ice cubes tinkling in a glass, and wind has a whooshing sound.
Yes, the game has sounds.
Go around, kill stuff, baby-sit party members – sign me up!
Blaze & Blade is exactly what you’d expect from an action RPG – circa 1990, perhaps.
I mentioned the character creation above. You get to make a variety of adventurers (though you can only take 4 with you at any one time). There’s a warrior, dwarf, elf, rogue, hunter, priest, sorcerer, and fairy (the winged kind). To add variety, all of them come in both male AND female versions (though not at the same time). Each character also has a special ability – dwarves can bash stuff, elves can open magical doors, rogues can pick locks, and so on. These abilities are useful perhaps half a dozen times in the entire game, but at least they’re living up to their class stereotypes. To finish out, you put a few bonus points into their statistics, and then give them a name. The game can also select names for you, but it wasn’t very random – no matter how many times I let the computer choose, it came up with the exact same thing. Kind of like a metaphor for this game.
From there, you select 4 adventurers, and start the game. You start in the Roadside Inn (which might as well have been called “The Last Bastion of Humanity”, judging from how many other people I ran into in the game). The inn contains a lot of people who tell you stuff, like how you need to be stronger, and how they’re stronger than you, and how they’re drunk (lucky bastards). There’s also a guy who identifies your items, and even a storage chest to store items in. Really astonishing stuff.
From there, you go out into an area. Once there, you explore around, kill things, find treasure, and level up. You’ll be leveling up a lot – you can go up to level 200, and your characters gain power at an astonishing rate. This was apparently to show off the “Level-up shower of fireworks” effect, which you see quite often. You’ll also need to level up because that’s the only way to move on – if you’re not at approximately the right level for a dungeon or boss, you’ll get your rear handed to you repeatedly.
As you explore and level up, you’ll find save points (because it’s too much of a hassle to let us save when we want), more monsters, important items (ranging from keys to objects that function exactly like keys), and so on. There are also magical doors you can’t pass, which means that about halfway through the game when you’ve been through all the dungeons, you’ll realize that you’re not getting new dungeons – you’re going to have to go all the way back through the existing dungeons to reach the second half of them (and you’re going to have to do EVERYTHING again – dungeons totally reset when you leave).
The AI of the game is really poor. Enemies attack you, move, and attack some more. They’re mental giants as compared to your party members, though. While it’s assumed that the characters are of humanoid races, I got the strong suspicion that I was babysitting a bunch of lemmings in costumes. When you move, your party members move with you. Exactly. They jump with you. Exactly. They have no concept of leaving a line formation, and always take the quickest point to catch up to you – which typically involves the nearest chasm. They also don’t attack much, unless an enemy is in their range.
This brings me to another fundamental point. Spell casters are useless. Hand to hand fighters are useless too, unless you’re controlling them. I wish I was kidding, but I’m not. Spell casters will not cast spells. At all. Forget having a teammate cast a healing spell on you, or nuking the enemies – they’ll hit enemies with their staves if they’re right next to them, and that’s about it. Hand to hand combatants are equally useless. I mentioned before that my party was a warrior (whom I controlled) and 3 hunters. This was because the game only allows you to take a party of 4 out, and I figured that at least with 3 archers, my teammates wouldn’t spend their entire careers getting hit and picking their noses.
Now, to be fair, the game allows you to have up to 4 people playing at once, and I suppose in this scenario, you’d want a balanced party – it’d have that old Secret of Mana feel. In the interest of fairness, though, I should probably mention that if you’ve got friends, you wouldn’t want to make them play, unless it’s some sort of revenge thing. I’m assuming your friends would be more intelligent than the AI players, but that doesn’t make hacking repeatedly at monsters any more entertaining than it is here already.
There are also a few other fundamental flaws that simply baffle me. For starters, your characters are, inventory-wise, practically isolated. You can’t hand items between characters. Instead, if you really have something you want to give to someone else, you have to save, quit the game, and go to the “auction” menu. I’m not kidding. You have to have your characters pay each other to hand items to each other. To be fair, there’s absolutely no other use for money, but why can’t my warrior realize that he just picked up a bow, and give it to someone who could use it? Nope, it’s gotta be a market economy. Further, not all items can be traded, for no apparent reason. Have your sorcerer pick up a strength booster? You’ll now have a buff sorcerer. Whee!
Further reinforcing their lack of intelligence (or communication, apparently) is the scheme for identifying items. When you find objects, they’re unidentified, and you can’t use them. I suppose this is fair. If the character who picks up the item already has one (or more) of them already, then they know what it is – so if you have a healing potion, you’ll recognize that you’re about to pick up a healing potion. But nobody else knows! I wish I was making this up, but I’m not. So if one character has an elixir, and another character picks up an elixir, the second character cannot drink it until AFTER he has it identified. Could someone please explain to me what sense this makes? Moreover, characters have no long term memory, so you could pick up an item, have it identified, use it – and the next time he picks up that item, he’ll have no clue what it is. Maybe all the adventurers in the land are lobotomized, but that’s really the only explanation I can think of.
Basically, you spend the whole game leading a bunch of mentally challenged characters through a bunch of dungeons, slashing at things, and occasionally getting the next piece of the Ancient Relic of Supreme Power(tm). I mean, Zelda did this better over 15 years ago.
Boosting the self-esteem of better development houses everywhere!
You may think that I’ve been a bit harsh on Blaze & Blade. You’re quite right, but the game rightly deserves it. It’s got a rare combination of bad design, horrible AI, and tedious gameplay that is hard to top. Now I didn’t play it with other people, and conceivably, that would help, but that doesn’t fix all of the problems.
It’s truly a shame. Not because Blaze & Blade could have been better, but because it further reinforces the stereotype that console RPGs are pointless and brainless. For shame, THQ.