Black Rock Shooter: The Game PSP Review
Recently, it seems that both of Sony’s handhelds have served as a primary source for Anime-inspired video games. The PSP continues to enjoy digital success with the localization of titles like Corpse Party, while the Vita’s most arguably relevant exclusive remains Persona 4: Golden. Both handhelds continue to pump out Anime-inspired releases such as Fate/Extra and Fate/Stay Night (on PSP and Vita, respectively), and with Western developers no longer showing interest on PSP and hesitant to commit anything to the slow-selling Vita, this may yet be the case for some time, to the delight of Otakus and the detriment of everyone else. This current trend continues with the Western release of Black Rock Shooter, an Anime-offshoot with a relatively interesting back-story behind its conception.
Originally born from a single fan-art drawing, the character of Black Rock Shooter soon became a licensed icon spanning an Anime series, Manga, and the aforementioned game on PSP. What makes the BRS property unique, however, is that all three media feature a completely separate setting and story, the only link shared between them being the titular character (and even then, her origin stories are completely different as well). Whereas previous iterations featured familiar tropes such as high school girls traveling to alternate dimensions, the PSP adaptation features a significantly darker set-piece: the end of humanity.
In the year 2032, a mysterious alien army invaded the Earth for the sole purpose of eliminating the human race. After years of conflict, the surviving human population has been whittled down to exactly twelve individuals, all soldiers of the PSS organization. In a last desperate attempt to turn the tide, the soldiers have awakened Black Rock Shooter, a man-made weapon possessing incredible strength as well as weaponry capable of destroying the aliens, but at the price of a limited memory capacity that makes her almost child-like in innocence. As she travels around the world helping PSS mount a counteroffensive, BRS will also question her life’s purpose as well as the mysterious origin surrounding her creation.
The story takes on some surprising twists and turns, though much of it is affected by generic Anime melodrama. Despite representing the last remnants of the human race, most of the PSS soldiers are faceless drones with one discernible personality quirk (such as getting carsick or naming every mission after fictional movies), making the interactions between these band of brothers feel cartoony instead of camaraderie. This also affects the gameplay in certain cases, such as frequent breaks in the action to insert more pointless dialog, or a mission that requires you to run around and interact with every NPC in order to advance the plot. While not fully realized, the setting still establishes some dark themes and elements, and remains interesting enough to see through to its conclusion.
The game also features some decent visuals that may not hold up among the best looking PSP titles, but still suffice in carrying the sci-fi Anime aesthetic. Don’t expect to actually perform BRS’ acrobatic antics in the actual game, though. While the character designs give the impression that the game’s genre would be a third person shooter, it is in fact a third person RPG shooter. When bumping against enemies in the area, the game instantly switches to an RPG battle screen where players must move a targeting reticule that snaps onto enemy targets, pelting them with rifle fire until all the targets are destroyed. While players have free aim over the weapon, their movement is restricted, the only actions to avoid enemy fire being a block button or an evasive dodge that switches between the left and right side of the battle area.
All of these actions can be performed instantly, but take up BRS’ stamina meter. When the gauge reaches maximum, she will overheat and be unable to perform any actions at all, leaving her momentarily susceptible to attacks. To counter this, there are recovery items for both health and recovery dropped by enemies or found in nearby chests, though the real key is learning to pace between shooting and evading. Also available at your disposal are skills which can be assigned to specific buttons while holding down the right trigger. These skills make up offensive attacks like the Charge Beam or recovery abilities like Defender Mode or Physical Recovery, as well as more strategic abilities like the Sniper rifle (which can stun enemies for a few seconds). These skills can be swapped out at any time, but only five can be equipped at a time. Players can choose whether to equip an offensive set of skills, defensive, or a combination of both, but there is no key configuration to follow; aside from a few boss battles, the game’s difficulty never gets uncomfortable, with enemies following the same basic patterns over and over.
As a result, the gameplay is satisfactory but also repetitive. Observant players can blast through different enemy types within seconds after establishing their patterns, and the areas in the game are linear in most cases and bland-looking at all times. Each area is divided into stages that make up a chapter, but players will basically be running back and forth between the same areas in order to fulfill multiple objectives. Fortunately, there are a couple of features that encourage repeat playthroughs: the game routinely offers “challenges” that reward players with permanent stat boosts or a new skill ability by meeting the specified conditions.
Such conditions typically revolve around defeating a certain enemy X amount of times, or finishing off said enemies with a specific move. More advanced challenges include not taking any damage during motorcycle segments (while not impossible, the length of these segments will result in much hair-pulling should an enemy nick you mere moments before finishing), which include more advanced rewards. Finishing a chapter also unlocks the “free mode” for that chapter, which bundles all of the stages together into one long seamless mission free of dialogue, allowing additional rewards including costumes, music, and more.
As one of the last PSP titles, Black Rock Shooter is not the most remarkable game to close off Sony’s first generation portable, but the intriguing story and quick-paced game mechanics may serve as an appropriate handheld distraction. If you are a fan of its Anime aesthetics, or at least willing to tolerate them, the game will suffice as a budget title with an average amount of content to play through.