Blaze & Blade: Eternal Quest Review
By Mitsuo Takemoto |
It's been some time since the ironically named Twelve Wisemen created demons to serve as their slaves. As you might expect, the demons ran amuck in an orgy of destruction and defilement. Seems natural enough. The land of the Wisemen now lies in ruin and you, as a plucky young adventurer, must scour the ruins to retrieve some magic crystals and save the world and junk.
This is the world of Blaze and Blade: Eternal Quest, the anime-style, action RPG that I've had to suffer through for the past week. It's a real-time, 3D console-type throwback to Secret of Mana. It's also really, really awful. I mean this game is no fun. Well, maybe it's fun for a few minutes, but after playing it for a few days, I quickly lost all sight of what was good about this title. If a good game combines great graphics with a cool control system all set within the context of a compelling story, then Blaze & Blade is a poor title indeed. About the only good thing about the game is the intricate character creation system.
So let's start with the good point. Most console style RPGs shortchange you on the character creation process and Blaze & Blade is a welcome exception. You can pick from eight classes and two genders (male and female I think they were called). The Warrior and Dwarf characters are great at combat and can use shields. The Dwarf can also crush small rocks -- which must come in handy much later in the game since I never saw a use for it during the two weeks I played. The Rogue can run fast and picklocks but never opened a single locked door or chest the whole time I played. The Hunter is by far the best character in the game because he's the only one with a decent ranged attack. I'll explain why this is so useful later.
Among the magic using classes, the Sorcerer is the most useful in combat. At least at first glance. The Sorcerer spells aren't that great and they have a really unwieldy casting interface. But more on that later too. The Priest specializes in healing magic and nothing else. The Elf strikes a nice balance between magic and combat (or between Blaze & Blade if consistency is your thing). The Fairy class makes use of more subtle magic than the other classes -- sleep, slow and silence. This last spell seems especially useless as the various lizard men and murderous walking trees are none too talkative to begin with. Whatever.
Now you've selected a class for your character. Here's how the chips fell around the office. I picked a Sorcerer not only because I'm the smartest of the crew, but also because I don't like to get hit. Vincent picked a Dwarf because he wanted a character that bore a similarity to his compact and muscular frame. Trent liked the Rogue for reasons that are obvious to anyone who's spent much time with him. If I say any more I'll probably get fired. Last but not least, Tal picked the Hunter, mostly because he couldn't be a monkey.
Then you assign ability scores, pick one of eight protective elements for your characters and you're ready to go. It's a shame that such a poor game has to follow a really great character creation system like this, but hey, those are the breaks.
The game can be played with the keyboard but it's designed to be played with a gamepad. Since I had one, that's the way I decided to play it. The game controls are pretty straightforward but with every button assigned to some essential function, you'll want to keep the manual open on your lap until you're familiar with how to play. Once I got the hang of what the buttons did, I had no trouble taking care of business. Or as Trent says, "nurturing the industry." But a big problem arises once you need to monkey around with your inventory. This is mostly an issue when your character is near death and needs to knock back a couple of healing potions before he gets a chance to enjoy the roominess of eternity. Just trying to drink a healing potion requires far too much in the way of input. And you'll frequently find yourself dead before you've even reached the right menu.
The camera is pretty well implemented but for a 3D polygonal game, I expected there to be a little more flexibility in terms of camera position. You can't go above or below certain angles and the zoom feature lets you down on both ends of the extreme. On top of that the placement of trees, houses and assorted items within the game world make it hard to get a good look at your characters. This is especially frustrating if you're trying to kill an enemy and can't find them on your screen.
The biggest downfall of the control system is that the three non-leader party members aren't so useful in the battle. Since they follow you in single file in "crack the whip" formation. This makes it pretty hard to get the three guys in the rear involved in the action. Basically, your lead character mixes it up while the other characters will only strike enemies that happen to be right next to them. And your magic users won't cast spells on their own...ever. All they ever do is bang things with a stick. The best thing to do is make a party with a Dwarf or Warrior leader and three Hunters. Since the Hunter will use his bow to attack distant monsters, he's worth his weight in gold.
But it doesn't appear that the game is meant to be played solo. You can link up four gamepads so that you and your friends can each control a character. After trying for an hour to get this option set up -- the manual is not much help unfortunately -- we settled in for some real four player action. While the four of us managed to kick a lot more monster ass this way, Trent, Tal and Vincent all grew weary of the game very quickly and bailed out so that they could play better games. Poor, lonely me.
Multiplayer is also the only way you can trade items directly from one character to another. And it's not even trading. It's more of an auction. One player puts an item up for sale and the others bid on it. Even worse, you have to charge a minimum price for all of the items. Some of the minimums are quite outrageous. And since the leader is usually the one picking up the gold, which is called Gel, he's the only one who's got the cash to buy stuff from the other players. On the upside, there's no other apparent use for money in the game.
The only alternative to this horribly convoluted auction process is to travel all the way back to the Roadside Inn, place the item you wish to trade in the party's stock box and have the other player take it out. And even then it doesn't work perfectly. Some items can only be taken out by certain characters. The really frustrating thing is the character who can take the item out can't even use it because of class restrictions! As if that all wasn't frustrating enough, the lead character can only carry ten items. Once he's full you have to get rid of some items or switch leaders.
So I haven't really talked about what you actually do during the game. In short, a lot of nothing. The game promises an open-ended story but in the end "open-ended" translates into aimless. Not that I wasn't pretty sure what I needed to do from one stage of the game to the next. It's just that it didn't seem important. You run around, kill stuff, run somewhere else, kill some other stuff, ad nauseam. You begin the game at the Roadside Inn. Here you can hear rumors about potential adventures, replenish your herb supply (useful only if you're a Hunter) and have your new items identified.
You first leave the Inn seeking out some desolate ruins. As you travel across the enormous maps in the game, you'll be confronted by all manner of creatures which appear out of thin air and seem to exist for no reason other than to kill you. To make things worse, the enemies aren't even really that tough so you shouldn't have any trouble dispatching them. By the time I got to the first "boss," a horribly pixelated owl thingie, all of my characters were over 20th level. And owl-boy still kicked my ass.
So let's talk combat then. Hit a button, take a swing. What could be simpler? Well, nothing and that's that real problem. There's no flexibility in the combat system and no chance to try anything sophisticated or intelligent. Hack, hack, hack, kill, kill, kill. Ugh. The magic system is equally pointless. Apart from the fact that there are only ten spells per magic using class (by the time my Sorcerer was 26th level he only knew five of them), the casting interface is poor. You can cast one spell with a hotkey, or cast any spell in your arsenal by memorizing and executing a particular three hey combination. The three key combination eliminates the casting delay built into the hotkey function, but it takes so much longer to recall the combination and enter it in that it amounts to the same thing.
And if your characters die, don't worry. As long as one person is still alive, all of your characters will resurrect as soon as you pass the next map load point. Oh, didn't I mention the zone loads? Silly me. They're not at all bad in terms of slowing down the game, but the little jerk when you pass one just keeps reminding you that this is a game, and not a very good one. And I also didn't mention the fact that you can only save your game at particular locations in the game world.
I could say so much more about this game, but as my saintly mother used to tell me, "If you can't say something nice about someone, try to limit it to 1700 words."
-- Stephen Butts