Black★Rock Shooter, (Reviewing) The Game

I finished the game (or at least the first and “good” ending) rather recently, and as a fanboy, I am pleased with how it’s turned out.

However, I’ll be reviewing this game strictly from a gamer’s point of
view (except when the plot itself comes into play), so the score may be
lower than you expect.
I’ll try to keep it as spoiler-free as possible. But first, a short outline! =D

The Outline

The game puts you in the shoes of the titular character, Black★Rock
Shooter, who shoots her way through enemies to get to her nemesis, White
Rock Shooter. But I’m sure you already know that.
The game is split into stages AKA levels, and each level is split
into several missions, which use parts of the stage as needed (to
advance the plot, or for a side quest). Whole stages will be later
accessible through Free Hunting missions, though there won’t be any save
points between you and the boss. But more on that later.
Once you enter a mission, you can run around in the stage towards
your objective, and when you get in contact with a mob or boss, you
enter battle.
In battle, you kill enemies by shooting them with your Rock Cannon.
Enemies will either approach you (slowly or quickly, depending) to hit
you in the face, or dance around and shoot you. Most of the attacks in
the game have very clear tells, so you should be able to dodge them, or
block them just in time.
You can’t just dodge-spam or Rambo it out though; you’ll raise your
Overheat bar. As your body heats up, you shoot less bullets per button
press, and when you OVERHEAT, you’re a sitting duck while your body
cools down.
Alternatively, you can use active skills and items, which don’t heat
up your gun at all. Instead, active skills have their own cool-down
timers, and items are in limited quantity.
Passive skills also come into play, though you unlock them over time
through the course of the story (and then some). You can choose to turn
them on and off any time before a battle, but unless you’re willing to
give yourself a challenge, don’t bother.
Now that I’ve pretty much addressed the bread and butter of the game (you can find the rest out for yourself), it’s time for

The Review

While repeatedly returning to the mission menu while taking on the
story feels a little jarring, it does allow you to “go back in time” in
the game, essentially allowing another full playthrough once you’ve
finished the game.
Most expected the game to be a real-time hack & slash game, and
while it avoided being the latter, it managed to retain the qualities of
a former, borrowing some elements from STGs (shooting-games) like
constant bullet-dodging (though not to danmaku levels). Well done, ImageEpoch.
The Overheat system in battle forces you to “ration” your actions and
delay them to let your body cool down a little. That means instead of
going in guns blazing, you’ll have to work out a strategy to, well, survive.
Enemies don’t all act the same either; over the course of the story,
enemies get trickier to take down, and the bosses really take the cake.
The button-spam events at the end of each boss are totally unnecessary,
since you will never lose, and feel like an excuse to watch B★RS engage
her enemies DBZ-style.
The game does try to get imaginative, ranging from saving your bike
from being eaten by mooks to rescuing a target within a time limit.
Sadly, though, the most they do to your “head from start to finish while
killing everything in the way” routine is to change one or two factors
(e.g. you’re better off avoiding enemies, you have to deal lots of
damage while killing enemies within a time limit, etc).
Thankfully, little in the game is vague though (barring the language
barrier), what with all your objectives clearly marked on the stage map
and field.
The bike mini-game feels like a breath of fresh air, but after dying a
couple of times (or more), you’ll feel thankful it only lasts for a
single stage.
Grind…is nearly non-existent if you’re just aiming to complete the
story. The stages are made such that you’ll be able to go through all
the story missions in order without too much difficulty.
In fact, I’d say levelling is almost too easy. You might miss out on a
few useful skills if you don’t manage to unlock them along the way,
though unlocking them is a simple matter of killing enough of X in a
certain stage (sometimes with weapon Y only).
If anything, ImageEpoch succeeded in creating a traditional JRPG, but without the level-grinding.
For a JRPG (and marketed as part of ImageEpoch’s line of “true JRPGs”), it is amazingly…short.
It takes approximately 12 hours (or 2 days of guard duty) to complete
the storyline, after which the post-story content begins to unlock.
While the post-story content continues to feature fully-voiced
cutscenes (even some hilarious ones) and even goes so far as to reveal a
“true” end to the game, it takes only 5-10 hours to finish all that.
I’ve yet to complete this part though, but my estimate is from hearing
about the end-game content from other chaps online who have already
achieved 100% completion.
And by 100% completion, I mean getting every single achievement, unlocking every single gallery item, and bludgeoning that true last boss into submission.
Whether the game’s length (or lack thereof) is because of the writing or vice versa, the plot leaves a lot
to be desired. Unexplained origins (other than B★RS’, at least),
unjustified motives (except maybe due to insanity or pure boredom), and
an unsatisfying ending which doesn’t even leave any room for a Sequel Hook (unless you count the need for a proper ending as one).
Like most PSP games, the textures in the game aren’t exactly crisp;
even the star on B★RS’ back (which you’ll be looking at most of the
time) looks a little blurred. Some parts really take the cake though,
such as the forest stage, where the ground looks like splotches of
differing shades of grey and green up close. Not to mention the fact
that nearly every path in the forest looks the same.
Effects in the game are decent; they portray what they need to just
fine, and nothing more. There is a constant bloom effect going on
in-game though, probably to disguise the aliasing. Protip: it doesn’t help much, guys.
While the visuals aren’t much to admire, there is a plus point:
loading times are blazing fast. If you’ve downloaded the game (legally
or not) or used the data install option, nothing in the game takes
longer than 3 seconds to load. The game runs pretty smoothly on my old
PSP 1000, too.
The cutscenes in the game are well-animated, or at the very least,
much better than God Eater’s stiff movement. The most important
plot-heavy ones feature smooth, realistic movement, camera angles, and
lip-syncing.
I have only one thing to say about the character and prop design: if
you have a heavy metal or gun fetish, this game is for you. Huke definitely made his mark here.
While I’m happy they roped in Manabu Namiki
for the music, ImageEpoch seemed to have forgotten something important.
With all the skull, star and death metal themes in the game, where did
all the rock go? Instead all we get is a lot of synth.
While the music doesn’t exactly live up to the expectations of the song that this game is based on (and it should IMHO), it does give a very “retro” feel to the game.
Which is actually kind of jarring, if you think about it.
Nonetheless though, the music ranges from the calm “safe zone” music
to the fast-paced boss battle themes, and does sound good overall. If
the game took a little longer than a couple of days to finish though, I
think I’d actually be able to reminisce every time I hear the music
outside the game.
The voice acting in this game is excellent, but that’s a given since
it has an all-star cast. Given titular main character’s personality,
Maaya doesn’t get as many chances to act out her role (at least, not as
much as Miyuki’s role as Grey), but she makes up for it with her double
role as WRS.
I will be honest: I cannot tell that they’re being spoken by the same voice actress.
I’m not going to talk about the limited edition content as part of
this review, the main reason being that they don’t really contribute to
the game itself. In any case though, tl;dr, here’s a quick summary:
Game-play: 7/10 – Decent and level-grind independent. The creative
use of mini-games does liven up the gameplay a little more, though it
does get a little repetitive after a while.
Visual: 7/10 – Graphics and effects are decent, though texture
quality is low, and the use of bloom feels like an unneeded gimmick.
Aural: 7/10 – The good use of synth complements the game’s atmosphere, though it clashes with its death metal themes.
End-game Appeal: 5/10 – The game is way too short for a JRPG. Even
the unlockables (which are there only to lengthen your play-time) aren’t
all that hard to obtain.

Overall: 6.5/10

If I had anything else to say, it’d be that B★RS The Game was
probably rushed. Greater emphasis was placed on the character design
rather than the game itself, though the decent in-battle gameplay became
its saving grace.
I am happy, though, that the gaming industry’s first attempt to turn a
popular franchise into a game didn’t turn out to be a boring,
turn-based dungeon adventure. To be honest, if it did, I wouldn’t have
even bothered playing it, let alone reviewing it.
If you’re still considering getting the game, only get it if:
  • you love Black★Rock Shooter.
  • you’re bored and looking for a quick RPG to clear.
  • you’re into tech porn.
Otherwise, look elsewhere.

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