If you haven’t heard of Black Rock Shooter, you probably aren’t a part of the aptly-titled Black Rock Shooter: The Game’s (yes, it really has an adorable nineties-esque “The Game” subtitle) target audience. That said, the character does have an interesting history. The franchise started as a mere collection of character drawings by an artist known as “Huke.” The drawings became popular in indie fandom circles and spawned a theme song via the infamous Vocaloid program that drew in millions of hits.
People with money noticed, and now we have a multiverse of animations, manga titles and of course, this game. A PSP title from 2011, NIS America has brought it over in a surprising move, no doubt making tons of crazy anime fans very happy.
Black Rock Shooter: The Game is unique in that it required me to actually sit and think for a moment, searching for a succinct way to describe it in genre terms. What I came up with is a “JRPG rail shooter.” It makes sense when you play it, I swear. BRS: TG has a linear structure outside of battle, in digitally aestheticized post-apocalyptic environments. In some cases you can interact with NPCs or find hidden items, but usually you’re only running from battle to battle while taking in the stylized scenery.
It works as a portable game; you can pick up and play at your leisure without worrying that you’re going to forget what you’re supposed to do if you take a longer break. The graphics are excellent, and it’s one of the most impressive PSP games I’ve seen. It’s probably because it isn’t generally very busy, being a post-apocalyptic situation, so more resources could be poured into the few present NPCs. While a little fuzzy, the textures carry a lot of detail, and everyone is well-animated. In short, the presentation is top-notch and delivers on the expected sleek anime style.
Once you find yourself in battle, expectations are promptly defenestrated. The titular combat android shifts from the inhumanly-mobile anime death machine you see in cutscenes to a largely-stationary tank. Rather than movement, the analog stick controls a targeting reticule, and enemies generally start of approaching from a distance, you can fire at them with her basic machine gun, but using it too much causes overheating.
BRS also gains special attacks and boost techniques for some added flair. She can produce a shield for defense, or dodge on command, her only method of movement. The dodge function is also subject to the heat gauge, and has variable utility. Some enemy attacks disregard dodging, some require it.
Learning the different attacks and tells from enemies is the key to survival. Being able to switch up your offense and defense plans on the fly will make the difference between no damage and all of the damage. It is certainly a weird and off-putting system that will shock fans looking for something more appropriately action-oriented, but sticking with it long enough to learn some skills is rewarding, so long as you don’t plan on marathon sessions. The game doesn’t change much outside of a few (appropriately oddly implemented) vehicle sections, and can get very repetitive.
Black Rock Shooter: The Game is, in many ways, as niche as you can get. However, that unique sensibility works in the game’s favor, even if it won’t be making any waves. Fans have nothing to lose in checking it out at its budget price, and Vita owners especially can’t go wrong. Keep an open mind going in, and I daresay you’ll find yourself having more fun that you expected.
Pros: Unique gameplay, slick presentation
Cons: Not much to do outside of battles