NIS America continues to show the PSP some love with the release of Black Rock Shooter, based on the anime of the same name. The premise is simple, there are only 12 members of the human race remaining on earth. Those 12 are on a mission to awake the Black Rock Shooter, their last, best chance at getting revenge on those who sought to destroy them. As the BRS, you’ll be sent on one dangerous mission after another to save what remains of humanity. While the plot itself is not cliche, it is not delivered in a particularly interesting fashion. Things move quickly and what little story is available will likely fail to pull you in. It could be that fans of the anime or manga might find more enjoyment, but for the vast majority this is bare bones story telling.
To make matters worse, the characters are particularly boring, each filling a specific cliche role within the unit. You have the jokester, the silent type, the gung-ho commando, the always angry back in my day type commander, and everyone in between. The game tries to make you to care about these people since, you know, they are the last people on earth, but this is another instance where it would be fans that get the most enjoyment. The voice acting is ok, again I’m no expert on Japanese, but this isn’t the strongest voice acting I’ve heard. Your radio is often filled with useless dribble, only broken up with occasional dialogue options that seem to serve no greater purpose than to see if you’re still paying attention.
Gameplay is a bit of a mixed bag. Navigating the heavily linear environment is a bore leaving you little to do but open the occasional chest or run into enemies. Combat is marginally better, but still an overly simplified system. Battles take place in real time and requires you to manage a heat gauge that is filled by executing attacks, as well as when dodging and blocking. Not giving this gauge time to cool down will overheat the BRS and prevent her from taking any action. Luckily, enemies attack in the same patterns, making you jobe relatively easy. Once you have learned a specific enemy’s pattern, you can react the same way in every battle, allowing you to target them down easily, or use that knowledge to target other enemies instead. While there is certainly some strategy involved, combat ends up being underwhelming.
Bosses can provide a sizable challenge due to the fact that their patterns are harder to find. Even when you do discover it, they can often still deal heavy amounts of damage and will constantly keep you on your toes. More often than not, you’ll be relying on your four special moves to keep you alive in these battles. These abilities, along with the many passive abilities you acquire, are gained through challenges as simple as completing objectives, or by defeating a certain enemy type multiple times. Abilities are tied to the face buttons and are accessed by holding R. The abilities themselves can vary from the powerful charged shot to health regeneration. Difficult enemies will require you to use these abilities to survive, adding a bit more depth. Sadly these enemies are few and far between and you won’t have to rely heavily on these in most situations.
There are also a few vehicle sequences that quickly overstay their welcome and provide some of the game’s more frustrating moments. You can only kill enemies by dodging while close to them, simple enough. However, this task is far from simple when enemies are moving to block you before you can move again, resulting in you taking a great deal of damage and being forced to replay these lengthy sequences over and over. It isn’t game breakingly frustrating, but some will likely be turned off by these sequences.
Continuing the downward spiral that is Black Rock Shooter, the visuals are weak, even for the PSP. The already boring to navigate world looks like a PlayStation one game. Character models are ok and enemies actually have a pretty good look to the, from an artistic standpoint at least. It is just a huge disappointment that this late in the life of the PSP games are still being made that don’t come close to taking full advantage of the system. The sound design is also fairly sub par, but the music is decent.
While it is great to see that the PSP is still getting new games, games such as Black Rock Shooter are not really worth dusting off old faithful for one more ride. Even Vita owners still looking for games may want to avoid this one. Black Rock Shooter has too many fundamental shortcomings to make it worth the asking price. If games like this are the future of the PSP, then perhaps it is time to put this handheld to rest.