Gaijin Entertainment is a Russian developer with several games under their belt, although almost all of them are on platforms other than consoles. They did develop X-Blades a few year ago however, and Blades of Time (BoT) is a sort of spiritual successor to it. Both games feature a slinky, scantily clad female protagonist in third person action adventure. In BoT, you play as Ayumi, an agile treasure hunter who knows how to wield blades and guns.
The opening cutscene sets the stage — The Guildmaster is preparing a special, portal-opening sphere to send a group of travelers to Dragonland. Ayumi and her tank-character pal Zero bust in on the party and claim the sphere for themselves, but in the process she’s separated from Zero and transported to Dragonland…and immediately starts talking for what seems like hours. I’m kidding, but Ayumi is a very talkative character, at least for the first four or five hours. Often times she is talking to herself, but other times she will talk to the Spirit of the Dragon, your guide through most of the eight to ten hour story.
Ayumi uses a combination of blades, magic, and ranged weapons to get the job done.
The story is a little bit confusing and somewhat convoluted, but it’s competent and interesting enough to keep you going. A treasure hunter first and foremost, Ayumi is eager to find the Dragon Temple and take a very prized treasure from there. She’s also faced with finding her partner Zero, but along the way she gets embroiled in a battle between Chaos and Order. Gaijin weaves a pretty good story together as the game reaches its climax, involving a cool sci-fi like faction known as the Skyguards who used to keep Chaos at bay. Chaos has swept over the region now however, and it’s largely up to you to repel it. There are also a lot of humans (most of which look like one another), who are trapped in Dragonland and are trying to find their way out, without disturbing the Skyguards. Ayumi will have to contend with several factions including the forces of Chaos, the humans, and the Skyguards.
Ayumi encounters a pretty significant number of enemies and a handful of more significant characters in Dragonland. I liked that each new enemy was immediately added to her journal, providing a sketch picture of the enemy and a brief blurb about them. From this same menu, players can switch between different sets of blades, guns, rings, and amulets that they may have found. Once you find a new ring or blades, you probably won’t have much reason to switch back to the other ones, but I like that there are different selections here and that it does give you some minor customization options. Additionally, finding the treasures is somewhat cool, too. Ayumi carries with her a compass that you can select with down on the d-pad. When you do, the camera zooms in and shows it while you can continue to walk around. The inner needle is where to go to advance the story, the outer one, if it appears, points to a treasure chest, which is usually hidden.
Ayumi will often face a half dozen or more enemies at the same time.
Ayumi changes outfits throughout the game a couple of times as you traverse a dense jungle, a temple, the Skyguard home planet which is a super hot desert, and a snowy area. I thought Gaijin did a nice job of blending indoor and outdoor environments, although the level design is repetitive. Your path is linear and mostly about going through a narrow hallway-like path to a large open room and then back to a narrow path, and repeat. I did like the addition of a ranged weapon, though — at first it’s a single shot rifle, then machine gun, then some sci-fi/fantasy ranged weapons. These spice up the combat nicely.
Hack and slash combat is how you will spend most of your time in BoT, so it’s a good thing there are a few different blades and guns at your disposal as well some Rage abilities. The nicely-condensed HUD displays Ayumi’s health meter, Health Points, Rage, ammo, and the time rewind circle. The Rage meter fills up as you use slash, kick, and shoot down enemies. It has thresholds that allow you to use special or magic attacks as you pass those thresholds. Special and magic attacks are retrieved from altars; when you come across these, you can choose between several upgrades to acquire. Ayumi has fire and ice attacks, as well as a heavy attack and you can also get upgrades that reward you for headshots and reduce the amount of Rage consumed.
A healthy variety of enemies and these other combat mechanics make for a pretty fun action game, but there is a significant puzzle element to the experience as well. Puzzles make use of a cool Time Rewind ability that Ayumi learns early in the game. It takes some getting used to, but it’s similar to the rewind function in Prince of Persia. One key difference however is that when you rewind, Ayumi does not rewind as well — she stands still while time rewinds, but for each time that you rewind (keeping in mind there is a limit with a cooldown timer), you create a new clone of yourself. It’s confusing to perform at first, and admittedly confusing to explain, but the end result is that you can clone yourself several times over for a short period. Uses for this in combat are pretty obvious, and you need multiple clones to defeat stronger enemies that have strict regeneration abilities. Another fun scenario in combat is using the machine gun for several seconds, then rewinding time several times in succession until there’s like five Ayumi’s all firing. It’s pretty cool.
She’s got hops, too.
Using time rewind for puzzles is more generic, and gets down to basically handling switches, either wall-mounted ones or touchplates that require weight to activate. While not very intuitive, especially at first, the time rewind feature adds a very nice layer of gameplay to BoT that almost by itself takes it from a rather bland game to something much more interesting. The platforming parts are also a nice boost to the gameplay, too. Ayumi is able to fly later on in the game, but she can also dash, slide, double jump, air dash, and zip right over to enemies and floating objects (known as corals) to get to higher ground.
The story mode isn’t bad, although it gets pretty repetitive, but there is also an additional mode known as Outbreak. Here, players can play against the CPU in battles pitting Order versus Chaos. You can choose between the three protagonists, customize their loadout based upon what you have unlocked in the Story, and have at it. A typical battle sees each side having multiple controls points that you must destroy or defend. Outbreak can also go online for two player co-op or competitive play as well.
In terms of presentation, BoT plays smooth and looks good, although the saturation of the colors is almost too much, at least in some of the early levels. Overall, it’s a pretty game though, with some nice set pieces and animations. The sounds aren’t quite as appealing, and that is partly due to the amount of spoken dialogue, a lot of which could have probably been better conveyed with text. The effects and soundtrack aren’t bad, but not memorable.