Rhythm and blues.
Still looking for a good PSP RPG? We’ve been waiting patiently too, and finally a few new titles have entered the fray. The latest, Hitmaker’s Blade Dancer: Lineage of Light, offers surprisingly twinkle-toed gameplay for a genre steeped in the slow waltz of menus and turn-based tedium. But alas, all the interesting footwork in the world can’t make up for the game's complete lack of personality.
Lance, the spunky hero, is fresh from the RPG main character mold, sans pointy ears. His high-pitched, campy antics begin under the somewhat refreshing premise of traveling to a remote island nation in search of adventure, which at least beats waking up on the beach with no memory. This, of course, is all thrown out the window of humdrum villainy when he's eventually charged with saving the world from the Dark Lord and his Dread Knight with the help of a ragtag group of adventurers. Bleh.
Once you stomach that, you’ll stroll through town and start talking to folks, who constantly ask you to do things for them. The mission system is neat, as you can easily peek at a menu and remember what you’re supposed to be doing at any time. The downside is that most of these errands don’t tie into the plot and simply involve retrieving an item or killing some monsters. You’re just going through the motions to level up.
Things are at least moderately more engaging thanks to a new targeting system. Instead of running up to NPCs, chests, and doors and hammering on an action button, you cycle through possible targets at a distance with Square and select one with X. At first it feels a bit unnecessary, but after you save yourself some of Lance’s slow, plodding steps, you’ll love it.
However, the incessant errand running and MMO targeting scheme makes Blade Dancer feel eerily vacant. It really doesn’t help that the overworld has no musical backdrop at all, save the increasingly terrifying sound of your own steps. It's like playing through a massively-multiplayer game alone.
Further compounding this sense of alienation is the crafting system, the backbone of economy and survival. Nearly every monster drops recipe items, which come in handy since crafted items are cheaper than what you’d find in a shop. Crafting gets as old as the Macarena, though, since you’re constantly making backups of your weapons, which break all the time. This isn’t too big a deal - you can craft anywhere - but as a result crafting becomes a pointless series of hoops you have to jump through just to make sure you have a replacement for your brittle sword.
Blade Dancer saves all its best moves for its interesting, quick battle system. The ‘Luna gauge’ handles all of your battle magic and skills, filling up as damage is dealt and received. The trick is that enemy parties use the gauge as well. Once somebody selects a skill, the other side will have a few seconds to try to interrupt the move and return points to the Luna gauge. It’s a fascinating tango with a great sense of urgency and one-upmanship.
To its credit, Blade Dancer looks pretty good. Slick, functional menus complement detailed character models, and although some environments are lacking, every area distinguishes itself nicely with distinctive ruins, trees, and lakes. It's marred by overbearing load times, however, which trample on the game flow.
The music isn’t so impressive, mostly typical RPG fare. Why there’s no music in the over world, well, you got me. It’s like being on a road trip with no stereo. At least the game allows you to use the original Japanese voice-over, which I highly recommend over the terribly cheesy English translation.
The game supports Ad-Hoc multiplayer, which lets you choose a character from your save data and raid a dungeon for loot. If you’re way ahead of your friends, you can bring your character’s level down to balance out the difficulty level. You’ll need nearby friends who have copies of their own, though, so you’ll probably just be dancing with yourself.
For everything Blade Dancer does right, it does something else wrong. You can instantly recall what you were up to last time you played, but when you want to quit you’ll have to slowly plod back to a save point. The graphics looks great, but are paired with frequent loading times. The battle system whips along, only to have its toes stomped by the boring crafting system. In the end Blade Dancer: Lineage of Light has a fine sense of rhythm, but two left feet.