7 Blades

So I’m looking at my Spreadsheet of Games Left To Complete, and I notice that there’s a huge chunk of PS2 games that haven’t been afforded the appropriate care. Casting my eyes over the list, I figure that approaching the PS2 games in alphabetical order would be as good an approach as any; so first on the list is the little-known, hardly-mentioned-on-the-interweb 7 Blades.

Believe me, this was not an intentional purchase. I bought my PS2 very late, well after the Slim PS2 hit the market, but such was the joy experienced by running Xbox games off the hard-drive that I was determined to do the same on the PS2, if possible. So I had sought out an old-style PS2, HDAdvance, and a network adaptor; the latter two were easy enough to find, but the console drove me to eBay. Luckily, I found a local seller at a reasonable price; when I picked it up, he put a tatty DVD case with ripped instructions in my laden arms and said “here, have this game, I can’t sell it anyway.”

Great. Now I own a game that I didn’t really want, but still appears on The Spreadsheet regardless; The O/C Gamer’s worst nightmare.

(Clearly that’s not really true – my worst nightmare would involve the house burning down, the SO getting burned to a crisp, and then being locked in a tiny claustrophobic coffin-like box and buried alive, only to survive to discover that my insurance company would cover only my gaming stuff on a straight replacement policy, and that I’d have to battle through Ridge Racer 6 Final Battles again.)

Firing up the game for the first time, the presentation feels sparse. Starting a new game as Gokurakumaru (the “first” of two characters: the O/C Gamer’s rules dictate top-left to bottom-right), the controls feel loose, sloppy. Combat is okay, nothing great. Sound is cheesey at best, unannoyingly repetitive otherwise; graphics are chunky textures on angular models. But I persevere, simply because it’s a game that I have to play.

The first few levels are satisfactory; the fight sections seem of a decent length (no infinite respawns, hurrah!) and exploration isn’t onerous. But, all of a sudden, I’m deposited on a beach with a metric shitload of ninjas kicking my arse. Repeatedly. And it’s frustrating – I can’t see an end to it. The frustration grows, hits a threshold – and then I’m off to GameFAQs. Apparently, I’m supposed to ignore these ninjas, run right past… of course.

And that’s the first of many sub-par aspects of Gokurakumaru’s half of the game; cut-scenes fail to convey any useful information, and in fact make the storyline murkier. There’s obtuse targets, confusing battles, and a healthy dose of Jap-wackiness. Boss fights become frustrating – there’s little feedback on whether I’m impacting on the boss, and they consistently require the hit-and-hope, repeat-ad-infinitum approach. Gokurakumaru’s storyline finishes, and I’m left bewildered and underwhelmed.

And I know I’ve only played half the game… sigh.

I start to play the game again, this time as Oriyu. The first few levels are identical to those of her male counterpart, the only differences being the short skirt and tastier textures of my avatar, and the substitution of the G-man’s sword for a gun. Initially, the more distant approach afforded to the player by using the gun seems flawed – the tight spaces and cramped corridors that afforded Gokurakumaru some of his finest moments make Oriyu’s gun feel wimpy, and control – once again – feels loose and only accidentally effective.

But suddenly, as the storylines of the two characters diverge, the whole game opens up. All the “WTF?” moments from the storyline start getting filled in, there’s colourful splashes of humour, and levels far more suited to use of the gun are romped through with glee. The return to familiar areas works much better – “The Alchemist”, set amidst one of Gokurakumaru’s most annoying areas, is transformed into a truly joyous little run’n’gun section. I genuinely enjoyed playing as Oriyu – until the final boss who, as per most Final Bosses, was a finicky and annoyingly difficult impediment to Enjoyment.

7 Blades offered a mix of bland hack’n’slash and fun run’n’gun; neither section on its own would be able to prop up a game, but they both had their moments to shine. The problem, though, was that the second half of the game was soooooo much more enjoyable than the first; upon reflection, it’s like Night and Day. And it’s that disparity that really hurts the memory of 7 Blades. Still, for a game I was dreading, there were a few wacky moments of wonder, a few levels of genuine ninja-slaughtering fun. But eventually the game was finished, and I doubt it’ll be played again.