I'm having a really hard time trying to classify Black Rock Shooter. The game plays like a third person shooter, but also has a lot of RPG elements. The previous sentence may scream Mass Effect, but it is incredibly far from it.
The game was developed by Imageepoch, more well known for the Luminous Arc series on DS and Arc Rise of Fantasia for the Wii. It was originally released in Japan in 2011, but finally made its way west to North America in April of this year. Despite the fact that I had never heard of the Black Rock Shooter game or anime counterpart, everything about the game is extremely well done.
Black Rock Shooter (which I will call BRS from here on out) takes place in the year 2051, but begins nineteen years earlier in 2032. Earth ends up under attack by an alien force and turns the entire planet into a battlefield. There are only twelve humans left alive, and they wake up Black Rock Shooter (BRS is also the name of the main character) to help battle the aliens and take the planet back.
The game takes place in several major cities across the globe, and even features an entire stage taking place on the moon. Each level is very distinct from the other. For example, the first stage takes place in San Francisco and features main roads, and destroyed skyscrapers. It had a very "warzone" feel to it. One of the stages from the middle of the game was Moscow, and the city seemed decimated and covered in snow. I really appreciated the amount of thought put into differentiating all of the stages and making each one feel unique from the others.
BRS was developed for the PSP and while it does has graphical limitations, it was anything but ugly. Several cutscenes were fully animated, and the vibrant colors of the characters stood out well in the environments. Each special attack had a quick animation and each ability was completely different from the others.
While roaming around areas, when BRS would stumble upon an enemy it would take you into an arena of sorts where you would end up battling a few enemies. Black Rock Shooter's gameplay is extremely simple but something I haven't seen before. The square button was to attack, but pressing the circle button she would dodge in a direction away from the enemies. Since she was otherwise stationary, timing was key and enemies would give away when they were about to attack with a quick shimmer. As with traditional RPG's, defeating enemies would gain experience and leveling up would increase HP and attack power.
Each area has a list of challenges to complete as well, and these challenges are how the player gains new abilities. The challenges are fairly varied, and other than abilities can also reward players with HP boosts, defense boosts, or attack boosts. Completing them is really vital to your success in later missions because when enemies start getting stronger, special attacks can be crucial.
After clearing a stage, players can replay the level in hunt mode. Hunt mode is basically a combination of all the levels with the main boss at the end, smashed into one stage.
A worthy note as one of my favorite parts of the game are the areas that put you in charge of guiding BRS on her motorcycle. She doesn't have any basic attacks on the bike, but dodging when you are right next to an enemy defeats it, and after five enemies are killed you get a special chain gun attack that shoots in front of you for about five seconds. These levels were fairly tense, and one of the more exciting aspects in the game.
All in all, I was really impressed by the work Imageepoch put into Black Rock Shooter. After playing through this game I fully intend to check out the anime it was based off of.