Blade Dancer plays by the book as far as the narrative goes, but an interesting crafting mechanic and an adaptive battle system with real-time elements help set it apart.
- Interesting crafting system sustains itself well as a core mechanic
- luna meter enables some strategic give-and-take in battles.
- Narrative is average
- characters are fairly flat and clichéd, with not enough interaction to flesh them out
- world tends to be bland and lack of music in overworld areas leeches some personality.
Blade Dancer is one of the few role-playing games that employ an item-crafting system that is both easy to use and central to the gameplay, though that's one of its few distinguishing features. Still, if you don't mind running around in a predictable world to play around with some real-time battle elements, craft up a bunch of useful items, and battle all the monsters you can shake a stick at, this game is worth a look.
Things start off with a young man named Lance who sails to the mysterious island of Foo to seek adventure, vowing to pledge his services to the very first person who requires his aid. Fortunately for him, Foo is a nation simply brimming with needy folk, a variety of dangerous monsters, and a heaping helping of ominous history. The land was once home to the Zeimos, an advanced race that embraced peace and the powers of the light to build a utopian civilization. That lasted until a member of the royal family decided to seek out dark power and spread war, anarchy, and necromancy, as well as all sorts of horrible afflictions throughout the world. A true defender of the people eventually arose, and he was known as the Blade Dancer. Though the Blade Dancer disappeared without a trace one day, Lance curiously sports a similar moon tattoo on his forehead, and the game follows his journey of discovery as he encounters friends, foes, and his own blossoming powers.
The narrative is pretty much rote RPG, with brief interludes between characters that don't lend their relationships a whole lot of depth. There's a fair amount of spoken dialogue in the game, and while this lends some additional personality to the characters, the average script keeps things from getting all that engrossing. You can switch from the sometimes over-the-top English voices to the original Japanese if you'd like, though, and if you've saved the world in a bunch of other games, you likely won't mind saving this one.
Enemy groups in the field are represented by floating skulls. The skulls make patrol loops in certain areas and won't attack you unless they see you, so you can try and sneak past monsters if you'd like--but if you get spotted, you'll be chased. The skulls are color coded for difficulty: Blue skulls are weaker monsters that will actively flee your party, white skulls are about your level, and red skulls are challenging foes. While it's tempting to run right past blue skulls, if there's more than one in an area, they'll combine to form a black skull that contains a single, very powerful enemy, so you might not want to ignore them. The skulls will respawn after a short amount of time, so you'll need to keep moving through an area so you don't get repeatedly mobbed. Since you can't pause the game, even if you're rooting through menus, you'll have to seek out safe spots if you want to fiddle with equipment, craft, or use items.
The battle system in Blade Dancer is a mix of turn-based and real-time elements. Characters have a "moon clock" next to their name that lets you know when their turn is coming up. Otherwise, you can't pause the action, rifling through menus is done while enemies are still moving, and you'll need to keep watching each character's section at the bottom of the screen so you can select them manually when they're ready to fight. One of the interesting things about battles is powerful magic attacks such as spells called lunabilities, which rely on points from a luna meter that appears on the top of the screen. The trick is that the luna meter starts out empty every fight (you can extend the maximum length of the meter by completing quests for townsfolk), and it only fills when you score melee hits on monsters or they score melee hits on you. Each time this happens, the meter fills a little bit more, and as soon as it contains enough points for the spell you want to cast, you can queue up your action.
The twist is that monsters also draw from the same luna pool. You can stop monsters from successfully casting lunabilities by attacking them while they're in the process of powering up (and enemies can do the same to you), which will cancel their spell and return the luna points to the gauge. Stopping their attacks both ensures you won't get hit by devastating melee specials and spells and keeps the luna meter high so that your own party can use the points themselves. It's an interesting mechanic that lends battle a bit of a strategic edge, particularly as you start to encounter harder and harder monsters.