X-Blades comes so close to being a great action game. It encompasses most of the elements that you would demand from the best games in the genre: diverse combat with tons of unlockable moves, impressive visuals that optimally frame the frantic fights, and a long quest with plenty of creepy monsters and gigantic boss encounters. But for every step forward that X-Blades takes on the road to action nirvana, it takes another step in the opposite direction. The depth of combat is too often compromised as hundreds of enemies flood the screen, the striking visuals lose their luster as repetitive environments make things predictable, and the boss battles are wars of attrition rather than tests of skill. However, despite the game’s problems, it's still a fun action romp. But what could have been a thrilling, vicious battle against dark forces becomes an all-too-predictable foray into senseless hacking and slashing.
Ayumi is your typical treasure-hunting heroine except for one major visual distinction: She is not wearing any pants. As you run through the crumbling ruins on your quest to rectify the wrongs that you have caused, you will be staring at her unclothed backside, wondering why she decided to fight a horde of angry creatures without durable fabric protecting her from their vicious attacks. You will have to play through the entire game to unlock a pair of form-fitting pants, so leave your modesty at the temple entrance if you want to guide Ayumi through these haunted ruins. The story is largely forgettable, chronicling Ayumi's quest to drive off the dark side that she has unleashed onto the world.
The frantic combat will make you forget about the scantily clad protagonist for a little while. You have three attack types at your disposal--melee, guns, and magic--and you'll obtain plenty of unlockable moves and combos throughout the adventure. You can mow through the early enemies with little more than your titular blades, but most of your foes require a more thoughtful approach to dispose of them. Elemental attacks are your main tool, letting you quench the heat of a fire creature with an icy blast or neutralize a dark baddie with a burst of pure light energy. Given that multiple types of enemies will fill the screen, you'll have to smartly switch between different attack types to survive, creating dizzying encounters that require raw button-mashing prowess with clever magical use.
The problem is that many of these battles lack the sophistication needed to push this complex combat system to its full potential. Levels are often overrun with so many enemies that it's all you can do to spam with your swords, toss in the occasional area attack, and hope that your merciless pursuers relent for just one moment. X-Blades all too frequently relies on this mechanic, and though it can't completely destroy the deep combat system, it does lessen the impact, making duels far more repetitive than they should be. You won't have to deal with an abundance of enemies during boss duels, but these too come with their own set of problems. Bosses are generally immune to every type of attack except for one from a specific element. Once you figure out their weaknesses, you'll simply need to continually pepper the bosses from afar while you easily avoid their weak attacks. These battles creep towards frustration because of the sheer endurance needed to complete them, but they are predominantly forgettable and uninspired.
There are two different types of levels in X-Blades: boss battles and normal enemy encounters. Each time you enter a new stage, the passage to the next area is walled off and a life bar appears onscreen. As enemies flood the screen, you have to dispose of your foes until their life bar fully depletes, leaving you free to catch your breath for a moment. Depending on the type and number of enemies, these stages can be either exciting or monotonous, and the game never seems to strike a balance between how many enemies it has onscreen and how much strategy you need to exert. When the enemies are removed, you're free to collect the scattered loot, which lets you unlock more moves. However, the adventuring aspect is so simplified that this act also becomes repetitive after a few levels. Gathering items requires you to smash every breakable object in sight, so you'll dutifully destroy old vases and dusty statues, without any interesting platforming or exploration.
The visuals in X-Blades are quite effective. The environments, though confined, are finely detailed and make the broken ruins of this abandoned temple feel quite realistic. The enemies come in a variety of creepy forms, from minidinosaurs that chomp relentlessly at your naked backside to armored spiders that fling dark magic from across the screen. The lighting is particularly noteworthy. The ruins will light up with every magical strike you unleash, torches will flicker realistically on walls, and the shadows created due to the sun and other light sources behave like they should. Like every other aspect of X-Blades, though, the good elements are always countered by something bad, and the graphics are no exception. As well designed as the environments are, you'll never make it out of these darn ruins. Every level looks exactly the same, which sucks the life out of your journey. There is also one design decision that could cause physical discomfort. The camera during cutscenes has a mind of its own, floating across the environment and rapidly zooming around characters with jarring quickness, making it difficult to focus on the events. It's a shame that there aren't more memorable environments because the visuals are mostly top-notch.
X-Blades is a competent action game, but it lacks the fine touch that could have made it something special. It just cannot seem to make the most of its solid backbone. The diverse combat is too often made one-dimensional, the impressive visuals lack variety, and the imposing bosses are pushovers. Nevertheless, there is undeniable fun in vanquishing a horde of unholy enemies, and with two endings and a few unlockables, there is plenty of value for those who thrive on disposing of dark forces. Ayumi may not know how to fully dress herself, but at least she can tear through her foes in style, and if you can forgive the repetitive environments and sometimes-shallow battles, this can be fun for a while.