Blade Dancer Hands-On First Look

Disgaea maker Nippon Ichi expands onto the PSP with a new turn-based RPG developed by Hitmaker. We get hands-on to see how it's shaping up.

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In addition to the just-announced Disgaea 2, Nippon Ichi has just unveiled a new PSP role-playing game slated for release in July called Blade Dancer. At the company's recent press event, we got to take a look at the new game to see how it will fit into the portable unit's admittedly sparse RPG lineup. Blade Dancer is the product of a collaboration between Sony and development studio Hitmaker, and based on our initial impressions, it looks like the game will make a nice addition to the PSP library for role-players on the go.

Blade Dancer's story centers on the reappearance of the malevolent dread knight of myth, who has again come onto the scene to cause a bunch of trouble. It doesn't help that this one particular bad guy is apparently the herald of an entire empire of demons, which probably isn't going to spell a good day for anyone. In defense of mankind, you'll take control of a hero named Lance, who's joined by a diverse group, including a monk named Gozan and the elf Tess, as you take on the dread knight and try to prevent the coming of the demons and the end of the world. No pressure or anything, of course.

The exploration in Blade Dancer is presented from the third-person perspective, and you'll be able to see enemies on the overworld before you enter combat with them, so you'll sometimes have the chance to avoid battles altogether if you're deft enough. Amusingly, if you're significantly stronger than the enemies, they'll often try to run away from you. We tried exploring a number of diverse environments and noted that while you'll switch to a separate battle screen when entering combat, the loading time and transitions are extremely quick, which should make for snappy portable gaming.

You'll have to take on the dread knight to preserve the beauty of Lance's world.
You'll have to take on the dread knight to preserve the beauty of Lance's world.

Once we entered combat, we found Blade Dancer to proceed much like your typical turn-based RPG, though we noted that there were a few twists thrown in. For one, you won't be prompted to give a character a command as soon as his or her turn comes up. Instead, combatants' combat readiness will be indicated with an exclamation mark, and you'll have to actively select which character you want to command next. Interestingly, you won't have magic points to govern your use of spells. Rather, you'll build up a "luna meter" as you fight that will then deplete as you cast magic. The rub here is that enemies can draw from this same meter to use their own special attacks, so you'll be encouraged to let loose with all your spells as a defensive measure, as well as an offensive one.

Blade Dancer also has a weapon-crafting system that you'll have to fully exploit to keep your characters powered up. Your gear will have a durability rating that will decrease as you fight, and your weapons will eventually break, which will force you to dig into your list of weapon recipes to craft something new. Luckily, when you obtain a new weapon, you'll be able to register it with a local blacksmith, so you can then have a copy made whenever you come up with the requisite materials. The developer claims that more than 600 possible weapons can be crafted, so we're hoping for a lot of variety here.

You'll even get to put those weapons to use alongside up to three other players using ad hoc Wi-Fi in the cooperative mode. You and your allies will fight together to work through a number of dungeons that will yield rare items, which you can then take back into the single-player game to apply to the enemies within the main quest. Within battles, each player will control his or her own character (or characters) as turns become available.

Blade Dancer's multiplayer will let you get your dungeon crawl on with some friends in tow.
Blade Dancer's multiplayer will let you get your dungeon crawl on with some friends in tow.

Blade Dancer seems to be shaping up as a solid RPG for the PSP, which so far has been woefully short on that sort of game. We were especially impressed with the art style, which is evident in the cel-shaded CG cutscenes that will play out the story as you progress. The mostly anime-styled characters have a slightly more severe look to them that gives them a distinctive appearance. In fact, the collaboration between Hitmaker and Sony actually came about due to the producer's appreciation of Blade Dancer's character designer, so you can bet the art will be strong throughout. At this rate, it looks like the gameplay will be, too. For a taste of that, check out a bunch of new videos of the game, including an exclusive developer interview.

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