Oh Koei, those wacky funsters. With their help we’ve hacked our way through ancient China and slashed a path across feudal Japan. Now they’ve pointed us towards the carnage of another famous historical conflict on a whole new continent: the torching of fourteenth century France in Bladestorm: The Hundred Year’s War.
Rather than just another Warriors-style beat down (thank god), Bladestorm is more of an action-strategy hybrid. You play a mercenary on the prowl for fame, fortune, and big paydays from whoever is offering, be it the invading English forces or the defending French. From the tavern that acts as the game’s hub, you can take on contracts for either side, as well as purchase arms, armor, power-ups, and troop units to use in the field. Most contracts amount to little more than taking certain towns or castles while defending others, though occasionally you’ll be called on to do favors like delivering something or escorting a VIP safely through the battlefield.
Once you get into the war, Bladestorm drops you right down on the frontlines. It actually looks a lot like a Warriors game, except if you try to charge into enemy forces alone you’re going to get smacked down fast. Fortunately with the touch of a single button you can attach yourself to nearby squads as their commander. The number of different unit types is impressive, with a large variety of troops wielding various styles of swords, maces, bows, and spears. There are also mounted units aplenty, and even some strangely exotic units that may not fit historically but are amusing additions to the conflict nonetheless. Each unit type has three special powers, like a cavalry’s charge or heavy mace’s ground pounding earthquake, and as you fight with the different unit types you’ll gain experience that can be used to buy upgrades for that kind of troop.
Bladestorm uses a form of rock, paper, scissors mechanic to determine which units are most effective against which other units, except with the sheer number of troop types it’s more like rock, paper, scissors, pen, paperweight, whiteout, cell phone, accordion, atomic bomb, rubber chicken. Not all of the strengths and weaknesses make a lot of sense, and the volume of it all can be a little daunting. Fortunately there is a clear graphical cue for each enemy unit that shows how you stack up. Once you decide to engage the enemy, all you have to do is get close and hold down a button, occasionally hitting some special attacks and using power-ups as you see fit.
Like most Koei games, one must be willing to tolerate a lot of repetition in order to enjoy Bladestorm. There’s very little that is fundamentally different between your very first contract and your very last. Sure there are more unit types in play as you progress, and you’ll have to keep pumping up your levels and equipment to stay competitive, but you’re just doing the same thing over and over and over again. The game actually plays pretty well, and it is a pleasantly quirky combination of Warriors-style action and small unit tactics, but the lack of variety in the gameplay is a serious bummer. More mission types or some additional things to do would have been nice, and the total lack of any kind of multiplayer is almost shocking, not to mention terribly disappointing. Romping through the war with a few buddies would have been awesome, creating exactly the right kinds of combined arms strategies necessary to win battles. Instead the result is an almost success that lacks staying power, worth checking out if you’re big into Koei’s other franchises or at the very least not put off by a lot of repetition.