Rain Blood Chronicles: Mirage
(Scroll past this paragraph for a full review.) Rain Blood Chronicles: Mirage is a Chinese developed side-scrolling hack-'n-slash. The story is a bit confusing, the music is nice but not memorable, and the graphics are dark but beautiful. The developers are absent from Steam, so there will likely never be any bug fixes or patches. The fast, skill-based combo system will appeal to fans of the genre, but it's not for casuals or those with very slow reflexes. Rating: 7/10; worth playing.
The story focuses on two warriors, Soul and Shang, who go on a quest to... Who are searching for... Who have to face thousands of...
Yeah, okay... I have no real idea what the story is about. It's partly my fault, I haven't been paying very much attention. But the reason for my inattention is because of the way the story is told. It's not very cohesive; it feels like the developers expected people to already be familiar with the game world and it's characters. For example, random bits of information about different factions within the world are given during load screens, but there's no context. They're all historical facts without reason to care what they mean or why they matter. Whether the story is the way it is because of sloppy writing, bad translation, or the nature of wuxia stories (which I know next to nothing about) I have no idea.
I can tell you that it takes place in a world reminiscent of ancient China, where different factions are warring with each other. Two warriors - Soul and Shang - are on a mission to find their missing master, Jade.
The artstyle in Rain Blood Chronicles is very beautiful, but also quite dark. It's a nice change of pace, since most hack-'n-slash games have bright, colorful graphics, but it can also feel a bit oppressive and gloomy. The music isn't anything special, but it fits well with both the shadowy environments and fast paced action. Voice acting during cut scenes is in Chinese, while the text is (sometimes badly translated) English.
Combat-wise, the game is like a side-scrolling Devil May Cry, which is a very awesome thing. The combos are fast, easy to learn but hard to master, and as stylish as anything Dante can pull off. On the fly switching between two characters is a nice addition to the game: Each fighter has a very different play-style, insuring that cutting down hordes of enemies will never get stale. Characters don't share experience points, which are required to level up combos, but it's actually well balanced. The game is meant to be played using both Soul and Shang - two warriors fighting as one.
Soul is the faster, easier to play character: He excels at dodging attacks and countering from behind, luring and assassinating. He has a few defensive moves as well, in the unlikely event that he gets cornered. Shang, while more technical and difficult to play, is also more fun once you get the hang of him. He's able to create energy swords which can unleash a barrage of attacks on enemies. While it's possible to beat the game using a single character, it's not recommended. You'll miss out on the badass feeling you get when you teleport behind a enemy as Soul, switch to Shang, and trigger a devastating multi-hit combo.
The combat and rewards system is all skill based: The better you fight, the faster you'll earn points for new combos and accessories. It encourages you to keep improving your skills, keep trying new tactics and styles, keep playing. The down side to the skill based rewards is if you struggle to trigger combos and get high ranks, earning points for upgrades and money for items will be a slow and grindy process. I admittedly suck at combo-based games - I've never had the reflexes to be great at them - but I honestly wouldn't have the rewards system any other way. I can see how it might frustrate some people, but I get tired of being heavily rewarded for doing very little in games. I want to be challenged to do better. The game doesn't completely lack hand-holding: There are 4 difficulty levels, the easiest of which is nearly impossible to die in, unless you stand still and let the baddies slowly kill you. This setting is great for newcomers to hone their skills, almost like a practice mode. The hardest difficulty will kill you. A lot. But you'll like it.
The game doesn't have co-op in the main campaign, which is a shame since this would be a blast to play with a friend. But finishing the story unlocks a boss rush mode and "bloody palace" type mode, both of which can be played co-op. The developers are not active on Steam, so future updates and patches are highly unlikely. This too is unfortunate: With a little more polish and care, this game could be truly great.
I picked up Blood Rain Chronicles for 99 cents when it was on sale (it's back up to $9.99 now). While it's not my favorite game ever, it is the best single dollar I've ever spent on a Steam game. I wouldn't say it's for everyone, but if a fast paced, skill based hack-'n-slash sounds like something you'd enjoy, I highly recommend it.
Now if only someone would develop a side-scrolling Onimusha...