Let me put this out there: Bullet Hell is not my genre. I think maybe I had fun back in the day with 1943: The Battle of Midway in the arcades, but man, the genre is not what it used to be. And that's not a bad thing. Yeah... I liked it.
Okay, let's start with what this is. If you're not familiar with the genre of bullet hell, it's basically a side scroller (sometimes top to bottom) where your character is dodging a SCREEN FULL of projectiles all designed to ruin your day. In Azure Reflections, that looks something like this...
Fret not, your entire sprite doesn't have to dodge those bullets, just her heart, a common thread in these games. Still, don't think that makes this easy. I... okay. Real talk. I'm coming clean. I only have so long to review these games and... well... this is a damn hard game. It's all about memorization and reflexes, man! So... maybe... possibly... I switched to easy mode. But I got a fair way in before I had to!
Now, normally, uber difficulty turns me off from a game. I love story. I love characters. I feel like making something monstrously difficult detracts from something that's supposed to help me unwind. Well... Azure Reflections has that. Now, it's no Great Gatsby or anything, but the characters feel alive, the world feels real, and the battles feel like there's a purpose behind them.
Also, it's freakin' hilarious.
The plot is simple... sort of. Okay, I'll admit it took me a while to understand what I was doing, but somehow I was driven forward. If I understood everything right, it more or less centers on your main character wanting snacks and then getting pulled into an interdimensional battle because of a mysterious red mist that ends with a tea party. Yeah, it's weird.
Gameplay is straightforward and addictive. Try not to get hit while launching your own attacks at the barrage of enemies that litter the screen. If you're hit once, you're stunned. If you're hit while stunned, you die. Attacking enemies and narrowly missing your opponent's attack will build up a special meter that lets you unleash magical attacks. Collect everything you can so you can upgrade your character after dying with magic accessories (like DJ headphones or nerdy glasses). Oh, and you will die. This game is about learning the pattern, getting stronger, and giving it a go again.
Here's the part where I defend myself from accusations of hypocrisy. You see, in my last review I looked at Cosmos Invictus, a CCG where I said something along the lines of "I hate games where it's not possible for me to win the first go 'round/ I hate games that make you die, level up, and go back in." Something along that line.
So what does Azure Reflections do that Cosmos Invictus didn't? Well, to put it bluntly, Azure Reflections is just a better game. When I lost in Cosmos Invictus, I was reminded of how little fun I was having, of how disengaged I was from the story. But Azure Reflections kept me on my toes. Death was frequent, yes, but getting right back into the fray to try again was just as frequent. I could see my enemy, feel like I was fighting for a reason. The bosses were detailed characters with real depth. In other words, I was having fun and that made the constant death something I could deal with. No. I didn't enjoy dying in Azure Reflections, not even once. But it wasn't so frustrating because within seconds I could be right back in the fray, now armed with knowledge that would save my behind on the next go. Also... did I mention the game's funny?
The game has loads of replay value, and is perfect for either long play sessions when you want to grind out that one boss who keeps destroying you, or for short bursts when you just want to earn a few points toward your next accessory.
You can unlock multiple characters to play as and each one has a unique story that all culminates in the final, super, extra, special, ultra ending. Probably. I mean there's a secret ending once you've beaten everything else. Jeez, this game has my brain fried.
It's a weird, wacky, fun, but kinda stressful romp through a gorgeous world. In fact, I only ever had one problem with it: No English dubs means when the characters exchange witty barbs during combat, I'm in the dark. I can either dodge projectiles or try to read the subtitles, and in this game, taking your eyes off the prize is tantamount to suicide.
Verdict? Play the game. I loved it. Am I a convert to bullet hell? Probably not, but this game had enough to it that my issues with the genre didn't bother me.
If you love bullet hells, if you love moe anime games, and if you just love irreverent, fourth-wall breaking humor, give this game a shot. Just make sure you can dodge all theirs.
Keep your eyes open for my debut novel, The Paladin.