|Rain Blood Chronicles: Mirage
|Original Release Date
|Nov 11, 2013
Rain Blood Chronicles: Mirage is a fast-paced action-fighting game that combines traditional Chinese artistry with RPG mechanics and combo-building combat. Produced by the Beijing-based studio S-Game, Rain Blood is pure destruction and violence, as players fight their way across eight levels full of enemies prone to going airborne and becoming part of some spectacular combo chaining. Although it possesses solid hack and slash fighting supported by excellent visuals and audio, Rain Blood is a mixed bag, with the lack of a strong story, game length, and other gameplay building elements. The questions for potential players revolve around whether the pros outshine the cons and whether the gaming experience is worth the effort.
Rain Blood Chronicles: Mirage is set in a land called the Martial Realm, in which various assassination organizations vie for power and complete control over this world. The most domineering of these groups is Mirage, an organization that has recently surged to the cusp of gaining complete control. Jade, a member of a smaller organization called Cabal (which literally means small group of secret plotters, so a cabal called Cabal…) goes missing while investigating Mirage. Soul and Shang, students of Jade and the two main characters of the game, are tasked with finding their missing teacher. Players will fight as both Soul and Shang as they tear across different landscapes in an attempt to find Jade and uncover Mirage’s sudden meteoric rise in power.
For a game whose focus is combat, Rain Blood does make an attempt at a deep, captivating story. Unfortunately it comes off as convoluted and severely lacking in depth. Most of the story is told in the beginning cinematic, load screens, and a handful of cutscenes spread throughout the game. Although more of the story can be uncovered by finding chests hidden within each level, these tidbits of text aren’t enough to make perfect sense of what’s actually unfolding, plot-wise. Soul and Shang do have personal thoughts and moments of banter between each other, but this, too, barely helps to untangle the story.
It also doesn’t help that major plot points are not conveyed in an ordered fashion. There are times when the game expects you to know more than what has actually been told, whether it’s about characters or events. It takes a few playthroughs to connect the dots and fully understand what information is being presented. The story is further marred by the uneven quality of the translation. Especially in the beginning, when the plot is first discussed, the grammar and speech flow of the subtitles is weak. While the quality of the translation does improve as the game progresses, it would have been preferable if a stronger, more coherent effort were made when it really counted. Really it’s a shame, because there is a clear desire by S-Game to incorporate a story that engrosses its players to the degree other facets of the game are capable of doing.
Fortunately, the combat for Rain Blood is incredibly strong and makes this game shine. Soul and Shang possess their own fighting styles and move sets, allowing players to fight the way they want and switch out one for the other with the tag team style of swapping. Move sets are very much in the style of Devil May Cry, in that specific button and direction inputs produce a variety of outcomes. As for our two main characters, Soul is slower, but stronger and his combos are based on forceful, damaging hits. Enemies will lose health faster against Soul and tend to fly horizontally across the screen more often with him. Shang is weaker, but faster and his combos allow for a much higher hit count. I feel Shang also has an easier time getting enemies airborne without the issue of them flying across the screen, allowing for more concentrated combo building.
While beginner players may end up favoring one character over the other, the gameplay reaches its full potential when using both equally and knowing when to switch. For example, when going up against a larger enemy or a boss, using Soul to get the combo started and getting them airborne faster is typically a better strategy than starting with Shang. Once the enemy is airborne though, you can switch to Shang to keep them in the air and build the combo. Another example of using Soul first is when there are multiple enemies spread across the screen. Soul has an easier time launching enemies horizontally, so once the enemies are launched and corralled to one side of the screen, that’s the time to switch to Shang. Knowing each character’s abilities and training your sense of when to switch will make the game far more immersive and rewarding.
Combat doesn’t just stop with fighting, switching, and combo building. There is an RPG element that allow players to unlock upgrades and new moves for each character, allowing for more devastating combos. During regular play, defeated enemies drop souls and cash. After completing a level, these can be traded for accessories and upgrades to each character, altering their stats or giving them an ability, such as auto heal. However, the real focus is the acquisition of new moves for each character. First, during a combo, a meter appears onscreen along with a letter rank. Starting with rank E, as a combo continues and the hit count increases, the meter fills and changes the rank from E to D all the way to S. Once S-rank is activated, each hit on an enemy drops gold ingots, which are used to purchase these new moves.
Typically, these new moves increase hit count and have dramatic effects on filling the combo meter. At first though, earning ingots can be an arduous process since you are forced to use a limited number of combos, which usually result in very low hit counts. More often than not, you end up killing the enemies before coming anywhere near an S-rank and instead you’ll end up grinding mid and main boss fights to collect enough ingots to purchase new combos. It can be a repetitive and dull process at first, but the new combos definitely add to the gameplay, preventing it from ever becoming too boring or stagnant. In fact, once all of the combos for both characters have been unlocked, the sheer level of continuous devastation you can inflict is incredibly satisfying. In some instances, boss fights can even be completed without the boss landing a blow or returning to the ground once airborne.
The aesthetics of the game speak volumes and favorably complement the immersion provided by the combat. The developers describe the game as a wuxia, a fictional Chinese martial arts genre. Level designs that span from forests to cityscapes and temples all draw heavily from this idea of wuxia (Again, the land is called the Martial Realm.) in that everything has either a war-torn or militarized aspect to it. Players will find themselves clambering over naval ships, infiltrating compounds, and fighting within temples that clearly take cues from the Shaolin. The setting itself is a historic, imperialistic time period that fits well with the wushu and swordplay that the enemies employ.
The art style is heavily influenced by manhua, with its great attention to detail and limited color palette. The level of detail really makes the game strikingly vivid, from the intricate designs of the characters, to the landscapes that express both beauty and turmoil. The limits on color allow those few splashes to become more meaningful and impactful to the events onscreen. The audio is just as impressive, alternating softer, melodic tracks that fit the historic aspect of the game with intense, faster, more aggressive themes that fit the ferocity of the combat. Especially during the boss battles, the soundtracks will get your heart rate up and pull you deeper into the savagery and frenzy of the battles.
Lastly, I wanted to talk about Rain Blood as an overall experience. As I mentioned before, the question typically asked for any game is “Is it worth it?” Bottom line, Rain Blood is a very fun game. If you have the patience to unlock and learn how to string the move sets for each character together, you will undoubtedly enjoy this game as you decimate wave after wave of enemies. While the game is limited in its campaign, only featuring eight levels total, working through them to earn higher ranks and finding all of the secrets can add significant value to the experience. If you’re looking to just minimally hack and slash your way from beginning to end credits on either the easy or normal settings, the game will take you less than three hours. However, if you want to experience Rain Blood to its fullest and draw out the best it can offer, the game is a satisfying eight to ten hours of brutality, peril, and fierce pandemonium. You have to work for the appreciation, but Rain Blood Chronicles: Mirage is definitely one of the most elegant rampages I’ve had the pleasure of brawling through.