Bleak Sword DX is a dark fantasy action game developed by more8bit and published by the always fun Devolver Digital. Initially released on the 19th of September 2019 exclusively for Apple Arcade, the game is now being rereleased with new game modes, additional chapters, refined gameplay, and updated visuals. The story isn’t all that complicated: a prince has murdered the king and his brother by the influence of the Bleak Sword and has laid waste to the land, unleashing monsters to terrorise the people for 200 years. However, there is a hero — which is you — ready to go on a quest to destroy the Bleak Sword and end the Red Age.
The most striking thing about the game at first glance is its looks, combining 2D pixels with a 3D environment which makes every level looks like a small diorama. Using only shades of red, white, and black, it looks great yet keeps things clear. It also looks like you're playing the game through an old CRT TV, and it uses this style very well; it helps with the creepy, dark visuals of the game. Though, you can turn off all the filters and lower the effects of certain elements like lightning if you want an unimpeded experience.
On to gameplay. It’s pretty light on what you can do but uses those mechanics well. You can run, dodge, attack, and bring your shield up for a second, sort of like Kingdom Hearts’ guard ability. You absolutely need to learn to guard, as not only does it prevent all damage, but also refills your stamina, allowing you to counterattack or dodge. If you don’t, well, even on Normal with a few defence upgrades, you can only take a few hits before you die. While it is really tough and seriously punishes wasted actions, I really liked this system. This world is not for the faint of heart, and it shows, but there’s nothing stopping you from getting through the game without getting hit other than your own skill. That being said, some enemies don’t feel very fair to fight. For example, Harpies can only be hurt when they do a downstab, which is all good, but they have iffy hitboxes that lead to some unfair damage. And that’s not to mention the Giant Spiders and their frustrating attacks of barely-telegraphed charges and webbing.
Progressing through the game is quite simple: kill everything that vaguely looks threatening with prejudice. After clearing a level, you gain EXP, some healing, and potentially an item that ranges from equipment to consumables. You only have two slots for them, which feels a little restrictive, but given the nature of the game is understandable. If you die, you lose your items and EXP, but you can get them back if you beat the level you died at. You only have one shot, though, and if you die again, that’s it. It’s all gone. It’s kinda frustrating losing hard-earned experience, especially in a boss battle where the game does not pull punches. If you aren’t the greatest player, you can go back to previous levels and grind EXP, which is nice.
There are also levels that require you to be on horseback, galloping at high speeds to the next chapter. These levels were weird to me. Movement feels a little sluggish, and the inability to guard in exchange for leaping over obstacles is annoying as it absolutely kills muscle memory. It’s not really a welcome change of pace, as you still have to kill everything in your way. While I don’t find these sections bad, it isn’t something I look forward to.
Now on the topic of technical performance, I ran into no problems. A consistently high FPS all the way and no bugs. It’s not that big of a game, but it is well-refined… other than pathfinding. Some enemies did get stuck on objects.
As for general gripes, I don’t really have any, and anything I felt frustrated with was because I sucked and kept dying a lot. But there was always this feeling of one more go, and it’s not like these fights go on for more than a couple of minutes at most.
Overall, Bleak Sword DX doesn’t feel like a mobile game; it felt like it was born for PC and console. It’s a small title, but its tough-but-fair difficulty will keep you coming back even after more than a few deaths and lots of EXP lost. You’ll want to keep fighting in spite of the cruel world out to get you. It may be bleak, but it is never hopeless.
Bleak Sword DX will be available on the Nintendo Switch and PC via Steam on the 9th of June 2023.
Bleak Sword DX (Reviewed on Windows)
Excellent. Look out for this one.
Bleak Sword DX is an excellent game with its easy-to-learn but hard-to-master gameplay. While things may look bleak, it is never hopeless.