Thursday, 10 January 2013

Unchained blades

 Gamespot Score:n/a

My Score:7.0

(+)Pros: - Likable characters with good ENGLISH voice acting, - Different varieties of dungeons makes exploring each one feel fresh, - Incredibly in-depth skill trees with a ton of different skill paths for each character, - Interesting follower and anima system, - Decent story.

(-)Cons: - Early difficulty can be rather discouraging, - Forcing players to gather followers for follower battles is unnecessary padding at its best, - Feels repetitive due to unrewarding exploration.

Gameplay time:30-40 hours

They may not be my favorite genre, but I have started to like dungeon crawling RPGs. The "Etrian Odyssey" series started it all, but then games like "Persona 3" and "Persona 4" also contributed to some of that love. Adding more to the fire, games like "Fate/Extra" and now "Unchained Blades" continued to spark my love for dungeon crawling RPGs. "Unchained Blade" is a rather simple dungeon crawler, similar to "Etrian Odyssey" but far lacking in unique gameplay mechanics. Still, that doesn't make it a bad game, its still very enjoyable by many means. Having a pretty decent story, good characters and some unique mechanics never seen before in such an RPG makes this a fun game, despite the lack of innovation in many other areas.

"Unchained Blades" puts you in the shoes of of the red dragon king Fang. As the almighty king of dragons, Fang has always been fascinated by the goddess Clunea and her wish granting abilities. Ever since a long time ago the world has been at the mercy of goddess Clunea, as adventurers from all around would travel just to get their wishes granted by her. Fang, being the almighty dragon that he is, seeks the goddess, since he could not find an opponent worthy of his attention in the world. Heading over to her castle with his 4 dragon elite overlords, they blast through all security only to find Clunea. Fang asks her to find him the strongest person in the world, so that he could fight him. Clunea only answers to wishes, so he does not understand Fang's question. Fang decides to ignore her, and furious as she is, she turned fang and his overlords into their weaker forms. Fang, now back to his younger self, seeks revenge against Clunea.

Die ant people!

For a game like this, its rather commendable to note that "Unchained Blades" actually has a good cast of characters. All of them are drawn by different well known Japanese artists, and they all look pretty unique. You have your dragon guy, your golem man, you have a medusa inspired girl, a female mandrake, a fox girl, a phoenix girl and more. To top it off, they all have their own special personalities that you will grow to like. The characters are all voiced, and while the game has only English audio, don't fret! The English voicing is actually pretty good! Better than lets say ...."Dissidia"? I though that game had a ton of god awful voices. To top it off, the story is pretty decent. Nothing special or out of this world, but it works.

The most important things about a dungeon crawler in my opinion, are the gameplay mechanics, and the dungeons themselves. In "Unchained Blades", you explore a good variety of dungeons in the form of titans (yes you are walking inside gigantic beings). Depending on the titan, the interior can be vastly different. One feels like a volcanic labyrinth, another feels like a gigantic underwater cavern, another feels like a lost temple from an ancient civilization. To top it off, these different dungeons have different dungeon mechanics. A fire dungeon will have lava panels that damage you as you walk past, a water dungeon has a drowning mechanic that submerges you underwater and drowns you if you don't get out.

Look at the top, 3 screens of 5 enemies, that's 15 dudes. Yeah, you're screwed.

Needless to say you can't have dungeons without monsters, and you can't have monsters without fighting, and you cant have fighting without skills! "Unchained Blades" has quite a few characters, and each one of them has their own special skill tree with their own unique skills. Similar to "Final Fantasy X"'s sphere grid system or "Final Fantasy XIII"'s crystarium, you gain SP after you level up, and you use these SP to advance through the grid and either gain new skills or better stats. It looks complex at first, and yes it is. You can go through a variety of different ways and open up an entire new option of skills to learn, be it an attack of a different element or an attack with an overall different weapon. Each character has their own unique skills so it all feels super bad ass.

Another thing worth nothing out for this game, is the follower mechanic. In "Unchained Blades", once you hit an enemy enough, an unchain ring may appear around it, allowing you to "Unchain" it and bring it under your control, sort of like Pokemon. An unchained monster can be set to a character as a follower, and each monster has their own special anima, and when a character has followers with certain fulfilled anima conditions, you can use more powerful skills for that character. Its a cool system, and as you continue to do battle with followers, your charisma level increases, allowing you to have an easier time unchaining future and more powerful monsters to aid your cause. And gathering these followers will help during follower battles, trials that the game present you as you play a quick time mini game where you press buttons as your followers charge forwards towards enemy followers.

Even a game like that needs a scene like this!

A few issues about "Unchained Blades". Firstly, its very hard at first, like, discouraging even. Later the game becomes A LOT easier as you open up stronger skills and followers, but early on when you don't have anything, the game is PUNISHING. Having to fight 15 enemies at once during early levels is obvious suicide and if you fail to run away from that fight....prepared to be ushered a beating. The first boss is also a complete asshole because of your lack of good skills. Forcing you to gather followers for follower battles is also f**ked up, because not everybody will keep tabs and unchain every monster they see. If they don't have enough monsters, that's a lot of time wasted to unchain new followers. Also, since unlike "EO" where exploration feels fun, "Unchained Blades" doesn't, and thus revisiting areas get repetitive quick.

You will like "Unchained Blades" if you're a typical JRPG lover like me, but dungeon crawling may not be everyone's cup of tea. Tons of unnecessary padding via follower recruitment and the early punishing difficulty can be huge turnoffs, but here are good reasons to stick to the game, like the in depth skill tree and the interesting skill/anima system. "Unchained Blades" is a good run, but you need to have the proper mindset to be able to stick to it.

Happy gaming!