One of my favorite genres of game to play is the RPG. The problem is that I haven’t played a truly great one in quite some time. Oh there are a lot of average ones out there, and even some that border on the cusp of greatness – but to find one that I really want to find time to sit down and play constantly is asking a lot. I was extremely excited when the PS Vita expanded the library of PSP games that it could play, and more so when I got a review copy of Unchained Blades (really because I no longer have a standard PSP). I didn’t know what to expect from Unchained Blades – I had seen some of the screens, and knew that publisher XSEED had put out some decent games in the past, but I had gotten my hopes up for a good RPG too many times in the past only to have them broken. Could Unchained Blades really be the RPG I was pining for?
At the start of Unchained Blades you control Fang – strongest of all the dragons (as you hear him boast over and over and over again). Fang and his cronies fight their way into the temple of the Creator where she will grant one wish. Fang’s wish? To fight the strongest person in the world. Now the goddess is somewhat confused, and offers to make Fang into the strongest person in the world – presumably to just give him what he wants anyways, which by all accounts would be a good choice. Fang though could replace the word “dragon” with the word “douche”, and he launches into a tirade about her not messing with his powers and yadda yadda. The goddess, not to be spoken to in such a manner, decided it’s best if Fang learns some humility, and saps him of his strength, turns him into a human, and sends him hurtling to the earth below. All he needs to o to get his body and power back is fight his way back to her again.
Got all that? Typical RPG goodness in every bite! That’s the base story – yes, there is a lot more to it as things progress, but your ultimate goal is to wish yourself back to normal. Throughout the adventure Fang teams up with a large and colorful cast of characters, each with their own distinctive personalities. There is a cowardly golem prince, a rebellious phoenix princess, a none too bright fox sprite, and still others to help you get to the temple. Of course each of these characters want to get to the temple themselves to have their own wishes granted as well. It has almost a “Wizard of Oz” feel to it, with Fang playing an angst driven Dorothy who wants revenge on the wizard who made him human.
The one thing about all the characters in the game (not just the ones that end up in your party), is that they are drawn beautifully. There are MULTIPLE famous names (if you’re in to anime and manga that is) on the art team here. There’s Kumichi Yoshizuki (from Someday’s Dreamers), pako (from Shining Force EXA), and one of my favorite artists in the scene: Toshiyuki Kubooka (who works on The Idolm@ster). There are others as well (if you want to see them all, click here), but those three powerhouses would be more than enough for any normal game to have an edge in art style. Surprisingly, while all three of them normally have different styles and techniques, in Unchained Blades they all come together in one perfect melting pot of beauty. Don’t be looking for the same detailed drawings in dungeons however. While characters are immaculate, the dungeons are passable and not much else. It isn’t like you are going to be spending all day staring at the dungeon graphics though, because more often than not something else will be on screen.
Gameplay wise, Unchained Blades is a first person dungeon crawler, and plays somewhat like Wizardry. The thing about first person RPGs though, is that they are usually pretty rough for a newcomer to get into. Almost always this genre features a minimum of a story, and characters with no real background to them – in that area though, Unchained Blades breaks the mold. Characters have a lot of background information presented throughout the story, making it thoroughly easy to become engaged with each of them. Not only that, but a good portion of the story is told through cut scenes that look as if they were ripped straight from an anime you would see on television. Couple all of that with voice acting that, while some voice can grate on you, is superb all around.
Combat is fun, and difficult at the same time – in fact, it’s the level of difficulty that poses to most problems for people. A regular random encounter has the potential to wipe out your party if you aren’t prepared, and boss encounters can be many many times more brutal. There were plenty of times that I wanted to throw my Vita in frustration, but as in most games like that, spending time grinding out levels is the only way to go. Thankfully the grind doesn’t become boring because they use a skill system somewhat like Final Fantasy X’s “sphere grid”, where you get points and you decide what direction you want each of your characters to go. More skills, more HP, more MP, etc, etc – it’s all at your fingertips when you level, and it has the distinct impression of being able to make “your” characters truly yours.
One of the neat mechanics they threw into the game is the ability to “unchain” enemy monsters. Early on you learn that the things wandering around the dungeons used to be just like you until they went crazy. Beating the hell out of them will give you a chance to “wake them up”, and then they’ll fight for you. At random times when you have an enemy below 50% health a red circle might appear around them. When that happens, you use the Unchain ability and start a little mini game. Basically there is an outer boundary ring, and an inner limit ring, your goal is to press a button to stop a third moving ring when it is between the other two. Sometimes on stronger enemies you have to do this multiple times in a row, and the moving ring can move quite fast. Yes it all boils down to testing your reaction speed, but it’s a fun distraction from the main game.
Bottom Line: Unchained Blades presents us with an easily accessible first person dungeon crawler with a good story and amazing character design – if only it wasn’t so “grindy” it would be perfect.
- Fifteen of anime’s best artists collaborating on one game – does anything else need to be said?
- The voice work is great – even for the annoying characters
- Being able to chose your character’s skill progression is great
- The grinding can get tedious at times
- Difficulty level could pose a problem to some players
- You get the urge to reach through the screen and strangle some of the characters for being stupid.
You can pick up a copy of Unchained Blades on the PSN for the PSP/PS Vita or on the Nintendo e-Shop for the 3DS for $29.99