Unchained Blades review
The former PSP exclusive that’s also playable on PS Vita, Unchained Blades, was released for 3DS this month. Read our review of it and find out if this RPG is worth your time or not!
Unchained Blades puts its players in the role of Fang, a Dragon Emperor stripped of his power. As you might have guessed, Fang seeks to regain his powers. He plans to do that by defeating the goddess Clunea, who is responsible for reverting him to his human form. The story is not particularly original, but it’s bearable, especially since the game doesn’t take itself very seriously. If anything, it’s nice to finally play as an anti-hero instead of a character archetype of a saint that stars in most RPG’s. Most of the other characters that you’ll encounter and/or join are also pretty untypical for a Japanese RPG, which gives a fresh, new feeling when playing Unchained Blades, and the best part is that the characters never feel twisted and untypical for the sake of being twisted and untypical. So yeah, although the story isn’t exactly Pulitzer material, the quality level of characterization is quite high.
With some exceptions, Unchained Blades is a traditional first-person dungeon crawler. Most of the gameplay consists out of exploring dungeons, avoiding traps in them, solving puzzles, and fighting in random encounters, which are pretty frequent. Also, the dungeons are actually live Titans, each with their own elemental theme (fire, water, etc.). The combat in Unchained Blades is turn-based, with front and back rows of characters. A nice twist is that battles can take place over more than one screen (up to 3), which means that you’re forced to be very careful and calculating when using your powerful group attacks, since they can’t target multiple screens. Another type of special skills you can use in combat are the so called “Burst skills”, which can be used after landing enough hits in a battle. Also, every now and then you’ll be able to “unchain” enemies that are near death in a short timing mini-game. What that means is that you can assign them to your characters as followers/familiars (each character can have 4). These followers have elemental attributes that will help enable you to activate some devastating links skills, and although they can’t be controlled directly, having them take damage and block hits for you, as well as increase your dealt damage comes in handy, especially during excruciating boss fights. Naturally, all of your followers have their own stats and experience pools that you’ll level up.Your characters will sometimes be approached by their followers after a battle and they’ll engage in a short conversation with them, during which you’ll be given an option to answer or react to one of their questions/statements. A little tip for those situations: always choose the least obvious option. These short sequences can result in increase and decrease of your followers’ charisma, depending on your ability to choose the “correct” answer. Also, for better or worse, the opportunities to unchain enemies and turn them into followers are completely random, which makes any kind of planning regarding this activity pretty much useless.
Visiting the local town in Unchained Blades to restock and heal for future quests means browsing through a bunch of menus, which is disappointing, but not uncommon in this sub-genre. I recommend accepting as much side-quests as possible, since they’re almost always connected with the next Titan the game takes you to, and they usually result in (a relatively) easy money. And trust me, money is everything but easy in Unchained Blades, and you’ll want to milk every possible source of it before proceeding with the story. Of course, even though the game is quite accepting of novice players during the first several hours of gameplay (which are practically one huge tutorial), the level of grinding and the amount of incredibly tough and frustrating battles make Unchained Blades a title for only the veterans of the genre, and exceptionally, some very enthusiastic newcomers. The controls usually work well, although those playing this title on a 3DS will probably take hours to get used to the fact that the A and B buttons are reversed from the usual Nintendo control scheme and that the B button is used for confirming actions. It’s a small detail, but old habits die hard. The option of saving anytime outside of combat is incredibly useful, and every portable game should have it.
Even for (by today’s standards) 3DS’s mediocre specs, Unchained Blades is from a technical standpoint a graphically unimpressive game. However, when you get out of the dark and boring dungeons that are full of barely movable enemies, you’ll be able to appreciate the game’s artwork and hand-drawn backgrounds while browsing town menus, as well as incredibly detailed character portraits. Almost all of the characters that you’ll encounter and control in Unchained Blades are very unique and easily distinguishable, which is a praiseworthy accomplishment for a game of this size. The 2D animated cutscenes are also easy on the eye, and in overall, although the game looks plain during most of the dungeon crawling parts, the 14 artists that worked on the characters’ portraits, numerous backgrounds and other things deserve a big round of applause. I have much less ambivalent feelings about the sound aspect of the game, which is simply put – excellent. English localizations of Japanese titles with voice acting rarely end well, but Unchained Blades is definitely an exception to this rule, and besides quality voice acting, the game features a lengthy and comprehensive soundtrack composed by Nobuo Uematsu and Tsutomu Narita. If you don’t recognize this names, trust me, you will after playing Unchained Blades.
Graphics: 6.5 - few animations and very crude graphics, but beautiful artwork
Sound: 8.9 - bearable sound effects, quality voice acting, and fantastic soundtrack
Gameplay: 7 - essentially fun, but the high amount and difficulty of combat is not for everyone
Duration: 8 - around 50 hours, 60 if you really suck at it
Score: 7.1 – it’s hard to tell in the beginning, but Unchained Blades is definitely a title intended for the genre veterans
Publisher: FuRyu (Japan), Xseed Games (North America)
Platform: PSP, PS Vita, 3DS
Release date: June 26, 2012 (PSP), January 3, 2013 (3DS)
The game score is not an average of other rated elements (since not all of them are equally important), just the reviewer’s overall opinion of the game.