Publisher: XSEED Games
Platforms: PlayStation Portable, Nintendo 3DS
Unchained Blades is one of the latest Japanese localizations to hit North America. This game is true to its roots as a dungeon-crawling JRPG. I spent many hours grinding through the labyrinthine dungeons just to face the incredibly strong boss that lay waiting at the end. I knew what I was getting into and I was not disappointed.
In the game’s story, it is said that any being who can approach the Goddess Clunea in her sky temple will be granted a single wish. Fang, the Dragon Emperor, seeks out the Goddess to discover who the strongest creature in the world is so he can defeat them. After moving past her Angels, Fang rudely attempts to extract information from Clunea. He has no interest in a wish, only the answer he seeks. To punish him for his arrogance, Clunea strips Fang of his dragon form and powers and sends him back to the ground below, hoping that he’ll someday come to appreciate a wish from the Goddess.
Upon waking up, Fang eventually joins up with others seeking wishes from the Goddess to eliminate the problems in their lives. All of the characters in the game are bound by a single desire, to be granted a wish by Clunea. The only way to achieve this is by making it through the Holy Ordeals within the Titans (dungeons), each of which only grants one wish (how inconvenient).
That was only the first 30 minutes of the game. This section acts as a basic combat tutorial and introduces the idea of Followers, companions that you can essentially equip to a Master (a main character), which take hits for you and attack on occasion. The Followers system is a neat addition to this genre and it adds a whole new dimension to battles. Each Follower belongs to or has a certain Anima (think type or element). These Anima dictate what link skills you can use. For example, equip a follower of the fire anima on Tiana and you can use the link skill Flame Strike. It becomes important to collect followers of different anima to assign to your characters.
Followers can be obtained by “unchaining” them. When you fight monsters in battle, if their health hits a certain threshold, there’s a chance for you to be able to “unchain” them and take them on as a Follower. It’s a lot like catching Pokemon. The unchain mini-game is easy enough though, you have to hit the X button once a moving ring goes inside a second ring. The stronger the follower, the more rounds of this you’ll have to do.
Not only do your followers fight, but they also come to you while you’re in town or after battles and talk to you. You’ll be given a few choices to respond with and your response will either improve your charisma (increases your chance of being able to unchain monsters) as well as your follower’s mood or lower either of the two. As far as I can tell, mood only seems to affect how willing your follower is to help you out in combat. Each character has a different set of answers but the general message is the same: yes, no, surprise, etc.
The standard turn-based combat is present here. Of course, the characters with the higher speed generally attack first. I say generally because even though my mages are the fastest members of my party, sometimes their heal spells would go off after the other members had died or not at all because the battle already ended. This can be a little frustrating. It would be nice to have a turn order list somewhere on-screen so battles feel less random. If I know the boss is about to attack then I’ll set my characters to heal up the turn before instead of just watching them die.
As with most RPGs, how you allocate your SP (skill points) upon leveling up is crucial to your survival. FuRyu chose to adopt a Final Fantasy X-esque sphere grid for stat allocation, dubbing it the skill map. Characters are given 2 SP upon leveling and it is up to the player to choose which direction their party grows in. You can always backtrack and invest in nodes that you passed up earlier. I chose to push my characters in a more offensive direction overall, supplementing my defense when I felt my party was getting banged up too quickly.
The art of Unchained Blades is beautiful. If you’re a fan of anime then this is at least worth a look. I’m drawn to the JRPG’s emphasis on aesthetic appeal, so Unchained Blades is exactly my type of game. Each character is designed by a different artist but it only shows when you compare the more complex character designs, like Sylvie, to more simplistic ones, like Lapis. The in-game graphics mostly consist of animated sprites and locale backdrops. It’s when you go into the Titans that you see a deviation in style. The concept art for the Titans are done in the same way as towns and cutscenes but the dungeons themselves are sort of grainy. I’m not sure if this is a limitation of the engine used but you would think that a “dungeon-crawler” would place a lot of emphasis on the look of the dungeon. You’re going to be spending a lot of time in them, after all.
As far as music goes, I have yet to find an annoying or awful track in this game. The theme song is energetic and reminiscent of the opening theme from an anime. I thank Nobuo Uematsu, best known for his work on the Final Fantasy soundtracks, for his contribution of the theme song. Composer Tsutomu Narita (Xenoblade Chronicles) did an excellent job on the music, it’s nice and complements the locales well. I particularly like the music that plays during fights. Again, I couldn’t help but be reminded of the Final Fantasy series.
While I enjoyed Unchained Blades, I understand that this game may not be for everyone. In the 12 hours I spent on the first chapter, at least nine (or more) of those had to be grinding. Because you’re going through dungeons, you’ll also probably get lost quite a bit, especially if you put the game down for a while. If you can overlook the tedium and focus on the artistic appeal though, this game is a solid buy. For only $29.99, you’re sure to get many hours of enjoyment, if, you know, that’s your thing.