It feels like a kid screaming for attention that it will never receive, all about the style with no real substance to back it up, making Unchained Blades a disheveled mess of a title that suffers from nearly all aspects of its own design.
Publisher: XSEED Games
My review regarding Gungnir for the PSP was meant to be a swan-song review, one that would highlight the very best that Sony’s older portable can possibly give us in its final hours. While Gungnir is a fairly exceptional game despite the issues at hand, it is not the only game to be released for the PSP this month. The death march continues with a dungeon-crawling RPG from XSEED Games, Unchained Blades.
Unchained Blades, however, may have a tougher time actually penetrating any market for PSP owners. This is partly due to a 3DS version of the title that is coming out later in the Summer. However even with the promise of stereoscopic images, Unchained Blades is likely not worth the trouble on either handheld.
|PROS||Character customization is good, Decent music|
|CONS||Assault on the senses with graphic design, Feature creep galore, Poor execution|
|WTF?!||A lot of things… too many to list here….|
The star of Unchained Blades is Fang, a powerful, arrogant dragon king of the dragon clan. Fang and his top lieutenants decide one day to visit the goddess Clunea, who grants a singular wish to those who pass a long gauntlet of trials to meet with her. Fang of course, as an arrogant rich boy, angers the goddess and is stripped of his powers, and must then work together with members of other fantasy creature tribes to go through the dungeons Clunea has set up in order to get revenge on her.
Right off the bat, the plot is very basic, and it is pretty clear the motivations of every character you meet. A golem prince who wants to basically be a kid again, a Medusa who wants to not be afraid of men, and a Phoenix princess that wants to become a dragon… yeah these are the kind of wishes the main characters want to shoot for. Of course not all are selfish like this, and not all of them stay this way either, since you can see the plot twists coming a mile away. Developer FuRyu does try to throw a curveball or two in the mix, but overall the story follows a typical pattern revolving around the importance of teamwork, friendship, selflessness, and so forth.
Once course, this is not necessarily a bad thing, because typical storylines can be good depending on their delivery. In this case though, Unchained Blades fails at making the narrative worth your time. The characters are too extreme in personality to be taken seriously, becoming stock caricatures from a shonen anime. There is also no definition to this world either. Other than the lingering plot thread of young people trying to get a wish granted to them, every kingdom or character we see comes from a different clan of fantasy creature. So we have no real sense of how these clans operate, how they respect each other, and so forth, other than the nearly dozen main characters need to work together somehow to accomplish a singular goal.
Of course, there is a reason for the jumbled style of the game. Each main character was singularly created by a famous manga and anime artist in Japan. Fang, for example, was designed and illustrated by Pako, who did the artwork for Shining Force EXA. Clunea the goddess is drawn by Kazushi Hagiwara, creator of the manga Bastard!! All in all, the thirteen main characters are drawn by thirteen different artists, and while each character has a unique look about them, the contrasting styles makes the game an aesthetic mess of unnecessary excess.
Even gameplay suffers from heavy feature creep at times. It is a first person dungeon-crawler experience that many have pegged in the vein of the Wizardry series, but it actually shares more in common with the Shin Megami Tensei series. For starters, you can recruit monsters to fight for you by “unchaining” them, where you “unchain” the monsters through a timing minigame for them to join up with you. Each of the four characters can have four monsters a piece to fight with them, so up to 20 characters are technically fighting at time. However, the recruited monsters will usually just jump in front of the leader and take damage for them, or join in specific group attacks if they become extremely loyal. And of course, to get them loyal you need to employ the right emotion for them as they level up, making recruitment of monsters a babysitting job in the hopes they do something.
I should also note that recruiting monsters is also random, and is based on a charisma score that levels up separately from everything else. This charisma score is also governed based on how well you preform in battle; if you kill enemies in a short amount of time and take little you get a higher charisma score. If you get hit a lot or the battle takes too long, your score is much lower. So keeping track of how your charisma levels up is just as important as the standard level up, because it dictates the actions of your recruited monsters, and the chances of you “unchaining” monsters in the field.
But this is just scratching the surface on the what feels like a dozen or so “features” you need to know to progress through the game. There are also group battles where the monster sprites comically throw themselves at each other, while you need to do a rhythm game (of all things) to give you bonus attack power to defeat the other group, as well as mash buttons for one on one attacks. Did I mention this is used as a plot device for some boss battles too, and it looks hilarious when it occurs? There is also a synthesizing system, where you can breakdown items found in the field by mining and harvesting to make new weapons, armor, and curatives for a price, of course. At the very least it’s well implemented, although it again serves little purpose to go through these huge dungeons to just mine for ore every time you see it.
Level progression is thankfully simpler, where you gain SP points after each level up, and must then customize your characters abilities by implementing the SP points onto giant wheels interlocked with each other. Reminiscent of the Sphere system in Final Fantasy X, you can gain extra speed, HP or strength, as well as special abilities and proficiency with one or two styles of weapons. It is actually the best part of the role-playing in Unchained Blades, finding good combinations to create a strong, capable character build with as you go through the various themed dungeons the game throws at you.
FuRyu did not spare expanse in getting talent to make the game, that is for sure. Along with the thirteen artists that worked on the principal cast designs, you have Toshio Akashi and Takashi Hino as director and writer, respectably. Akashi is famous for directing the Lunar series, while Hino has worked on Grandia in the past. We also get a special treat in the sound department with Nobuo Uematsu, who contributed the opening theme to the game, while his protégée Tsutomo Narita focused on most of the games music. I must admit the music was really good here, it did capture a sort of bubbly mood and made things bearable, unlike the voice-overs from stalwarts Troy Baker, Yuri Loventhal, and Wendee Lee, who I felt all phoned it in during their performances.
It is clear a lot of talent was put into Unchained Blades, but with so many cooks, the broth became spoiled. The art design is too diverse and jumbled. A lot of the artwork showcasing the dungeons from a distance look akin to a Greco-Roman style painting, with high detail and an ancient look to it. The monsters you face also feel different from the characters; their style is more uniform and adherent to the aforementioned Greco-Roman feel, even bosses have that slant to them. But the characters all stick out like sore thumbs, hyper-stylized and aesthetically different from each other, as if they were vying for attention every time they were on screen.
So when it’s all said and done, Unchained Blades is a poor man’s Shin Megami Tensei, lacking any subtlety or charm in its finished product. It feels like a kid screaming for attention that it will never receive, all about the style with no real substance to back it up, making Unchained Blades a disheveled mess of a title that suffers from nearly all aspects of its own design. Even with a promised game time of over 50 hours, this is one dungeon not worth going down, even for the hardest of the core.
A retail code was provided by the publisher for review purposes. It was played to completion in about 27 hours on PSP. A 3DS version will be available “this Summer.”