Unchained Blades is neither a masterpiece nor a disasterpiece. It’s a flawed, but fun, JRPG/dungeon crawler that manages to capture players’ attentions with interesting battle mechanics. Sadly, its gruesome grind periods negate the fun. Frankly, I’m surprised that the amazing talent behind didn’t wow much as I hoped. Toshio Akashi, the man behind Lunar, helmed the directors seat. The game was written by Takashi Hino who worked on Grandia. Nobuo Uematsu (Final Fantasy) and Tsutomo Narita are behind the wonderful music. There’s lots of talent begin the game. Unchained Blades is a well put together game that just happens to fall short in key areas, and goes on for longer that it should.
The story here is a bit quirky. You begin as an adult dragon (Fang) who’s searching for the world’s creator–a goddess capable of granting her visitor one wish. Fang’s single wish is to find the toughest person in the world. Unfortunately, he manages to disrespect the goddess who strips his powers away, turning him to human form. Fang’s goal is to travel back to the goddess and regain his power and along the way he meets an interesting assortment of allies.
Interestingly, each party member is the work of different famous manga artist, which enhances each character’s unique look and ups the presentation quality. The character models aren’t visible during battles, which is a missed opportunity. So are the environments, which recycles dungeon textures and corridor designs. It’s puzzling that the game world is so bland considering the amazing character design.
You’ll battle often in this first-person dungeon crawler, and each one earns charisma points. These points are important because they help you to recruit allies, assistants that let you cast strong spells and attacks. Typically, once an enemy drops below 50% health you can use an unchain attack. This attack lets you capture enemies who then become your allies. Once you capture allies, you’re asked tricky questions that require cleverness to answer correctly. If you do so, you’ll receive a charisma boost. Most of the ridiculous questions involve some form of reinforcement. After one battle, my ally asked if she performed well (it’s best to be truthful as they’ll gain small strength boosts). The higher your charisma, the stronger the allies you can recruit.
Let me clarify a small detail: allies are not the same as party members which are called masters. Each party member can have up to four allies. Similar to Pokemon, allies fight by your side and attack enemies. However if you’re careless you can lose an ally.
Most battles pit you against six to nine enemies at once, so players will have to use the shoulder buttons to switch between enemy groups. Powerful chain attacks quickly dispel enemies, but there are times when you will easily be overwhelmed. This usually means it’s time to grind, and this is where the game begins to become dull. You’re tasked with performing the same attack patterns over and over again in the same dull corridors you’ve been exploring for quite some time. Even worse, it takes significant grinding to unlock the skills needed to proceeded. There are towns where you can buy items, and partake in sidequests.
Character development goes a long way. Each level earns you skill two skill points that you apply to the skill map. Strategizing which skill or stat to earn next is extremely important, so it’s fortunate that you can view the entire skill map. The voice work is excellent. Full Metal Alchemist and Bleach‘s Troy Baker lends his voice to Fang. The script is also well-written and there are a few snarky one liners throughout.
Do note that Unchained Blade is only available via digital download. Luckily, as of July 15th, it is compatible with the PS Vita. If you’re into dungeon crawlers, and don’t mind dropping $29.99, this is a game worth checking out. Just don’t expect a blockbuster, however do expect a lengthy adventure. I happened to log 65 hours before it was all said and done. With a bit more polish this could have been something truly special, yet it still manages to inject life into the dying PSP.