...enjoyment that comes with completing and exploring everything is soon overrun by the inevitable hurdle of a slow progressing story line.
Unchained Blades takes place in a peculiar world where everyone starts off as human, and as they progress in life – or level up – they slowly turn into mythical beasts such as dragons, phoenixes, or giant metal golems. The main premise of the story is that in this world there is a goddess who can grant any wish. One of the main characters, an all-powerful dragon, begins the game by speaking with her; only to piss her off enough to be changed back into his human form. He must then re-take all of the tasks necessary to reach her again and be changed back into a dragon.
Unchained Blades is a melting pot of different types of games to be honest. It’s a traditional turn-based RPG in that you have multiple characters to control throughout battles; however it is also a simple grid based dungeon explorer, of which every level is captured in. On the other hand you’ll also be pitting against the fates to try and capture different monsters throughout the game, must like the always loved Pokemon. The aggravating part is that it seems the game can never quite decide of which it is more. Because of this you’ll often find yourself struggling between skill and luck in order to proceed, that is, in the few opportunities you actually get to push further in the story.
The story itself never truly develops, and it’s true, there really isn’t a whole lot to be said about some people who travel through a dungeon to get their wishes granted. Each chapter switches between parties, only letting one section unfold before you have to start all over with new characters. This brings in an array of issues, the primary being seriously prolonged gameplay. Never before have I not wanted to play a game to find out what could happen next, but this game really brings that out. Most may argue that a longer story line is better, ‘more for your money’; and it most cases I would have to agree. The problem with Unchained Blades is that you feel like you’re getting nowhere. Because of the dungeon styled layout of the game you’re forced to explore for hours, with enemies constantly and consistently getting harder with literally every step you take. This leads to an insane amount of level grinding just to be able to explore, which then leads to an even longer experience. You will spend over 90% of the time grinding in a dungeon, only to finally be content with your characters and have to start all over with a new party.
Speaking of grinding, most RPG’s your characters will unlock skills which help you throughout battles and even just simple wandering. This doesn’t change in Unchained Blades, you still unlock stat boosts and skills through a web system, however you are severely limited in what skills you actually can use. The primary catch to this game, as mentioned above, is the ability (and necessity) to capture different monsters. You can equip these monsters (called followers) to the main character party members (or masters). These followers each have their own set of elements which allow the masters to use their abilities. The catch? You never know when you’re going to be able to catch a follower. Sometimes you will able to at the start of a battle, other times you won’t know until you get a monster under 50% HP, and usually you end up killing that monster because you can’t change your attack selection mid-rotation. Capturing monsters in the game is referred to as “unchaining”, prompting a mini-game to appear where you have to catch an enclosing ring in another ring. Unchaining most followers isn’t all too difficult, and you will surely need a lot of them as you progress since they play an active role in the battles. They can block for your masters, as well as follow up with extra attacks. In certain circumstances they actually have a battle royal of their own where masters play no role – only meaning that besides level grinding you masters, you also need to level grind your followers. Beyond improving their skills you also have to improve their moods. This is done through simple conversation moments where your followers will ask you questions and you must choose one of four possible answers. The sad part is that you’re better off picking a random answer than trying to answer one with any sort of common sense. Most of the answers you choose will be wrong for some ridiculous reason, and the other questions you’re given won’t contain a single answer that makes sense or is even related. While they can be useful, these followers are nothing more than a nuisance in the end. Most of the ones you are able to unchain will have the same elements, prohibiting you from using your stronger attacks without the variety of other elements. And often when you finally find that elusive element, you won’t have room for it with the limitation of only 30 followers.
Beyond the dragging downsides to the progression of the game there are some addicting positives. The ability to choose different load-outs for your characters allows you to twist each character’s role to your liking. That combined with strategic placing of each character, as well as different skill sets for everyone in your party really can get your through some tough fights. Even though you may not encounter the option to unchain enemies all too frequently, when you do you will find that the game brings about new vigor that you have a new, potentially powerful companion. The classic turn-based strategy will make you feel at home and the rewarding animations will keep you interested in the battles. Up until the end you always feel like you have something to do, from unlocking new areas to old dungeons, or crafting more powerful weapons and armor, or even completing various quests from the pub.
However all the enjoyment that comes with completing and exploring everything is soon overrun by the inevitable hurdle of a slow progressing story line. By the time you are able to go back and enjoy the game you’re probably going to be sick of it. In short, although Unchained Blades is reminiscent of past strategy RPG’s it has a lackluster story, and relies too heavily on repetitious grinding to keep many players interested. A lot of frustration can come from just being too unlucky, and by the time you’re allowed to have your freedom with the party you’ll be starting from scratch within moments. If you’re looking to put some serious time into a game, and you love working your way to the top then this wouldn’t be a bad choice, otherwise you may find it difficult to commit to such a demanding and frustrating game.
A copy of this game was provided by the publisher for review purposes. For more info on our review policy click here. This review is for the PlayStation Portable version of the game.