The goddess Clunea is capable of granting wish desired. If one is able to pass the trials of the Holy Ordeals, she will grant one wish. The dragon emperor Fang and his dragon followers sought the goddess, with the emperor desiring to fight the strongest being in the entire world. Shocked by his lack of a solid wish, and becoming fed up with his arrogant attitude, Clunea sends Fang and company away from her sacred place and strips them of their powers in hopes that they will return with something to wish for.
Unchained Blades is a straightforward dungeon-crawler RPG similar in presentation to games such as Wizardry and some titles within the Shin Megami Tensei series. Moving in dungeons is done in a first-person view, as are battles. The hub is a world map and towns are navigated via a menu that lists places of interest. It eliminates the need to spend time traveling from place to place.
You’ll quickly discover that this game is all about party management and collecting
Pokemon monster allies. Party management is essential as this game is very unforgiving if you neglect keeping your party members updated with the latest equipment. I ended up finding that out the hard way when I got a new party member at level 1 in the second dungeon and she got killed in one hit because the difficulty spiked up dramatically. I was surprised that how easily my higher level members were getting killed until I had enough money to buy the best stuff shops had to offer at the time and it was only then I started breathing a little easier because I wasn’t seeing half of somebody’s HP get dropped in one hit.
Building up characters is much like how it was in Final Fantasy X with the Sphere Grid, except here we have a Skill Map. Each character has a unique formation of spheres on the field and you spend SP from leveling up to activate nodes for stat boosts and skills, allowing a more flexible customization of a character based on circumstance and player preference. It felt a bit slow because I typically got 2 SP per level and the Skill Map looked so large that I began to wonder if I would ultimately fill it out completely by the end.
Battles are played in a turn-based format, and enemies often appear in groups. When I say groups, I mean a group on the main screen and to the sides which you can target by pressing L or R, making it possible to face a horde or over 10 enemies at once, which can get nasty if played recklessly. Thankfully there you have access to area skills and Union Break, a mechanic that sends enemies into disarray if the leader is defeated. Union Break can be looked at as an area-wide status effect, although the effects of Union Break can also miss.
When you deal damage to a monster, there is a chance they will be able to be recruited via an Unchain mini-game which you must be successful at in order to bring them to your side. In recent games that allow recruiting of enemies, I never felt it was a necessary mechanic to pay much attention to. The opposite is true for Unchained Blades because the followers you recruit can take hits for the master they are assigned to, deflect a hit and take no damage, or follow up attacks and skills for additional damage. They also play a role in all-out battles, which pit followers against an army of enemies that duke it out while you play QTE with the dpad to continue dealing damage. Followers also have affinities which are required to pull off certain skills as well, further adding to the whole party management aspect.
The story is rather simple since it’s a band of characters that end up traveling together under the common goal of seeking the goddess Clunea. However, I did have one issue and that is just how the heck is it possible for this cast of characters to have any sort of coordination whatsoever. This had to be one of the most dysfunctional parties I’ve seen in an RPG. Among the group are a hot-headed and arrogant dragon emperor, a golem prince who is a coward, a well-endowed girl who can accidentally stone people that look into her “eye”(I don’t see how since it is almost impossible to look at her without looking at her chest), a phoenix bird girl who in every manner is a tsundere, and some reserved little girl who looks like she needs fashion expert to tell her that leaves don’t belong on clothes and in hair. Granted I didn’t get every character yet, but I’m almost afraid to. It’s not really a bad thing, but it’s something I continuously wondered as I played.
Keeping my wallet full of currency was also a pain as you don’t get much money after battles and I was too stubborn to sell the items I got from harvesting or monster drops because they were needed for quests or synthesizing. It’s more of a give and take process. Do you sell stuff or hold everything? I eventually just started selling to prioritize survival so I didn’t have to run back to town to revive and heal. I think that’s ultimately what the game wants you to focus on. My advice, sell those stat boosting items. The amount they boost is mundane and generally made better use as money to buy better equipment and items.
Final verdict: Unchained Blades is a game that feels like an old dog that’s been taught a couple of new tricks. First-person dungeon crawlers are considered a thing of the past, but I found this game’s systems to be well-done. The unforgiving difficulty makes Unchained Blades a game not for casual players. If you like managing a quirky and dysfunctional cast of characters, pick this game up. There’s no rushing to beat this game at all so be prepared to invest some time into it.
This review of Unchained Blades is based the PSP version of the game, with the 3DS version to be released sometime this Summer which may be identical but incorporates touch controls.