Unchained Blades (PSP) Review

Gaming on the go is now the way for many to enjoy some gaming goodness. For those that like RPG style games, Unchained Blades is now available for purchase via download on PSN or on UMD for PSPs everywhere.  This XSEED published game has been revamped with new content and some all new features for North American audiences.

In Unchained Blades you play as a somewhat arrogant and quite nasty dragon. The dragon is so sure of himself that he ends up visiting a goddess to find the strongest person throughout the lands.  His cockiness and lack of respect gets him in trouble though as the goddess returns him to his younger form to learn a lesson that he really needs to heed.  While it is not the most original storyline, the main character’s dialog and musings are pretty engaging, which overall keeps the story entertaining.  The story also has a few twists and turns that RPG fans should really enjoy.

At its core Unchained Blades is a tried and true RPG game that most gamers have seen in one form or another.  The gameplay is mostly turned based warfare that can get fairly mundane over time.  I did not like the digitized semi-still fighting characters that are laid over effect laden battle backgrounds.  With that in mind, it looks and plays like every other dungeon crawler out there.  I do have to admit though that I really like the fact that former Lunar and Grandia developers created the game, which lends a certain amount of credibility and bravado.

In my opinion, the one thing that makes Unchained Blades interesting is the follower system.  Essentially there are two types or groups of characters: Masters, who are main characters, and Followers, who are basically recruited enemies.  The latter rounds off your group as you add their talents to your entourage.  You can assign up to four followers to each Master and those Followers join you in battle.  Their responsibilities can range from joining in attacks to protecting their Master from damage.  Interestingly enough a Follower’s assistance is based on how they feel about your leadership.  You will need to maintain a good working relationship if you want them to perform at their best.  Your standing is based off a series of questions they ask you.  You must make sure you answer the questions correctly.  I found that several questions have trick answers in an attempt to fool those who play too.  They are pretty easy to spot though, so you should have no trouble overall.

The game has a prerequisite skill-building platform that helps your growth as well as your followers.  Each character has their own skill grid and different ways to build them.  You get up to two skill points to spend per level per character.  Characters can also equip monsters that can randomly get hits in when your character strikes and/or take hits from enemies.  This perk is really an added bonus that comes in handy more often than not.  Some of your Followers have special skills like earth and fire; they can come in very handy against certain enemies (rock, paper, scissors anyone?).

One thing of note for who consider purchasing this game; Unchained Blades contains an inordinate amount of tutorials scattered throughout the game.  Almost everything is given some kind of tutorial.  These can range from how to switch items, how to use your weapons, how to accept quests, create items, how the store works, upgrading your characters, how to keep your Followers happy, plus many more things.  There is so many of these that the game really bogs down, and for me it makes it almost unplayable at times.  If you have ever played an RPG most of this stuff should really be common sense.  Even more frustrating is that you cannot skip these tutorials.  This is a major misstep making the tedium seem extreme, and the babysitting will wear thin on any veteran gamer.

Visually speaking, while the game may look a bit dated, the character design is quite impressive.  Many of the clans, such as Dragon, Phoenix, Golem among others, have unique designs that allow them to stand out.  They are all nicely colored and look fantastic against the mostly digitized backgrounds.  Unfortunately the attention to detail is sadly lacking in most other areas.  Dungeons, for instance, are of the cookie cutter variety and each one is textured exactly the same.  When you consider that you will be spending hours in the areas dungeons this can get annoying.  The hand drawn art on the other hand is very good to look at on the PSP’s small screen.  The often vibrant characters certainly add flashes of much needed colour.

Unfortunately the same cannot be said about the lack of animations within the combat system.  When fighting enemies appear with little or no animation; in fact they tend to shake in place rather than actually fight.  The attacks are all very similar in look and again there is very little animation to be found.  This is disappointing, but it does fit into the dungeon crawler style of games.  At the end of the day I came away thinking lots of flash with little finish.

The game’s audio is probably the highlight of the whole experience, although it is not without its own issues.  While the voice acting is a nice touch, the characters come across as stiff and awkward.  I had a tough time making the connection between the voices and characters.  On a positive note the musical stylings are quite good, and had me liking them almost immediately.  As for the sound effects, they are quite serviceable and get the job done.

Unchained Blades is available on the PSN network for download.  One gripe I have with the game is its incompatibility with my shiny new Vita.  I had a very tough time trying to download the game from the network and onto my Vita.  After a bit of research I found the game is not compatible on the Vita, and I had drag out my PSP to play. I’m at a bit of a loss why a developer or publisher would make the Vita the one left out the cold.  What happens if you do not have a PSP any longer?  This is a huge oversight in my eyes as I think the game would have seen a larger audience if it was playable on the PSP or Vita.

Gamers who love the old school feel of dungeon exploring RPG’s will probably enjoy most of what Unchained Blades has to offer. Unfortunately, I found the game had a few too many holes and issues to really hold my attention, but for the right gamer it could be just the thing for the start of summer.

The Good


The Bad