Get ready to grind!
Despite the 3DS’s blossoming library, the platform hasn’t had many RPGs, save the occasional port from another system. Understandably, this has led many fans to latch on to any 3DS title that fits the RPG mold. One such game is the dungeon crawler, Unchained Blades. However, even starved fans should be wary of XSEED’s latest RPG, as the nearly 60-hour slog is marred by several problems that keep it from being the RPG experience that the 3DS deserves.
In Unchained Blades, you take control of Fang, the mighty and arrogant Dragon Emperor who was stripped of his power and reverted to his human-form for his insolence in the presence of the goddess Clunea. In order to regain his power, Fang decides to set off on a quest to seek revenge on Clunea. Along the way, he joins with several travelers that seek the goddess’s ability to grant wishes, à la The Wizard of Oz. Much of this story is presented in voiced dialog, albeit the voice work is mediocre. That’s not much of a problem, as Unchained Blades is focused primarily on gameplay, rather than story.
For the most part, Unchained Blades is a typical first-person dungeon crawler. All of the action is turn-based and takes place in labyrinths known as titans. Exploring the mazelike layouts of the titans could be quite a bit of fun, if not for the inconvenience created by a mix of random encounters and the archaic recovery system. Magic Points can only be recovered by staying at the inn in town or using expensive recovery items. Once all the characters have depleted their supply, returning to the town is a must to be effective against the numerous enemies that walk the halls of the titans. To make things worse, each stay at the inn seems to be more expensive then the last, and money isn’t exactly a common commodity.
This would not be such a problem if you weren’t forced to travel the entire length of the titan upon your return from town. Sure, there are a few shortcuts unlocked as you explore, but they do little to cut down on the annoyance. And, as if to make the trek even harder on players, your character’s charisma decreases when you run from encounters. It makes conserving MP that much harder, especially if you’re getting ready to fight the labyrinth’s boss. Of course, losing charisma wouldn’t be so bad if the game didn’t force you to take part in its Pokémon-esque follower system. In addition to allies, you also have followers, which are captured by “unchaining” them during battle. Charisma acts like experience, increasing the follower capacity for each character. But that capacity isn’t permanent, as it can be dropped if you spend too much time on a fight, or if you run from a battle. Nevertheless, this isn’t even the worse part of the follower system. That trophy belongs to the “judgment battles.”
Judgment battles differ greatly from the game’s usual Final Fantasy-like turn based battle system, which follows the simple convention of using basic attacks and skills to bring down several enemies. Judgment battles instead pit your legion of followers against those controlled by Clunea’s angels. The concept sounds interesting at first, but controls during these sections are little more than quick time events. To really sour the experience, they’re required before you face each titan’s boss, and they’re almost impossible unless you have a top-notch team. It doesn’t help that monsters can only be unchained at random after their health has been halved. So even if you wish to increase your team’s power, it’s only possible with some serious grinding. That flies in the face of the usual battle system, as grinding is otherwise minimized by making experience only useful if gained from more powerful enemies.
One thing the game does have going for it, however, is its expansive skill trees. Each time you level up a character, you can choose to activate two points on the skill tree. This allows for a huge opportunity for customization, but even it has problems. For instance, most skills can only be used if you have a follower with certain elements attached to the character. Additionally, many skills are weapon-dependent, shrinking your possibilities. Unchained Blades does shine in its presentation. The anime-style art is unique, as each character was designed by a different manga/anime artist. And of course, there’s the music from famed composer Nobuo Uematsu of the Final Fantasy series and The Last Story. It’s just too bad that the rest of the game couldn’t live up to designs and music put forth by these artists.