3DS

North America

Unchained Blades

by James Dawson - January 23, 2013, 8:10 pm PST
Total comments: 9

5

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.

Summary

Pros
  • Expansive skill trees
  • Great art
  • Music by Nobuo Uematsu
Cons
  • Follower system gets in the way
  • Judgement battles are a headache
  • Large amount of grinding
  • Leaving the titans to recover MP is a pain

Talkback

xcwarriorJanuary 24, 2013

Amazing the variety of scores this is getting. 9s and now some 5s and 6s. Guess it really depends on if you don't mind grinding and apparently the follower system.

I still think it looks interesting. But $15 interesting, not $30.

VahneJanuary 24, 2013

Personally giving it a 9.

TJ SpykeJanuary 24, 2013

Quote from: xcwarrior

Amazing the variety of scores this is getting. 9s and now some 5s and 6s.

Metacritic has 7 professional reviews listed. Highest is Gaming Age at 91, then IGN at 80. The lowest is 50 (NWR, Game Revolution, and Machinima). Average is 67. I know a lot of people were hoping this would be good, but with the mixed reviews, I can't justify $30.

RazorkidJanuary 24, 2013

I wish it had a demo. I'm still interested though.

TenserJanuary 24, 2013

This game is absolutely amazing and a must have for anyone who enjoys Etrian Odyssey styled dungeon crawlers. Perhaps this genre just doesn't coalesce well with the reviewer?

I like Etrian Odyssey, but I'd rather wait a month and buy the actual Etrian Odyssey than take a chance on this.

JD usually digs these types of games. I think the heavy focus on grinding is what made him dislike this one.

Regardless, I think what this review says, to me at least, is "avoid this if you're not into these types of games." I doubt this is a crossover game, whereas I think EO 3/4 are decent attempts at bringing in new gamers to the genre.

Quote from: NWR_Neal

JD usually digs these types of games. I think the heavy focus on grinding is what made him dislike this one.

Regardless, I think what this review says, to me at least, is "avoid this if you're not into these types of games." I doubt this is a crossover game, whereas I think EO 3/4 are decent attempts at bringing in new gamers to the genre.

Yeah, I tend to like these types of games, but Unchained Blades just had a lot of small problems that really made it hard for me to get any enjoyment out of it.

Rekt_it_RalfMarch 20, 2013

What heavy grinding are people talking about? I'm against heavy grinding as well, but never noticed such a thing in Unchained Blade. Well, in Chapter 3 I did grind more than usual but that was due to the special circumstance.

Getting more followers is relatively simple. Hit an enemy once with an attacker Master, like Fang, to bring the enemy down past 50% HP. Then keep hitting him with a mage Master, like Lapis, who will do minimal damage and give you a chance to unchain every turn (or multiple chances if you got multiple mages!). It sounds like it'd be tedious, like grinding, but with the option to repeat what you did the previous turn with a single button? It makes it extremely easy.

So, my point is I saw no problem with unchaining or the judgement battles. I easily beat each one on the first try when I encontered them. That's not to say the game didn't have other issues.

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UnchainBlades ReXX Box Art

Genre RPG
Developer FuRyu
Players1
Controllers

Worldwide Releases

na: Unchained Blades
Release Jan 03, 2013
PublisherXseed Games
RatingTeen
jpn: UnchainBlades ReXX
Release Jul 14, 2011
PublisherFuRyu
Rating12+

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