Bound by Flame (BbF) is one of the first RPGs to be released on a Next Gen platform (assuming you have a Playstation 4). In a launch space that is overcrowded with annual shooters, sports games, and racers, developer Spiders’ latest magnus opus is no doubt a welcoming sight. Unfortunately, Spiders’ prior game Mars: War Logs is a lesson in mediocrity with its poor production values and sluggish mechanics. Will Spiders repeat the same mistakes on the Next Gen? Will BbF cast off its flawed predecessor; and soar like a phoenix onto the Next Gen? Read on to find out!
In Bound by Flame, players take on the role of Vulcan, a sell sword who through plot convenience and hackneyed writing becomes possessed by an ancient and powerful flame demon and quickly becomes the only thing standing in the way of the villainous Ice Lords and their conquest of the lands of Vertiel. Bound by Flame’s story is an amalgam of just about every fantasy trope one can think of. I can easily point to dozens of games, novels, and movies that have told the same type of story (but in a much better fashion).
I found BbF’s narrative to be a very linear experience despite its contrary marketing. Sure there are a few binary choices sprinkled in for users to make, but most of them never amounted to anything interesting. The dialogue is cheesy and contains an excessive amount of exposition (none of which I found to be interesting) that halts any momentum the plot tries to make. The dialogue is also very profane, and feels quite out of place in a medieval fantasy setting and more appropriate at a Middle School playground or in a Call of Duty lobby. The protagonist, Vulcan is an uninspiring character who speaks in quips and poorly timed one liners. The side characters and companions (friendly characters that you can take into battle with you) are equally uninteresting and lack the charm that made the supporting cast in other RPGs so endearing.
Fortunately, Bound by Flame’s combat makes up for its poor narrative. BbF is a tactical hack and slash rpg where knowing when to attack and defend is just as important as leveling up key skills. The overall feel of the game (with its emphasis on magic, traps, and parrying) is very reminiscence of CD Projekt RED’s The Witcher 2. Both games are very challenging, however unlike the Witcher 2, whose difficulty arose from intelligent enemy design, Bound by Flame’s challenge comes from broken mechanics such as: cheap enemy tactics, the absence of a roll/dodge button, and the questionable companion A.I.
BbF‘s enemies attack simultaneously in groups and use unblockable attacks that are poorly telegraphed. The cheap enemy tactics wouldn’t be that much of an issue if it wasn’t for the second major flaw in the combat: the inability to roll/dodge. The roll/dodge mechanic is almost a requirement in games of this nature. The ability to block/parry attacks is simply not enough when facing enemies who can easily break your block; nor is the “jump back” button (available to those who favor the ranger stance). The questionable companion A.I is the final flaw in BbF’s combat system. Companions lack critical thinking and are unable to act autonomously. Instead they must be told implicitly what do in battle (and often fail at that). In my playthrough, I used them mostly as glorified human shields, but they found a way to fail at that too (they tend to lose health faster than Vulcan). Despite these flaws I enjoyed Bound by Flame’s combat system (it’s arguably the best part of the game). I would highly recommend starting at the easiest difficulty setting (recruit); for there is a major difficulty spike immediately after the prologue.
Bound by Flame’s aesthetics are bit of a mix bag. The game definitely has a distinct look that stands out, with its traditional character models in a cell-shaded environment; which gives the game an almost fairy tale quality. However the character models and level design are far from impressive. The character models are basic and lack originality. Their lip-syncing is noticeably poor; their upper lip seems unable to move. The level design is uninspired, and contains no unique architecture or lived in quality. They remind me of the artificial maze like areas that one typically finds in multiplayer shooters. The voice acting is laughably bad. The actors are miscast and seem unable to add any inflection or nuance to their performance. Most of them, seem like they are simply reading from a script. The music is generic: the same synthesize strings and percussion we all have heard a thousand times.
So what did I think of the first Next Gen rpg. At its best it’s a fun diversion while we wait with bated breath for the Dragon Ages, Witchers, and Fallouts of the world to make their presence on the Next Gen. At worst it’s a lifeless parody of the rpg genre that contributes nothing new. For those reasons, I cannot in sound mind, recommend purchasing Bound by Flame (especially at its current retail price of $49.99). For those that are still interested in the game, despite my reservations, I recommend waiting for the inevitable price drop before purchasing.
Images: Bound By Flame Official Website