Bound By Flame
- Release Date: May 9, 2014
- Publisher: Focus Home Interactive
- Developer: Spiders
- Genre: Action Role-Playing Game
- Platforms: PC, PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, Xbox 360
- Platform Chosen By Reviewer: PlayStation 4
Bound by Flame is an action role-playing game (RPG) with a fantasy setting. The game takes place in the fictional world of Vertiel, a world ravaged by a war between the power-hungry Ice Lords and the free peoples of the land. The protagonist, a member of a mercenary group called Freeborn Blades, is possessed by a demonic entity early on and must make a variety of story-altering choices based on the demon’s influence as the game progresses. You may choose to side with the demon, becoming more powerful at the expense of your humanity, or against it which allows you keep your humanity yet offers no extra power. Your relationship with the demon is not the only choice you make, there are a variety of different “A or B” type choices to be made which may or may not be influenced by the demon. It’s ultimately up to the player to choose which paths are taken.
Upon starting the game you are prompted to create your character in a bland character creation menu. You are given the choice between a male or female character, from there you may scroll through a small selection of preset faces and hair styles. Naming your character comes next, though like most games which allows you to create your own character and name them you will only ever see it in your menu and in the subtitles. The character is referred to by the nickname Vulcan throughout the entire game. Vulcan’s character development is nearly non-existent outside of the obvious changes (or lack thereof) in appearance due to the demon, there is no inner development to speak of. The choices you make will no doubt affect you the player way more than it will ever affect Vulcan, making the character hard to relate to.
Not only is Vulcan’s character development poorly executed, the relationships formed between you and party members feel pretty much pointless. Vulcan fails to form any sort of connection to any of the party members or side characters outside of the romance or seduction options, which still fall more flat than they should. Same-sex relationships are not available in Bound by Flame, you will only be able to choose between two male party members as a female or two female party members as a male. These romantic affairs are easy to ruin if you aren’t aware of who you will choose to be with early in the game as certain choices and failure to complete specific missions will destroy your chance to seduce one or both of the two characters you are allowed to be with.
Bound by Flame has a unique plot and tells an interesting story, but the poor execution of these elements throughout the game make it hard to truly appreciate them. The story may be interesting but none of it matters when the characters, short length and generally erratic pacing weight it down. The game is 10-15 hours in length which is a bit short for an action RPG and wouldn’t be an issue if the pacing was more stable, providing a more in-depth experience from a story perspective. It feels rushed, leaving you with a feeling of apathy towards the game as a whole. While it is not particularly bad or unplayable due to these flaws, it does feel pointless and not worthwhile.
You are given the option to focus solely on the main storyline or venture out to complete side quests on your way through the game. Talking with various people around the villages and camps you stay in will unlock side quests that may prove to be extremely useful to you as you progress. Upon completing main quests and side quests you will earn XP (experience points) which in turn levels you up. The more you level up the more powerful you may become. The side quest system is also something to pay close attention to if you plan to seduce one of the characters, missing out on that character’s side quest will void your chances with them, which is something that cannot be remedied down the line.
Bound by Flame features a clunky, unnecessarily frustrating combat system. You are given three fighting styles which may be mixed and matched at will, changing between them in combat is quick and clean. The fighting styles are very basic, you can choose between Warrior, Ranger and Pyromancer skills which maybe be upgraded as you level up your character. You can choose to equally upgrade all three or focus on one or two that you consider to be your favorite(s). As you level up you are also given points to put into feats. These feats include permanent maximum health increases, earning more XP when you kill an enemy and being able to carry more items in your bag. The skill and feat systems are well done, giving you a sense of accomplishment as you move through the tiers and gain more powers and abilities.
What makes the system clunky and unnecessarily frustrating is the combat itself, which is slow-paced and difficult. Even the most basic of enemies can be difficult to kill even on the easiest difficulty, on top of that it’s very easy for your yourself to get killed by these small time enemies and especially easy to get killed by larger enemies and bosses. Avoiding combat all together ends up being the main goal as it’s just not at all enjoyable or rewarding to engage any enemy. You aren’t equipped with a shield to block attacks, if you are in the Warrior stance you use your sword to block and if you are in the Ranger stance you can only dodge attacks by rolling. The Pyromancer skill set can be used at all times and doesn’t feature a stance or a specific blocking move. The lack of a proper defensive system makes combat more of a pain than it should be, transcending the challenges we welcome in most games and falling into the “not worth the trouble” category. The system itself is a pain and hard to get used to, which is fine if it happens to be rewarding in the end. However, I feel that in Bound by Flame the combat system serves as nothing more than a hindrance to the general progression of the game.
You may choose one party member to accompany you throughout the game, in narrative instances as well as combat. This member may be changed out at camps or as you meet a new character who is to be added your party. Picking someone to take along with you can extremely detrimental to your survival. These party members make poor choices in combat due to Bound by Flame’s terrible AI system which leads to them dying and all enemies focusing on you which eventually causes your death thanks to the poorly done combat and defense systems. Given that there is a small amount of party members to choose from and even less variety in their abilities it makes more sense to choose a party member based on companionship rather than combat prowess. All in all, what could have been a very challenging yet enjoyable combat system turned out to be just a challenge. I’m not against a difficult to master combat system but I like it to be worthwhile and Bound by Flame did not satisfy that requirement.
Bound by Flame’s level design is extremely linear yet attractive from an art perspective. Environments look unique yet due to the fact that there aren’t may of them you may find yourself growing tired of the exploration areas. The issue with the level design and environments is that many of the side quests take your through the same, linear areas over and over again which can lead to you growing tired of the setting. The game’s graphics are sub par, not terrible yet not spectacular. Some textures look blocky and some areas have the illusion of being cell shaded without actually being cell shaded (ie thick lines, blended colors, etc.). While it may not be a graphically impressive game the art is still well done which leads to the aforementioned attractiveness. The game’s soundtrack is relatively mediocre and unmemorable, there is a main theme song that has promise but the rest of the musical content is bland.
One of the biggest, most concerning flaws of Bound by Flame’s presentation is the atrocious dialog. Not only is the dialog poorly written in general, the voice acting makes it nearly unbearable. The female Vulcan voice paired with the dialog is grating, I became increasingly frustrated with the cheesy one liners and inappropriate addition of curse words where they don’t belong as the game progressed. By the end I had no other choice but to laugh and write it off as some kind of joke even though I don’t believe that is what the developers indented. The male Vulcan features the same terrible dialog as the female but has the added bonus of a decent voice actor behind him, creating a more pleasant experience but not by much. Given that the main character has dialog this bad, I’m sure you can imaging the side character’s dialog – which is equally if not more painful to listen to.
As I said previously, Bound by Flame has a unique and interesting yet poorly executed narrative. I feel as if this game just needed more polishing or a better team behind it, maybe both. They were trying to accomplish a gameplay style which is similar to that of a game like Dark Souls, challenging yet rewarding, but missed the mark. It sadly feel flat on its own face and ended up being less of a reward and more of a frustration than it’s worth. The upgrade system may have been well done but that is simply not enough to make up for the terrible game mechanics in the end. While the graphical content was nothing to write home about and the soundtrack was mediocre, the game still looks and sounds fine – not outstanding. Nothing can make up for the poorly written dialog and awful voice acting which makes the game feel cheesy and not in a good way. Overall, I think this game was not worth the trouble. The few redeeming qualities were overshadowed by the plethora of flaws and bad mechanics. If you plan on purchasing this game to see for yourself and develop your own opinions then I simply suggest that you wait until you can get it on sale, as it’s not worth the already lower than usual price tag.