Bound By Flame Review
Sony PlayStation 4Also available on Microsoft Xbox 360, PC and Sony PlayStation 3
Bound By Flame will forever hold the title of being the very first RPG to be released on the PlayStation 4, and while this budget release was never expected to set the world on fire it’s always good to get off to a good start. Coming from developer Spiders, which is best known for its work on Mars: War Logs and Of Orcs And Men, it is easy to see why players were keeping their expectations very much in check. Bound By Flame had the potential to be Spiders’ best game yet, however a whole host of flaws and annoyances have held it back from being anything great.
Bound By Flame is an action RPG that tells the tale of a mercenary named Vulcan who has been possessed by a flame demon, within a world that has been torn apart by seven ice lords. The player must learn to control the demon within them and recruit companions to help with the fight against the Deadarmy residing in Vertiel. At the start of the game, players are greeted by a basic character customisation screen where our hero’s face and hair can be modified to your liking, and upon completion of this the player can change the name of the mercenary if they wish. While the character customisation does get the job done on the most basic level, it doesn’t make the player feel like this is a character personal to them, which is a little puzzling in an RPG that depends heavily on the player’s decisions throughout the game. Speaking of which, the player’s choices throughout the game feel irrelevant at times due to the fact that despite the player being given two options, the game will still guide you down the same path, with your choice only changing a few minor details. In other instances, the demon within Vulcan will take hold of the conversation and make the decision for you, leaving the player with no control over proceedings whatsoever. There is no consistency in the player’s influence on the world of Bound By Flame, which in an already rather bland story, makes it hard for us to care very much.
Another big part of Bound By Flame is its combat, which is split up into two different styles. The warrior stance uses two-handed weapons such as swords and axes, while the ranger stance opts for a set of blades held in each hand. The major differences between the two stances is that a warrior will deal a lot more damage with every attack, however a ranger will be quicker in their blows to enemies but deal less damage. It is up to the player to decide which stance suits their play style best, and how to tackle each encounter with the Dead-army. As Vulcan explores Vertiel, he can come across components hidden under rocks and barrels which can be used to craft a whole host of things, from upgrades to weapons to health potions for use in battle. The crafting system is one of the best aspects of Bound By Flame because it offers a variety of ways to upgrade Vulcan. It also allows the player to make health and mana points on the fly, which is a very welcome addition because in other RPGs, the player may have had to travel back to a town to buy these. As the body count rises, so does Vulcan’s level. Both the warrior stance and ranger stance get their own skill tree which players can put points into to earn upgrades such as dealing more damage or a shorter recovery time after parrying. A further skill tree is unlocked about an hour into the game once the demon possesses Vulcan, which gives him access to pyromancy abilities. These abilities include being able to shoot fireballs at enemies, enchant Vulcan’s sword so that it is on fire for a short period of time, and surround Vulcan with fire which deals damage to any enemy that gets close to him, and all these abilities can be upgraded in the skill tree. These upgrades and abilities are essential to Bound By Flame because combat can be hard, and random difficulty spikes pop-up throughout the game. Even on just the normal difficulty setting, enemies can cause a lot of problems because they feel overpowered and when they attack in numbers, they can overwhelm the player very easily and kill Vulcan in a few hits. This isn’t the Dark Souls type of difficulty where you learn from your mistakes and gradually get better; Bound By Flame is just unfair. Vulcan can take a few companions into battle with him, but their effect on a battle can feel almost non-existent at times. Companions can cast spells to support you or attack enemies directly but the damage they deal can be so minimal that it makes the player question why they recruited them at all. Over time, combat becomes very repetitive and quite boring, the player must get into a pattern of simply blocking and then attacking over and over again. There is little variety in your attacks nor is it very interesting, which is something that really hinders the game as a whole. Your attacks lack any weight or force and this is reflected in an enemy’s health bar, as even your strongest attacks do very little damage sometimes.
Bound By Flame won’t be winning any awards for its presentation either, despite its rather unique look. The environments you explore throughout Vertiel are slightly cel-shaded whereas the characters and enemies in-game are made to look realistic. This was initially quite impressive upon first playing the game because it was unexpected and it is a style that hasn’t been explored very much, however the problems with Bound By Flame’s presentation soon became apparent. Voice acting in Bound By Flame is quite frankly bizarre as it shifts from a very serious tone discussing the war, to a sentence that is full of swear words and feels very out of place. It creates unwanted humour and puts the player in a position where they are almost laughing at the game itself because of these awkward left-field comments. Another problem is the lack of expression shown in the character’s faces, which can seriously damage an emotional scene. Character’s lips don’t move very much during dialogue, and most certainly do not match up to the words they are meant to be saying. Characters will adopt a very monotone expression for the majority of the game and lack any real emotion. This hurts the player’s engagement with the characters because they may not really believe in what a person is saying.
On the other hand, one strong point of Bound By Flame’s presentation is its music which comes from composer Olivier Derivière, who is best known for his work on Remember Me and Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag. When exploring the world of Vertiel, the music is slow and calm which relaxes the player a little as they know that they are currently in a safe place. However when the player encounters an enemy, the music quickly picks up the pace and creates an exciting scene to do battle in. Bound By Flame’s music tells the player what sort of an environment they are in without the game itself having to say anything, this aids the player in their travels because it helps them to understand what dangers to look out for simply through the pace of the soundtrack.
Unfortunately Bound By Flame is not a very long RPG, after finishing the main story and about half of all side quests, our completion time was thirteen hours. A new game + option is not available either so if you want to go back for any trophies, then you will be starting the game again from scratch. In a time when players can invest over one hundred hours into an RPG, thirteen hours simply isn’t good enough.
Bound By Flame had potential, its excellent crafting system and skill trees are a good basis for any RPG, but the unbalanced combat system doesn't do a good job of exploiting them. The characters and story are hard to care for when most characters lack any emotion and expletives are used in every other sentence. If you are desperate for an RPG to play in your wait for The Witcher 3, then Bound By Flame could satisfy your needs for a short period of time. Bound By Flame doesn't bring anything new to the RPG genre, nor does it improve on any existing elements. A short play-time combined with an uninteresting story and unbalanced combat makes Bound By Flame tough to recommend, it frankly just isn’t a good game.