Unchained Blades Playtest: This Blade Is A Bit Rough Around The Edges

By Yusouf . July 22, 2012 . 4:30pm

In a world different to ours rested an omnipotent goddess named Clunea. Clunea created the world, and has the power to grant any wish from the deepest depths of one’s heart. However, this wish cannot simply be bestowed to just anyone. Before obtaining the right to make a wish, one must first attempt the Holy Ordeals to prove themselves worthy of the Goddess’ power. And thus, the goddess waits in her holy temple, high above the skies, for a suitably capable individual.


Like other first person dungeon crawlers, Unchained Blades is fairly light on story, but it is presented in a short and sweet manner. While the plot is simplistic, it managed to keep me entertained over the course of the game thanks to the excellent writing. Similar praise can be given to the writing of the characters, which makes interactions between them interesting, especially when the game relies heavily on the usual anime character trope which usually does not end well for the characters.


The main character of Unchained Blades is Fang, who was a Dragon Emperor until Clunea stripped him from his powers. Arrogant, boastful and pompous, he vowed revenge against Clunea and took the Holy Ordeals in order to face the goddess one more time and prove his superiority. Aside from the Dragon Emperor, other supporting characters include a cowardly Golem prince, an emotionless Mandrake and a tsundere Phoenix princess. The world Clunea created certainly was multiracial and as per most tales, they were bound by the threads of fate to undergo the Holy Ordeals together.


In terms of character leveling, Furyu embraced the concept of Final Fantasy X’s sphere grid with a slight twist. Characters gain 2 SP for every level they gain and can allocate them freely in the skill map. This gives you the freedom to shape your characters and although there is no right or wrong way to build characters, it is better to plan first before allocating SP since the game can pretty brutal without the correct skills at your party’s disposal.


Unchained Blades introduces several features to complement the usual dungeon crawler fare, but the most significant feature is the “Follower”. A Follower, like its name suggest are monsters that you have captured (or Unchained, in the game’s terms) and fights alongside you. In battle, your Follower can either follow up your attacks with their own or use its body to shield you from attacks depending on their mood. In practice though, you’re more likely to depend on the latter ability since the damage output from their follow up attacks do weak damage. Followers are also important due to the “Anima” they can provide their masters with. Anima are used to enable “Link Skills”, so it is absolutely essential to Unchain different kinds of monsters to be able to use the more powerful skills in battle in order to stand a chance against stronger monsters in the later parts of the game.


Of course, before you can even utilise your monster’s services, you need to Unchain them first. Before the monster is susceptible for Unchaining, you have to wear them down to less than 50% health and the system will take care of the rest. The process of Unchaining involves a precision timing minigame which has 2 steps. The first step is just to ensure that the moving ring is inside the sigil before pressing a button.


The second step is a bit tricky though, depending on the strength of the monsters that you are about to Unchain. Usually only 1 ring needs to be stopped inside the sigil, but stronger monsters require 2 or maybe 3 rings to be stopped in a row and these needs to be on the inside of the circle you stopped before. This may sound a bit overwhelming especially in the beginning, but the ring’s rate of movement is directly affected by your character’s Charisma. Thus, a character with high Charisma will have an easier time Unchaining stronger monsters as the rings will move more slowly. The Unchaining process can be quite exciting, especially in a life or death battle and suddenly the Unchain ring appears. On the other hand, Unchaining comes with its own share of problems as well.


One of the major issues with the Unchain mechanic is how easy it is to accidentally kill the monster that can be Unchained. This is due to the probability of a monster susceptible to Unchain is very random and most of the time the enemy is only susceptible to Unchain before the finishing blow. This situation can be very frustrating, especially when a strong monster dies just before Unchaining and the party is too exhausted to attempt another battle with similar monster. Expect to return to town a lot to restock and rest, as MP recovery items are scarce.


Another point regarding the Unchain mechanic is over how random it is. The rate of Unchaining supposedly rises with increase in Charisma, but I found it still difficult to Unchain monsters in the previous dungeon I’d been to and I wore them down only using mages in order to not accidentally kill them. In its current state, Unchaining monsters is tedious and require a lot of patience and luck. There are several unlockable passive skills in the skill map which will make specific monster races easier to unlock, but it will require some leveling as they are pretty far up the skill map.


Meanwhile, Judgment Battle is where you utilise all of your Followers in a battle for supremacy to prove you’re worthy of Goddess Clunea’s blessings. Judgment Battle plays like a rhythm game of some sort, where there are arrows which correspond to the direction of the d-pad which moves on screen and have to be pressed in a timely manner. The better you correspond to the commands on screen, the better your Followers will do in battle. Sometimes the screen will shift and show a button prompt for a leader to activate his or her skill. This can be a lifesaver as it does a considerable amount of damage to the opposing party. Your monsters can also be suddenly locked in a 1 on 1 battle with the enemy and some button mashing is required to win this part. Judgment Battle is one of the entertaining features introduced, but is severely underutilized. There were only 2 or 3 Judgment Battles per dungeon and usually only 1 Judgment Battle is mandatory to proceed further into the heart of the dungeon.


You might have noticed that I have been using the terms “anima”, “Charisma”, “link skills”, and “mood”, but in what way does it affect the game? Well, the inclusion of these elements and several others unmentioned made the game feel unnecessarily complex. In order to use powerful link skills, anima is needed. To gain anima more monsters needs to be Unchained, and to Unchain stronger monsters a high Charisma is required, which means doing well in battles and not running away from them (running away reduces your Charisma).


The only answer to this is to grind, and you’ll be doing a lot of grinding to get your Charisma high enough in order to do the steps above, especially in order to be able to use that seemingly powerful link skill that requires multiple rare anima. Similarly, your monster’s mood will depend greatly on how you do in battle and their actions depend on their mood. The answer is yet again to grind in order to improve your monster’s mood. After all, a happy monster will die for you, whereas an angry monster will just watch you die.


As a first person dungeon crawler, it is understandable that grinding is required to progress in the game and when done right, it can potentially be enjoyable. This is not the case with Unchained Blades, however, due to several baffling design decisions.


First is the incoherent pacing of the game. Instead of letting players familiarise themselves with the game’s mechanics and exploration before tackling a dungeon, the game throws a 10 hour long dungeon immediately after the tutorial with scarce resources at the party’s disposal. On the other hand, the second chapter of the game introduces a shorter dungeon compared to the first one and the third dungeon is even shorter. Under normal circumstances, the player will be expected to experience a short dungeon first to build confidence and a sense of achievement to make them brave enough to attempt the harder ones. Starting off with a long dungeon with no prior experience just induces fatigue, especially to those attempting to get into this genre for the first time.


Another questionable design decision can be attributed to the inventory limit. There is a limit of 50 unique items in the inventory and storage services aren’t available at least halfway into the game and a specific quest has to be done in order to unlock it. This means a lot of backtracking to town to unload unwanted items at the local sundry shop. Inventory limit wouldn’t be such a problem if not for quests and syntheses requires excavating some of the rarer items found in dungeons, which will quickly fill your inventory with clutter. If you’re into dungeon crawlers and can look past these issues, you’ll enjoy Unchained Blades.


Food for thought:

1. Unchained Blades has a pretty good voice cast backing it up which makes character interactions much more enjoyable.


2. The music is exceptionally well done. The game promotes the sound being done by Nobuo Uematsu, but majority of the tracks in the game were done by Tsutomo Narita, his apprentice. If I didn’t look up for some information on the internet, I would have believed that Uematsu did the whole soundtrack. It is deceivingly good.


3. The monster encyclopedia is there to show you pretty pictures. That’s pretty much the only thing it does. Hopefully Unchained Blades Exxiv will actually make the encyclopedia useful by adding Anima information and perhaps some stats.


4. Characters start at level 1 the first time you get to use them, so get grinding!

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  • Herok♞

    Sounds good I might pick it up for either 3ds or psp/vita are there any noticeable differences between the 2 versions?

    • VWinds

      3DS has the map on the bottom screen.
      PSP/Vita has the map as toggable overlay: off, small and in the top right corner, or large overlaid over the screen.

      It looks best on the Vita thanks to the upscaling/filtering, but other than that there’s no differences.

      • Juan Manuel M. Suárez

        It doesn’t look like anything on the PSV since you can’t put it in it yet. From what I’ve heard, even the PS3 to PSV method doesn’t work with Unchained Blades (and Gungnir)~.

        • VWinds

          You can transfer Unchained Blades and Gungnir from PS3 to Vita, it just isn’t on the Vita PSP store itself yet.
          You couldn’t on release, but you can as of a week or two ago.

          • Juan Manuel M. Suárez

            That’s interesting…as well as bizarre. If you couldn’t transfer it at the beginning (and I know it couldn’t be done because I tried myself) why can it be done now? I guess they are working on the PSP emulator inside the PSV but it begs the question of why even though there’s work on that front there’s zero work on the PSP PSV PSN store~. =/

        • JazzyMan123

          Was gonna reply, but looks like I was beaten. Yeah, I can back up what VWinds said since I’m gaming UB on my Vita as well.

    • revenent hell

      Its a good game trust me, Charisma also builds up faster if you answer the demons in your party correctly and its not terribley hard to guess what answer they would like to hear and it also builds there mood up,they will randomly talk to you after a battle or when your in a town so building up your charisma is not realy that hard,im realy only in the second “dungeon” and my leader is at level 8 charisma.
      Also in battles where your demons battle for you you can use “gems” that you get either from quests or your monsters,they will randomly find them and depending on your answer to their question they will give it to you,that you can use in the battle to boost their morale wich can win the battle for you quite easily.
      Ive also had no issue with unchaining monsters either…most low level ones will unchain at the begining of  battles for me or like the above article mentions I stick to the mages to wack em until they do unchain it can be tedious  but eh it gets the job done.
      My only real complaint is the inventory limit,with the grinding it is irksome to say the least since I also happen to be an item horder in games…..And now that ive finally started to aquire anima from my monsters im worried for my inventory *sigh*

  • AuraGuyChris

    Nobuo Uematsu = Sold

  • Nameless App 1989

    I still want a release date for the 3DS version…

  • If it’s on sale one day I might pick it up just because of XSEED publishing it but I’m really not interested in another first-person dungeon crawler. 

  • revenent hell

    This game is like most RPG’s with its grinding its to be expected,Ive actually had no “issues” with the game other than the inventory limit. But I normally grind alot therfor I Hit my limit of caryable things quite early. That aside I find the game to be quite enjoyable even as a person rather “new” to  dungeon crawler games

  • Laith Rem

    Still waiting for the 3DS version.

  • neetyneety

    I wish my monsters would always Die For Me. Uhh, yeah, couldn’t resist.

    Anyway, despite the issues stated, I still see this as a largely enjoyable dungeon crawler; going to pick it up once it’s released.

    • cj_iwakura

      It’s already out*!

      *For PSP

  • SetzerGabbiani

    Will be getting this as soon as NSMB 2 breaks the digital dam.

  • Mrgrgr and Unacceptable World

    The battle system sounds really interesting there.^_^ And considering this is first person dungeon crawling RPG, this is surely going to be a must buy lol.^^

  • MrKappa

    This game is hard as all hell. I don’t have much time to play games and this game is not doing my time any favors.

    • revenent hell

      I work about 120 hrs a week and play it only when I have an hour to dedicate to it or so if you need any help or advice id be happy to give you some..Im not an expert on the game by any means but ive roughly figured everything out quickly…So uhm yeah if you would like any info about the game to make it easier for you id be happy to help
      Edit: I would have offerd some tips here but I dont know what your finding dificult in the game and untill I do im not sure what would be of most help to you

      • MrKappa

        I don’t think it’s that I need help or anything but maybe this game enforces too much grinding that I am not use to.
        I am only in the 2nd dungeon and the boss there is whipping my ass. The two girls are weak as can be and thus need to rely on magic which only last like 10 battles and the followers are laughable.

        I just think things hit too hard and when you get those double or triple screen battles you have to go all out like fighting a boss. I just chalked it up to me be really early in the game but man if grinding isn’t the answer I don’t know what is.

        • revenent hell

          Grinding is the answer.
          I will admit I was stupid and  created bitter tonics and sold them they restore mp,harvest a bit for bee nest and honey you will get them with either the trowel or the saw in the dungeon I think I got most of mine in the earlier parts but its random…
          Harvest and sell everything unless  you plan to create something at the craft shop. It’ll give you the much needed money to buy better weapons,armor and sigils,I basically relied on these since getting from floor to floor became easier after time with minimal battles in between.
          Im new to dungeon crawlers but normally when I play any rpg I kinda over grind anyways,mainly when item creation comes in to play,so that basically is most likely your problem you havent leveled your charecters enough.

          Early on the followers are..useless but as they level in afection for the charecter they will take more hits for them and once fully leveld upon release they will give you an anima wich you can attach to another monster for skills.
          Grinding is the key for this game.If people arent use to it it can probably make the game tougher but I pretty much grind a floor till the exp isnt worth staying then I move on. Normally by the time a “boss” appears or a few sets of monsters appear im ready for them. Also when sets of monsters appear attack the leader if he dies first the others will become bound or confused giving you time to kill their followers. I wont lie I realy have abused Mari’s bind skill.

  • Love this game. But for a dungeon crawler it’s surprisingly easy, especially the boss (except the first Titan’s boss lol). I don’t actually grind too much in this game (unlike Etrian Odyssey) except in the first Titan because the boss is an ass, but the later Titans was easy. I really recommended this game for those who are new to Dungeon crawler games, and of course for that cute ending too <3<3

    I hope they will localized the sequel too.

  • klkAlexar

    Oh, this sounds interesting. I’ll probably get it for my 3DS. 

  • As some1 said it be4, Clunea is the goddess with a Anti-gravity MELONS. LOL
    Who the VA 4 Hector (Golem) cuz I swear he sounds lk and look as comedic as Teddie.
    Hmm two aggresive lead hero and heroine, this means a ship is coming ryte?

    Would get this game along with DeSu series.

    • LynxAmali

       Yuri Lowenethal?

      At least it sounds like him.

      • Looks lk I/m off then. Tht means he’s Yosuke? Still comedic. But golems don’t have nads ;)

  • Z3

    I’m currently on Chapter 2 and I gotta say, I hate the phoenix princess. She isn’t as likeable as the medusa. This is my the only dungeon crawler that got really me into it, Class of Heroes seriously made me rage quit! I hope the sequel makes it here. I will buy it on day one

    • cj_iwakura

      I liked her personality shift, tropes spun around are always fun.

  • Blow Society

    This game is such a disappointment. I was expecting this to be a great game because of the variety of great artists that worked on it, but it was such a let down.

    First, the story is senselessly mediocre, there’s nothing to keep you moving on with the game, the “I wanna get revenge and my powers back” plot just doesn’t  seem to work at all. Next, the mini-games are boring: the Followers vs Followers that’s made of still sprites bumping each other is just ridiculous to watch; and the random Monster Unchaining that isn’t even a bit challenging. Honestly the only thing I liked here is the Skill Map and the main characters’ sprites, everything else is just out of place. Lastly, the game is pretty much repetitive and the characters are not so likeable. A sequel with these issues resolved would be great, but if not then I hope they don’t localize it anymore.

  • An interesting read. Can’t wait until it gets released over here (assuming it will be, anyway!).

  • Vince Bardsley

    I don’t know why anyone complains about grinding in this game. You never have to grind if you are always unchaining everyone you can. When you get to a new harder floor you struggle but after 10 or so fights you can retreat to heal and then your strong enough. That’s not grinding that’s progressing, big difference. I have never encountered a spot where I have had to just stumble around to fight weak monster’s to level up. I have had to get more followers but after chapter 2 I learned my mistake or not unchaining enough, and now I slaughter the opponents army without even trying. The game is still hard so you can grind to make it easier or you can use your brain and outsmart the opponents, who wants to just span attack anyway.

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