I have to say that despite owning a Vita I'm constantly returning to my PSP. First Velocity and now Unchained Blades, an old-school RPG developed by some of the veterans that helped make some of the best titles in the business like Grandia and Lunar. Unchained Blades takes the old-school first-person viewing approach and mixes it with turn-based mechanics for a surprising harder but enjoyable RPG experience.
Unchained Blades is the tale of one overly arrogant and powerful Dragon Emperor, named Fang, who within the first five minutes royally disrespects the world's creator, Goddess Clunea. As punishment, she banishes Fang back to the surface, without his powers and his once fearsome adult dragon form. Now the extremely annoyed and weakened King of the Dragon Clan has to earn the right to set things back and maybe learn a little humility along the way.
Dragons are not the only mythical beings in this unnamed world or the only ones seeking to have a wish granted by the Goddess if they make it to her lofty home. Along the way you will team up with members from the Spirit Fox (Kitsune), Phoenix, Reaper (Demon), Medusa, Golem and Mandrake clans. Each have their own problems, such as a fear of men, but one wish granted could change their separate lives forever.
Making it to the Goddess' home will be a dangerous trip as you have to make your way the "Holy Ordeals" first. These Holy Ordeals are grid based dungeons full with mazes and identical looking corridors. Each dungeon can be fully explored, which I tend to do, or quickly and carefully navigated to make it to the next level. The unique first-person perspective is something I haven't really seen in some time. Sure it's a major part of titles like the Elder Scrolls but there you have a choice. Navigating the seemingly identical corridors in first person does add a more personable approach to the experience.
Traps and enemies litter the dungeons, and you can't go several feet without running across one orthe other, but Unchained Blades definitely requires some grinding as I quickly found out upon hitting the second floor of the first dungeon. Fighting requires some strategy, as earning gold to afford medicine is scarce. This means there is a lot more backtracking at first until you find a teammate capable of healing. Each dungeon also has at least one campsite that allows to you restore your health. It unfortunately does not revive fallen teammates. One thing that makes dying a little less painful is that you can save practically anywhere in the world, which I loved.
Players can have up to four characters on a team and each one has their own set of unique skills like Fang's fire and claw based attacks. Its only until you start leveling that you can allocate Skill Points to customize Fang, Tiana, Lucius and the gang that you make them stronger and more unique. There are a lot of options to choose from as you plot your choices on a large Skill Map. To aid you further, Unchained Blades also contains RPG staples such a crafting system and shops for buying gear, potions and weaponry.
One of Unchained Blades more unique functions is the Masters and Followers and Unchaining features. Unchained Blades takes part of its name from the act of unchaining your enemies from their ways and taking them on as allies. Reducing an enemy to below a certain point triggers an option to break some bond that isn't really explained. Just think of it as catching a Pokémon, except it’s a magical bond instead of a Pokéball. These unchained allies now become Followers that you can assign to Masters, or rather the four main members in your current party. They can come to your aid like attacking your foes or taking damage for you when ever they want; however there is a catch. They will only take a hit for you if you are on good terms with them. To do that you have to keep you Battle Charisma high which is challenging at times. Completing battles helps raise this while running away can have to opposite effect; however, the most direct way is to correctly answer the randomly activated conversations that your Followers will ask. Choosing the right answer can often be very easy though they love to throw in trick questions, like testing your maturity.
Unchained Blades has some pretty solid combat and RPG elements though what I really like is the visual presentation. The environments are mainly dungeons, and are pretty decent though sometimes a little underwhelming in graphical sharpness. I did however like the detail that they put into some of the dungeons, especially the starting one, and the character and town hubs look awesome thanks to the stellar work of 14 established and celebrated artists including Pako of Shining Force EXA and Toshiyuki Kubooka for Lunar series. Their combined work on Unchained Blades has brought richly designed semi static character art to progress the story and serve as battle targets. I love the detail that they put into the main characters to showcase their respected mythical clans.
Not only does Unchained Blades feature big names in the graphical department, it gets some star power behind the audio department as well. The voice acting alone is awesome and I could easily identify several of the actors thanks to several years of RPG playing and anime watching. The soundtrack headed by Tsutomu Narita(of Xenoblade Chronicles) and is awesome to listen to between fight. Final Fantasy fans might even recognize Nobuo Uemastu's contributions with the rather cool theme song.
I'm surprised I hadn't actually heard about Unchained Blades before doing this review, but I'm totally glad that I had a chance to play it. Unchained Blades has a lot of great features going for it with a great voice cast, enjoyable story and a unique presentation style. The difficulty may be an obstacle for newcomers, but RPG veterans should have no trouble unchaining the magic behind Unchained Blades for the PSP. If you’re an RPG fan like me, then I absolutely recommend playing Unchained Blades.