Bound by Flame Review
This is just one of those games. The seasoned player knows it has problems. The story is lackluster, the much-publicized possession feature doesn’t offer half the freedom of choice you anticipated, and there are disappointing frame rate issues in the PlayStation 4 version. And yet, if most action/RPG fans are being honest – especially if they’re fans of the more old-school linear style – they have to admit: Bound by Flame is kinda fun. In fact, despite the unfortunate drawbacks, it can be lots of fun.
The graphics don’t necessarily impress strictly from a technical standpoint. You won’t be wowed by intricate detail or uber-authentic realism. You might even find the dark, forbidding world oppressive. Even so, there are many who will appreciate such an atmosphere, as the ambiance fits the action perfectly, and the style is what you’d expect from a fantastical, medieval-type adventure. The animations suffer a little due to the aforementioned frame rate issue but the special effects are pretty slick. This visual presentation isn’t about raising the bar on the PS4; it’s simply about being effective. And it is.
The sound fluctuates between some generic hack ‘n slash combat effects and an inspired soundtrack that really takes shape during dangerous encounters. On the plus side, I don’t usually notice the musical score in such games, but I definitely noticed this one. It ratcheted up the intensity a few notches, and it’s not overly repetitive (despite the somewhat repetitive nature of the gameplay). The voice acting is largely forgettable, but overall, the audio and graphics work together to present the player with a world that demands our attention. No, it won’t win any technical design awards, but it should still satisfy those who aren’t overly anal.
Bound by Flame plays like a faster, more straightforward version of Dark Souls. It’s not as deep, it doesn’t have the same quality lore, it’s not anywhere near as big, and it’s certainly not as difficult. However, there’s something to be said for “simpler,” especially when it comes to this genre. Although the game doesn’t use the three-quarter or top-down view of old-school dungeon-crawling action/RPGs, it still has a traditional vibe. It’s quite linear, first of all, and I know that’s not the current trend in gaming today. Many really seem to dislike the restricted corridors.
I admit the game probably would’ve been better had we received a bit more freedom and general maneuverability. I also agree that too many of these limited corridors hinder the game’s greater potential, and it ultimately limits our enjoyment. The problem is that this game survives almost entirely on its gameplay, as the writing is hit-or-miss and the narrative is disjointed and somewhat predictable. Therefore, when the gameplay is this important, you want the developers to fully realize the promise of a great mechanic. In point of fact, the gameplay here could’ve been great, and it’s not as far from greatness as some critics would have you believe.
Your character has three skill trees: Warrior, Ranger and Pyromancer. The first is strong but a little slow, the second is speedy and agile, and the third is basically a mage. You can switch between these “stances” on the fly, which makes the combat that much more immersive and dynamic. For whatever reason, it reminded me of switching between the different combat styles in Devil May Cry 3, because you can drastically alter the nature of battle with the press of a button. You might also be surprised at the challenge offered by certain opponents in Bound by Flame; they often require very specified approaches.
For instance, there are enemies that actually have shields on their front and back. So, timing and blocking becomes paramount. The controls are tight and responsive, too, so you’re always rewarded for a skilled offense. With a rock solid battle mechanic, a dynamic battle system, and plenty of demanding enemies and bosses, the fun factor is quite high. Provided you can deal with the negative points of the production – and there are several – you’ll probably get a lot of enjoyment out of slaying hundreds of baddies and becoming stronger and stronger. I just wish the “bound by flame” element was more of a determining factor.
You play as a possessed character who’s always fighting a demon within. The way the game was described, it sounded like player choice would have a big impact on the game’s action sequences and outcome. That’s not really the case, though; the “choice” aspect isn’t anywhere near as compelling as we expected. Many times, it doesn’t really matter what you do, as a scripted event doesn’t change, anyway. Other times, you feel as if your choice just doesn’t matter much at all, which of course lessens the impact of this feature. I suppose if you were looking forward to something that was more robust and meaningful, you’ll be disappointed.
And with merely average writing and some crass jokes that are sometimes more cringe-worthy than funny, you have to rely on the gameplay even more. A lot more could’ve been done with the storyline, which had loads of potential. The frame rate problem does pop up here and there, too, which is a little irritating when you’re talking about a supposedly superior PS4 version. All this being said, I keep coming back to the following fact: I always had fun playing. I was able to ignore the shortcomings just because I was enjoying the on-screen action. In many ways, the gameplay alone saves this production.
Bound by Flame doesn’t necessarily deliver what it promises. The story isn’t exactly accomplished, the good vs. evil struggle concerning that inner demon isn’t half as interesting as it should’ve been, and yeah, it’s pretty linear. But the proper role-playing depth, fast and responsive control, and enjoyable combat keeps you coming back for more. Sometimes, you can overlook a bevy of disappointing factors, just because the gameplay keeps you in your seat. This is one of those times. Hence, I won’t subtract as much from the overall score as I theoretically could; that being said, I do understand the lower scores.
It really just boils down to one question: Can you ignore the missteps and missed opportunities and simply focus on the entertaining gameplay, or will you be unable to get past those flaws? That’s the key. This is why you’re seeing such a discrepancy of scores. Some people can get past the flaws and enjoy themselves; others can’t. It’s that simple.
The Good: Appropriately dark and intimidating fantasy world. Inspired, effective soundtrack. Crisp, responsive control. Good combat mechanic: Dynamic, rewarding and challenging. Gameplay can be quite addicting.
The Bad: Minor to moderate frame-rate issues on PS4. Story falls shy of expectations. Possession/inner demon concept not fleshed-out enough.
The Ugly: “A game this straightforward shouldn’t have tackled such a complex story idea.”
5/12/2014 Ben Dutka