"Bound By Flame is like a low budget B-movie that exposes how silly fantasy can be when it tries to be cool."
Bound By Flame is Mars: War Logs set on fantasy planet X. Maybe you've played the game or read my review
, and if so, then my job is done.
The developers at Spiders Studio are stepping into a style they can call their own, and that's neither wholly good nor entirely bad. The hallmarks of a Spiders RPG are thus: awkward cutscenes, unintentional (?) humor, sloppy combat, primitive mechanics, and a story that ends far too abruptly. There's also a nearly palpable predictability and lack of originality. That being said, any developer still making single-player BioWare-style RPGs should be appreciated, and Spiders' games are even playable and mostly enjoyable. To call Bound By Flame their most ambitious project yet is a little deceptive, but it's not a bad game. It's just not a good one either.
Bound By Flame has all the pieces and parts that typify a Western action RPG: meditative combat, exploration, loot, skill trees, crafting, companions, side quests, and all the rest. The systems are in place, but the mechanics are primitive and underdeveloped. The building blocks of the simple narrative are generic, perfunctory, even rushed. Indeed, the entire game feels like something epic suddenly put to death. Characters mention seven villains and a conflict consuming the world that implies something grand, but just one of those villains shows up in the game's three short acts. In the end, Bound By Flame feels brief, small, insignificant... forgettable.
Bound By Flame's biggest strength is its combat. Although it fails to mimic the weighty and highly strategic combat of Dark Souls, fighting is enjoyable and entertaining. There are camera and control issues, but parries and ripostes actually work (I barely believed it even when I saw it) and add a layer to combat that might otherwise be too simple. There are quite a few options in battle as well, including traps, two different styles of melee combat, stealth, spells, and a crossbow. None of these are complex enough on their own, but together they add up to a fun arsenal of tools. Enemies are designed to be defeated using certain tactics, but I found that most could be slain using my most powerful skills. This makes the game's later stages particularly repetitive, but character progression is satisfying enough to alleviate that. The three skill trees (warrior, ranger, and pyromancy) offer mostly passive skills, but I had a hard time choosing from so many attractive options. Combat can be sloppy and stilted, but challenging boss fights, useful companions, neat enemy designs, and everything mentioned above make it Bound By Flame's most entertaining feature.
Much of the game's marketing campaign focused on the protagonist's inner demon: a dark power that possesses him during the prologue when a ritual goes awry. Although it's not at all the first time this has been done, the prospect of resisting or giving in to the demon over the course of the game is exciting, especially given that there are mechanical and aesthetic effects to one's actions. But don't get excited. There's only one choice, made at the end of the first act. Unless I'm mistaken, a single binary decision determines whether you allow the demon to surface or you suppress it. This is nothing like the Light Side/Dark Side dynamic in Knights of the Old Republic, and the thematic and narrative repercussions are laughably minor and swept aside in favor of advancing the plot.
Demonic or human, the protagonist is one of the cruelest and most unlikeable heroes I've played. In fact, he's such a bastard that he's almost likeable in a campy kind of way: he's arrogant, misogynistic, mean-spirited, violent, fickle, and sarcastic. I wonder if the heroine has different dialogue ‐ probably not. This meathead fantasy badass jerk, who wouldn't be out of place in Broforce, makes Bound By Flame far sillier than one might imagine from seeing screenshots of frightful creatures and piles of dead bodies. The whole narrative has a strange humor about it, but I'm unsure how aware of it the developers are. There are serious moments — the world is being destroyed by an invading evil, after all — and people die and suffer, yet there are odd moments of levity. One of the companions is a flamboyant &dmash; I daresay outright gay — walking, talking corpse who wields a dry wit and an ornate cane. Considering that the aforementioned evil comes in the form of walking corpses, it's absurd how quick everyone is to accept him into the group as an ally. Bound By Flame is like a low budget B-movie that exposes how silly fantasy can be when it tries to be cool.
If it weren't for the narrative's narrow scope, Bound By Flame might have been an above average action RPG, but that — combined with poor storytelling, a lack of originality, and bland questing — makes it difficult to recommend to anyone who isn't starved for single-player Western-style RPGs. Considering the current gaming landscape, that might very well describe you as well as it does me, and so Bound By Flame looks more appealing than it otherwise might. Bound By Flame is a stupid, silly, sloppy RPG, but it made me laugh, curse, cringe, and sweat. Not every game needs to be a masterpiece.