Bound by Flame review

Who I am
Joel Fulleda
Author and references

A breath of fresh air.

Version tested: PlayStation 4.
The French development team Spiders he is quite well known for having developed some "point and click" adventures like Gray Matter and a few other not very important titles, unfortunately. Usually a similar software house becomes a bit of a niche in the videogame landscape, ending up producing games intended mainly for fans of a genre that do not require anything in particular and remaining there, in "dim light", perhaps waiting to be incorporated into other most famous companies. Furthermore, since this is a team with few members, no big plans are expected to try to enter the scene with style and overturn the competitors. But what happens when the members of this team are some of the great developers of the renowned Silverfall and have always been dedicated to RPGs? We tell you metaphorically: the class is not water, and the guys at Spiders know very well how to stick to that saying. Bound by Flame, their latest work, is irrefutable proof that quality is not determined by quantity: who has ever said that a development team “of little importance” cannot suddenly end up in the spotlight? Spiders Studios is one of them and you will soon find out why.  

Human or Demon?

The lands of Vertiel are in grave danger: an immense army of the undead led by the Lords of the Cold is sowing death everywhere, bringing frost and snow with them and making it impossible for even the few remaining survivors to survive. The army of the Lords of the Cold, moreover, has never lost a war in the past 10 years, making itself feared and invincible. The whole territory seems to be condemned, by now, to become a wasteland controlled by skeletons and evil creatures, but there is still a hope: the Red Scribes they seem to be the only ones able to stop this apocalypse through a particular ritual. You will impersonate Vulcan, a skilled warrior of theOrder of the Blades Franche, a small army charged with protecting the scribes to get to the capital Caraldthas and groped to destroy the huge army that continues to advance. During an attack on the temple by several undead, the scribes perform the ritual to end it all, but something goes wrong and Vulcan is hit by a "Magic blaze". After recovering, the warrior realizes that something has changed in him: he begins to hear a voice speaking to him, he has a feeling of inner power, as if something has taken possession of his body. He soon learns that he has acquired a kind of double personality: the Demon inside, in fact, it manifests itself in various situations and asks to be freed to give it all its strength. At this point, Vulcan is faced with two options: try to contain and repress the Demon keeping the human form or letting you "Possessions" of him and support him in the hard battle against the army of the undead by unleashing his power? The choice will be up to you, with all the consequences that both will bring. The story is really well crafted and the choices we will make during our journey will influence the course of it, thus leading to alternative paths as well as to different endings. Furthermore, as can be seen from the plot, we will have complete freedom to choose whether to free the Demon in us or repress it, therefore the factor replayability it is high enough for those who want to discover the various approaches offered by the game. What is definitely worth saying is the fact that Bound by Flame is kicking off "slow" to then take off more and more. Initially, in fact, it seemed to be faced with yet another title all smoke and no roast, but continuing this impression has gradually disappeared to our great amazement. From here we immediately understood that the development team knew very well what he was doing and that would not have disappointed the expectations of the players. In terms of longevity, the total duration is around 15-20 hours at normal difficulty, which certainly increase enough by selecting the last difficulty level; then adding that the game offers alternative endings, you can easily exceed the 40-50 hours, really good for a non-open world RPG.

A high-level RPG 

While not offering a vast and open game world like any self-respecting RPG and being, instead, quite linear, However, Bound by Flame has all the characteristics of the genre and introduces still others by giving a gameplay nothing short of excellent. The things to analyze are really many, but let's start by saying that during our adventure we will meet many NPCs ready to join us in battle: we will go from strong warriors and skilled archers to real witches or wizards who will use their magic to defend or attack. Each of these characters will have different skills, allowing us to adopt different attack techniques based on the situations in which we find ourselves. Furthermore, we will be able to choose their fighting style, which splits into automatic (i.e. the NPC automatically adapts to the circumstances), offensive, defensive and a style with a skill "special": to give you two examples, a sorceress will mainly care about cure us in combat and an archer to unleash more powerful hits at the expense, however, of its speed. All this greatly influences the outcome of our battles against the creatures that we will face, which obviously will not stand by and watch. Following this statement, the note of merit definitely goes to the AI ​​of the enemies, which is really good since if we are not ready enough they will knock us down and then inflict us extensive damage without us being able to do anything until we get up. The same is true for i groups of enemies, which will attack us at the same time, often forcing us to parry and counterattack at the right moment. The various undead and creatures, moreover, will divide into different types and underestimating even the simplest skeleton is the most wrong thing to do in this game: it immediately jumped to the eye, on the other hand, that the difficulty is definitely set upwards, with the Hawk option (ie Normal difficulty) comparable easily to Hard in any other game, which leads the player to really sweat the victory during the fights. There are four difficulty levels, but we assure you that at the normal one we already struggle to survive against the enemies and several times we are also dead, so we can say with closed eyes that it requires almost a lot of skill and readiness as much as Dark Souls, guaranteed (we almost said, ed.). This can only benefit the title of course, taking into account that today AI and difficulty are often sidelined and not of
They offer a satisfying degree of challenge for hardcore gamers. It is also necessary to make a small mention of the consequences regarding the choice to free the Demon or not: by choosing to release it and progressing in the "transformation", for example, we horns will come out and in that case we will no longer be able to wear helmets, but our mana will regenerate faster, so we will have to carefully evaluate what we will encounter based on the "form" we prefer. The play areas are different, in fact we will pass from villages to hostile swamps until we reach snow-capped mountains. Being an RPG, we will be assigned both primary missions, aimed at completing the story, both secondary, which will allow us to meet new NPCs and find items, weapons and more. Even these objectives will put us in front of choices every now and then, going to modify future events minimally. A day / night cycle with the possibility of sleeping in camp tents to speed up time; some missions require a particular time to be addressed, leading us to exploit this "system". Regarding the evolution of the character and the paraphernalia, we have to go far enough given the countless options. At the beginning of the game we will have the opportunity to create our protagonist in his simpler strokes, that is the type of face, hair, gender and personal name, even if during the game it will always be called Vulcan by the NPCs. We will have available three fighting styles, each with pros and cons depending on the situation:  

Warrior: we will wield heavy weapons such as swords, hammers and axes that will inflict more damage at the expense of attack speed; we will also be able to more effectively parry the most powerful attacks that, otherwise, could break through our defenses.

Drifter: agility and speed characterize this style, allowing us to dodge enemy attacks and counterattack more easily thanks to the use of two daggers, again at the expense of damage, which will be reduced. It will also be possible to use the Stealth mode, which will make us silently approach our targets and inflict more damage.

Pyromancer: we will exploit the power of the Demon, which will allow us to throw fireballs, ignite our weapon for a certain amount of time, inflicting greater damage and other powers, all this using mana. Speaking of mana and health bars, these will regenerate slowly over time or faster by drinking their respective potions. It is then possible to enhance our character through a skill tree simple in the options offered but well done: as regards the improvement of Vulcan itself, we will be able to increase its maximum health, mana, ability with certain weapons and damage inflicted, the experience obtained by killing creatures and many other aspects. Regarding the various fighting styles, we can improve all three to our liking, increasing the probability of a critical hit, the breaking power (ie the effectiveness of parries without having to go to the ground following a hard attack), the speed and so on. In order to apply these enhancements, of course, it will be necessary to exploit the points obtained as you pass each character level. To perform pyromancer attacks or to use potions and other items, we will have a quick wheel menu which will allow us to select them in an instant avoiding wasting time opening the actual inventory. The paraphernalia will not only consist of swords, hammers, axes and daggers, but we will also be able to attack from a distance thanks to crossbows or place on the ground some booby traps, very useful for damaging undead groups while avoiding dying. We will be able to find new weapons and armor of all kinds during our journey within caskets, barrels and chests, which will also give gold, materials and other loot, or buy them among the merchants spending the gold we own; obviously, we can also resell them to get something out of them. Another interesting factor is the crafting of weapons and armor in order to enhance them, in fact by collecting the loot we will obtain useful materials to improve our equipment, while the most "impatient and rich" will be able to purchase the various materials  Prime always requested by the merchants. Weapon upgrades are limited ad else, knobs, ax extensions and similar of different types, increasing the attack and other parameters until the application of damage from poison, fire and the like. About armor upgradeinstead, we will be able to add shoulder straps, elbow pads, boots, gloves and helmets always aimed at increasing our general resistance and against weapons with effects applied to contact. The booby traps, potions and darts for the crossbow, moreover, can also be created by ourselves always having all the required materials, so there is also a crafting of items. A particular feature introduced in the game is the ability to recycle weapons and armor in addition to selling them: this allows you not to get money, but materials to be used later without having to find or buy them; depending on the situation then, if you are short of gold and need some material, "destroy" your weapon and get it from there. Finally, the combat system, while being very simple overall, with attacks divided between powerful, but slow, and "weak" but agile e rapid as explained in the three styles, it plays its role well, even if the most demanding would have preferred more specific movements and strokes, perhaps addressed to different arts to give greater realism to the whole. The gameplay, therefore, is solid and well done with everything an RPG needs. What would surely have made this title almost sublime would have been one Cooperative mode, Unfortunately completely absent but that would have further expanded the gaming experience, giving hours and hours of additional fun in the company of a friend.

Aesthetically enjoyable, but not too much.

Here comes, unfortunately, another flaw of Bound by Flame, namely the graphic sector, made in cell-shading. Let it be clear that with this sentence it does not mean that it is bad from every point of view, but for having been developed also for PlayStation 4 and having tested that version, the graphics it offers nothing special that makes you appreciate the title visually. The textures are acceptable as regards human beings, creatures and clothing,
but the surrounding environment could have been more cared for. The sore point certainly goes to the expressions of the characters, who are almost absent and they weigh on the success of giving emphasis in many speeches: for example, if a warrior is angry and is shouting, his forehead and eyebrows just frown, but they are not deserving at all. There may also be some sporadic drops in frame rates, but they are very rare and fortunately do not spoil the gaming experience. In short, from the graphics sector much more could be achieved, also because the engine has all the required potential but has not been exploited properly. The audio compartment it's well done, but as far as the music is concerned sometimes they are out of place and too high, forcing you to change its volume in the settings. The general atmosphere, however, it is well recreated and the settings are variable between them, without having a sense of "map recycling" every three by two. Regarding the dubbing, the spoken is in English and one feels that the speeches were made with commitment by the voice actors. Quite often the dialogues contain ironic phrases that make the player smile, it is a pity that the same cannot be said for the expressions that, as mentioned, ruin the result. If these shortcomings were filled with a possible second chapter, surely the game would gain a lot and the final experience would significantly improve.  

Final comment

Bound by Flame it turned out to be a really good title able to give several hours of play accompanied by a high difficulty that will surely be loved by hardcore gamers, given that these days the titles tend to sin in this respect. Unfortunately, graphically it does not excel and the complete absence of a cooperative mode does not help this title, which however remains excellent in terms of gameplay: skill tree, crafting of objects, weapons and armor, different fighting styles and much more. In a nutshell, the Spiders team was able to make an overall successful game, but not yet great on several aspects. Of course purchase is recommended for lovers of the RPG genre, but also the neophytes of the sector will be able to appreciate it in its "alleged" simplicity. And if you love Dark Souls, well, Bound by Flame is great for "training" and preparing due to its difficulty, as pointed out in the review.    

For Cons 
- Great storyline - Crafting, upgrades and various skills - Good longevity for a non-open-world RPG - Unused graphics sector - Expressions almost non-existent - Absence of a cooperative mode
  Overall rating: 85 
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