There are numerous fantasy action-RPGs on the market. Most of them contain a lot of the same elements and systems; rarely does one stand out. Bound by Flame feels like just another take on the genre. Its dialogue is cheesy, the path is linear, and yet somehow I can’t stop playing this game. It has a certain generic charm that kept me coming back until the end. I dare to say I had a lot of fun with this low-budget hack and slash, which is certainly something I never expected to do.
This may be the hardest review I have been tasked to write since we started our new format here at ZTGD. So much of what I love about Bound by Flame, I also hate. It is sort of a double-edged sword when it comes to my enjoyment.
For example, the dialogue in this game is absolutely horrendous, but I love it. Characters spout off phrases that feel ripped from present day; and most of the time with truly atrocious delivery. However, that becomes part of the charm. Seeing what characters will be the crassest while still retaining charm is fantastic. I found myself just hoping for the next cut scene to see how great (terrible) it was going to be.
One area that is not questionable though is the crafting/upgrade mechanic. Like most RPGs, Bound by Flame allows players to equip new items and weapons, as well as upgrade them with items obtained from enemies. I could also craft my own supplies, such as mana and health potions, or crossbow darts and traps. It is a simple system, and it works. I loved being able to add attributes to my armor and weapons, and every time I leveled up, I was able to pick and choose new abilities to improve my experience.
This is another area that I really enjoyed. Bound by Flame allows for three distinct styles of play, all available on-the-fly. By simply tapping the R1 button, I was able to switch between warrior and rogue abilities, while pyromancy worked with both. It is simple and elegant, and allowed me to play how I wanted without having to choose. Putting points into each category also changes the game drastically, adding interrupt ability, and even improving combat over time. I mainly focused on warrior, as I love wielding a dual-handed weapon, but rogue was great when I needed to be stealthy.
Combat is another love/hate affair for me. Most of the time enemies are fairly challenging, due to them being damage sponges. It can take multiple hits to take them down, and until I upgraded my warrior skill tree, a lot of my time was spent running around, waiting for my health and mana to recharge. However, when I got into a solid combat flow, parrying enemy attacks and landing critical blows, it was super satisfying. The bosses are also really challenging, relying on me figuring out tactics and strategies for each one.
I only wish my followers shared my enthusiasm for combat. For the bulk of the game I was able to choose between various companions, all with their own skills. Sadly, they are more of a distraction than anything else. I don’t think there was a single battle where they didn’t die. They also seemed to do little damage to most enemies, and served more to keep some foes away from me, while I thinned out the herd. It’s sad really considering the developers built in a system for telling followers how to fight, which I stopped using because they just ended up dead anyways.
This is no open world game. In fact, each chapter takes place in a series of linear hallways connected to a hub world, where I could buy items, take on side quests and recruit my followers. I wish there was more exploration and freedom, but instead the game funnels players down corridors with little reason to deviate from the main path. Each area is also highly uninspired outside of the opening and ending sections. Both of these were rather intriguing and almost made up for the drivel in the middle.
The story is also forgettable fantasy tropes that feel like a mixture of all the things we love, from ice creatures born right out of Game of Thrones, down to the main character being possessed by a demon and struggling with the choices of becoming more powerful, or saving lives. All backed up by some truly terrible dialogue and voice acting that comes across with more hilarity than drama.
Bound by Flame is a great, terrible game. Something about it kept me wanting to push through its problems to find the enjoyment buried within. I can’t explain why a game that does so much wrong entertained me so much. I couldn’t stop playing it despite its issues. There is just something endearing about this game.