One way to kill a JRPG buzz is with another JRPG.
That became clear to me somewhere around hour 20 of Unchained Blades. With a thirst brought on by the summery, intense, mysterious Persona 4 Golden, I dove into Unchained Blades hoping to find the same kind of catharsis. 75 hours of one JRPG means I'm ready for another, right?
You don't play that much of a game without having some inner desire to conquer a mountain… or in this case a dungeon. Unchained Blades is another Japanese dungeon crawler but in a decidedly different vein. Are all JRPGs created equal or did my patience wear thin?
In this first-person RPG from XSEED Games and FuRyu, players take on the role of Fang, a Dragon Emperor, looking for a fight. To that end, Fang goes to Clunea, a goddess said to grant one wish to any who ask. When he arrogantly accosts Clunea, she turns him into a weakling and sends him to earth in human form.
That's where we come in. It's our responsibility to build this asshole back up and maybe learn something on the way. To that end, Fang joins other characters and does battle in the Titan tombs one of two ways. The first is straightforward RPG battling like you've come to know and love.
Picking physical and magic attacks allows you to dole out damage. Wait your turn while the enemy retaliates and then go again until you've whittled your opponent to zero. There are also chain attacks and special Boost attacks, but none of this will seem unfamiliar for even a second.
Where FuRyu has seen fit to change things up is in the Follower Battles. Over the course of the game, you'll find yourself in control over 10s of followers. Occasionally, you'll have to use this followers to fight off other armies. This commences a rhythm game where strings of inputs and items can help push your team to dominate the other.
Despite the variation in combat, it doesn't change that 90% of the game forces players to laboriously scratch through dungeons and repeat combat until you've reached the final floor. It's also a shame that characters seem to lack much depth, despite their visual variety (thanks to 14 notable artists). Voice acting is a nice touch, but it's not as prevalent as it is in other games.
Still, the cast does a great job of putting as much character into their performances as possible. You'll recognize many voices from Persona 4 Golden, in fact, but it's apparent that developer FuRyu focused more on padding the hours than creating likable, developing characters.
Luckily, you control the best parts of their development. Each characters skill map is like the sphere grid in Final Fantasy X. Some slots open new abilities and skills while many slots merely tally more stat points. All in all, there are a ton of choices to make which means your characters can be finely tuned for the roles you want them to execute in battle.
Regardless of this, the actual dungeon crawling is boring and monotonous. The same tiles will be seen over and over again making visual cues difficult to catch. The 3DS's bottom screen serves as an ever present map but, in the end, it's a wash. Dungeons aren't particularly interesting on their own and maps are broken up readily by attacking monsters.
If you don't have the stomach for this genre, it's hard to recommend Unchained Blades. There's little to entice newbies and even stalwarts of dungeon crawlers to continue forward, especially if you come to dislike the main character as I have.
Instead of giving grinding aficionados the opportunity to progress and level smoothly, difficulty will often ramp up without warning, forcing players to head back to previous floors and walk in circles until they have enough power. When you have to engage in a stale, merely passable battle system over and over again, it grows less and less entertaining quickly.
It's for this reason that I admit I didn't finish Unchained Blades. I say that to be as transparent as possible and to say that there's a ton of content for genre fanboys to gobble up by the hour, but it can at times feel like Fang and company are grinding back against the player, hoping to put off progression in favor of one more battle. Even the game's soundtrack can achieve soaring highs, but the repetition can suffocate any semblance of fun. I'm not the gamer that'll finish Unchained Blades, but maybe you are.