Available on: PC (reviewed), PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, Xbox 360.
Have you ever shared a plate of nachos with your friends only to find that while you were enjoying them everyone else was power-vomiting into a trash can? That’s how I feel about Bound by Flame. While the game had its problems, the good far outweighed the bad for me. Though according to a Wikipedia summary of the reviews, I found depth in places other people criticized it.
For me, the main character was the strongest part of the game. You play a member of a mercenary group called the Freeborn Blades. You’re not the leader, and your position isn’t really clear since you as the player choose what to specialize in. You have a long sword, two short swords, a crossbow, exploding traps, and fire spells (acquired shortly before the first boss). The freedom of my character’s position allowed me to fill in the gaps of the story and honestly drew me in more. It was interesting playing a powerful person who wasn’t the leader of their group.
When you start the game, you can chose to be a man or a woman. I’m not sure how the dialog differs between the man and the woman, but I can say that my character was snarky and a hardened butthole in all the right ways. She was confident and clever. Her not too over the top sarcastic tone coupled with her badass abilities turned her into a multidimensional, enjoyable person rather than a one-sided parody character. It was obvious she cared about her fellow mercenaries, and the dialog options allowed me to decide how well she reacted to outsiders. Despite buying Bound by Flame because I thought it was an action-heavy game, I very quickly found myself becoming wrapped up in the lore of the world and the politics surrounding my character. Love them or hate them, I also enjoyed learning about the NPCs.
The plot revolves around your character becoming unwillingly possessed by a flaming creature while the whole world is fighting a losing war against an army of necromantic super mages known as the Ice Lords. It’s up to my character, her fellow mercenaries, and the dwindling remains of the living to stop the end of the world.
The twist in the plot comes early on. While helping your employers summon a flame spirit or a demon, no one can seem to agree on what it is, it decided to possess my character. She gains power from the creature within, but it comes with an additional voice in her head and the fear that you never know if its advice is aiding or hurting you.
At first, I thought that no one could decide if I was possessed by a flame spirit or a demon was because of bad or inconsistent writing. After a while, I figured out that people arguing about what the creature was was part of the story. Since no one can agree, I was left wondering who the real threat was. Was it the potentially dangerous demon that caused horns to grow out of my head but gave me the power to save the world, or was it the mages who were so much less knowledgeable than they claimed they were? Deciding who had my best interests in mind became an interesting struggle. The only people I truly trusted were my fellow mercenaries, but they didn’t have all the answers I needed, forcing me to interact with the mages and the demon and consider all of their advice carefully.
I’ll stop revealing things about the plot now, but my seventeen hours of gameplay left me satisfied with an interesting and thoughtful story. Maybe I am utter trash at this game, but one of the big complaints I heard was about its short length. Seventeen hours seems fine to me.
There were a few problems with the story. After getting more chummy with the flame spirit, my character’s skin turned to an ashen gray, horns burst from her head, her voice changed, and flames constantly erupted from her shoulder. However, no one seemed to care or even take notice. Only two people even commented on it, and those were nothing but throwaway comments. Aside from being astoundingly strange even in a fantastical setting, it made me feel like no one really cared about me. Like if she started binge eating and talking incessantly about all the emo music she was getting into, no one would ask if she was doing alright.
There were also a few technical issues with the social aspect of the game. There was no set action button, so the button for talking to people and opening doors was not always the same. Sometimes, one door requires one button and another door another button, making me chop my sword at an innocent door. I also had to kill a key NPC when I was much happier just talking it out with him. I didn’t understand why I had to kill him. When talking to other NPCs after the fight, they actually told me to go talk to the guy I just killed. I thought it was going to lead to a horrific dialog choice to tell him I killed the guy or let him live the lie. It turns out it was neither. Much like my changing appearance, no one seemed to care that I killed a very important person.
Combat requires finesse and fluidity, which I like, but the game makes this very difficult to achieve. Even running the game on a supercomputer, combat got laggy very quickly. This sucks because dodging and countering is critical in combat. The camera also zooms out when you’re holding a weapon, making it harder to tell when an enemy was attacking. The lack of options also made combat feel a bit repetitive after a few hours. Using different weapons and giving them different special abilities helped to keep it from going stale, and I highly recommend doing that if you play the game.
The game would often chug like an 8-bit train at 10 fps during non combat times when I was walking around the town. I had to tab out and back in to fix it. The frame rate also dropped when anything more than two people were on the screen.
The music is also really nice. I just wish there was more of it.
Despite bugs, frame rate issues, and some odd design choices, I really enjoyed Bound by Flame. A lot of love went into this game, and that effort shines through its problems. If you’re willing to try something honest and raw rather than formulaic and polished, give it a play. I look forward to seeing how the next game these people make will improve.
I sassed a demon, went on a monster concubine killing spree, kissed a bearded man who referred to himself in the third person, and dethroned a self-appointed king.
8/10, would burst into flames and smelt my opponents again.