Review: Bound by Flame (PS4)


Title: Bound by Flame
Format: Blu-ray Disc / PlayStation Network Download (4.6 GB)
Release Date: May 6, 2014 PlayStation Network / May 9, 2014 Blu-ray Disc
Publisher: Focus Home Interactive
Developer: Spiders Studio
Original MSRP: $49.99
ESRB Rating: M
Bound by Flame is also available on PlayStation 3, Xbox 360 and PC.
The PlayStation 4 version was used for this review.
A copy of this game was provided by the publisher for review purposes.
PS Nation Review Policy.

In the first Third Person Action RPG released for the PS4, Bound by Flame, you play the role of Vulcan, a member of the mercenary group, the Freeborn Blades, as you explore the world of Vertiel. As you begin your adventure, you are thrust into the middle of a war of attrition against the Ice Lords and their Deadwalker (undead) army. Along the way, you meet some friends, lovers, and battle your inner demon to save the world.

Upon beginning the game, you are allowed to design your character by choosing your sex, and then choosing from about 5 different pre-designed faces and hairstyles. Once done with naming your character and the customization, you begin the adventure by squaring off against an undead warrior scout in order to teach you the basics of combat.

During the very first mission, you learn that your team of mercenaries has been hired to protect a group of magicians called the Red Scribes; they are attempting to do a special ritual that is a last ditch effort to fight back against the Ice Lords. As the group of Scribes are performing their ritual, the Deadwalker army attacks and you are there to defend the Scribes so they can complete the ritual. During the attack, you and your group are forced to retreat into the same chamber as the Scribes; something goes wrong, and you are then inadvertently possessed by a demon that comes out of a rift that the Scribes have opened as a part of their ritual. Fortunately for you, the Demon is not able to take full control over your mind, except for short bursts. As you progress throughout the game, you are faced with tough choices where you must choose to either cede more control of your body and mind to the Demon in exchange for more power, or try tackling the issues on your own through other means.

The combat in this game is eventually divided into two distinct fighting styles.  The first style of fighting, or stance as it’s referred to in the game, is the Warrior stance.  The Warrior stance is your traditional two-handed sword combat; this combat style is slow and deliberate.  Later in the game, while playing the Warrior stance, you will acquire various other heavy weapons, such as axes and hammers. The basic controls of the Warrior stance allow you to swing your weapon with the Square button, and do a circular slash with the Triangle button. The circular slash is also able to be charged by holding down the Triangle button until a red aura envelops your player. Once your circular slash attack is charged, you let off of the Triangle button for an automatic multi-slash attack. If you’re fighting an enemy that has a shield or is guarding, you can use the Circle button to kick your opponent to try to break his guard stance, then follow up with a quick slash. In both stances, you block with the R2 button, which is fairly effective against most heavy attacks.

The second main fighting stance in the game is the Ranger stance; this stance is more agile, and it allows you to get in, get a few slashes on your opponent, and get out of the way. The controls for this stance are essentially the same as the Warrior stance, but instead of kicking your opponent to break its guard, the Circle button is used to quickly jump back, hopefully avoiding your opponents strike. When you’re playing as the Ranger, your large heavy weapon is put away, and your twin daggers are automatically drawn.  Blocking in the Ranger stance is also a bit different, as your weapons do not absorb heavy blows but they can deflect some softer blows and light projectiles.

When using the Ranger stance, it’s best to use the Circle button to avoid the attack altogether, since many attacks can send you flying. The Ranger stance also has a special stealth mode, activated by pressing the L3 button, that allows you to walk more quietly and keeps enemies from noticing you from a much closer distance than in the regular mode. If you are able to successfully attack an enemy in stealth mode without it noticing your approach, the initial damage of the attack is increased significantly. I’ve been able to use the stealth mode with mixed results. If you successfully get up behind a Deadwalker (normally those annoying archers), you can attack him with the Square or Circle button; however, at one point I saw an icon of the Cross button and a caption to kill the enemy. I pressed the Cross button over and over and it didn’t do anything. I don’t know if this is a bug or not, but it would be great if there was an instant kill if you successfully sneak up behind a character without being detected.

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The main gameplay of Bound by Flame is very fluid, as you move in and out of combat almost seamlessly. When there’s an enemy near, Vulcan will automatically draw his weapon(s) and the battle music will begin to play. In your first major battle, you will begin to understand the combat of the game, which is being attacked by two or usually three or more enemies at once.

Bound by Flame is a tough game, even on the Normal/Hawk difficulty mode, which is why it is essential to master the parry and riposte maneuver. The parry maneuver is accomplished by hitting your block/R2 trigger a split second before your enemy winds up to attack you. If done correctly, immediately after the parry, you will go into a slow motion mode for just a second, where you will need to quickly pull off your riposte. This parry maneuver, aside from magic, is the key way to significantly damage your enemies—if you cannot master this skill, you will be reduced to chipping away small amounts of health from your enemies then running away for your health to regenerate and/or guzzling health potions (at least for the beginning of the game, until you reach Level 17 approximately).

As you increase your level, you will be granted upgrade points where you are able to choose new abilities and upgrades to your fighting abilities. One of these options is to upgrade your parry and riposte maneuvers so that when a successful parry is done, an automatic riposte is done in addition to the manual riposte that you normally initiate with the Square button.

Of the two fighting stances, Warrior and Ranger, I started using the Ranger stance early in the beginning of the game, because the way I normally play these types of games is to roll away to avoid attacks (the Ranger is the only stance that has a dodge/jump move). The problem for me, is that you effectively cannot block in the Ranger mode against most enemies — especially when you are mobbed by three or four enemies at a time — which makes this stance really tough to use. I then switched to mainly Warrior stance, because of the added damage you can deal out, as well as the more effective blocking skill; however, this stance seems to be lacking some sort of roll away feature.

While I understand the concept of the two distinct fighting styles, I think there should be some sort of sidestep or roll maneuver for the Warrior stance. The closest thing I could come to a substitute for a roll or to avoid an attack with the Warrior stance is to stop blocking and run the opposite direction quickly. However, one problem, with running away, is that it leaves your back open to attack if you cannot get out of the way fast enough; also, another problem is that it’s not feasible when you’re being attacked from all sides. I also think that the Ranger mode is missing a long distance attack. I really wish you would have a bow and arrow or be able to use the crossbow in a first-person mode. The crossbow does have a pretty long range, but you must be locked on for it to be effective, and it’s not very precise.

Since the Ranger stance is supposed to be fast, yet slightly weaker, it would be nice to be able to snipe enemies from a distance with greater accuracy. You do get the ability to throw fireballs, and they’re fairly accurate if you’ve locked onto an enemy, but they don’t seem to have the accuracy that I would like to have.

Another big point of frustration for me, with the controls of this game, is the lack of the ability to re-assign the controls. In just about every real-time fighting game, or other game with fighting mechanics, the block button was mapped to the L1 or L2 triggers. I found it very awkward to use the R2 trigger to block and also have to use the face buttons to attack. After some time, I did eventually get used to the different control layout, but it made the beginning of the game much harder for me that it had to be.

One really cool feature of this game is the way it handles your attack menu. In other RPGs, and other Third or First person fighting games for that matter, you bring up a sort of item wheel where you select a weapon or special item. In Bound By Flame, you have a similar menu that you can open up at any time to change stances, use potions and use magic attacks. The really unique thing about this menu is that as you’re fighting in real time, you can open it menu by pressing the L1 button. As you press it, the game does not pause, but goes into a really cool super slow motion mode as you choose your attack or regenerative item. You can also pop open the menu, and map any of the options to your Circle, Square, Triangle, and Cross buttons using the L2 trigger. Once mapped, you can quickly reuse the same skill at any time by pressing L2+the button you have chosen. For example, if you want to use a Fireball or crossbow more frequently, you can map these attacks to the L2 + triangle button so that they’re ready for quick use when you need to use a ranged attack.

Once Vulcan is possessed by the Demon, you are granted new Pyromancer abilities. The Pyromancer abilities are not their own exclusive combat style, but they are overlaid on top of both your Warrior and Ranger stances. At any time during combat, in either Warrior or Ranger stance, you can enter into your special attacks menu and launch one of several fire magic attacks. These attacks can also be upgraded as you level Vulcan up, so you will need to prioritize what skills from any of the three fighting abilities that match the specific fighting style that you prefer.

As you get further into the game, you eventually begin meeting Non-player Characters (NPCs) that become part of your party and go on battles with you (one at a time). It’s a good thing too, because when you have three or four enemies all attacking you at the same time, it’s good to have a partner to take some of the blows for you. The AI for the NPCs ranges from poor to mediocre. I’ve come across all five of the party members that you are to meet in the game, and I haven’t found one of them that can really handle themselves in battle.

You can change the fighting style, or area of focus, for your party member by either going into the battle menu and pressing the R2 trigger to bring up the command menu, or by speaking to them after a battle to talk about their fighting technique. Each party member has four different fighting commands: 1) let them freely fight as they wish, 2) protect/defend themselves, 3) use long range attacks, 4) focus on magic or special attacks. The only one of these options that I have gotten to actually work effectively is number 2, to defend yourself. Any of the other commands usually end up with your party member dead, and you having to finish off the battle on your own. This is very unfortunate, because if the AI for the party member was actually able to follow those commands, it would make a lot of the battles much less frustrating and much more satisfying.

There were several battles where we were fighting one large monster, and I was able to lure it away and had its attention; it would have been great to have my NPC focus on long range attacks and stay way off to the side and snipe it while I keep the monster occupied. But no, I give the command to use long range attacks and my NPC crowds me and the monster, giving the monster an opportunity to turn around and damage my party member. One of your potential party members has healing magic, and it would have been great to have her stand aside, perhaps behind me, to keep me healed while I dispatch the large monster; but no, she ends up getting in the middle of us and gets killed almost every time.

I suppose not all is lost with the NPC AI, at least the defend option works very effectively. Most of the time the monster will be wailing away on the NPC in the corner while I attack its back; and even though they’re supposed to be defending, your partner will often get an attack or two in when the monster focuses on you. Also, if your party member dies, don’t worry, if you manage to win the battle (kill off all of the monsters in the area) your party member will get back up and revive herself.  Also, a lot of battles can be avoided entirely by running through the group of monsters, and down the path to your goal.  If your partner is dead, just run away and they’ll revive and come running after you.

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Even with the faults that the AI has, it is a good thing that you have the option of taking a partner with you on battles. Even if they aren’t as effective as you are, they do distract a couple of the enemies and give you a chance to go heal or divide the enemies amongst the two of you.

As far as the RPG element of the game goes, you have a basic leveling system that awards you two points for your skills/fighting stances (warrior, ranger, and pyromancer), and either one or two points that you can put towards feats (special skills and abilities) for each level that you attain.

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You do not have to spend these points each time you level up. In fact, there are several feats that require more than two points, so you must save those skill points until you increase another level in order to purchase the skill. As far as strength, dexterity, etc., you do not attribute points to these individually, but different points in the three skill trees will allow you to improve these attributes. For max health points (HP) and mana points (MP), you can attribute two feat points to increase these levels.

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Additionally, there’s a slightly complex crafting system that also allows you to modify your weapons. Some of these modifications will increase your max health and mana levels, as well as your strength and defense. Other feats that you can purchase with points will give you enhanced ability to find chests, for example, by generating a slight ping that gets louder as you approach a chest or treasure. Another feat will allow you to use less materials to craft accessories, regenerative items, and other materials.

The crafting system is one of the high points in the game. It’s pretty nice to be able to craft health potions, mana potions, crossbow bolts and other items at any time from the menu using materials that are dropped from enemies. Also, every weapon and piece of armor (save for your starting items and helmets) can be modified/enhanced via materials that you gain as loot from enemies or from purchasing them from shops & peddlers.

When enhancing your equipment, it changes the look of the equipment on your character, and the changes are visible in both the battles as well as the cutscenes. One thing to note: when you sell your equipment to a shopkeeper, that shopkeeper does hold on to the weapon so that you can purchase it back; however, if you have customized it a great deal, the buyback price becomes very, very expensive. I had one sword that I sold to a shopkeeper and the price to buy it back was easily over 8,000 gold. Since gold is pretty hard to come by in the game, you might want to take care before selling your items. You may also want to recycle them instead, so you can recoup some of the materials that you used to customize them.

Also note that some shopkeepers do not stay accessible throughout the game, so bear that in mind when selling an item that you may want back after the current chapter is almost complete. Another very thoughtful feature, that was added to the customization of weapons and armor is that if you change from one customization to another, you will get a chance to recoup some of the materials used in the previous customization. For example, if I had a sword that I customized to do poison damage, and I want to change the sword to do fire damage, I will have a chance at getting the unique materials from the first customization back. This is similar to the way you recycle a weapon, except you keep the weapon in this case.

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If you are having problems finding a certain rare material to enhance your equipment, you can craft it yourself by using a combination of other materials and gold. I really liked the fact that you can craft materials themselves, because some materials are rare and others are more common in one portion of the game than the other. There is also one feat that increases the drops of materials from monsters, which really helped me after I reached the 3rd chapter. You can also recycle weapons and armor to get materials. If you choose to recycle an item, a dialog will appear to tell you what materials, the quantity, and what percentage of probability is likely that you will get all of the materials in the list.

As you may have guessed, there’s a feat that you can purchase that will increase your odds of getting more materials from recycling. If you have bad luck at finding materials, and have nothing to recycle, you can also buy some of the base materials at any time right from the menu. However, gold is rather scarce so it’s best to make due with what you have instead of using up everything to tweak your equipment (or at least until you get a new and better weapon). Another factor that you must be aware of is the cumulative weight of all of your items. As you find more weapons and armor, the weight of your inventory will approach the max weight you can carry. A good way to lighten your load is to either sell off equipment or to recycle it.

The world of Vertiel is explored fairly linearly, one section at a time, rather than being an open world game. In each chapter, you get to one hub or base area, that you are then free to backtrack and explore as you wish (up to a certain point). Each map is laid out as a series of winding paths with doors or entries into the next map or town. Enemies are dispersed in different sections of the map and seem to only re-spawn if you leave the current area and come back.

Throughout a chapter, as you speak to various NPCs, they will give you optional side-quests that will give you experience, gold, and items. These side-quests usually take you to one area, or series of areas, in the surrounding location. After you talk to certain NPCs at different points in the game, you will see a box pop up on the right hand side of the screen alerting you that there is an optional side-quest available. You can see the side-quests by going into the menu and from there, you can also see what steps you need to take to complete them. When you go to the map screen, or your quick map that overlays the screen, side-quests will be visible by a map icon with a #2 on it, while main quest line missions will have a #1 indicator.

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This is the quick map that is accessed by pressing down on the d-pad.

One pretty unique and useful feature for the implementation of the side-quests, is that you can go into the menu and toggle the visibility of the quest icons on the map. This really helps when you have several quests going at once as you can limit the icons to just the particular quest you are trying to complete.

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The more detailed map, which is accessed by pressing the touch pad.

Bound by Flame‘s gameplay has its highs and lows, but overall it’s pretty solid. The game does start off pretty tough (on Normal difficulty), but as mentioned before, once you get up to about Level 17, you’re actually able to do some significant damage to enemies without feeling underpowered. Concerning the initial difficulty, you are able to grind a bit if you wish, but you’re pretty much stuck fighting in the area that you happen to be in at the time. You cannot backtrack or go to different locations to fight monsters that give you more experience points for defeating them.

I found one point in particular, where you have to fight a certain strong opponent one-on-one, that I had to level up a few levels so I could increase my parry and magic skills. Also, as a last resort, you are able to change the difficulty at any point in the game. But if you’re going for the trophy for beating the game on a particular difficulty, that may not be an option for you.

As far as the story goes, I felt that I got more and more interested in the story as it progressed, even though it wasn’t the most original in the world. It reminded me a lot of Lord of the Rings, except with a half dozen or so different Sauron-like characters. Many of the NPCs use the term godsdamn this, and godsdamn that, like in Battlestar Galactica.

The game also has an Infamous or Mass Effect vibe as well, since you’re having to weigh your choices of whether to listen to the Demon or other people in the game. The game does a great job of making the choices pretty grey, and it’s not always apparent what the right thing to do is. You seem to be making the right choices, but end up turning more and more demon-like the more you listen to his advice (which is normally pretty sound advice, at least in the beginning).

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One thing to be aware of, is that if you go the Demon route, and as you become more possessed (there’s actually an indicator on your character status screen that shows as a percentage), you don’t get to make some of the more crucial choices as the Demon begins to assert more control.

Bound by Flame has a pretty weird and unique visual style. At first it was a little jarring, but it ends up being a pretty cool-looking game when you get used to it. The character models themselves are polygonal with pretty detailed textures. However, the landscapes look almost two dimensional with almost a cel-shaded look at times, like Borderlands.

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You can see the almost cel-shaded appearance in the bottles behind the character in the back.

The landscapes, and foliage in particular, looked like sheets with images of leaves printed on them, blowing in the wind. One section in a particular dungeon has a pile of body parts that look like a blanket thrown over a rock that has body parts printed all over it, so not necessarily next-gen level aesthetics.

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This isn’t a big deal to me, as I’m more interested in story and the action aspects of the game, but if you’re looking for a game that shows off the PS4 and next-gen graphics, this might not be the one you’d want to choose (though it is a really good looking game). The colors and lighting are very vibrant and the textures that your character models have are really lifelike in some points. Once in a while, you’ll get a character that looks like he’s got grey moss pasted all over his hair, or it starts snowing indoors (even when it’s not snowing outside), but it just adds to the charm of the game.

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The monsters themselves were really wicked looking as well. The floating spider-like creatures and the various bosses really give you that oh crap, I’m so screwed feeling when you go in for a battle. Overall, the visuals balance out to about an average to slightly above-average experience.

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The soundtrack of the game is pretty fitting. It has a lot of orchestral and instrumental music with light vocals. When you go into a battle, the music kicks up a notch with drums to let you know that you’re about to get into a fight. I would have preferred that the game change it up a bit because while the singer has a pleasant voice, you hear a lot of the same tracks when you go in and out of the same town.

The surround sound, and the sounds of monsters, weapons, etc., sound as you would expect them to.  When enemies approach you from behind, the back speakers pick up their movements. As mentioned before, one of the feats, you can purchase early in the game, gives you a sonar-like ability that makes all treasure chests and larger treasure troves ping as you get closer. Surround sound really helps out a great deal in locating the chests.

The voice acting in the game was pretty good. None of the characters that met were annoying at all and my favorite NPC sounds a lot like Claudia Black. I did check the end credits, and I did not see her listed, but this voice actor sounds a lot like her. Overall though, I do think the voice actors did a great job of connecting me to the characters. After the game was over, I did feel like that I was connected to them and cared what happened to them.

This game is single player only.

Bound by Flame for the PS4 is a great starter RPG for the system, yet overall is a pretty good but average experience. I went into this game with little to no expectations of what the experience would be like. Starting out, I didn’t care for the game that much, but as I gave it more of a chance, I did end up really enjoying it.

There are some minor technical and design issues, namely the lack of control customizations, but the story is compelling and overall it’s a solid game. It is very, very unfortunate that there is no New Game Plus (NG+) option after you beat the game. This game just begs and screams to be played over again on an NG+, due to its difficulty and the different paths you can take, demon vs. human. It seems like a major oversight to not have the ability to start a new game with your character’s level, equipment and gold so you could go through again and see the differences to your character if you had made a different choices, or try to max out the skill trees.

There is the ability to start a new game on the easier difficulty, but I just can’t imagine myself starting from scratch again with this game, although you may have a different experience with it than I do. Starting out from scratch on the higher difficulties just seems near impossible without carrying over your stats on subsequent playthroughs. The endgame was very, very challenging on Hawk difficulty, though I was not able to max out any of my skill trees. The bottom line is that this is a good game, and I would recommend it to people who are starved for an Action RPG on their new PS4, or just love Action RPGs in general. Given its lower price, Bound by Flame is definitely worth the price of admission, as it took me 45 hours to complete the game with all side-quests on the Hawk (Normal) difficulty setting.


* All screenshots used in this review were taken directly from the game using the Share functionality on the PlayStation 4.



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Written by Jason Honaker

Jason Honaker

A software developer for over 15 years, originally from St. Louis, MO and currently living in Seattle, WA. Started gaming in 1979 on the Atari 800 8-bit PC. I play all sorts of games, but am partial to RPGs and 3rd person brawlers and shooters.

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