Another month and we have another instalment of the ongoing attempt of world domination by KEMCO and their seemingly endless back catalogue of RPGs. By now we almost know the story before we start the game: a band of characters that initially don’t get on need to become a team, all in order to take down a big bad guy and save the world. And surprise surprise, that seems to be the story here with Bonds of the Skies. Is this the straw that breaks the camel’s back, or is this a good KEMCO game in its own right?
Straight away, it appears that the big book of RPG cliches has been raided for this game. Our hero, Eil, is an orphan with a mysterious past. The heroes in these games always have a mysterious past, have you noticed? Whether it’s done for story purposes or whether it saves on writing a backstory for the people involved, I’m not too sure. Anyways, in the middle of his coming of age ceremony, the town that Eil lives in is attacked, with fire everywhere. Luckily, a Grimoa, the Gods of this world, appears to Eil and they strike a bargain to save all the people. This Grimoa is Nogard, the Air Grimoa, and he has awoken from a 500 year slumber and comes with a tale.
You see, it appears that way back in the mists of time, the four Grimoas came to an agreement that they would each produce a child. Obviously, being gods, they couldn’t have a child in the normal way, and so, rather like amoebas, they split their personalities and brought forth offspring. This was obviously exhausting and weakened them considerably, and it was at this point that Redknaught, the Fire Grimoa attacked them. He hadn’t split his power, you see, and so the combined efforts of the other Grimoas could only force a stalemate, forcing all the Grimoas to sleep and try to recover. As a side effect, the world moved on, and people stopped believing in them, causing them to weaken even further. Eil’s town was attacked by Redknaught, and only by teaming up with Nogard will Eil be able to solve the mystery of why the town was attacked.
What follows is the usual sort of quest for games of this sort, with more Grimoas to find, and, luckily, more people who not only believe in the Grimoas, but possess the ability to form a bond with the gods. These are Iks, a warrior from a town that can bond with the Earth Grimoa, and Avi, a young girl who can bond with the Water Grimoa. In order to beat Redknaught, not only must the three main Grimoas be recruited, but also each of their children have to be found and added to the roster. Of course, to recruit a Grimoa except Nogard, they first have to be beaten in battle, and they always live in the depths of a monster infested labyrinth, making even reaching them a challenge. Once everyone is recruited, it’s time to fight Redknaught, and maybe even a shadowy figure behind him…
The graphical style of Bonds of the Skies on Xbox One is set firmly on the retro end of the scale, boasting graphics a SNES would be proud of. The exposition is done via the medium of text boxes and a picture of whoever is speaking, and this works well, with clear and legible subtitles. The translation appears to have been entrusted to Google Translate though, but overall it’s fine. The sounds are pretty much as you’d expect; swishing swords, fizzing spells and stirring battle music, all of which fit the game perfectly. When it comes to the gameplay, this is where the wheels become somewhat loose.
Firstly, the controls used for Bonds of the Skies are optimised for a mobile game, where this hails from. As such, there are only four directions of movement, and no diagonals. In practice, this makes lining the characters up with small passages (about the same width as the sprites) almost impossible. I honestly don’t think I got through a small gap at the first time of asking in the entire game. Another issue is the sheer number of random monster encounters, both in the overworld and in the dungeons. I understand that my guys need to fight in order to level up, and by the end of the game all three main guys will be well over level 70, but it becomes tedious being dragged into a fight every third step. It also kills any flow the game has, as you can’t just walk (or sail) anywhere without wading through hordes of monsters.
The world map is overly confusing too, and it isn’t very clear where you have to go for the next mission, usually requiring you to wander around in what you hope is the right place, fighting eighteen million random monsters along the way. And unfortunately there are also problems with the way the dungeons are laid out. It is very difficult to see where to go, as what appears to be solid wall actually turns out to be a tunnel that you can pass through. I wandered around one dungeon in particular for about 20 minutes before I discovered the bit of wall I could get through, and so exploring quite often turns into random bumping of walls until progress is made.
I do realise that it sounds like I haven’t particularly enjoyed my time with Bonds of the Skies, but that’s not strictly the case. The story is actually not bad at all, inspiring anyone to follow it all the way to the end, and should you do so, will find a good game struggling to get out. The battles are good, with powerful magical attacks to unlock and use, and the battle system itself is very well thought out. The game does suffer a bit for being so similar to the rest of KEMCO’s recent output, but it isn’t a bad experience per se.
If you are in the market for an RPG, this may well just scratch that itch. Sadly though, the overriding impression is of blandness and a nagging feeling of déjà vu.