Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Review: Bonded Realities


On this installment of The XBL Indieverse Reviews I'll be taking a look at a new Indie RPG called "Bonded Realities". This game is a refreshing addition to the XBLIG marketplace, and at only 80 MSP, its a steal for the vast amount of content it offers. 

Bonded Realities 80 MSP

With a main quest-line that takes multiple hours to complete, side-quests, and extra features, Bonded Realities is a must-have for all RPG fans everywhere. 

 Bonded Realities
  • XBLIV Rating -
  •  Developer - Red Crest Studios
  • Genre -  RPG
  • Release Date - 1/26/2011
  • Price - 80 MSP
  • XBL Marketplace URL - Bonded Realities
  • XBL Indie Dev Site Red Crest Studios
    "Enjoy an unpredictable, wacky adventure in this turn-based RPG! Crisp graphics, quality music, hilarious dialogue and ridiculous enemies are some of the things that await you in a title that brings the classic gameplay of 8- and 16-bit RPGs into an updated look and feel!"
                                                                                                        --Xbox Live Marketplace Description


    I would like to thank Mike Ventnor at Red Crest Studios for creating this fantastic, much-needed addition to the RPG genre in the XBLIG Marketplace. Bonded Realities is a refreshing and very original game that fits perfectly with the rest of the Indies. With all hand-drawn sprites, original and fitting music, and a game mechanic similar J-RPGs, this Indie will please long-time fans of low-res retro RPG's.

    This game is easily one of my favorites and is also humorous and zany, providing a more amusing and entertaining game that will make you laugh while also enjoying the serious elements.

    Image from Bonded Realities 

    I. Summary

    Bonded Realities starts off with four everyday children attending "E.Z. Childcare Centre"--right off the bat we're treated to a glimpse of the humor that is prevalent throughout.

    As players progress onward they learn more and more about the story and are introduced to many unique and humorous NPC's as well as enemies. The enemies always have hilarious names and their attacks are always associated with their name--for example, a "Tuning Fork" would use a sound-based attack in the form of a Note to hurt players.

    This zaney element adds a new level of entertainment that isn't found in most XBLIG's--one is reminded of the many silly mini-games featured in Final Fantasy games alongside Chocobos and Moggs (kupo!). Overall, this J-RPG-like game is fun for all ages and can be played by younger players without being exposed to complex plots or adult themes.

    II. Story Line

    The story focuses on four main characters: The Main Character (who's name is decided by the player), Josh, Liam, and Maria. Each have their own personalities and specialized abilities--just like any RPG, each character has different designated roles and unique strengths/weaknesses.

    While playing in the sandbox at the E.Z. Childcare Centre, the four children are subjected to a dimensional rift that tears them away from their homeworld and plants them each into different areas in different bodies. Their consciousnesses are still the same--they were who they were in their minds--however their bodies have been switched. This concept is hardly used in RPG's and I've never seen this particular mechanic ever used in an XBLIG.

    After waking up in a different world, our main character must reunite with his comrades who are scattered throughout the land, and once found, they must face the evil sorceror "Haxor" if they ever hope to get back to their own world.

    Will our heroes return to their own time, or will they be doomed to inhabit this fantasy world forever?

    Image from Bonded Realities 

    III. Game Mechanics

    Bonded Realities functions much like gamers would expect a standard RPG would--a party system, turn based combat, items, MP & HP, abilities, drops from enemies, exp, etc. Although this game has many unique elements in terms of gameplay that make it stand apart from other RPG's, it shares the fundamental aspects that most RPG's share.

    Each character has HP and PP--Health Points and Party Points--that increase incrementally during level ups. HP is your basic health system that is only replenishable with items, abilities, and by sleeping. Obviously, when your HP reaches 0, the character dies. Party Points are basically MP with a different name. Different abilities take different amounts of PP, the general rule is that if it's a higher level ability it'll take more PP. Some characters will have more PP and HP than others, yet it's a balanced ratio that doesn't make any one character very strong or very weak.

    Just like in most RPG's of it's type, in Bonded Realities you restore both HP/PP when you sleep. You can sleep at an Inn, which has the appropriate symbol.

    Saving doesn't require the player to go to specific zones--you can save any time in this game. This function allows for nearly infinite flexibility in terms of being able to try a certain part over and over, and to come back at any moment of the game at any time. though, You only get four save slots, so use them wisely!

    Combat is quite easy in terms of mechanics--it's very easy to apply certain selections. The battle menu is very basic, but that's how it needs to be to allow gamers a clear, concise understanding of what selections are available. The abilities in this RPG can range from magical to restorative. Magic attacks do damage or inflict status ailments while restorative cure/heal party members.

    Monsters get stronger as the team does--they're proportional to the team's levels. Stronger monsters also provide more XP and higher quality item drops.

    Dialogue in Bonded Realities is very amusing and humorous--much like the rest of the game. Every NPC has something to say, however most of the time it's nothing important. You will run across a few snippets of useful info and hints from some of them, so it's best to always talk to everyone at least once.

    The main menu combines Equipment (the gear that the party uses) and Items into one. All equippable items aren't seperated but included as a general item, and it is up to the player to identify these items and equip them on their own. Often times players can forget to equip items when they're found or bought, so it's best to check your inventory regularly when there's an item that's unfamilar.

     Image from Bonded Realities

    IV. Weapons/Items

    Items are very important in Bonded Realities and are implemented in a very unique way. Each character can hold individual items rather than them being lumped together in a combined "pool". This mechanic allows for each character to have a different role in battle, and it's a good idea to also distribute items to all characters. Each party member can only hold a certain number of items, however, yet the items can be switched back and forth between characters and can even be dropped. Dropped items are destroyed, though, so it's generally advised you're sure before you drop.

    The Items that are featured in this RPG are varied in strength and useage. Overall, there are five different types of items: Gear, Food, Key Items, Offensive Items, and Potions.

    Gear is all the equippable items that are used by your party--weapons and armor. Each character uses different weapons/armor depending on their fighting style and persona. For example, Josh the dragon will use "Metal Wings" as armor, while our main character uses "Jackets". Higher grade gear is essential and completely necessary as the monsters and enemies get harder and harder as you progress.

    Food are restorative items that can replenish HP/PP and can even raise defeated party members. It's a good idea to carry multiple pieces of food on each character. Food isn't stackable and each item takes up a slot even if there's another item of it's type already in the inventory.

    Key Items aren't common, and they're given to players as they progress. Think of them like "Quest Items". The first Key Item is the highly useful Smoke Bomb which allows free passage in any area. This makes it so a player isn't forced to fight battles if he or she doesn't want to, and gives a way for new players to experience the game without being overwhelmed by combat.

    Offensive Items are very useful and can allow a non-combat player like Maria to do high damage against enemies. Rainbow Grenades are an example of an item of this type, and it's a good idea for weaker characters to have a few of these to even the odds.

    Potions can restore HP and PP like food, however these items also remove status ailments (like Sleep or Poison) and can also revive fallen comrades. They're not as common as food and the rare Royal Potions revive characters to 100% of their HP/PP--basically like a Mega Elixir.

      V. Unique Features

    There are many unique elements to be found in this humorous RPG. Whether it's the goofy and zaney dialogue or the highly customized item system, Bonded Realities sets itself apart from the rest of the RPG's in the Indie Game marketplace in a few key ways:

    Bonded Realities is an entirely hand-drawn game. Every single sprite was designed, drawn, and crafted by the developer. This kind of highly customized do-it-yourself kind of approach to Indie Games is quite common, however this is one of the first games to use full hand-made content. All the environments, characters, scenes and items were drawn by the developer as well.

    Characters in Bonded Realities have very pronounced characteristics, traits, and personalities. We learn more about each main-party character as they react in dialogue, as well as all the other secondary NPC's that each of their own personality.

    Humor is an important theme in this game. Whether it's the funny enemy names or the witty dialogue, players are sure to have a smile on their face as they play. Alot of the time the signs and interactive readable notes in the environments have useful information followed by a witty anecdote or joke, and sometimes they're game-related.

    Combat in Bonded Realities is fantastic. Some RPG's just list how much damage is dealt and recieved in a menu screen, however in this game the damage is seen in bright red and appears near the enemy (or the player) when its dealt. The rumble feature is also useful as the controller vibrates when taking and giving damage.

    Another very interested part of the combat is how the party's health is represented--as there isn't a ratio of health shown (such as 35/117 HP), we only see the current health. To fix this problem the developer used the unique function of having a colored bar behind the HP/PP that lowers and raises as health is drained or restored. I've never seen this function used in a game of it's type before, especially an XBLIG--this inventive and creative use of a simple colored bar provides a new way to represent any kind of incremental system.

    Party members also have a number of options while in combat--the menu is simple yet affords different selections. The Defend function is considerably useful for weak party members, too, and while Defending players can earn PP while they have enhanced defense against attacks.

    Image from Bonded Realities

    VI. Critique

    The Good
    There are mnay positive aspects of Bonded Realities, especially the fact that it plays as most successful RPG's. The dynamics, mechanics, and elements all combine to deliver a unique playing experience in another world--which is what most RPG's try to achieve.

    The game itself is very entertaining and fun, and even as it gets more challenging as you level up, it is consistent with its overall user-friendly gameplay.

    RPG's themselves tend to have many familar elements that are the same flavor but with a different label. Bonded Realities breaks this mold and introduces a nice bold flavor that doesn't wane as time goes by--it actually gets better with time, and has its own unique taste that sets it apart from alot of RPGs--especially in it's Item System.

    There are a multitude of hidden chests throughout the game, and the developer has offered quite a treat for those gamers who collect them all. This sense of hidden items is very important to me in RPG's, as I think it adds another side-quest that heightens the enjoyment as well as provides a means for players to escape the game's arduous questline for a while.

    Mostly, I believe this game is great. You can see from the explanations of the multiple game mechanics and systems that I generally am pleased with the gameplay and how it functions to provide a fun and enjoyable playing experience.

    The Bad
    Graphics were never really important to me, but that's not the same for all players. Some gamers may not like the graphics and are used to 3D high-def insead. Although the game features hand-drawn sprites, they are in 2D and aren't shaded that much, yet you can still make out the detail. Overall, it seems cartoonish, and that might put some players off.

    Music in this game can be trifling at times--the main theme outside of Nero makes it seem as if you're listening to Looney Tunes crossed with game music. There are some really great tracks, though some levels are without music and make use of ambient sounds and such. Overall, the music itself doesn't seem to fit what you'd expect from an epic adventure, but more like you'd find in an arcade-type kid's game.

    The Plot in Bonded Realities is a bit confusing, and it is without any complex strife or suffering that is essential to most RPG's. The characters themselves seem to be care-free in the sense that they only have one single goal--to get out of this world. They don't develop new problems along the way and the general plot doesn't branch off, it's more of a straight path.

    The game is a bit too short for my tastes, though. Players might find this aspect to be quite unnerving, however for 80 MSP it's unwise to expect 10+ hours of gameplay. Also the game has almost no replay value--after you beat it once it'll be exactly the same the second time around.

    VII. Wrap-Up

    As you can see, my outlook on this game is favorable. It is generally a quite positive RPG that utilizes humor instead of having to have serious dramatic elements and blood and guts to entertain players.

    To create a game that can be played and enjoyed by all gamers of all types and ages is certainly a dificult task, and that is exactly what the developer has done here. Younger gamers can fully enjoy this game without having to worry about buckets of gore or adult themes, and parents are free to let their children enjoy this content without having to be concerned.

    Bonded Realities is certainly a breath of fresh air to the XBLIG RPG genre, especially since we haven't seen many new additions for a bit now. It definitely brings a new, albeit quick, game for players everywhere to add to their libraries.

    It's advised for all of those that are dubious of the game to first try out the Free Trial. Remember the mantra "Try Before You Buy" and you'll do well by your MSP bank and your game library collection.

     VIII. Developer Information

     Red Crest Studios Blog

    Bonded Realities was created by Red Crest Studios. Mike Ventnor is the founder and operator of this game studio, and has been busy promoting his title for some time now. He has released a new game cover illustrated by the user NoogyTweet, and it's quite stupendous.

    The XBL Indieverse has had the pleasure to interview Mike Ventnor from Red Crest Studios.

    For more information on Red Crest Studios visit their homesite.

    Bonded Realities 

    Skeptical? Want to try Bonded Realities out for yourself? Here is a link to a Free Trial of the game so you can find out if this game is right for you.

    --Deeke777 @ The XBL Indieverse


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