As you begin to play through Bound by Flame, you quickly get the sense that the gamemaking crew behind this title wanted to create something with a "fun" mix of all the typical stuff you find in other top-shelf sword-swinging RPGs. The game packs in plenty of easy-to-play, armor-clad, sword-and-magic elements. But I put fun in quotes for a reason. Read on.
You Gotta Have Heart (Worldheart, That Is)
The save-the-kingdom story of this fantasy epic focuses on a bleak and grimy world called Vertiel. It's a place of dark magic and sharpened steel that's being torn asunder by a demonic uprising. On one side of the battle are various human and elf "good guys." On the other are seven super-powerful Ice Lords and their army of the monstrous, shambling undead. Gamers play as a male or female character named Vulcan who becomes, sort of, a combination of all of the above.
Vulcan starts out as a member of a group of human mercenaries who've been assigned to protect some wizardly scribes trying to put a magical end to the war at hand. To do this, the spell-casters are attempting to sap power from Vertiel's "Worldheart"—a source of incredibly potent magic that everyone wants to control. Of course, the whole hocus-pocus ritual goes terribly wrong. And Vulcan is caught in the crosshairs.
When the skillful battler regains consciousness, he finds that he's now sharing space with a demon that's been ripped from Worldheart and somehow plunked down inside his body. That sounds pretty bad. But the game wonders: What if such a diabolical sharing arrangement could actually work to your advantage? That grumpy, manipulative demon, you see, comes packing an über-powerful fire-based skill set. And the more of Vulcan's body, soul and basic humanity that's handed over to the supernatural entity, the more capable the symbiotic duo becomes. (More about this bedeviling gaming choice in a moment.)
Been There, Mashed That
Unlike some games in this genre that might offer you a choice between being, say, a warrior, a ranger or a spell-caster, Bound by Flame gives you a chance to be all three. With a simple trigger pull you can switch between swinging a slow but heavy-hitting sword, or lashing out with fast but less damaging daggers, or tossing a selection of hellish fire blasts. There are lots of levels to gain, skill enhancements to score and different swords, axes, hammers, daggers and crossbows to equip.
That equates, naturally, to a whole lot of repetitive death-delivering. The blood spray quotient doesn't include slash-your-foe-open gore, but this world of rotting sword-swingers and bulbous aberrations—ranging from foul spirits to grave-escaping behemoths—grinds on and on, battle after battle. The closer Vulcan gets to reaching his kill-the-Ice-Lord goal, the danker and darker our surroundings become.
Dialogue and sensual visuals are fetid and foul as well. This title goes to great lengths to be crass, profane and bawdy. It's the kind of game that relishes finding ways to have its muscled marauders mix various combinations of "d‑‑n," "arse," "blackfart," "godsd‑‑ned" and "scrotum" (or worse) all in the same sentence. There are discussions about sexual appetites, intercourse … and enemas. Vulcan can seduce either male or female companions (triggering encounters that occur offscreen). And some female characters—including an overly buxom witch teammate and several insectile demon concubines—expose all manner of virtual flesh.
Your Choice: the Flaming Demon or the Flaming Demon
It's the abovementioned demon possession, however, that pushes this title in its darkest directions. The game initially hints that players will have to choose how dearly they'll hold on to their humanity or how quickly they'll give into the temptation of demonic power. And by game's end there is a choice of being self-sacrificial or becoming an all-powerful dark overlord.
A spiritual choice mechanic like that—remaining consistent throughout—might (in some ways) mirror biblical warnings about not giving in to a spiritual enemy. And it can even challenge us to think about the spiritual warfare around us.
But … it doesn't.
Those crossroad choices you're supposed to make often end up being all but irrelevant. The game continually makes it clear that the best way through, or only way in some cases, is to choose the demon's flaming power—incrementally turning you into a charred-skinned and devil-horned beast. And sometimes there's no choice even offered; the demon simply takes over and does as it pleases.