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Bonds of the Skies (Android) artwork

Bonds of the Skies (Android) review


"Positive #1: I only spent 99 cents getting this on sale. Positive #2: I'm finished with it."


While the Kemco Khallenge may have died a lonely, ignoble death in some forsaken back alley, the possibility of me occasionally playing another entry in the publisher's never-ending collection of interchangeable JRPGs remains very much alive. After all, those titles are still installed on my aging tablet, the device sadly hasn't stopped working, and there are times when I don't mind a quick fix of gaming entertainment while on the road.

With Bonds of the Skies, I have to confess that "entertainment" isn't necessarily the right word to describe a good portion of the 15 or 20 hours it took me to muddle through the game's campaign. My original plan was to start with the early days of Kemco's games and gradually work up to the present. I eventually decided instead to bounce around the collection, playing whatever interested me in the moment. That revised approach allowed me to experience a couple more recent games from development partner Hit-Point, which made the most of its "basic RPG" formula. Players alternate between visiting towns and exploring dungeons, along the way encountering mining spots they can exploit for crafting materials that produce weapons and armor superior to whatever is available in the local shops. Eventually, they become powerful enough to handle even challenging end-game bosses and post-game bonus content.

Over time, Hit-Point grew quite proficient with this formula, eventually creating the legitimately fun Chronus Arc, which also featured puzzle-intensive dungeons. However, Bonds of the Skies was released in 2013--near the beginning of the team's partnership with Kemco. This isn't a mature RPG that shows how Hit-Point learned from past mistakes and matured as a developer. This is the team still learning the ropes, which as you might assume makes for a fairly primitive game experience showcasing few of the positive attributes I credited Chronus Arc for having.

In particular, though you still can harvest materials in every single dungeon, the act of doing so isn't nearly as crucial to your success. I didn't bother with any of the post-game work, but I was able to make it to the closing credits without crafting a single item. It seems the purpose of crafting is merely to gain consumable items by means other than spending money, as well as accessories which might be superior to the store-bought ones. "Might" is the key word, as my accessory strategy was to simply purchase the ones that provided protection against the more annoying status ailments and make sure they were equipped at all times.

Yes, Bonds of the Skies is one of THOSE games. While it isn't particularly difficult and any tough areas quickly become easy after a bit of level grinding near a dungeon's restoration crystal, enemies are fond of inflicting any number of ailments on your trio of heroes. At times, it seems like you'll be going to the menu to cure poison, blindness or something else after every single battle. That makes the game grueling but not actually difficult. You'll just want to dump large amounts of money into each of the many items that cures something and then constantly scroll through your menu to find the one(s) you need on a way-too-regular basis, because after you've advanced a little ways into this game, you'll notice that nearly every foe has gained the ability pass on at least one monster STD. That state of affairs is neither a challenge, nor is it fun. It merely offers tedium. Bitter, bitter tedium.

Sadly, there isn't enough good stuff spread around the campaign to distract from that tedium for any notable length of time. Like many games released by Kemco, Bonds of the Skies features a fairly intriguing battle system that is horribly under-implemented. In this case, you can move your characters in their row to properly combat enemies. If you're situated directly across from a foe, you'll hit it harder (and vice-versa). If the foe is positioned on one side of the screen and you're on the other, meanwhile, attacks cause a lot less damage. I made the most of this mechanic throughout much of the first dungeon before finally realized doing so didn't make enough difference to warrant my attention. And when I got my second and third party members, there was no way I felt like micromanaging my team on a round-by-round basis when I was already wasting enough time curing ailments.

The plot is paint-by-numbers stuff. Protagonist Ein's hometown gets torched by the world's fire Grimoa (i.e. deity), but he is deemed worthy of controlling the wind Grimoa and sets out on a quest to find allies with whom to challenge Mr. Fire. He meets a pair of friends, who get their own Grimoas, but they're not quite able to defeat their enemy unless they wander the world and collect three more Grimoas, which will earn them an audience with the world's mother goddess figure.

Those Grimoas act as character-boosters, granting you skills as you level up, which you can equip to your limited number of skill slots. Some skills are spells and special attacks, while others are passive abilities that boost stats or increase resistances. Occasionally, you can even meld with them in order to access a handful of new options that supposedly are more powerful, although I tended to find them less useful than the more powerful basic ones. If I felt like going into a bunch of detail right now, I could describe how each character's default Grimoa assists their personal human. However, I couldn't say a damn thing about the three you pick up in the second half of the game if my life depended on it. Much like the mechanic for moving characters while in battle, I really couldn't be bothered to experiment with new Grimoas, since the game didn't offer the substance that would have made it feel worthwhile do any unnecessary experimentation.

Really, the only thing that kept this game from becoming unbearable was the presence of those instant-heal crystals in dungeons. I could level grind around one of those for a half-hour or so while in each dungeon without getting annoyed. Whenever I got hit with a couple ailments, I'd interact with the crystal in order to quickly cure myself, and then jump back into the fray, working to gain a few more levels in order to run through the dungeon's boss without much trouble. Then I would watch the cycle repeat itself in the next dungeon and the next.

Bonds of the Skies is the sort of game that wearies me to even write about, let alone play. It's a very standard RPG that mostly adheres to a simplistic formula. Anything that deviates from said formula is unnecessary, under-implemented or actively detracts from it. I've felt a lot of different emotions when I've finished games in the past. With this one, my reaction was a sense of surprised relief: relief that it was over, and surprise that I actually stuck with it long enough to see the closing credits.

2/5

overdrive's avatar
Staff review by Rob Hamilton (April 16, 2019)

Rob Hamilton is the official drunken master of review writing for Honestgamers.

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