Welcome to Bastard Bonds, the first turn based tactical strategy adventure made by a company that previously released gay, voyeuristic pornography, and What a game it is!
Bastard Bonds starts you off on an islands for the criminally convicted, you create your character, choose their crime, (ranging from petty thievery to heinous rape, to more fantasy-oriented crimes like necromancy), plead guilty or innocent, then choose the truth about the innocence. The rest of the game will then pan, slightly, around these choices, but the bulk of it remains unchanged.
Really quickly before we get on to the meat of the game, I want to go over the character creator:
Being a 2D pixel art game you may think there isn’t much oppourtunity for an in-depth character creator, and boy would you be wrong. Picking from 20 body templates, and then colouring and layering clothing on top of each other one can make an almost endless variety of costumes and looks for their character. Ranging from the completely unique to near-perfect replications of famous videogame characters like Ryu, Dante, and I even managed to make Rance. It’s a pretty amazing feat in it’s own right.
The actual game is deceptively simple, and to anyone who has played any other grid based strategy games will find it very easy to sink in to. You control four characters in a zone, and whenever you approach the line of sight of an enemy a battle starts. Without going too far into depth, you have 9 stats, three of which are utility stats, for outside of battle, and the rest divided into strength, dexterity and magic.
Combat involves you taking turns to smash each other or move around. The keystone mechanic here is “risk”. By holding shift you can turn your action into a reckless action, increasing your risk bar (which resets every turn), but giving you another movement point at the end of that turn. The higher your risk is the more chance of you fucking up and leaving yourself open the next turn, but there are also a lot of benefits to having a high risk bar towards the end of your turn. Play around and figure it out, it’s a very welcome mechanic which gives an otherwise simple battle system a drop of depth without making it overly complex.
The plot of Bastard Bonds is twofold, on one side of the coin it’s one of those whimsical adventures in which you think has a plot but actually you’re just imagining the whole thing, and on the other side it actually has a very well written and empathetic set of character arcs which keep you engaged the whole way through.
It’s a relatively simple premise: You’re on an island of criminals and you escape from your cell – now it’s time to escape, creating a band of merry murderers, assassins, rapists and thieves to be your crew as you venture through the wilderness. There are events and sidequests strewn through your adventure, but mainly you’ll find yourself hopping from zone to zone, reading a short description, and clearing the zone, (often by killing all the enemies, but sometimes you have to open a secret door, or solve a mystery), before moving on to the next one. Every zone feels unique and is full of character, which is where the “imagination” side of the story takes place. There’s almost no complexity in the plot, no story archs or narratives, yet the journey from zone to zone really makes you feel like something important is happening every time you enter a new area. It’s a very seemless gameplay/plot intergration and it is one great example of how to create a game with genuine immersion, something which very few, even big budget, companies fail to do.
Despite this rather “free” approach to storytelling, there does exist some writing in the game. In particular the openning scene where you are sentenced is particularly powerful. On top of that, it’s possible to become close to a number of your band members, and have them share personal stories and feelings with you. This in particular is exceptionally well-handled, and for what it is, really adds to your sense of camaraderie and belonging in your band of crooks.
What’s left to say; the UI is solid, the soundtrack is prolific, the loading screens relieved all the gameplay and mechanic quirks you need to know. Almost everything in the game is explained someplace within the actual game, so there’s almost no need to consult a wiki or otherwise to enjoy your experience, at least on the first playthrough. Having played many games recently with a huge amount of hidden and otherwise unintuitive content, (looking at your Borderlands and Don’t Starve), it’s is a great breath of fresh air to find a game which is, for the most part. Self-contained.
It’s been called “A mature game for mature gamers”, and that’s what it is. In more ways than just the subject matter. This game takes you, the player seriously, doesn’t hold your hand, but also doesn’t needlessly punish you. It’s both difficult and forgiving, simple and yet deep. A real engaging and immersive experience and, in my opinion, a must have for any gamers looking for an adventure in a world which seems almost too real to be full of goblins and madmen.
Also pixel tits.