Game Review #276: Bonds of the Skies (Nintendo Switch)
Reviewer: John B
Developed By: Hit-Point Co. Ltd. Published By: KEMCO Category: Role-Playing, Adventure, Strategy, Simulation Release Date: 03.14.19
Price (At Time of Review): $12.99
Buy Bonds of the Skies in the Nintendo Switch eShop here.
KEMCO is back with another retro-inspired JRPG! Bonds of the Skies for the Nintendo Switch made its Nintendo debut on the 3DS in 2017, and KEMCO has wisely decided to bring it to the Switch for a whole new audience to enjoy. It’s got swords, sorcery, dragons, dungeons, action, and adventure; pretty much everything you’d want. Y’know, if you like excitement or whatever. It’s not as flashy as some of the company’s other recent releases I’ve gotten a chance to review, but it’s still a darn good time for JRPG enthusiasts.
The Brothers (and Sister) Grimoa
Long ago, when the world was still new, the Light gave birth to the four Grimoas. After the rise of man and spread of his cities, the Fire Grimoa suggested that his brothers and sister give birth to children of their own, to better serve humanity. After his siblings had given rise to a new generation of Grimoas, the Fire Grimoa attacked his brethren, and a legendary battle ensued. Exhausted and weakened from their war, the Grimoas entered a deep slumber and began to slowly fade from humankind’s memory. Legends say their still sleep beneath the earth, gathering their strength to one day re-emerge to guide humanity to new heights. Eil, a young boy about to conduct his coming-of-age ceremony, has little time for the legend of the Grimoas. But, when his hometown is set aflame during his ceremony, he forms a bond with Nogard, Grimoa of the Wind, to save all those he holds dear. The duo set off on a journey to find the Fire Grimoa, and maybe, if there’s time, save the world.
Bonds of the Skies takes players on a fun, if at times predictable journey. Eil is a likable enough protagonist; over the course of the game he grows from a quiet, sort of insecure young man into a quiet, confident hero determined to save the world and everyone in it – including his seeming enemies. His companions are equally charming and their character arcs are similarly satisfying to follow over the course of the game. The writing is fairly clear and concise; I noticed some typos in other KEMCO games I’ve played but I can’t remember finding any in Bonds of the Skies.
Attack, Win, Level Up, Repeat
The battle system in Bonds of the Skies is pretty familiar; you have your characters – 3, by the time you fill out your roster, and you issue them commands at the start of each turn. Your characters then carry out their commands in a seemingly random order along with your enemies performing actions of their own. The randomness of the turn order is a big weakness for the game’s sense of strategy; it’s really hard to plan your attack when you don’t know who goes first in any given turn. Who do I have attack? If one of my characters is near death and I need to heal immediately, which character uses the potion? There’s no way to know who goes first, and the enemies may even act before you can heal and kill that character.
The turn order thing didn’t really cause many problems for me; the game’s difficulty level is fairly low. I honestly didn’t feel that challenged by the game except for one or two bosses, specifically the final boss of the game’s post-game content. Mostly it was just annoying how every enemy would cast status-effect inducing spells with infuriating frequency. Using items to heal those statues got expensive, and you don’t get a spell to dispel effects until like halfway through the game. It helps once you get equipment that can block the more annoying status effects, too. Levelling up is fairly easy; I hit the 99 level cap just a little bit before fighting the post-game boss without having to do much in the way of grinding.
Eil and company meet several Grimoas during their journey, each with their own set of skills and spells. Your characters can each equip one Grimoa, unlocking access to the Grimoa’s abilities in addition to their individual skills. As your Grimoas level up they gain new abilities to share with your characters. Your characters can equip up to five skills at the start, but an item called the Book of the Stars increases your party’s capacity by one for each copy you find (I found five by the end of the game; I think that was everything). Additionally, each skill has a point value and your characters only have a limited number of skill points available (though that pool grows as you level up).
Shrine to the Fetch/Kill Quest
Every town in Bonds of the Skies has a Grimoa shrine somewhere in a central-ish location. These shrines are used to dole out side quests or use the game’s synthesis system. The quests are all your typical fetch or kill quests; nothing out of the ordinary, really. They’re a good way to get money, experience, special items, and recipes. Recipes can also be found hidden in random objects around towns and treasure chests in dungeons, and unlock new items to synthesize items at the Grimoa Shrine. You can also randomly combine items and see what happens instead of using the recipes, but seriously just use the recipes. It’s so much easier.
Catchy/Funny Title for the Graphics/Music Section
Bonds of the Skies has a great retro JRPG visual aesthetic. The character models on the world map are sharply designed and animated; they had more of a 32-bit era feel to them, whereas the backgrounds had a 16-bit look. Still, everything fit together nicely and looked great overall. My biggest complaint is the game’s battle screen. The game opts for a Phantasy Star-style battle screen layout where you don’t really see your characters, just the effects of their attacks. It lacks a certain visual dynamism expressed by the Final Fantasy-style setup where you can see your characters and their actions. The music is boilerplate JRPG stuff; which is to say adventurous, whimsical, and fun. There isn’t a standout piece and there aren’t any recurring musical themes to the soundtrack that I could detect, but it got the job done.
A Cure for What Eils You
Bonds of the Skies is a rock-solid retro JRPG experience. The graphics are a well-crafted callback to the golden days of the SNES/PSX era. The story is engaging and fun, if maybe a little light, while the characters are charming and likable. The battle system may lack sufficient challenge for some players, but it will feel like a favorite comfort food to the die-hard JRPG enthusiast. There isn’t much in the way of innovation or gameplay diversity, but Bonds of the Skies is a great example of what makes JRPGs such a popular genre.
Buy Bonds of the Skies in the Nintendo Switch eShop here.
*Review Code Provided by KEMCO