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Review: Bladed Fury

By: Fernando Da Costa


Developer: NExT Studios

Publisher: NExT Studios, PM Studios

Available on: Nintendo Switch, Xbox One PlayStation 4, PC

Introduction

I’ve several fond memories of growing up. One specifically includes playing God of War. I was absolutely enamored by it. The quick action was truly something to behold, and the satisfaction of slaughtering hordes was intoxicating. While I’m not a sociopath, I do appreciate the action genre. Though, I’d be mistaken to classify Bladed Fury as such. I consider it to play more like a side-scrolling brawler with dual blades. It’s fast-paced and largely fluent in its inputs. All the ingredients for a bloody romp are there. When you toss in the unique graphical style, I couldn’t help but be attracted to it. The question is: does it recapture the wonder I felt with God of War, or are these blades dull?



Story Synopsis

Princess Ji is accused of a most heinous crime. Her father has been stabbed and is knocking on death’s door. Because of the dagger found at the scene, she’s the key suspect. She, however, refutes the claim, along with her sister, but it doesn’t matter. The entire kingdom is convinced she’s guilty and are looking for her. Ji’s only choice is to escape from there. As she does, she notices a few familiar faces belonging to those not invited to be there in the first place - why are they there?

Bladed Fury tells a story of vengeance. Ji embarks on a journey searching for answers that’ll exonerate her of murder. Her sister remains behind, waiting to be married off to a man. Oddly enough, her sister’s fiancée is brought up often. Could this mean that he’s connected, and if so, to what purpose?


Writing

The story can be digested in two ways, with one being optimal. It seems that Bladed Fury is heavily reliant on Chinese mythology. That’s an intriguing premise but what hurts it is the game assumes the player knows some facades of it. I know nothing, and because of that, I was clueless. I could only take it at face value, and in that regard, it’s generic. I’m tasked with aiding Princess Ji and avenging her father. Along the way, I come across various NPC’s based on Chinese folklore. I, however, failed to catch any of the nuances intended. As a result, most of the dialogue felt half-baked because I lacked the context.

For example, you’ll meet a gigantic stone-like creature early on. It goes into exposition before mentioning that it was punished for shooting arrows into the sun. Now for me, that reminded me of Icarus, though he had his wings melted. Even once the creature’s name is revealed, I was indifferent. In fact, I looked up the information on the internet so I would know. There’s an obvious disconnect for western audiences. None of these different beings are fully explained. It never divulges the importance of any of the characters. All dialogue - regardless of actual meaning - is pointless fluff meant to pad out the entirety of the game.



Gameplay

The bread and butter of Bladed Fury is the combat. It’s the reason I mentioned God of War in my introduction. This title harnesses the same rapid gashes with blades. That’s not all, as the upgrade feature is undoubtedly inspired by it. Once Ji dispatches an enemy, they burst into orbs. These are used to enhance her skills, rejuvenation prowess, and more. That isn’t the only way to acquire orbs. There are secrets scattered through a stage to grant you even more. Level design in Bladed Fury is unmistakably linear, but areas hidden off the beaten path give this game a sense of exploration.

For reviews, I usually play handheld on my Nintendo Switch Lite. Shoulder buttons are rather uncomfortable to press continuously. Back bumpers, however, are much more natural. I bring this up is because of blocking mechanics. Ji has a shield she can utilize by pressing “L.” In an environment that demands fast reflexes, I failed to tap that button quickly. It got to the point that I skipped on it altogether because it felt awkward. When an entire feature of the game is ignored, that’s a problem. That said, dodging didn’t require nearly as much perfect timing as blocking did. I compensated, though my reflexes weren’t always speedy enough. A lot of easy fights turned into difficult ones.



Performance

Unfortunately, I can’t report that Bladed Fury is flawless. The biggest technical hiccup is that it stutters. The game seems to struggle to keep up with the action, it seems. I’ve had a couple of instances of second-long hitches that sporadically derailed momentum. It thankfully doesn’t prove too intrusive to the experience. Upon testing to search for a trigger, my findings were surprising, to say the least. It occurs randomly: breaking pots, during fights, or when various bullets come hurling at me. Again, I may have had one or two unfair deaths come from this. Nothing substantial, though, and the game is good at placing its save points.

Bladed Fury has further issues with stability that it fusses with - crashing. The first time happened after a difficult boss. Again, it has nothing to do with balancing problems and everything to do with my old age. After that fight, I transitioned to the dialogue section, and it happened. I’d then have another occur when going from screen to screen. I will say that a complete play-through of Bladed Fury is an average of about four to five hours. If you’re really good at it, then it’ll possibly go down to three hours. My personal time was four, meaning I had a crash every two hours, give or take. The first crash resulted in me having to redo the boss, while the second didn’t interfere with anything.



Presentation

The style is a beautiful hand-drawn mosaic. At points, there’s water paint flare with fantastic detail. All character models are exaggerated but proportional, at least when it comes to Princess Ji. The bosses, on the other hand, are hulking and exaggerated. When I first saw the visuals, my initial worry was that it would be hard to discern what is a platform and what’s not. Fortunately, that wasn’t an issue. Though, the variety in enemy design isn’t substantial. What’s there is perfectly drawn, but I feel there could have been a bit more diversity.

Sound Design

The music tracks felt very authentic and true to the culture. It did well to communicate the Chinese-themes Bladed Fury is slathered in. Flutes were the mainstay instruments, and when combined with the sounds of nature, they cooked up a wonderful ear dish. There’s also voice acting but only in Chinese. My only critique is I would’ve loved more inflection in their voices. As it was, I felt that it came across mostly flat. Although there were flourishes of expressiveness, just not enough.



Verdict

Bladed Fury does a great job infusing its Chinese touches with fast-paced action. I had an absolute blast slashing at enemies and deflecting projectiles. That said, the small stature of my Switch caused issues with blocking. I do, however, firmly believe that’s a problem for those not playing on the television. The music is authentic and marries the flute with other instruments really well. Graphics are akin to a watercolour painting, as well as a downright beautiful hand-drawn visual style.

Unfortunately, due to two crashes that I experienced in my four-hour play-through, it’s hard to recommend this at full price. The stutters do a number on any momentum you have. It’s a title I think people can enjoy. Ignoring technical hiccups, I’d still say the default price is a bit much. Compared to playtime, I don’t feel the value is adequately measured. That said if you can find this for $15, definitely purchase it. At that price, I certainly recommend it.

*Many thanks to PM Studios for providing the code used for this review!


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