Hack and Slash gameplay at its finest and a stunning art style can’t save Bladed Fury from a lack of polish, narrative structure and disappointing audio design. Bladed Fury is a contradictory game, you’ll enjoy your time with it, but you’ll always be wishing it was more than it is.
Story – Both Yin and Yang.
The story of Bladed Fury frustrated me; it began poorly, with a rushed introduction that felt as though the developer knew the narrative they wanted to tell but not how to begin it. This became clearer as I continued, and the story began to pick up, never becoming anything exceptional – but being a fine tale in its own right, as opposed to its detriment as it does for the first half-hour.
Despite this, the voice-acting throughout is solid and, at times, incredible. I only wish there was more of it, as some lines are not voiced, likely a budgetary decision rather than an artistic one.
Therein lies my core issue with the game; it feels at times unpolished and unfinished, which may appear harsh, but I can only supplement it by explaining how brilliant the gameplay and artistic design work together throughout and so that lack of polish becomes glaringly obvious.
The story follows Ji, an exiled princess who is on a vengeful quest to avenge her family. A simple concept, which is executed well enough as a package – weaving traditional Chinese tales and strong characterisation. Along the way, Ji encounters friends and foes who are either well characterised and explored or the opposite. It was truly a coin toss at times as to whether a character was believable or felt ironically two-dimensional.
Furthermore, the game isn’t long enough for the story it wants to tell. A plot focused on vengeance is very difficult to be effectively told in this medium within just two to four hours, and it certainly isn’t here. It’s a shame because the building blocks are there, but the beginning and the end feel rushed and weak compared to the strength of the middle hour.
It’s clear that narrative wasn’t the focus for Bladed Fury, but that doesn’t answer for its half-baked nature.
Gameplay – Triple-A Material
Now that I’ve laid out the bad, we can focus on its undeniable strength, the gameplay. It has to be some of the most simple yet nuanced combat in a 2D adventure game that I’ve played. It is just so damn fun, taking out hordes of enemies and taking on incredibly detailed bosses that are mechanically smart and memorable.
Ji has a double jump, a dodge, a light sword, a shield to parry, healing stones and a heavy sword for armoured enemies and it has just the right balance of mechanics, never feeling underwhelming or confusing. The shield parry mechanic, in particular, is a strength; the timing for parryable attacks feels just right and yet doesn’t trivialise encounters as happens in other games.
Bladed Fury also features upgrades, ranging from more healing stones to a ranged sword attack or a double dodge (which had to be the first I picked up and recommend highly). You pay for these upgrades by collecting enemy souls, which is a mechanic I’m sure no one has ever seen before, which can be used at lanterns which also serve as save points.
The gameplay combines puzzle with platforming when it isn’t time for the blade, and these encounters are serviceable at best; I wish there were more encounters overloaded with enemies; on normal mode, the difficulty is a little on the easier side and hard fixes these issues but isn’t available from the start.
As you progress through the game and defeat bosses, you gain access to “Soul Slivers”, a mechanic that I adored. It allows you to call forth a soul of up to four bosses you defeated, each with a different ability. Where one heals you, another slows enemies, and another obliterates them. Admittedly, at times a few felt overpowered and trivialised fights; however, since their uses are limited – I think it evens out. They are just a lot of fun and provide nuance as to when is best to use them.
The enemy variety of Bladed Fury is good, with well-designed and placed enemies that fit the aesthetic whilst providing adequate challenge; there is no painfully annoying enemy type. Boss-wise is where the game really shines in its design philosophy. Each boss is unique, providing a sense of stature and accomplishment for defeating them.
I’m a big fan of boss fights in general, and these all felt unique and fun – which I enjoyed even more in the “challenge mode”, which is, in essence, a timed boss rush mode, which is the type of content I always appreciate seeing in titles with cool bosses.
Graphics and Audio – A Tapestry of The East
The artistic choices taken are, for the most part, brilliant. Steeped in eastern tradition, the use of colour and hand-drawn backgrounds are stunning throughout, especially during chapters three and four. The art is what would’ve drawn me in if I wasn’t reviewing it, and truly it is both impressive and stunning. Shoutout again has to go to the boss designs, which are all frankly awesome; I felt like I was playing through a classic Chinese parable.
The sound design is fine; it fits the aesthetic nicely the majority of the time, but never enough to impress; I felt like it could’ve had a bigger impact. Chapter 4, however, had a really annoying issue with the sound, which may have just been an issue for the PS4 version – but there was a constant ringing in the sound, to the point that I muted the sound to check that I hadn’t developed tinnitus. Again this is another result of this edition not being polished; I can’t speak for the other versions, of course.
The game nails its aesthetic, and I appreciate the love that has so clearly gone into its design that I wanted to see more of it, and I have to wonder, with the ending feeling so rushed, whether the developers would’ve liked the same.
Bladed Fury was reviewed on PS4, Review code provided by Team Critical Hit.