One of my favorite developments to come out of the Xbox indie game marketplace is the advent of quick RPGs. I don't have as much time on my hands as I once did, and so 40+ hour quests don't always fit neatly into my schedule. Heck, it took me a full year to finally make my way through Mass Effect 2. But I still love RPGs, and so these short and sweet 5-8 hour adventures fit exactly what I've been craving.
So in comes Bonded Realities, one such smaller RPG taking some thematic cues from Earthbound and Costume Quest. The game begins with four children at daycare who, through events none of them quite understand, find themselves transported to a fantasy world. More than just transported though, they are also transformed, as they are now brave warriors or ferocious dragons depending on their personalities. It is almost as if they were still at daycare playing in their imaginations, and this is what I found most appealing about Bonded Realities. Even when transformed into their fantasies of themselves, they are still very much children, and behave accordingly. Obviously in a shorter RPG like this, you won't get quite the character depth of something like Earthbound, but I still found their child-like portrayals genuine, which is still a rare treat in videogames.
I mentioned Earthbound before, but the similarity does not end with the portrayal of children. The enemies in Bonded Realities are all based on bad puns, which is further fitting with the tone of a child's imagination. You'll find yourself fighting cyclops Eye Phones, lumberjack Woodchucks, and the small-armed, flag-waving Semaphorous Rex. The game is absolutely packed with personality and charm. In battle, a Raving Raven doesn't just attack you, but will swoop onto your head, or complain in a raving rant. Every unique enemy has an attack description to match, adding life to the game's world beyond the simple "creature X attacked for Y amount of damage," found in most RPGs.
Where Bonded Realities falters is in its battle system. It's a good thing that so much personality is infused throughout the game, because combat is about as generic as RPGs get. Most standard battles can be completed by simply mashing on the A button to spam regular attacks, with the occasional boss battle requiring slightly more strategy and the use of special abilities. Keep in mind, I would describe the battle system in most Dragon Quest games the same way, so it's by no means terrible, but it isn't terribly interesting either.
The overall presentation for Bonded Realities is quite high, especially considering it's priced at just $1. The character artwork is simple, but charming, and the soundtrack is absolutely fantastic. There are also little innovations that help the overall experience, like being able to press the right trigger to toggle random battles on or off at any time. Toggling off random battles allows you to safely navigate puzzles or return to town when low on health. But in order to progress through the game you still need to level up your characters, so you can't have it turned off all of the time. It's a nice balance that allows you to turn off the tedium of random battles when simply exploring or solving puzzles, fixing a problem that has plagued far too many RPGs over the years.
Bonded Realities is perfect for what it is: a $1 RPG that provides 5-6 hours of quality entertainment. Just as the game transports its characters to a fantasy world, while playing I was sent back to my childhood when I could just sit and play a game for the sake of enjoying it. There are no moral dilemmas to solve or gritty antiheroes to contend with, just a child-like sense of imagination to sweep you away for the span of a long Saturday afternoon.
Bonded Realities is available on the Xbox 360 through the Xbox Indie Games section of the marketplace.