Thank you BigFingers for sending a copy of this game to review!
B*stard Bonds is a tactical RPG with turn based combat. You start the game by creating a character that is being sentenced for a crime they may or may not have committed. Regardless, the punishment handed out is exile to a prisoner island. Once on the island a fellow prisoner springs you from your cell and the two of you escape to the countryside. You move from location to location on the vast map fighting monsters, gaining allies and uncovering the mysteries of the island. Once you've gained enough allies you can create a Stronghold to further advance your party and equip them to explore the entire map.
The first word B*stard Bonds uses to describe itself on its Steam store page is "mature." The game certainly earns a Mature rating but I found a lot of its content to be rather immature. A perfect example of this is the title screen. It's a picture of a smirking judge looking down on a man and a woman with chains around their necks. I thought the image was fitting for the premise of the game. Then in the Options menu is a setting that removes everyone's clothes on the title screen. It has no effect on the rest of the game, it's just there to show some skin. It's an option that reeks of immaturity and unfortunately there are similar examples in the actual game.
I have to compliment the pixel artist on this game. A lot of indie games that try for this pixelated art style have lazy and blocky graphics, but this game has great looking art. I'm especially impressed by the amount of detail put into the character sprites. The character creator has a good amount of body types for both humans and orcs. There's also a massive amount of clothing options to mix and match for your sprite. The enemies also come in every shape and size; from small rodents to massive demons, all with great detail put into their appearance. The game is skimpy on the animations though, limiting each sprite to a handful of idle animations. All attacks are done with spell effects and characters seemingly hop between tiles on the map; they won't even turn to face enemies while attacking. Despite the plethora of options available in the game many of the NPCs are very hulking and very naked individuals. It get's old by the fifth or sixth time you find a big, bulky guy alone in a cabin in his loin cloth. You could argue this is due to many of the citizens on the island being prisoners but there are many example of NPCs who did manage to find clothes.
The art for the world is equally impressive, although the sheer size of the map causes there to be a lot of repeat use of assets. The world map is dotted with over a hundred hand-crafted locations such as castles, temples, forests, caves, towns, swamps and more. Each location not only looks good but is well designed from a tactical point of view. There are corners and choke points flawless integrated into the maps, such that you never really know where monsters could appear. There are numerous books to be read and people to talk to in order to learn about the island. The story of the island is told in a very hands off way that I really enjoyed. The stories of the various allies you meet, on the other hand, are less well done. Nearly everyone you recruit will talk you in your Stronghold, and as you adventure with them, they will gain your trust and eventually you will get a special scene where they share their backstory. There's no way to know how close you are to attaining these scenes, and you have to constantly go back to your Stronghold and check their chat options. The game certainly doesn't hold your hand; there is no correct path to progress through the map. Some locations require you to level up or visit other areas first but that's rare.
The combat in B*stard Bonds is standard turn based tactical combat with a bit of a twist. Each action (moving or attacking) can be made as a "risky" action. Risky actions contribute to that character's risk meter. The higher the risk meter, the higher the chance for a risky action to fail, which skips the character's turn and leaves them vulnerable. The reward for a successful risky action is that the character gets an additional action at the end of the current turn. You can keep performing risky actions until either you fill up your risk meter or you fail. Both player characters and enemies can perform risky actions. This is a really nice system that both speeds up combat and adds more depth. You can chain attacks together with the possibility of failing and leaving yourself open for enemies to chain attacks. I really enjoyed the combat and the overall challenge of the encounters. I enjoyed having to find the right band of four characters in order to defeat certain enemies. Due to the sheer size of the map, I felt like there were a lot of mundane combat encounters that started to feel repetitive as time went on.
One of my main complaints is the behavior of your party while exploring a location. You control one character at a time and can move them a certain number of tiles in any direction based on speed. The other three characters follow behind. The AI for the following characters is downright bad. I cannot count the number of times I'd stumble into a group of enemies, only to discover one of my party members is six rooms back because he got stuck. As much as I love the design of so many of the locations, the ones that twist and turn can be a nightmare. Also, you need your entire party together to exit an area, so I've had three characters standing at an exit, and then I'll have to take control of the missing one to find where he went; then the other three start moving back again and get stuck. It can be a mess.
There are a lot of RPG elements in B*stard Bonds. Each character has nine stats they can put points into upon leveling up. The three main stats Force, Guile, and Magic (Strength, Dexterity, and Intellect) each has an offense, defense and utility component. No character is locked into any one role, and you can advance your characters any way you want to. In addition to managing each of the characters you recruit along the way you have to manage your Stronghold. The game tells you next-to-nothing about what a Stronghold is, how important it is, and how to manage it. There's just an ever present red text on the top of world map that says, "Your Band has no Stronghold!" Eventually I figured out that there's a system by where you gain manpower from yourself and your allies based on their stats and alignment. Once you have enough manpower you can claim a completed area as a Stronghold. There is only a barebones help screen to guide you in building up your Stronghold. Really the entire user interface of this game leaves much to be desired, but the Stronghold UI is especially bad. Which is unfortunate because Strongholds are where you store items, craft items, buy items, sell items, converse with your party and much more. There is essentially a city-building game inside this tactical RPG. As much I appreciate the overall hands-off approach to progressing through the game, I really wish there was something to ease the player into Strongholds.
As I mentioned earlier there is a huge variety in enemies, and many of these are large, barely clothed demons of both sexes. There are all manor of devils and undead enemies as well. The occult and magic are prevalent throughout the entire game; there are pentagrams and ritual sacrifice. There are a lot of overt religious references, there is some satanic imagery and there are good and bad religious characters. As for language it really runs the gambit; there's profanity, crude jokes, and sexual dialogue. Some of the conversations are interesting discussions centered around the brutal reality of the world the island the characters find themselves on. Other conversations consist mostly of boorish humor and feels included in an attempt to make the game more "mature." There are some actual sex scenes however you don't see anything, it just fades to black. Homosexual relationships are possible as well. The game is very violent in nature but due to the lack of animations it doesn't appear as violent as it actually is.
Hiding under B*stard Bonds dark and vulgar physique is a very well made tactical RPG. I loved all the effort put into the graphics and into designing the the locations. I loved how the combat worked; it was familiar but also mixed things up just enough. I didn't love the controls and AI though. I loved all the RPG elements, even if they were frustrating to figure out. I loved exploring the island and figuring out it's secrets. I could have done without trying to get to know the characters better, and truthfully I stopped trying after a while. This game has a ton of content; you could easily spend over 100 hours on this game. With all that said I find this game impossible to recommend to another believer based on the "mature" elements found in the game.