2100: Mobile Games that Don’t Suck


Occasionally, I take a peek into the murky waters that is mobile gaming because among all the crap you occasionally find some good things. There’s a lot of derivative stuff, which can make it difficult to determine which games are worth spending your time and/or money on, and some of them do a better job of iterating on existing formulae than others.

Two games in particular spring to mind as having been casually keeping my attention lately; neither are fantastic games, but they’re good for a few minutes on the toilet or in bed or waiting for the kettle to boil or something.

I Love Pasta

I downloaded this for two reasons: the endearing name, and the cute artwork. Turns out it’s actually quite a nifty little restaurant management game that initially looks like a Zynga-esque “tap and wait” game, but which actually opens up and has an intriguing amount of depth the more time you spend with it.

The game opens with your father buggering off and leaving you with a pasta restaurant to take care of, and little in the way of training. Fortunately, a local chef comes to your aid and starts giving you some advice, and from here it’s up to you to make your own pasta, develop a range of dishes to serve on the menu, keep your customers happy, make as much money as possible and ultimately help build up the area of town around your shop.

As I said, the basic gameplay is rather Farmville-esque — you tap on a pasta machine or cooker, choose something for it to produce, then wait, either for the machine to make the pasta or the food on the cooker to sell out. Then you repeat. This is the basic activity you’ll be doing all the time, because it earns you money and experience points. From here, though, things get a little more interesting.

Rather than always serving the best meal you possibly can, for example, you might want to consider mixing things around a bit. Dishes each have their own experience level that rises as you make them more times, and levelling up a dish not only improves its quality, it allows you to add items to its “set menu”, which confer various bonuses when the dish is sold. Some dishes also have prerequisite experience levels in other dishes before you can learn them, too.

Learning a new dish sees you playing two minigames: firstly, a game of Concentration with the main ingredients, followed by an inexplicable but fun rhythm game in which you fend off ingredients being hurled at you with a frying pan in time to some delightfully upbeat music. After this, you’re able to sell the dish whenever you have cooker space available, though you’ll also need to manage your inventory of ingredients, as you can’t make a bolognese without tomatoes, for example.

Other activities include sending your employees into town to shop — they can do this a certain number of times according to their HP value and become exhausted after a while, but while they have the energy they’ll bring you stuff back from the market for free. Alternatively, you can order specific items, but these take varying amounts of real time and money to arrive at your restaurant.

There’s also an obligatory gacha component to the game, though it’s not immediately obvious: each of your employees have various equippable items which contribute to their HP, cooking and attractiveness stats, each of which allow them to perform more efficiently for you. As with most games of this type, you can fuse items together to increase their effectiveness, and draw new ones using in-game currency, the “friendship currency” of puzzle pieces or the hard currency that you buy with real money — naturally, the best items are more likely to appear if you spend real money, though I’ve still nabbed an A-rank top from a puzzle draw.

The game dribbles out new mechanics at a nice rate as you level up; initially it’s very simple, but later you’ll be catering to specific characters to raise their affection levels, building up a separate Market Town area, hiring people to staff the shops in the square around your pasta restaurant, and serving food to people on the street according to clues they give you. It’s a fun little game with adorable artwork and a surprising amount of depth; it’s no true simulation, of course, but as something to while away a few minutes with it’s worth a look.

Mabinogi Duel

mabinogiI was introduced to this game by someone over on the new Niche Gamer Forums, who said it was a genuinely good game. And it is! It’s a card game, but unlike most mobile card games, it’s an actual card game rather than a collectathon. It most closely resembles Blizzard’s Hearthstone in execution, but it has plenty of unique mechanics of its own that distinguish it — plus, for what it’s worth, I much prefer the art style to that seen in Hearthstone, but that might just be me.

The basic gameplay involves using collected mana points of various elements to summon creatures and cast spells. So far so Magic, and indeed the game wears its inspiration on its sleeve. It works well, though, with nicely streamlined game systems and one or two things that would be difficult to implement with physical cards. While in a fight, you can “level up” up to twice, for example, with a higher level making all your cards more effective and allowing you to take multiple actions per turn.

The game features a fun tutorial with an overwrought but surprisingly humorous tale about a half-elf suffering racism and wanting to turn himself fully human. His journey provides a convenient excuse for you to be presented with an array of different opponents who provide a good means of teaching you various different mechanics. By the time you’ve cleared the scenario, you’ll be ready to play more freeform games, and that’s where what looks to be an interesting metagame comes into play.

Unlike many games of this type, you can actually trade cards with other people in this one, as well as purchasing booster packs to bolster your virtual ranks. You can also use “rental decks” until you collect enough cards of your own to be competitive, and there are various Mission and Arena modes that allow you to participate with various restrictions and special conditions in place, for those who enjoy that sort of thing.

For a game I’d never heard of before the other day, Mabinogi Duel is one of the most impressive mobile games I’ve seen for a long time, and I’m looking forward to learning a bit more about its meta. If you’re a fan of Magic-style card battling, it’s well worth a go.

1983: Drifting Along

Wedding in a couple of days (well, technically tomorrow at the time of writing), but there’s not a lot to say about it right now other than “it’s happening on Saturday”. So in an effort to write about something else — and spare you Heavensward gushing for another day or two, at least until I finish the main storyline — I thought I’d talk a little more about Drift Girls, a mobile game I discovered a short while back and have been playing at least a little bit every day ever since.

Drift Girls, lest you forget — or are unfamiliar — is an iOS and Android game by Korean developer NHN BlackPick, localised and brought to the West by a company called Toast. It’s a curious little game in many ways — in some respects, it’s similar to the “gacha” collectible card games that are a particular popular product of the Asian mobile development market, but in others it’s entirely its own beast. Either way, it’s a genuinely great, enjoyable game that I’ve been having a whole lot of fun with.

It’s kind of a driving game, and it’s kind of a dating sim. Both of those elements are intertwined, however; the girls you woo in the dating sim part of the game become passengers while you race, and different girls provide different bonuses to your car’s performance. There are also other benefits to dating, too; reach the maximum affection with a girl and you have the opportunity to whisk her away for an “overnight date” with everything that implies, which makes you “feel better” and improve your vehicle’s performance by a significant amount for the following day.

One of the interesting things about the game, though, is the fact that each and every one of the girls in the cast feels like they’ve had some effort put into their writing — not just in an attempt to show that they have a personality, but to make them feel like they’re all part of the game world. As you get to know each of the girls, it becomes apparent that some of them know one another, and you’ll often get to know several sides of what initially appeared to be a fairly simple story. Later in the game, too, as the overarching main scenario storyline starts to pick up speed with international smuggling, the Mafia and all manner of other silliness, you get the opportunity for another perspective on events by building up a relationship with the lead detective and prosecutor on the case.

The fact that there’s an ongoing narrative and each of the girls clearly has their own little mini-story to work through makes the dating aspect of the game far more than a simple grind to get the girl who provides the biggest bonuses as quickly as possible. Aside from that, too, a system for “exceeding the girl’s limits” by completing challenges allows you to boost their stats considerably as well as uncover a bit more of their personality and story.

But what of the driving bit? Well, it’s very simple, and I’m actually pretty glad of that. Full-on driving games on touchscreens suck beyond belief, so I’m extremely grateful to NHN BlackPick for taking a greatly simplified approach: all you have to do is rev your engine to get a good start, then time your drifts left or right as you enter a corner, then occasionally set off an nitro boost to go a bit faster. In many ways, it has more in common with a rhythm game than a driving game, but it manages to be genuinely exciting, with some lovely graphics, cinematic camera angles and cheesy but entirely appropriate throbbing dance music in the background.

The metagame is fun, too. While there is a “gacha” mechanic for drawing new cars and parts to attach to them, where I’ve found the most fun is in taking the car I started with — a “one-star” Mini-equivalent — and gradually building it up to remain competitive as the opponents in the game get stronger and stronger. So far I’ve successfully upgraded it to “four-star” standard, which is enough for story missions now, but I’m starting to run into a few situations where it’s not quite enough to beat tough opponents.

I compared this type of mobile game to a more traditional MMO a while back, and having spent probably more time with Drift Girls than any other mobile game of its type — along with my hefty experience with Final Fantasy XIV — I stand by that statement. The gradual creep of power; the joy of getting to a point where you can afford a new piece of equipment or get lucky with an item drop; the feeling of progression; the necessity to keep on the “gear treadmill” to continue to progress — all of these things are typical MMO characteristics that are very much present in Drift Girls, and they make for a compelling, addictive experience that has stuck around in my consciousness a lot longer than I thought it would after the initial “haha, wtf is this” appeal wore off.

Turns out it’s actually a really good game. So I think I might just sneak in a quick race or two before I go to sleep tonight…

1967: Drift Girls – Surpassing My Expectations

A few weeks ago, I happened to come across a site promoting an upcoming new mobile game called Drift Girls. On paper, it sounded like my sort of thing — a combination of dating sim and arcade driving mechanics — but I was wary of it for being on the mobile platform, primarily because playing driving games with a touchscreen suuuuuucks.

Regardless, I signed up to be informed when it was available (and to be in with a chance of winning some in-game goodies when it launched) and I was pleased to see this morning that the game had apparently launched either last night or early this morning. So, with some trepidation, I decided to fire it up and take a look.

And… and… well, it’s good. Really good, actually.


The basic structure is similar to most other free-to-play gacha games out there, since those are a proven model for profitability, expandability and social features. In this case, the things you’re collecting, fusing, evolving and upgrading are cars and car parts, and as usual there’s more than a slight element of “gotta collect ’em all!” to the gameplay — though personally speaking, I find collecting things like cars somewhat less compelling than collecting characters, so I feel far less “guilt” in this game when sacrificing things I don’t need to level up the things I am using.

There are a few twists, though. Firstly, unlike some past street racing-themed free-to-play games that didn’t even bother to depict the races — yes, this is a thing that actually happened, and several times, as I recall — Drift Girls has some really rather lovely-looking 3D racing sequences that make good use of the limitations of touchscreen-based mobiles to provide an enjoyable, snappy experience that rewards skill as well as making the numbers on your stat sheet go up.


The control scheme works because it doesn’t expect you to do too much. All you have to do is rev your engine at the start line, preferably so it’s in the green area of your rev counter to get a Perfect Start, and then press and hold one of the two directional “drift” buttons when you reach a corner. Timing your drift appropriately will increase your speed through the corner as well as earn you nitro boosts, which can be either triggered for a big speed boost or saved until you finish for some bonus monetary rewards when you finish the race. That’s it, essentially; the challenge comes from increasingly complex courses and increasingly unforgiving opponents, so you’ll need to improve both your own skills and your car’s stats in order to progress beyond a certain point.

Here’s where the dating sim aspect comes in. Shortly after the opening, the game presents you with three eligible young bachelorettes and invited to spend some time with one of them. You can take the girl on dates or buy her gifts to increase her affection, and higher affection means that she provides you with more significant bonuses as well as some other… benefits. Yes, if you max out her affection, you can shag her… I’m sorry, “take her on an overnight date”, which, if you pick the right place to take her, will confer on you a long-lasting 100-point stat bonus, which is significant in the early game.


Mechanically, then, the girls are “equipment” of a sort, but the developers have actually bothered to put some effort into the writing, with each girl having a distinct personality, a backstory that she gradually reveals as you get to know her over the course of a few dates, and her own set of reactions to various in-game events such as winning, losing, challenging particularly difficult races and all sorts of other things. You’re even rewarded for each of these events that you see, even if it’s only a couple of lines, so there’s incentive to stick with one girl and get to know her fully — though you can also be a bit of a player if you really want to, too.

It would be easy to dismiss Drift Girls as shallow fluff of the usual sort you see on mobile, and sure, there’s a certain amount of the usual free-to-play stuff going on — energy bars, premium currency, that sort of thing — but like many of the other actually good free-to-play games I’ve had the pleasure of playing recently, the game isn’t stingy with rewards for non-paying players, and it’s overall a highly polished experience that is just plain good. Not “good for a mobile game”, but good.

If the premise sounds intriguing, then I recommend giving it a shot — and feel free to add me as a friend in the game under the ID “AstralFire”.

Grab it from Google Play or the App Store.

1935: Brave Frontier: Pete’s Completely Unofficial and Possibly Inaccurate FAQ

I like writing guides, as I’ve discussed before, so instead of making some “hilarious” walkthrough of my tedious daily routine as I’ve done in the past, I thought I’d write something actually useful to someone: a guide on what I’ve learned about the game Brave Frontier, which I’ve talked a little about recently, and which isn’t entirely forthcoming with all the information you might need to get the most out of it during play. Without further ado, then.

What is this game?

Brave Frontier is a free-to-play mobile RPG from Alim and Gumi. It’s available for both iOS and Android devices. There’s a linear story to follow, but it’s mostly a game about collecting and upgrading “units” — various heroic characters and monsters whom you can recruit into your team, level up and evolve into more advanced forms of themselves.

Do I have to pay to play?

Brave Frontier has an energy system that depletes as you take your party on quests, with later quests or those with larger, more significant rewards costing more energy to take on. If you have insufficient remaining energy to take on a quest, you can either use a “gem” to restore it completely to its maximum level, or wait for it to regenerate at the rate of roughly one point per three minutes. As you level up, you’ll gradually gain more maximum energy; one point every few levels, and a more significant jump every five levels.

Gems are also used for “rare summons” — immediately acquiring units of higher rarity levels — and restoring the separate, much shorter energy bar for the player-vs-player Arena mode.

Depending on how casually you play, you’ll probably find there is no need to pay for gems — especially in the early levels, when you level up quite quickly and your energy bar is fully restored on each level-up.

How do I get gems?

You can pay for them, but you also get one free every so often; specifically, for completing an entire area in the main story campaign, sometimes as a daily login bonus reward if you play for several days in succession, sometimes as a “Brave Points” bonus for earning points by completing daily objectives.

How do I get units?

There are three ways of acquiring new units:

1) Receiving them as a drop from a quest. With the exception of daily and special event dungeons, these are usually very low rarity units.

2) Acquiring them through “Honor Points”. You receive honor points when you borrow another player’s character to fill the sixth slot in your party, with 5 points awarded if they’re a stranger and 10 points if they’re on your friends list. You’ll also receive honor points when other people borrow your character to use in their party in the same way. 100 honor points equates to one “free” summon, but again, these tend to be quite low rarity for the most part. It’s usually best to save up your honor points until there’s a special promotion on promising specific units you wouldn’t normally be able to get through these means; the game will make you aware of this when it’s available.

3) Acquiring them using gems. 5 gems equates to one “rare” summon, which will net you a unit of three-star (“Rare”) or higher rarity. These units will probably form the backbone of your party, but note their “cost” value; when building your party, the total cost of all the units you use cannot exceed your current cost cap. Cost cap increases with your player level alongside your maximum energy.

How do I make units better?

There are three things you need to do to improve a unit: level it up, level up its Brave Burst, and evolve it.

Levelling it up requires you to “fuse” it with other units. Each unit fused to the base unit gives you a particular amount of experience based on what it is, with slightly more experience being given if its elemental type matches that of the base unit. More valuable, rarer units are worth more experience. The most experience can be acquired from units that drop in the “Metal Parade” dungeon in the Vortex Gate; keys to unlock this are issued in the Administration Office in Imperial Capital Randall every weekday except Wednesday, so be sure to go and pick them up as often as possible. Note that when you unlock it, the Metal Parade only stays open for an hour, so only unlock it when you have enough energy to make the most of it!

Levelling up a unit’s Brave Burst — its unique special move — relies a little more on randomness than standard levelling. A unit has ten levels of Brave Burst, with some more powerful and rarer units able to acquire a Super and Ultimate Brave Burst after this. To level up a Brave Burst, perform fusion, and look for material units that say “BB UP?” or “BB UP!” on them. “BB UP?” units give a small chance of levelling up the base unit’s Brave Burst when fused, while “BB UP!” units will guarantee an increase in Brave Burst. Generally speaking, units that are appropriate to use for levelling up a Brave Burst can be identified by the type of Brave Burst they use. Healer units require other healers to level up their Brave Burst, for example, while attacking units require other units with offensive Brave Bursts.

Evolving a unit is the process you perform when a unit reaches its level cap. The level cap is determined by the number of stars the unit has, or its rarity. Three-star units have a level cap of 40, for example, while five-star units can be levelled to 80. Note that there’s a “Zel” (currency) cost every time you perform fusion, and this gets more expensive the higher level a unit is. There’s also a Zel fee to pay at evolution time.

To evolve a unit, you must collect the required additional units. These are usually found in the Tuesday daily dungeons in the Vortex Gate. For lower-rarity units, you’ll need Nymphs; as you progress through the tiers, you’ll need Spirits, Idols, Totems, Pots and Mecha Gods. Initially you won’t know exactly what evolution materials are required for a unit, but once you’ve encountered or acquired the units in question once, they’ll be revealed for your reference. Refer to the Brave Frontier Wiki to find the specific units you need if you get stuck.

Keep an eye out for special units such as Frogs — these provide significant, one-off bonuses when fused without requiring a level-up. Some increase attack power, some defense, some recovery power, some HP. Some even open up a second slot for equipping Spheres.

How should I build my party?

It depends how much effort you want to put in. I use a single standard setup for everything I do; it has a mix of different elemental types, a healer unit, a unit who can boost the acquisition of Brave Burst crystals during battle and a unit that can boost attack power. This is good for most situations.

The main quest is split into dungeons that tend to be centred around a single elemental type, so if you want to optimise your party you may wish to build a full party of each elemental type, then choose the appropriate complementary element to the enemies you’re facing. Remember, elemental weaknesses are a one-way circle for the most part: fire beats earth beats lightning beats water beats fire (and so on). Dark and light have a reciprocal relationship, meanwhile; they both beat each other.

Special events and daily dungeons are often more challenging than the main quest, so you’ll want to bring along your best units for these. For the Metal Parade, you’ll want to bring units that hit a lot of times, since the most damage you can do to a Metal unit with a single hit is 1 point.

Pay attention to the unit you choose as Leader, too. Not only do you get the benefit of their Leader skill, which is usually a passive buff of some description, this will also be the unit you loan to other players. In other words, you want your Leader unit to be as attractive as possible (stats-wise or, if you’re feeling shallow, the prettiest girl) to encourage people to use it and provide you with Honor Points.

Note that different instances of the same unit can have different “types”, so be sure to pick one that you’ll find the most effective. “Lord” type units are balanced. “Anima” type units gain more HP than usual when levelling up. “Breaker” type units gain more attack power than usual. “Guardian” type units gain more defense power than usual. “Oracle” type units gain more recovery power than usual.

How do I fight?

Fighting is a simple case of tapping the unit’s status bar to cause it to attack; there’s no need to wait for one unit to finish its turn before triggering another one, either. In fact, if more than one unit hits something at the same time, a “Spark” is triggered, increasing the amount of damage by a significant amount.

After all your units have taken a turn, you’ll receive Brave Crystals (BC) and Heart Crystals (HC). The former are randomly distributed throughout your party and increase their Brave Burst gauge. The latter are likewise randomly distributed and restore hit points. After this is done, the enemy gets a turn. Note than many enemies — particularly bosses — have more than one action per turn, some of which can hit your whole party at once.

You can use items to turn the tide of battle; remember to acquire these from the Town before you leave, and use them before triggering any attacks, since you can only use them at the start of your turn.

Use Brave Bursts wisely. Although you get a bonus to the amount of BC and HC dropped if you “overkill” an enemy, there’s little sense in unloading everyone’s BB on a single fairy. If you can dispatch a group with normal attacks, do so and save your BB for larger groups or bosses. Also make sure you familiarise yourself with your units’ Brave Bursts before you get into battle; not all of them are offensive in nature!

How do I level up quickly?

Remember you level up separately from your units. Benefits of levelling yourself up include a higher energy cap, a higher “cost” cap (allowing you to include more, rarer units in your party) and a full restoration of your energy bar and arena orbs.

You get experience for every “Quest” you complete, whether it’s in the main quest or the Vortex Gate. Vortex Gate quests are usually worth more experience than you’d usually get for that amount of energy spent in the main quest, but they’re often tougher — and you get nothing if your party is defeated before you beat the boss.

The fastest way to gain experience is with the weekly Karma dungeon on Mondays. Not only does this drop absolutely tons of Karma, a currency used for upgrading the Town and unlocking more effective equipment and consumable items, but also provides a significant amount of player experience. There are three “levels” of this dungeon; start at the bottom and work your way up. You will require some seriously powerful units to be able to defeat the boss at the end of the level 3 dungeon, so don’t jump in there unless you’re absolutely prepared.

How do I get more money?

Two ways. Firstly, there’s a weekly dungeon at the weekend that drops a lot of Zel. Secondly, every Wednesday you can pick up a Jewel Key from the administration office in Imperial Capital Randall. This can be used to unlock the Jewel Parade, which works in the same way as the Metal Parade: it stays open for an hour, after which you’ll need another key to get back in, so only open it up when you have the energy to use.

Jewel Parade drops Jewel-type units, which are completely useless for anything other than selling, so take full advantage of this. Acquire as many as you can before the Parade closes, then sell them off for vast profit.

How do I win in the Arena?

You don’t have direct control of your units in the Arena, so all you can do is make sure you send your best possible units for the job: it’s a good idea to have a healer unit of some description, as this can turn the tide of a battle in your favour. It’s also a very good idea to take units with powerful Brave Bursts that can attack the entire enemy party at once, and any units that can provide buffs or increases to BC drop rates are useful, too; generally speaking, whoever gets to Brave Burst first will usually be the victor so if you can push yourself into a position where that’s more likely to be you, you’ll be golden.

What do I do in the Town?

Three things: acquire raw materials, upgrade the town’s facilities, and buy/craft things. The Synthesis shop sells consumable items such as health potions and temporary buffs; remember to “equip” these to your hotbar before entering a difficult quest, as they will make a huge difference. The Sphere shop, meanwhile, allows you to create equippable items that either add special effects to your attacks or increase stats and resistances. Don’t neglect these; they can make an otherwise seemingly weak character into a valuable member of your party.

Should I play this game? It sounds stupid.

It is kind of stupid and ultimately fairly pointless — but if you’re someone who enjoys collecting things, making them fight other things and making on-screen numbers gradually get bigger over time, you’ll probably have at least a bit of fun with it. It has some lovely art and great music, too.

Can I add you as a friend?

Sure. Type in my ID — the easy-to-remember 9630492642 — and we’ll both get happy nice things to share.

Where can I find out more?

The Brave Frontier Wiki is a terrifyingly comprehensive resource of information for this game.

1931: Further Tales from the Frontier

Screenshot_2015-05-03-20-39-48I’m quite surprised that a free-to-play mobile game has managed to maintain my attention for over two weeks now: you may recall a short while back when I talked about Brave Frontier, and I’m still playing it today.

I think the reason it’s “working” for me is that I’m not attempting to make it the focus of my gaming life or anything, but it’s something enjoyable to do during brief moments of downtime — sitting on the bog, waiting for pasta water to boil, being unable to get to sleep, that sort of thing. It also helps that it’s a fairly solid game at its core, too; it’s not the deepest game in the world, but it has enough substance to keep it interesting in short bursts.

What I find curious about it is that it’s essentially Pokemon with all the fat trimmed off, and yet while Pokemon didn’t hold my attention at all across the three installments I’ve tried — Red, Gold and Y — Brave Frontier has managed to keep me interested, and I think it’s because of all the stuff that’s been trimmed out from the Pokemon formula.

Pokemon, to me, always feels like it’s not sure what it quite wants to be. It has the structure of a traditional RPG, but then the collectible, tradable and upgradeable aspect of a trading card game. It is arguably more widely renowned for its competitive metagame than anything significant it brings to the storytelling table, though it has managed to spawn a number of anime series and movies since it first burst onto the scene. The “JRPG” side of it and the “collectible monster battling” stuff always seem to be somewhat at odds with one another, and I think that’s what’s caused me to lose interest in them partway through every time I’ve tried.

Brave Frontier, meanwhile, focuses on the collectible battling side of things almost exclusively. There’s no exploration, no wandering around caves, just battles of various descriptions and, between those battles, upgrading your units to be more powerful, stronger and capable of taking on tougher opponents. It’s satisfying to build up a team that works together, whether you’ve been trying to go for a specific angle (all the same elemental type, for example, or perhaps a strongly defensive group that can survive against hard-hitting enemies) or whether you’ve been working with the hand you’ve been dealt, as I have been.

And the game presents you with interesting, meaningful choices to make every time you boot it up. I still dislike the use of “energy” bars in free-to-play games throttling your play sessions, but as I noted in my previous post about Brave Frontier, this game makes use of it as an interesting “risk/reward” mechanic by presenting you with the option to effectively “gamble” your potential play time against the possible rewards available.

You can spent small amounts of energy working your way through the “Quest” mode, which is a linear sequence of battles of gradually (very gradually) increasing difficulty tied together with a surprisingly not-that-bad, if cliche-tastic storyline. In doing so, you’ll acquire a selection of not-very-good units (that can be used as “fusion fodder” to upgrade various aspects of your actually-good units) along with the game’s currencies, and you’ll also get a decent amount of experience.

Screenshot_2015-05-04-20-25-02Conversely, the daily dungeons that pop up throughout the week each cost significantly more energy to participate in but offer their own unique special characteristics and greater, more predictable rewards — the Monday dungeon, for example, offers significantly greater amounts of experience points than usual, providing you with the ability to level up your “Summoner” character quite quickly, in turn increasing your energy stock and the amount of “Cost” points you’re allowed to spend on building your party; other dungeons throughout the week offer units that are required to “evolve” level-capped units to their next tier, large amounts of gold coins or various other rewards. Part of the thing that makes the game interesting is that you have to discover the value of each of these dungeons for yourself; it may not be immediately clear why you’d want to hunt down elemental idols, for example, but once you figure it out you’ll know that you need to check in on that particular day to get your hands on some.

There’s a certain amount of random-number generation (RNG) at work, of course, but as any MMO player will tell you, that’s sort of part of the fun in a perverse, masochistic sort of way: imagine how much more satisfying it is to acquire something you’ve been trying to hunt down for over a week rather than having it handed to you on a plate. It’s frustrating and annoying at times, sure — I’m currently in the aforementioned situation as I attempt to track down the last “Evolution unit” I need to upgrade my party member Selena into her next tier of power — but, as manipulative as it is, it keeps you coming back for another try.

Oh, and I’ve reached a stage now where my party is winning in the player-vs-player “Arena” significantly more than it loses now, which is satisfying to see. But then the game took me down a peg or two by throwing a boss at me that absolutely obliterated my entire party within a few turns. Time to get busy with the Fusion, I guess…

1921: Keeper of the Records

I’m not sure what’s inspired me to check out a few popular mobile games recently, but hot on the heels of Brave Frontier, which I talked a bit about the other day, I decided to take a peek at Square Enix’s newest attempt to make a free-to-play mobile Final Fantasy game after the absolutely atrocious Final Fantasy: All the Bravest.

Final Fantasy Record Keeper was initially a little offputting by its association with DeNA; my past experience with this company is that they churn out identikit free-to-play games — mostly of the “gacha” variety, where you randomly draw various things each day in the hope of collecting a complete set, and can pay more to get more draws — that tend to be devoid of gameplay, polish and indeed any reason to play them whatsoever.

I was pleasantly surprised, then, to discover that Final Fantasy Record Keeper is actually a solid, interesting game in its own right. It’s not a narrative-heavy Final Fantasy game, mind, but it’s pretty up-front about this. What it instead provides is the “gacha”-style collecting mechanics that DeNA have so much experience with combined with some actual gameplay, with mechanics and everything.

The basic formula is pretty simple. Over the course of the game, you assemble a team of characters from past Final Fantasy games, reimagined in 16-bit era pixel art in the case of the more recent installments (VII onwards). You equip this team with “relics” (equipment) and abilities, then take them into a dungeon to work your way through a series of battles and eventually defeat a boss. There’s no exploration involved; a dungeon is simply a string of predefined enemy encounters, with each costing a particular amount of “stamina” to participate in, meaning that your play sessions are throttled after a particular amount of time and until either your stamina recharges or you pay up to immediately refill it.

This is pretty much business as usual for gacha-style games, but Record Keeper actually fleshes out the battles with something akin to Final Fantasy’s traditional “Active Time Battle” system, whereby battles are both turn-based and real-time at the same time: characters’ “time bars” gradually fill, and when they’re full, they can take an action. (In a twist on the original formula, somewhat reminiscent of Final Fantasy XIII, they then have to charge the bar again before the action is actually performed.) While this is happening, enemies are making use of their abilities in the same way.

The battles are fairly straightforward, though the ability to exploit elemental weaknesses and challenge special objectives during boss fights makes things a bit more interesting than just tapping the “attack” button over and over again. Where things get interesting is in the customisation aspect, which is always the strongest part of any gacha-style game.

In Record Keeper, the things you “draw” each day (or exchange the game’s premium currency for) are the relics, not the characters. These items of equipment have set bonuses to various stats, and certain characters can only equip certain types of equipment. You can level up equipment by sacrificing unneeded items or specific upgrade materials, and when a piece of equipment reaches its level cap, you can combine it with another instance of the same item to buff it up to the next rarity level and then begin the levelling process all over again with a higher cap. Certain pieces of equipment also have special abilities attached to them, all of which are unique to particular characters and based on their iconic moves from their respective games.

Alongside this, the abilities your characters can use have to be crafted using orbs you find in battle. Each character can initially equip just two abilities, and initial abilities only have two uses, meaning you have to carefully think about whether you really need to use that ability when you’re in a dungeon, as they don’t recharge until you leave, are defeated or are victorious. Abilities can subsequently be upgraded using additional orbs, however, which makes them more effective and gives you more uses of them; they can also be swapped around between characters, too, so if you make changes to your lineup the newcomers don’t have to start with crap skills.

Alongside all of the above, you then have the makeup of your party to consider. Characters get large bonuses to their stats and experience points earned if they are from the game the dungeon you’re currently playing through is from — for example, Cloud is much more effective in Final Fantasy VII-themed dungeons, while Kain is much more effective in Final Fantasy IV-themed dungeons — but have certain restrictions on what abilities and equipment they can use. Level up an ability too much and you might find a favourite character is no longer able to use it, so you have to be a little bit careful and plan ahead.

Like Brave Frontier, I’m not sure how long I’m going to stick with the game, particularly as it appears to be devoid of any sort of social features and thus the incentive to compete against — or cooperate with — other people. For the moment, though, it’s an interesting “collection”-style, battle-centric RPG featuring characters and settings from a series I’m very fond of — though I’m a bit disappointed that, as usual, Final Fantasy XI and Final Fantasy XIV are ignored thanks to their “online game” status as opposed to the series’ more traditional single-player installments.

You can find out more about the game and get links to download it — it’s available for both iOS and Android devices — on its official website.

1915: Brave New Frontier

I’ve been out of the mobile gaming, umm, game for a while now because my stint working for the now-apparently-defunct Inside Network opened my eyes to the revolting realities of mobile free-to-play games and how people in suits and sneakers genuinely thought that games where you tap on something every two hours and then have to spend money were somehow innovative.

I’ve made no secret of my general distaste for this business model, but having left it alone for a little while, I’ve felt more able to come back and look at some of these games with a slightly less jaded pair of eyes. I looked at one called Valkyrie Crusade over on MoeGamer a while back a year or so ago and was surprised to find myself having a reasonably good time — though at the time of writing, I haven’t touched it for a few months now.

More recently, someone I follow on Twitter had been posting some screenshots and enthusiastic noises about a game called Brave Frontier (iOS, Android), so I decided to download it and give it a shot. It has an appealing, colourful art style with a combination of pixel art sprites and super-deformed chibi-esque character art, and promised to have a little more in the way of “gameplay” than many similar titles, most of which revolve largely around collecting “cards” and then tapping a “Continue” button repeatedly until you run out of energy or patience.

Brave Frontier isn’t massively different from this formula, but the simple addition of a bit of interactivity to the formula immediately makes it a more interesting, enjoyable game that is ideal for dipping into for a few minutes at a time while you’re on the toilet or waiting for public transport.

Here’s how it works. You’re given an initial few units, one of which is reasonably good and the rest of which are a bit shit, but fill out the slots in your party reasonably. You can take these through “quests”, which are sequences of a few battles in a row, culminating in a boss fight. Battles are very simple: you tap on a party member to cause them to attack, and if you time your taps correctly so that multiple units hit at the same time, you cause a “Spark” which deals additional damage. Units also have elemental types that have a significant impact on both attack and defence power.

When all your units have attacked, you get to grab all the goodies that fell out of the enemies while you were clobbering them. These include the game’s various currencies, health points and Brave Burst points, the latter of which fills a gauge and allows a unit to perform its unique special move. Health points and Brave Burst points are assigned randomly so you can’t guarantee a particular unit will be able to perform their Brave Burst on command, but you can force an enemy to drop more of these shards by ordering your party to focus their attacks on a single enemy, cause an “Overkill” and obtain additional rewards. This, of course, leaves them open to attack from the remaining enemies.

You repeat this process through a series of battles, with your units not automatically healing or recharging between. You fight a boss — most of which so far haven’t been significantly tougher than the main enemies — and then you get rewards, which include materials and additional units.

Outside of quests, you can “fuse” units together to level them up — they don’t gain experience simply through battle like in a regular RPG. Fusing “metal” units of the same element as a unit provides a significant bonus to the XP they receive, and when you get a unit to its level cap (which varies according to the unit’s rarity) you can “evolve” it into a more powerful incarnation by using materials. You can also use materials to craft useful items and equipment for your units, and one of the game’s currencies to upgrade the village you call home base — this provides you with resources every so often, and also has a bunch of facilities you can unlock over time, providing you access to more and more items and equipment as you upgrade it.

The game makes use of the free-to-play model’s beloved “energy” system, which means you’re only allowed to play a certain amount before you either have to pay up or wait for it to restore. Now, I’m not a huge fan of this system, but so far in Brave Frontier it’s been fairly unobtrusive, with energy consumption pretty much matching up with the average length of a play session. In other words, by the time you’ve run out of energy, you’ll probably want to go and play or do something else anyway. Interestingly, there are a bunch of “dungeons” that you can take on that require significantly more energy to enter than normal quest battles; the rewards for these are significantly greater, however, as is the overall challenge level. This means that you can choose how you spend your energy rather than it being a “flat rate” — do you blow 50 points at once for the chance to get your hands on some rare, useful, powerful goodies, or do you make steady progress through the main story to unlock access to new areas and acquire “gems” which can be used to recruit the more powerful, more rare units?

I don’t know how long I’ll stick with the game, but it’s enjoyable enough at present, and the art style is lovely. If you happen to be playing, feel free to add me as a friend using ID 9630492642.