The unexpectedly expected announcement that Nintendo would be entering the mobile market blew the socks of the industry. A holdout to the increasing dominance of mobile, a disruptive shift to its dominant position in the handheld market, had analyst, critics and gamers debating whether the Big N was being left behind. Shortly before his untimely death Nintendo President Satoru Iwata capitulated. On his and his company’s terms. The man that brought the originally maligned Nintendo DS – dropping the universal Gameboy brand that still holds water – and Wii with its mass-market adoption of motion controls believed his company had found the correct formula. It’s yet to come to fruition, but Nintendo’s partner in the endeavor, DeNA, published the midcore puzzle-based RPG Blood Gate – Age of Alchemy from outsmart a few weeks ago.
Blood Gate follows the now-typical formula of puzzle-based RPG games. outsmart blends the staples of the decades old genre with match 3 gameplay. To attack players must match three or more runes of the same type. The minimum match does minimum damage. Adding extra runes to the mix performs bonus damage in the same attack. A huge advantage when your computer-controlled opponent is based on a timer and you aren’t. Those crafty enough to expand the coupling earn special orbs that don’t simply disappear on use. Instead they morph into runes with power ups. Link different runes, blow up surrounding runes or clone the area to continue your dominance. The craftiest can even merge them all for a board-clearing solution that’s sure to end your opponent.
Combat is currently restricted to the world map. An Arena mode is teased at in the menu, but remains unavailable. Sadly, this combat hasn’t changed since the first engagement. No new combat features or elements are to be found as you inevitably improve your skills. The complexity remains the same, match 3 or better to win. Yes, the challenge increases with multiple foes in one battle or the Hard mode, which places enemies with higher stats in your way, but gameplay remains the same. Seemingly forever.
The only thing that augments gameplay is your gear and spells. Earned, crafted or won/purchased through chests that deliver goods of random quality you seek to upgrade your party’s innate skills. No more than two can enter a battle, allied player characters included. Select them based upon their strengths and the weaknesses of your foes, but there’s always the option of outleveling or outgearing what stands in your way. Leveling raises base stats and grants upgrade or unlock tokens for spells. Alternatively, you can be awarded these as spoils of war, in chests or through crafting.
The desire to purchase items in a free-to-play games still alludes me in Blood Gate. The company does a fantastic job of getting players to come back to the game, but has offered me little incentive to actually pay. Notifications are a plenty, camaraderie, even though we never actually play together, is encouraged and turns replenish over time. Perhaps they’re going for adoption and stickiness early, rather than a full monetization gambit. Between passing scrolls to assault map objectives with allies and earning plenty of coin for upgrades and chests, I’ve found little reason to purchase Gems, the real-money transaction currency, let alone spend what I do have.
Changing gameplay and story are what draw me to modern day RPGs. Blood Gate misses on both points. Sure, the loot will become ever more shiny, with higher stats and cooler art, but combat hasn’t changed a lick since I was a level 1 newbie. The story is sparse, entering into your field of vision through short descriptions when entering a dungeon. Only at the end of an area, which can be an hour of repeated content, does anything like a cinematic appear. A generic, dull, formulaic story that does little to interest despite the quality art present throughout Blood Gate.
After crowning level 20, the second highest of all my allies, and stomping two worlds in Hard mode I feel that I’m done with Blood Gate. outsmart and DeNA had me intrigued enough to install, but lost me due to the title’s lazy pacing, weak RPG staples and forgettable story. If you’re at all interested in the genre it’s worth a spin. It’s disappointing that such a great package has no beard to speak of.
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