Secret time–I adore innovative tactical role-playing games. They are my favorite video game genre. So when a mobile video game is developed by Mistwalker (yes, the company of Hironobu Sakaguchi–may you worship at the altar of all that is Final Fantasy), you may color me intrigued. Terra Battle is for iOS and Android, and is a tile-based TRPG. It functions as a collectable card game and a puzzler as well as its headlining genre.
The game itself is populated with content released based on how many people have downloaded the game via a “Download Starter” created by Sakaguchi (based on the success of Kickstarter campaigns, but without the players directly financing advancement). For example, Nobuo Uematsu composed music for the game after 1,000,000 downloads. Familiar names and a genre I love formed a sort of careful optimism that I carried as I started to play the game.
Terra Battle utilizes a tile battlefield as its main form of gameplay. You choose your team from recruited characters and move on the board against a timer. The timer is fairly quick, about five seconds. The catch is, that you can only control one character’s movement, needing to work on a ‘push’ mechanism to position multiple characters while only manipulating one. Gimmicky, but interesting. The enemy units move on a countdown turn-based concept, indicated by a number in the corner of the enemy unit’s avatar. The speed factor limits (in some cases, severely), what you can do in a turn, and keeps the game moving.
Similar to most tactical games, there is a rock-paper-scissors element to weaponry and magic. Ranged beats swords, swords beats polearms, polearms beats ranged. As such, your magic elemental factions are aligned against each other. Status ailments are laughable, as they are so situational they either never hit (if your character is casting) or they hit and remain long enough to make the fight nearly unwinnable (guess who has to cast that sort). Neither of these mechanics are new to the TRPG front, and frankly, the ill-stacked scoring algorithms make it difficult to predict results, leading to justifiable frustration.
As you advance through the stages, you may encounter bosses, who have specific abilities that are tougher to work against. They also take up more space on the board, making for a harder time to get around them to attack. These powerful enemies will make short work of you, should you not be very familiar with the game mechanics.
The stage mechanic is fairly repetitive, with little to show for your efforts. Each level has ten stages, and you are rewarded nominally for completing them with a single screen of description of your surroundings. I am sure this is supposed to be a dark and foreboding mood-setter and an urging to continue on the quest for knowledge. However, the texts are a poor translation, and there’s simply not enough detail given in the first place, so it just seems like a filler. The ramp up of difficulty in enemy stages has a steep drop off, forcing you to go to a grinding area called the ‘Metal Zone’. This area is only available in certain times of day, unless you wish to spend credits (in-game purchases, other than a few GM bonuses given). This area gives decent experience, but it is limited to certain levels of characters. If you have a character that is not in the correct level, they get no experience at all for fighting.
I want to like Terra Battle; the premise is interesting and the people on staff are responsible for some great games that I’ve come to love. Perhaps that is part of the problem–I know these individuals are capable of so much more than the sum that is Terra Battle, and I’m left with wondering why it isn’t better.