JRPGs have seen a resurgence in the last few years, with the likes of Xenoblade Chronicles, Bravely Default, and re-releases of top Final Fantasy games hitting PC, PS4 and mobile formats, to name but a few. The WiiU hasn’t seen a whole lot of big name action in this regard, but one or two smaller titles have arrived via the eShop, including the recent release of Asdivine Hearts.
Originally released on iOS/Android in 2014, Asdivine Hearts is a mixture of old school visual style and more modern gameplay design, with its formation-based battle system and almost puzzle-like jewel mechanic. We begin with Zack and Stella, two orphans on the brink of adulthood readying to leave their orphanage and begin their respective careers. Of course, Stella has feelings for Zack but he’s an idiot and doesn’t know, leading to many high jinks and much amusingly awkward behaviour. On the eve of their departure to the capital, they’re tasked with releasing a wild cat back into the forest, only for the cat to become possessed by a magical being that may or may not be a god.
This is just the beginning, of course. The god cat can now speak, there’s some form of cataclysmic event at hand, a mysterious follower appears, etc. etc. Quest upon quest will be given to you and your group in order to progress the story, all unfolding across a large overworld that encompasses dozens of towns, cities, caves and temples. It’s all standard fare so far, but there’s a depth of quality to the game that will shine through if you give it a chance.
The gameplay is simple, its stop down view allowing for the usual eight-directional movement to explore each area. Random battles occur throughout dangerous zones, giving access to the turn-based fights – the meat of the gameplay. Your team stands within a 3×3 grid, with each row offering benefits and drawbacks depending on where you place each character type. Magic users are best at the back, with less damage taken and they can even be shielded by those in front. Your all-out brawlers obviously go up front, gaining attack bonuses and allowing them to reach any row with their abilities. Maybe this isn’t sounding as simple as it should, but the game offers more than enough information and tutorials to guide you as you start out. You don’t even have to mess about with formations (although specific ones offer extra bonuses), you can set one and leave it for the rest of the game and you’ll be fine. New players are even treated to a difficulty select, with ‘easy’ being perfectly balanced in order for everyone to be able to play Asdivine Hearts to an enjoyable degree.
Where the game can become a little more complicated, even puzzle-like, is in the jewel system. Each character has a Rubix, which starts off with a 3×3 grid of squares (larger ones become available as you progress) and can be filled with jewels of varying shape and ability. Higher powered jewels come with more complicated shapes, leading to a Tetris style puzzle of slotting shapes together, or perhaps something akin to Resident Evil 4’s suitcase inventory. Finding the best combination to so suit each character, then attempting to fit them in their current Rubix, adds an extra layer of depth to the gameplay.
Visually, Asdivine Hearts is quite reminiscent of Suikoden on PS1. It also has an RPG Maker flavour, perhaps due to its limited animation. Character movements tend to lean towards the stiff, although there are moments in which their personality comes through due to an animation specific to that character. Some are a bit too stereotypical, both in appearance and their Anime-inspired behaviour, which does hold Asdivine Hearts back somewhat in today’s progressive, empowered world. The female characters can be strong, but apparently all fall to pieces around the male hero, and everyone’s a bit too attractive. The queen you meet early on, for example, is incredibly booby and all her female counsellors are much the same, leading to the question: is the world named Asdivine due to the entire population being divine in appearance? This is obviously a minor issue, but it’s still very noticeable.
On the whole, the visual style is a little generic but there’s no denying the quality of the character art and the level of detail within the world. The mere fact that it brings to mind Suikoden is a big compliment as the first two games in Konami’s RPG series are still some of the best to date. Is Asdivine Hearts as good as those games? Not quite, but it does offer a similar experience that is certainly a lot of fun and incredibly accessible. It’s a wonderful starting point for newcomers to the JRPG genre, and its formation and jewel systems offer enough depth that veterans will still enjoy the experience.
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