The trend today is that console and hand held games eventually get ported to mobile, but rarely do mobile games get ported to console. Yet such is the case with QURARE: Magic Library by Smilegate Megaport. This game was originally released for mobile platforms in Korea in 2014, but has now been ported to the PS4 as a world wide free to play game just this month. It boasts that it’s the “first card battle RPG to ever be released on the PS4.” That’s a grand boast for a game that doesn’t cost anything, save time, to play. But is a mobile app such as this, no matter how popular on phones, good enough to warrant playing on a home console? That’s the real question that gamers need to ask when considering games like these. For me, the answer is almost.
QURARE: Magic Library is actually a very nice looking game. Or at least 50 – 70% of it is. It’s split into three general visual parts plus the menus. The first part, which you will see more than any other part of the game, at least when playing the single player Story Mode, is the dialog screen(s). This is done in a classic JRPG style where up to three, but usually only two characters are on screen at any one time. These are 2D drawings of the characters over 2D static backgrounds. When one character is talking, the other one is slightly overshadowed. During all dialog there is an opaque black text box along the bottom third of the screen. The text used is a very nice white san-serif font. It’s very easy to read and aesthetically pleasing. I was very happy with the art style used for these dialog scenes. They look like a very high end manga with color and the slightest bit of movement. For the most part these scenes are static, but little things like characters’ eyelids will move to make them blink. The characters and the backgrounds are all hand drawn with the highest attention to detail and a beautiful color palette.
The beautiful dialog sequences are complemented by some of the most elegant menus I think I’ve ever seen for what is essentially a mobile app game. They’re an opaque purple with a glossy finish combined with a stylish gold lettering and trim. These menus are so nice that I actually started using the free PS4 theme based on the game because it uses the same menu design for the PlayStation dashboard. The Story Mode chapter menus are of a similar style but use blue and green instead of purple. This is also quite nice to look at. The game also has these little visual Easter eggs to go with the beautiful menus. The loading symbol, for example, is the main character’s silhouette running.
The second part of the game’s visual style is the explore areas. These are stretches of area that are modeled in 3D with small barriers placed randomly along a straight track divided into three lanes separated by bright blue lines. These areas look different based on what part of the story you’re in. They represent the setting of the world the level is taking place in. They can be in doors or outside in a number of different locales such as ornate buildings or snowy forests. Floating within these lanes are items that can be picked up which look like jewels, coins, and chests. The main character is also rendered in 3D for these sequences. She runs through them moving at a slight angle away from the screen. The running and jumping animations are smooth but a little unnatural in my opinion. In these sequences the HUD is very simple. There’s a yellow progress bar along the top center of the screen that fills as you progress through the area and some simple numbers and symbols around the screen that are very small, but still readable and honestly inconsequential for the most part. I would say that while this portion of the game is the only one that is moving fluidly as far as visuals are concerned; it’s also the worst looking portion of the game. It’s not bad but it’s the only 3D portion of QURARE and doesn’t really mesh with the rest of its visual style. This actually may have come off better as a 2D side scrolling sequence with a similar manga art style to the rest of the game.
The third and probably most important visual portion of the game is the battles. The battle screen is a static background that could be hand drawn, but is probably modeled at least partly. This background changes with the setting of the level like the explore portion does. The enemy, of which there is only ever one per a wave, is a static hand drawn picture in the middle of the screen. Along the top of the screen is an RPG HUD that gives off the enemy’s information. This includes the wave number, battle time, enemy health bar in red, enemy level, and enemy name. In the lower quarter of the screen you get your battle HUD. This shows your party members’ avatars and health bars, your name and health, your healing items, and your current active cards. While these screens are not finished as well as the dialog screens, they look very nice and have a very effective gameplay layout.
For the most part I think this is a very nice looking game but there are some things to note. There are only two undebatable visual flaws in the game. The first is that the second loading icon, which is a spinning yellow and black circle, cuts off on the top right corner of the screen. The second is that at the title screen the version information cuts off in the bottom left of the screen. While I wasn’t too partial to the explore mode graphics, the cut off portions are the only actual problems. These can’t be corrected by users because there are no visual options in the game, but it’s possible that a larger screen than my 40 inch TV might not have this problem. One thing to note about the game’s visuals is that all the characters are female. Both the cards you use and the actual talking characters are female and in true manga style are a bit oversexualized. I’m not personally saying that this is a problem or that I take issue with it. I simply want to note it as part of the visual personality of the game. All in all I liked the graphics in QURARE.
The gameplay is one part planning and preparation, one part real time strategy, and one part endless runner. This is a card battle RPG. You have a deck with limits based on your level and current card inventory. You must plan your deck based on your current level based limitations and desired play style. There are three types of cards: attack, heal, and defend. You must choose the best combination of these to win battles. Before you start each level, you have the option to change your deck as much as you want. As you level up you gain the ability to have more and stronger cards with a max limit of five action cards and 5 five passive/support. Cards have a number of different stats that you need to account for plus special bonus effects. Cards level up by being used in battle. There are also rules about how you have to structure your deck. As you play the game more you figure out which stats are most important to look at for your particular deck and play style. You don’t have to carry a full deck into battle and won’t be able to for the first several stages.
Along with deck building are a number of other mechanics such as binding, extracting, and mixing cards. These mechanics allow you to enhance specific cards for the best overall deck, but the system takes practice like any other RPG crafting system. You can carry a total of 250 cards at the start of the game. Cards can be sold and destroyed for ingredients to make room. I have yet to get far enough to know if this number increases eventually or if it’s enough.
The explore portion of the game takes place at the beginning of each stage. It’s just a short runner game where you dodge obstacles and collect items. These items can be active such as potions or passive such as fragments of cards that must be collected like pieces of a puzzle to add a new card to your deck. You can also collect gold which can be used in the shop. Items can also be purchased with real money from the PSN store. You can move between three lanes and jump while the character automatically runs forward. The left stick works but the d-pad is the optimal way to succeed at these sections of the gameplay. This portion of the game is important because it does have a direct effect on battles. If you hit obstacles your party takes damage. This lowers your starting HP going into battle. You can fail the exploration if you take too much damage before making it to the end of the level. Personally I don’t really see a need for the explore mode. It adds an additional layer of gameplay but it’s not challenging or particularly fun. It’s more of an annoying step between dialog and battle that you have to go through. It does help with your character development but ultimately it’s the card battles that make this game interesting.
The battle mode is why you’ll want to keep playing this game. Battles are in real time but based on time based limitations. What this means is that you must make decisions by hand while the enemy is also making decisions without waiting for you, but your cards have use limitations based on time. When you play a card you must then wait for it to refill before you can play it again. You have to choose when to attack, defend, or heal. You can also use healing and revive items during battle if you need help. Your party members, called fellows, will battle against the enemy alongside you with their own HP bars, but you don’t control them. They contribute autonomously and are very helpful. You can have up to three in battle with you at a time. The battle system is easy to play but takes time to master as you get to harder and harder levels. At my current point in the game I feel like it’s pretty balanced for battle difficulty, but considering how many levels there are this may not be the case down the road. You can play stages as many times as you want to increases levels if you get stuck. I absolutely loved the battle system and it’s the reason I’d consider playing this game a lot more.
There is also an online co-op mode for up to four players. In this mode you take on much harder bosses with other players as your party members. You aren’t able to play this mode until you’ve hit level 30 which does take a decent amount of time in the story mode. The gameplay is pretty much the same other than the better rewards and other real life players. I think the gameplay in QURARE is good overall. It’s probably one of the better card battle systems I’ve played. But the explore portion of the game is unnecessary and adds a stumbling block to what is otherwise a solid free to play gaming experience. The one problem I did experience quite a bit during certain sessions was server errors. That might be more of a PSN problem than a problem with the game, but it’s problematic because this game can’t be played offline even during single player mode. When the connection is lost, the game restarts and takes you bake to the beginning screen, forcing you to reload the game. It’s kind of like when you get server errors while running an app on your phone and having to restart it. It got pretty annoying at times and led to minor lag when navigating certain menus like the edit deck section.
The sound is quite good in QURARE. The music is catchy and adds to the experience but isn’t invasive. You can set the volume of the music and effects independently of each other, but the default settings are leveled very well. There isn’t a lot of variation in the music. It’s mostly the same three or four songs depending on what portion of the gameplay you’re currently in. Battle music is very upbeat, while dialog music is very soft. Though it is a limited soundtrack, the cycling between modes keeps it from getting stale. And most portions of the game don’t take long unless you are sitting idle intentionally so you don’t really deal with hearing the music continuously too much. The effects are simple but effective for a card battle system. There are effects for using cards and doing other things in battle like taking hits, healing, and using items. You also have effects for pressing menu buttons and jumping during explore mode. That’s about it, but it’s all that’s needed for the gameplay used here.
The really impressive but sadly limited part of the game’s sound is the voice acting. The game’s introduction is fully acted in English as are a few lines throughout the game. It’s really well done and gives the few players who talk distinct voices and character. But it’s only used in that beginning portion. Possibly in the end, which I haven’t gotten to yet. But in the middle there is no voice acting. You just have to read all the dialog. I understand why they did it that way because of the vast amount of dialog and constant content updates, but the voice acting is quite good and you do notice it once it disappears.
The writing is a lot like watching a longer anime. There is a serious plot that does develop over time, adding multiple characters and several moments of conflict. It’s interesting and not entirely straight forward, giving you reason to want to get to the end of the story because of the subtle moments of narrative intrigue. But at the same time, there is a ton of useless filler. Too often do you see dialog sequences where the characters talk about pointless stuff like baking cakes and breast enlargement experiments. No I did not make that last part up. It’s brought up multiple times by a particular character. The writing is used as an excuse to fill time between missions but because there are so many missions, characters, and cards, Smilegate Megaport turned to useless dialog and sub-plots to fill in the holes so they could have a somewhat consistent mission structure. This leads to a very reliable gameplay experience, but also a lot of wasted time. You can skip dialog, but sometimes you learn things that are important so you tend to not want to skip them. I’d say the writing is tolerable and definitely goes with a trend often seen in manga and anime plots, but not great.
This game has a ton of replay value. There are several levels, all of which can be replayed. You can customize your decks however you want within the rules of the game. There are 15 trophies, many of which are progress based. The game claims to have over a thousand card illustrations and new content added monthly. And to top it all off, the game is free to download and play. No matter how good or bad the gameplay is, you simply can’t beat that price.
Ultimately, I enjoyed the small portion of QURARE: Magic Library I played. I was happy with the graphics, most of the gameplay, the sound, and the replay value. The writing was acceptable as well. There’s nothing about the game that’s particularly bad and when it comes to progress it’s about as finite as games like Destiny or The Division except for that you actually have tons of levels and new content updates often for free as opposed to once or twice a year for a price. While I can’t personally see myself devoting much time to a game like this on a home console, I definitely think that there’s an audience that has been waiting for a game like this.
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