JRPGs are a difficult problem as a busy gamer who is constantly backlogged. It’s one of my favorite genres and I am not alone in that opinion. It’s one of the only remaining types of games you can buy where story is as if not more important than gameplay. It’s the best genre when it comes to getting a fully developed and detailed story with multiple characters and interweaving story lines. They’re the type of games that inspired studios like Bioware to make games like Mass Effect and Dragon Age that blur the line between Western style action games and Eastern style plot focused fairy tale adventures. The problem with playing them is that they’re very long. And that’s how it’s supposed to be. Their characteristically long length is not a flaw on their part but an issue on that of players for not having the time to always be able to commit to hundred or more hour long adventures. But life has to come first so it’s no body’s fault.
Because of the hefty time commitment, many gamers have to pick and choose which JRPGs to play based on hype and public opinion. That means that certain established franchises and games by certain developers always get prioritized like Final Fantasy, Persona, and Xeno while many indie JRPGs get tossed by the wayside and ignored by the bulk of gamers. Many times this happens to very well made games that just can’t gain the attention or justify the time of most players. To this day I think I’ve only seriously played three indie JRPGs and I’ve yet to finish a single one. There’s just no time. But that’s a real shame when it comes to great games like Asdivine Hearts by Exe Create Inc.
Asdivine Hearts is a very traditional JRPG. Very quickly do you see obvious similarities and sometimes outright references to games like Final Fantasy. There is even an enemy in the game called Cait Sith. This game was actually originally released for mobile a few years back and then later ported to the Wii U. Only this month was it finally ported as a cross buy to PS4, PS3, and PS Vita. What this game basically amounts to is a very well executed classic JRPG. And by classic I mean late 80’s to early 90’s era JRPGs. So no later than Final Fantasy III for reference.
The graphics are quite good, for a classic. This is not a modern day 3D rendered open world with flashy textures and real time battles. It’s a top down, slightly isometric 2D world. And it looks great for what it is. Lots of colors and textures. Highly detailed objects like leaves on trees, clothing, and common place household objects all add a ton of character and quality to the game. In true Final Fantasy style, there is a large and varied bestiary but many monsters are also redone in multiple colors to add an even larger number of enemies. The movement of the game is very smooth and detailed. Doing basic attacks, casting magic spells and using items all have their own specific visual cues. The game has basic cutscenes that continue in and out of gameplay, never jostling the user’s orientation of the current setting.
The travel mode has you walking around the map like in Pokemon, but the battle mode is your classic enemies on the left and your party on the right turn based style battle system. The party HUD is along the bottom of the screen, showing you HP, AP, and MP for each character. When it’s a character’s turn, a menu pops up that gives you the traditional options for how to proceed. Each of the different sections (attack, skill, magic, guard, item, semi-auto) has its own symbol and text. The top of the screen has an action feed similar to Child of Light that shows you the order of turns for each party member and enemy on the field. I wouldn’t change anything about how the battle mode looks. The map is a bit less impressive than the rest of the game. It’s detailed, but not to the level that it could be. It’s more akin to how an actual map probably would have looked at the time the world is set in than how a game map usually looks. But it updates as you progress and gives you the info you need to know so it’s certainly good enough. Even the little things like characters’ hair and clothing moving while you stand still are all done painstakingly well. You’ve definitely seen this level of graphics before, but here there are none of the flaws that may have been there when you were a kid in the early 90’s.
The menus are very nice as well. Lots of different sections with specific visual icons and a nice block text font to denote them. The visual style of the menus is straight forward but extremely detailed as well. The dialog is all done via dialog boxes in true JRPG style. The boxes are nothing special but they are very effective. A simple opaque blue box with white san-serif text. At certain times, colors are used to identify certain types of dialog. For instance, whispering is always shown in green. The name of the character speaking always appears above the dialog box in a separate little rounded rectangle. A nice touch is that whenever a main character is talking a hand drawn picture of them appears behind the dialog box on the right of the screen. These drawings are all really nice and help characterize the speaker and their feelings during the dialog. Their expressions do change depending on the situation.
The one issue I had with the graphics was that the edges of the screen on all four sides cut off slightly on my TV. There are no video settings to correct this so you just have to live with it. It won’t seriously affect gameplay but it is irritating. I have noticed this same problem with a number of ports of various genres I’ve played on my PS4. Overall, I was really happy with how Asdivine Hearts looks. It by no means compares to modern day JRPGs like Final Fantasy XV, but it’s a really nice looking game for what it wants to be.
The gameplay is most excellently done for a classic style turn based JRPG. The game has four difficulty levels at start. Normal is the recommended setting but higher difficulty levels net better rewards. I played it on normal and it’s extremely well balanced but still challenging. You can change the difficulty setting in game at any time from the options menu. You walk around with the left stick or d-pad and press X to interact with things and people. You press square to look at your map and figure out your current destination. It’s the standard stuff. You move pretty quickly when walking, which always makes me happy. You have everything you need for a detail oriented, strategy focused adventure. Obviously that means character specific gear that can be replaced at any time. You also have power jewels which can be placed in each party member’s “rubix” in order to equip buffs. The rubix starts as a 3 x 3 square that you use your jewels to fill. Jewels have different layouts and must be fitted together in a Tetris style way to get the best possible buffs for each character. As the game progresses, you can find bigger rubixes to equip on each party member in order to have more buffs at any one time. Jewels come in many types and can be found, stolen from enemies, purchased, or synthesized together for improved stats. I really liked the rubix system and found it to be very original. You of course have tons of items of various types such as HP heals, status effect items, and quest items. You make money and find items by winning battles and finding chests. You use your money to buy better gear. Other than the rubix system, you’ve done this all before and this game does it well.
The battle system is very intricate and stat focused but not hard to grasp. You can have up to five active party members at a time. Outside of battle you must choose a formation. This means setting the party members in whatever order you want in different locations on a 3 x 3 grid. The front three squares are called vanguard, which give you 100% of your physical attack damage. The middle three squares are called midguard, which give you only 85% of your physical attack damage. The final three squares are called rearguard which only give you 70% of your physical attack damage. But if the character is using a whip then they get 85% in rearguard. These debuffs only affect physical attack damage so it makes the most since to put your mages in the back. Every character can learn various types of attacks both magic and physical plus special physical skills. Leveling is automatic in this game. As you fight you gain XP which raises each party member’s level separately. Party members that are knocked out at the end of a battle will not receive XP. After the battle they revive to 1 HP. As party members level up, they automatically learn new skills and spells and improve existing ones. Different skills and spells can do a number of things and have different areas of effect.
Asdivine Hearts uses your standard turn based battle system. You walk around wild areas and then randomly get thrown into battles unless it’s a boss fight which takes place after a cutscene. The time feed at the top of the screen moves from right to left with the next turn being whichever character on the field is next to hit the leftmost part of the timeline. Certain skills can push characters back in the timeline if they connect. Each of your party members and each enemy on the field moves independently of everyone else based on their speed. On their turn they can choose to do a basic physical attack, use AP for a special skill, use MP for a magic spell, guard, use a single item, or semi-auto. Semi-auto has the computer choose what kind of attack, skill, or spell to use but still has the player choose where to aim it. AP regenerates at the end of every battle, but MP and HP do not. HP must be healed with items or spells, but can be healed both in and out of battle. MP can only be regenerated with items. When a party member levels up at the end of a battle, all their MP, HP, and AP is automatically restored and usually increased.
The battle system works well because of the various strategy based elements both before and during battles that need to be considered. Your formation, order, equipment, and play style all affect the outcome of battles. You can change these things from the menu screen outside of battle whenever you want. In battle you have to decide how to approach the specific enemies on the field based on the situation. Enemies are distributed on the field in their own 2 x 3 grid, meaning that at most you can be made to face up to six enemies at one time. Which enemy you decide to take out first, how you attack them, and when you heal are all things you need to consider. You need to watch your AP, MP, HP, and items just like in any other JRPG. There are also special factors in some battles like barrels and rocks. These sometimes appear in battle and can be ignored but sometimes hold loot. Barrels can also hold enemies though so you have to decide if it’s worth the risk. The battle ends when all enemies on the field are down so choosing to attack a barrel or rock means leaving the enemy a chance to attack you. You also can’t use physical attacks to attack anything behind anything else including other enemies unless it’s with the whip. Magic can be used to attack anything on the field any turn.
You can save at any time from the pause menu and quit at any time from the menu screen even when in a dungeon. You will continue right where you left off at your last save. You can have up to three save files at one time. All in all, I really enjoyed the gameplay in Asdivine Hearts. It gave me a new appreciation for old school turn based RPGs in a gaming climate that now seems all about real time gameplay. Having not yet finished the game, I have no complaints about how the game works.
The sound is very well done in this game. The music is strong, good quality, and highly varied. Different locations, areas, and modes of play all have their own soundtrack that loops very cleanly. I was pleasantly surprised by how much I liked the music as early as the game’s main menu. It’s at proper JRPG status in my book. The sound effects are great too. They’re specific, appropriate, and plentiful. Moving around in menus, different attacks, using items, and so on. The only thing is that there are no sound effects outside of battle. There is music, but unless you are in the menus you will hear nothing but music when not in a battle. I don’t personally take issue with that but it is something to note since today walking sounds are pretty much standard. You can control the music and sound effects volume levels separately from the options menu. Personally I thought the sound in Asdivine Hearts came out really well.
The first thing I noticed about the writing wasn’t the story but the tutorials. There is so much information in the game’s help menu. There are nine different detailed sections complete with pictures and commands. I didn’t read most of this but I appreciated having it. There are also tutorials given in game by various vendors and during your first few battles. The game does it’s best to make sure you know how to play.
The game starts with a simple background cutscene that tells you the legend that the game will ultimately be focused on. It’s a pretty traditional good vs light story where two opposing divine powers have always worked together but now one of them has gone rogue and the other has been forced to flee to the human world. The main character is a boy who gets pulled into this adventure and meets people along the way. The bulk of the story is told through dialog and most of it is direct conversation with the main character. Occasionally you see cutscenes of other characters in other places not related to your party currently speaking, but it’s mostly just the villain.
The characters in the game are well defined and well written. They have different personalities, dynamic relationships, goals and desires, needs, and behaviors. Like with any good JRPG, you will like certain characters in the story and dislike other ones. The story itself is pretty traditional, but it’s as good as any other JRPG which I think is good enough in this case. It’s a fully fleshed out story that will give you many hours of plot based gameplay that doesn’t suck. That’s about all I can ask for in the modern gaming era.
As far as replay value is concerned, I’m pretty impressed. There are only 15 trophies and 12 of them are hidden, but that’s not really what this game is about. I guess you wouldn’t really call it replay value but more additional play value. There are hidden chests scattered throughout the world, but that’s kid stuff. There are main quests, sub quests, guild missions, a battle arena, and NPC requests. You only have to do the main quest to beat the game but there are plenty of things to do outside of just looking for chests and grinding that add to the play value of the game. And again, you can play it on four different difficulty levels. The price on PS4 is $15 and technically I’m not happy about that. To say the game isn’t worth $15 isn’t necessarily fair, but this is a port from mobile from several years earlier than the PS4 release. You will definitely get way more than 15 hours of gameplay out of this, but the only reason you’re being charged $15 is because it’s a cross buy. You have no option to purchase the game on just one platform at a reduced cost. Meanwhile you can get the game on Wii U or Steam for $10 and could back when it was first ported last year and you can get it on Android or iPhone for only $8. And as I write this review it’s actually currently available on Android for $4. If the price was $5 on just PS4 I’d say it’s a must buy. For $10 I’d say go ahead if you’re looking for a turn based JRPG. For $15 it becomes a bit more of a niche purchase because even though it’s good it’s still not a main stream title or even a new title. You’re simply being charged extra for two copies of the game you won’t end up playing. It’s hard to judge the price value is my point.
Ultimately I was really happy with Asdvine Hearts. It was a wonderful throwback to a different time in gaming. It’s an extremely enjoyable experience that I haven’t had in too long a time. I don’t recommend purchasing it on a PlayStation platform because of the price, but on Wii U, PC, or mobile it would be a great buy. Certainly worth your time.
REVIEW CODE: A complimentary Sony Playstation 4 code was provided to Brash Games for this review. Please send all review code enquiries to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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