09
Nov
14

Terra Battle

Terra

I’ve spent the past few weeks playing Terra Battle, a free-to-play game from Mistwalker.  Aside from Mistwalker’s previous games, Terra Battle caught my interest because of the involvement of contributors from some of my favorite game series, including Final Fantasy and Drakengard.  Even with the caveats of free-to-play game design, there was little to lose in loading this on to my phone and trying it out.

To my knowledge, this is the studio’s first attempt at a mobile game of this scale.  While many of those on the project have considerable experience designing games for consoles, I wondered how such an experience would translate to a touch-based system, or if this would be something entirely different from what I might be expecting.  From what I’ve seen so far, Terra Battle mixes elements from console RPG titles that have come before it with mobile puzzle games.  Let’s take a closer look.

Terra Battle’s gameplay takes place on a 6 x 8 board where your party, enemies, hazards, and power-ups can be placed.  Every turn has you moving a character around the board, and then any enemy with a turn counter of 0 can take a turn.  You move the character by dragging them across the board.  Enemies will block your character from moving through the board, but enemies and power ups will swap places with your character as they proceed through the square.  In this way, you can arrange multiple characters in the same turn.

Once you have arranged characters such that two have been placed side-by-side with one or more enemies in between them, you can execute an attack with those characters.  At the same time, any allies that are adjacent to the characters performing the attack (without an enemy in between them) will be activated and will execute certain skills (heal, buff) or add strength to the attack.  Similar rules apply to enemy turns, but there are options for them to execute attacks without lining up allies in the same way that you are required to.

So here, we find one of the tried and true role playing game mechanics: min/maxing.  You have a timer that depletes as you move your character.  They can move as far as you can drag them, but as soon as the timer ends, the character is placed and attacks are executed.  Your job is to arrange as many characters as you can in as little time as possible to maximize the number and potency of attacks in a turn.  It can be a bit of a mind-twister, but pulling off attacks that dispatch many enemies at once can be very satisfying, even if sometimes it’s not entirely clear why you have.

Outside of the core gameplay system, you are given a series of zones to clear on a map.  Each zone contains a set of 5 to 10 battles, and each battle has about 4 or 5 sets of enemies that have to be dispatched.  You can recruit generic characters using coins you’ve collected in battle, or rarer unique characters using “energy” which is given out sparingly in the game, usually when you’ve completed a zone.

Energy can also be purchased.  And here’s where the paywall comes into effect.  Each battle requires use of stamina in order to initiate it.  If you run out of stamina, you must wait to proceed, or use energy to replenish stamina.  I’ve only found myself running out of stamina on rare occasions, as I only play for short sessions.  More often, I find myself burning through energy to collect rare characters. Terra Battle does offer qualities similar to a collectible card game, though it does not lend itself to impulse purchases to serve that end (speaking for myself anyway.)

If it’s not clear yet, Terra Battle is a complex game that’s almost forced through a simple interface.  There’s a lot to dig in to, but given its complexity and chance in recruiting characters, the level design is not steep or uniform.  It offers a consistently low bar for quite a while that does not challenge you to form unique or novel strategies.  You can certainly still do this, and it is rewarding, but you’re not going to be stopping very often and racking your brain for strategies to complete battles.  This may something that becomes more important further along in the game, but I can say that it’s not a large part of the experience for the first half-dozen zones – a time where the game should be carefully teaching and reinforcing its vocabulary.  There’s plenty to do and learn, but not a whole lot to motivate you to do so.

Ultimately, the game offers some great music, art, and interesting ideas.  And initially, at the price of free, there’s little to stop you from trying it out, but there’s not a whole lot that’s going to keep you around either.  I’m eager to unlock more challenging zones, and collect more characters, but I think Terra Battle would be a better game if it had a more focused experience.  This may be a trade-off for its business model, which would be unfortunate.  I’ve enjoyed my time with the game though, and I hope that continuing development on the title only improves its value.

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