Terra Battle is what you get when the creative director behind the Final Fantasy series takes on the mobile market. It’s creative, clever and stylish whilst also managing to be fun, something that many mobile titles forget when striving to stand out from the crowd. More importantly in has a longevity that will keep you playing for months if not years.
At its core Terra Battle is a puzzle game with the trappings of a Tactical RPG. Approaching battles with the right party and they can be a cake-walk with higher leveled characters devastating whole waves of monsters, but approach them blindly and you will have to think very carefully about every move you make. It puts the TACTICS into tactics in a ways that hasn’t been seen in a while. It’s worth stating that this review comes at a time when the game is still receiving regular updates to the initial formula and is yet to receive a functional multiplayer element. Promises from the developers and placeholders in-game show a PVP arena, messages, friends and other social features are expected soon. Recently consumable items were added to the game in the last week that enabled temporary boosts in experience and currency earned among other things.
Graphically the game appears simple with beautifully hand drawn two dimensional illustrations by some of the finest eastern talent. There’s a strong linking style that gives the game a distinctive sense of place and characters from different races are unique whilst being clearly linked as a group. Monsters are massively varied and the player is treated to a full art look at them every time one is killed, which is handy since in-battle we’re only given small thumbnails imposed onto square icons to interact with. The game could seem bland if the design elements weren’t so strong, being a simple grid and block setup, but markers, menus and maps are equally well constructed. Simplicity is key to making all of this work and the less-is-more mentality on display shows a fine guiding hand throughout.
Sound effects are original for the most part and strongly recognizable. Listening to a party member fall in battle and disappear makes you cringe because it has audible weight. The music is a high point of the games polished package and greatly adds to the professional feel of the overall product. Everything from the opening theme to the in-battle background music is distinctive and in-keeping with the world they are building.
Story isn’t something you tend to expect from a mobile puzzle/tactical hybrid but this game was created by the man who once famously said “I don’t think I have what it takes to make a good action game. I prefer telling stories.” Of course with so many characters available and a fully customizable party of six at all times it’s not easy to craft a tale about the individuals themselves. Instead focus is shifted on to the quest itself, with the party searching for the creator of their world. This will take them from their humble map deep into the bowls of the earth and beyond as they continually push ever forward. Descriptive text before and sometimes also after every battle helps to move the narrative forward at a fair rate, with the prose being flowery and leaving room for interpretation by the player. Characters and monsters also each have chunks of text fleshing out their backgrounds and nature, leading to players making an informed choice on who they want in their active party by individuals instead of purely by stats or special skills alone. Overall it’s a neat package, even if it’s not as densely plotted as some of his other works.
Gameplay is the meat of this title however, and it never disappoints. At its most basic the aim of the game is to clear multiple waves of enemies in a battle by flanking them from two sides. Damage is the then dealt with enough damage killing the foe. Survive and you clear the battle and unlock the next location on the map. Simple? Not so much when the enemy is moving around and attacking you right back. Luckily you can move you allies by sweeping one through another, with them stepping in the reverse direction to you own path, this allows for quick movement of multiple units. Special abilities on monsters shake up the formula, especially massive screen-filling bosses and characters have their own special powers that fire off based on a percentage chance every time they attack. Terrain on the grid also has a large role to play here and resets between rounds. Characters also support others by being in straight lines with those initiating an attack and fall into a rough class system based on elements and weapons with a rock-paper-scissors mechanic in place to support this.
You acquire some characters through defeating them in combat with every monster in the game a potential warrior for your forces and special events to take on powerful optional bosses in the hopes of recruiting them. More commonly you can randomly pull one from the pool by spending in-game currency or special energy to ensure a named character drops into your lap. These are always worthwhile because even if you get a double-up on these actions with an existing party member they instead receive a power boost, raising their level or the frequency at which their special attacks function. When characters reach a certain point it becomes harder to level them, but you can then promote them into a new form with new skills to learn that can be slotted into empty spaces in the skills menu to get the best out of each of the three forms each character has. These promotions are reliant on gathering the right items from fights and then spending in-game currency on them. If all this seems overwhelming it’s not so in-game, where lessons are learned in a fluid manner. On the outside it seems deceptively easy, but the depth of tactical options are amazing, and that’s without touching on the daily zones that open up to grind for items or exp based on the days of the week or the events the game runs.
In all it’s an attractive package, and with Mistwalker Studios promising to expand this free game based on a growing install base (with perks already laid out across a wide margin or installs that should see them busy for a few years before having to work out what to do next) there’s plenty of scope for growth. Daily login rewards prevent the need to spend a penny on the game and Mistwalker have been generous with what they dish out. Really there’s no way I can’t recommend everyone install this game immediately, it’s unlike anything I’ve ever played.