It’s possibly a little late to be mentioning Order of Souls since the developer has just pulled support for the title and announced that they don’t intend to run any more special events for the game, but as free to play iPhone RPGs go this one is something a little different.
For starters it’s all about player choice within a linear story. This might sound odd but what it amounts to is a kind of map that the game lays out in front of you with your awareness that there’s a fork in the story coming up soon and you’ll have to make a choice. Some clearly run directly into a narrative dead end, but might gift you with items otherwise unattainable and precious experience before you have to replay the original mission and make the correct all. Others simply present the same mission in a new light based on what you do or do not do. Graphically the game uses hand rendered artwork for 2D illustrations used for characters, monsters, backgrounds and cutscenes. Everything else is created in the menu system, which employs a blue futuristic style overlaid on black backgrounds that gives a stark and serious tone to the game. The artwork is very nicely drawn and has a painted style to it, though it is never animated other than to move static images around for scenes, making things appear a little lifeless. The futuristic design on display for characters and world setting are very well done, portraying a serious and bleak setting where technology has accelerated past anything we possess but where crime is rampant.
Sound and music make up a large part of the games atmosphere, although neither does much to stand out they both perform a competent job. As can be expected the game uses a lot of menu clicks and tones in order to navigate and confirm choices, which can become annoying over an extended play session. Tonally the game uses low and brooding musical pieces to set the scene and project the mood that the developers want you to experience. Some cutscenes have sound effects I’ve not seen re-used, making them feel more cinematic and carefully crafted. The story of Order of Souls sees you put into the shoes of a nameless hero or heroine and features a pre-game choice of class between Warrior, Mage and Priest with Rogue as an optional unlockable class. In this future it has become possible to graft Souls into living people, meaning that the departed’s experience and skills can be handed over to a new generation. You complete training and are pushed out into a mission at a robot factory where hackers have turned the stock homicidal and hostages have been taken. Partnered with an experienced officer who tells you to guard the entrance before she takes off, everything that follows is up to you. The game puts a lot of value onto your choices in missions and alters scenarios to best suit them. Some are very straight forward whilst others can have multiple branching paths to pick from. Each can be replayed to keep the plot moving along at a reasonable pace and multiple branches explored simultaneously. I was very impressed with this level of story design for a freemium title and aside from the purchasing of a Rogue (who comes with a fourth party slot and a new soul to learn from) the game does very little to push its pay to play strategy into your face. This allows the story and the quality of the writing to shine.
Gameplay is secondary to the plot and its implementation, but the mission structure encourages exploration from the story map, allowing you to quickly replay missions you have already completed at an easy, medium and hard difficulty setting and make different choices as you do. Visually the story is a series of icons spread over chapters so it is very easy to read and missions themselves consist entirely of cutscenes and combat. Cutscenes use dialogue and static artwork to tell the story and throw decisions at you regularly enough to keep your attention pinned to the game. Combat at turn based and works by allowing you three (four with purchase of a Rogue) characters, one of whom can act in a turn. Enemies and characters alike build action points which pay for attacks, and juggling attacking, waiting for points and healing between your party is a fun system. The game also allows you to use items for free and provides six slots for character attacks and actions. These are learned from Souls, which level as your characters do and unlock new things to try out. There’s a Pokémon-like joy to finding and exploiting Souls that works to the games favour and helps it to stand out from the crowd. Additional systems for researching items and fabricating them sit alongside building up points to pull a new Soul for free from a random pool. It’s an interesting fusion of traditional JRPG gameplay with more recent mobile systems. Overall the Order of Souls is a fun game to spend some time with that manages to keep your attention throughout its play length but may be deleted shortly after you complete the story mode. It is dependent on being connected to the internet to run due to its PVP and server based content, which is something of a sin when the story is the main attraction. It also runs with black borders on newer phones that hints at a lack of recent support. Let’s just hope that Silverdice decide to spend a little time tweaking this game in the future.