Social RPGs don’t get any more social than Unison League. It’s one step away from being an MMORPG in many ways. Developed by the studio Perfect Game, it’s an extremely streamlined game of battling, loot collection and playing dress up with your avatar.
Social RPGs have a tendency to be largely single player experiences that lean heavily on inviting friends to play from sources such as Facebook, allowing you to share the experience to a small degree with combat assists and item gifting. Unison League does away with this concept and focuses instead on the ideology that you meet and invite friends through playing the game itself, which manages to produce a solid sense of community and quickly builds a rosta of allies to call upon in a pinch, but the interaction with other players doesn’t stop when your friends list is full. Players in the same area at the same time are grouped automatically, effectively removing the single player aspect altogether without the player noticing.
Graphically, Unison League goes for a charming 2D cartoon style that’s a lighter form of Manga in many ways but has some Western comic leanings. Whilst initially this style may seem bland, it’s the bedrock upon which both a wide range of backgrounds and locations are built to show you a bright fantasy world, and the base upon which the games hook will begin to sink into you. Your bland starting character (which you can customize to a degree in terms of hair, sex, eye colour, etc) quickly gathers a wealth of items and equipment that when used alters the appearance of him/her in such a way to make the dress-up aspect of this title as appealing as its combat. There are thousands of items and millions of permutations, all ready and waiting to be discovered and each lovingly illustrated in that same 2D style. Menus are easy to navigate and self-explanatory at a glance, meaning that whilst the game has depth and sub-systems to spare, you’ll never be confused. An added bonus is that these are easy to use with a finger, even on older/smaller screens.
In terms of audio, Unison League uses some very ’90s Anime’ inspired sound effects that add a sense of over-the-top madness to battles but can be quite distracting at times. Combat never feels too overwhelming in an aural capacity, but when things heat up you’ll hear a lot of effects firing off in close succession. Musically the game targets an early PlayStation tone with more traditional fantasy themes propped up with electric guitar when things need to sound more exciting. There’s not really a stand-out track here, but nothing will drive you to flip the mute switch.
The games narrative is a little weak, but as social RPGs go it does at least try to build an interesting single-player campaign around and endless grind of combat quests and item fusing. After creating your avatar the game addressed the player directly, confirming that this is your ‘true self’ and asking for your help defending their world. Your then thrown into the thick of a battle with the games main companion and NPC, Filo who serves as both a plot element and tutor. You’ll get closely involved with the local militia, royalty and travelling warriors as the games story gently progresses in a mirror to the pattern seen in most light anime.
The games’ namesake comes from its battle mechanics. Combat takes the form of a real-time event across multiple waves of foes (usually three to five) with your moves easily displayed at the bottom of the screen. Each when tapped triggers instantly and has its own cool-down, making things feel a little like an ATB system. The game mixes things up by having each class have moves that you can master and slot into the five spaces for battle, and classes have further specialist classes that teach more powerful moves on top of this. As you fight a Unison Gauge builds that when complete can be triggered to use a high-powered Unison Attack. This is where the party around you really come into play, which consists of either AI bots or real-life players in the same area at the same time as you, playing and seeing what you do. These other players can also slam their Unison buttons to join in on the attack and rank up exceedingly powerful chains that flattens most enemies. Your unison move is based on the type of monster you have equipped, with expanding space for tougher and different kinds of monsters to make space for tactics such as elemental decisions. Winning a battle lands you loot, monsters and currency with which to play in a random draw to get more items and equipment. Ultimately you’ll be grinding to gain loot which you then either keep or turn into fusion material for leveling the weapons and gear you’ve decided to stick with. Everything in this game can be levelled and evolved into more powerful version of its original form, making for quite an impressive grind. Luckily you don’t have to trade in that low-level leather jacket you like on your character for a garish level 100 feather coat because you can choose what to equip and what to visually display individually. Points can be awarded to players who have helped you in a battle and a ‘man of the match’ style award further boosts this, large friend lists and the ability to chat to those around you both through on-screen smilies and typed messages help to build a friendly community. You can even drop into missions being run specifically by allies you’ve met before if you want to help them out. There’s a scavenger hunt that you send a cute animal companion off on each day for additional items, in addition to regularly run events and special limited edition items. The campaign itself is exceedingly long with regular plot interludes and side quests (optional but good for grinding) that will keep you entertained for a very long time. Ultimately the game breaks down into doing regular activities just to see your avatar grow and evolve, both in skills and what/how many items he/she can equip. This is a surprisingly satisfying sense of achievement in a title that’s largely based around player interaction.
Overall, Unison League is a fantastic little game with excellent production values and a truly interesting hook in terms of gameplay. It’s just a shame that multiple days into it you’ll still be doing the same types of quests and not seeing any new content past items and locations. As a free game however, you owe it to yourself to check out this wonderful cooperative experience.