Most Card based RPGs are light on the RPG and heavy on the card game mechanics. Lost Portal bucks the trend in this regard by providing the player with a meaty RPG experience and world to explore.
Primarily the work of one man, Lost Portal was designed and developed by Mike Camilli, who commissioned artwork from a variety of talented artists and musicians in order to help bring his vision to life. At first glance the game appears to wear its inspiration from ‘Magic: The Gathering’ a little too plainly, but the longer a player sticks with the experience, the more he or she will come to realise that there’s a whole lot more going on here than a simple card game.
Graphically, Lost Portal looks great and this is largely the result of Camilli wisely purchasing a decent variety of 2D illustrative artwork in a number of styles from multiple artists. Whilst for many games this would be considered a weakness, Lost Portal uses an overworld and dark fantasy themes to tie everything together. When not in combat, the card-theme still prevails by the use of areas arranged using face-down cards that flip and clear as you explore, all the time accompanied by your avatar card, which moves around in real-time. This mixture of styles mashes together well, and the unifying style appears to be one of a dark, gothic tone. Buttons are easy to use and well placed around the screen, though some elements (such as the games shops) can take a little getting used to and could probably do with a tutorial the first time you experience them. Interestingly, the icons thrown up throughout the game, including its title, act as buttons to continue, which we’ve never seen done before.
Musically there are some good tracks on offer in Lost Portal, with the title screen having the distinct flavour of a high-budget Hans Zimmer movie score. A chorus building over driving orchestra to really hammer home some epic overtones before ringing out into silence. The combat music is a little less impressive, sounding like a track from ‘Disgaea’ but without the cheeky overtones, pulling battles from rousing conflicts into more slowly paced affairs. Sound effects are a little less impressive, fitting the scenario but feeling a little comical in their presentation, this feeling stands out particularly strongly when a horn announces combat, or when your card scampers around the screen with the sound of small pattering feet. Environments are largely conjured up through the use of ambient sounds, which work extremely well.
The story concerns the small fishing village of Boradir, which has been isolated from the rest of a larger Empire since the loss of its portal. This occurred in a period called ‘The Fall’ when the town was attacked by an Orc hoard and many of the townsfolk died. You begin your journey here as one of several avatar-characters who each comes with their own colour-themed deck, and begin to explore the world in an almost open-world style that sees you accepting quests from the characters you meet to unlock new locations and expand your horizons. The game is however slightly more directed than it first appears, and all instances of combat and encounters are one-time events, meaning that the general flow of the game is less random than one might expect.
Gameplay is firmly split between two styles. Exploration takes the form of working your avatar (in the form of a card) through an area that is largely obscured by face down cards. As you travel, line of sight reveals the background and these cards clear, sometimes leaving behind cards to collect and add to your deck, NPCs who can give quests or background information on the world, and shops in addition to exits to new areas. All of these locations are linked by a world map, which functions in a traditional menu-based style. The player character levels up with experience, adding to several base stats that have a slight (but not overwhelming) effect on combat, such as starting energy and the cap for cards in his/her deck, and can shuffle around the cards in said deck by winning, finding and buying more. Combat is the heart of the game, and at this point it sets itself up on a lane-based basis, with the player having 7 spaces into which to play characters and which need defending from enemy attack, as monsters that aren’t directly opposed will instead attack the player’s health directly. Additional energy is generated by playing differing ‘aeon’ colours (one a turn) which go to the grave but continue to generate energy every turn, eventually building up a stockpile that you can use to play monsters and spells with. This comes in Green, Red, Blue and Black varieties and your deck should match the type of aeon you have in abundance. Magic Items are played not onto monsters but onto spaces, meaning that any monster played on that space gains the bonus and adding an additional level of strategic depth, but most fights do come down to who gets the biggest monsters with the highest stats out first and unopposed to whittle down enemy HP. There are some additional tricks that the AI will throw at you, such as cycling damage dealing spells from the grave to play in a loop as long as they have the energy to cover the cost, that act as tutorials on how you can build your own deck, but the game overall is lacking is in-game explanations. This makes a visit to the games website or a read-through of the help files a necessity, even for long-time card players.
The persistent world is really something of a problem in higher difficulties, due to the nature of the game having a finite amount of monsters to kill, coins to find and experience to reap, losing in combat sees cash vanish from your coffers and ultimately there’s the chance that you’ll never afford the best cards on higher difficulties. A randomly generated arena or freeplay element where low-level monsters are generated to allow you to grind would solve this issue, but at this time I’d advise players to stick to Normal mode or below to get the most out of the title. It is however well worth the price of admittance and we strongly recommend that those who enjoy a little RPG in their card games check it out.