Erin is a game very much from the mind of one man, Daniel Franka (who kindly provides a video on the making of the title) who has guided much of the game’s content and it’s a master-class in RPG simplicity and old-school computer game beauty.
A word before we begin about the way in which Erin has been monetised. Players can download the game free of charge and are given the option to pay what they want after completing the game’s first 16 levels, which is a sizable chunk of play time. These purchase amounts range from £1.99 to £14.99 (a burger to a pizza in terms of takeaway!) and can be restored for use if the game has been deleted and reinstalled. It’s a generous system that lets people who only want to spend the minimum on their mobile games access the same content as those who want to pay for the value of their enjoyment. This should be applauded in the increasingly micro-transaction laden mobile environment of modern gaming.
Graphically, Erin is akin to the original ‘Prince of Persia’, ‘Flashback’ and original ‘Dune’ title for aging desktop computers. It uses a technique and look that implies that each frame has been painstakingly drawn over photographs of people and animals in motion which conveys a realistic element that belies the games pixel-art stylings. Backgrounds are similarly crafted in a beautiful, but stark manner, and nowhere is this more evident than in the title character herself, who is both beautiful to watch in motion and packed full of small humanising elements. The game opens with a low-resolution cutscene that in this day and age could have been handled in sharp HD, but instead angles for the era of the games design and produces a low-res and shrunken picture that still manages to convay the games tone and Erin’s flight. Layout is handled in portrait mode, which makes the game best suited to one handed play, with the top of the screen acting as the display and the base as touch-controls through various menus.
The sound of Erin is well played to give her more character. Footsteps sound gently as she moves from point to point on the map, but only fleetingly so as not to grow annoying, and as a level begins we can hear her panting as she runs. Attacks have a meaty impact that ranges from heavy damage to lighter, deliberately low-key smaller spells that strike fast but leave almost no damage. Musically the game uses several tracks to good effect, all heavy on synth and very reminiscent of older DOS based titles. It’s a strong package, but could possibly have benefitted from some orchestral work or more instruments in the synthetic mix to bring an epic film-score quality to the title that the environment they are conjuring inspires.
In terms of story, the game gives fairly little aside from the knowledge that you, as Erin are fleeing pursuit. The opening cinematic shows her scrambling through hedgerows and wading through water as she attempts to evade the shadow beasts that want to make her their latest meal, and when cornered she calls upon powerful elemental magic to defend herself. Her ultimate goal is to defeat Balor, a god of Blight who has destroyed her people, making her truly the last of her kind, and the game draws on fairytale mythology from Scotland and Celtic runes to tell its take. Atmosphere is key here, and her journey, which starts as a frantic run with little means to defend yourself before developing into an elemental powerhouse and starting to turn from prey to predator, is deftly handled with little by way of dialogue.
Gameplay is make or break for Erin, as there is a significant amount of style over substance, opting for design choices that are in keeping with the games world over ease of play. The world map is spread out across a vast area that is speckled with waypoints where you enter to play a level. Unlocking one opens the next and the game is largely linear with only a few alterations from the obvious path. Levels are an automated run from left to right that sees Erin stopped at certain points on her passage to deal with stray foes. Combat is turn based, and uses a timer much like Grandia to dictate the flow of battle. Erin has various spells that she can use to defeat her enemies, but they have differing strengths and casting times. Being hit before the action point (where you decide your action for the round) results in damage, whilst after it will both damage and knock you back, cancelling your selected attack. This works for both Erin and the monsters, meaning that choosing spell speed is crucial to victory. Juggling enemies up and down the line is quite easy, and a counter ticks up with successful play to strengthen spells, however these spells are input into the game using a series of runes which you must enter correctly (or go into a sub-menu to trigger automatically) and then complete an active input challenge similar to a Quick Time Event. This means you can’t take your eyes off the screen at all else risk messing up your flow and breaking the pattern of success. Later in the game you learn spells to capture monsters (one at a time) and these can be pulled into battle on your side to deal damage and soak up attacks. You can also scan monsters to add them to a collection book, collect items to use in battle (which are rarer than you might think) and perform a few other simple tasks. Equipment can be found and added to Erin to make her take or deal more/less damage, but the game does boil down to a series of runs of this kind. It’s also substantially harder to grind for exp than it is to push forward and try to get a bigger reward for completing a new area, which may put players in a funk off from continuing. The reliance on sub-menus to auto-cast but the keeping of the QTEs when doing this also makes life difficult sometimes. Over longer sessions the looping gameplay can be an issue, but in short bursts it shines, and players can save up to 3 concurrent runs through the game. Levelling up Erin also allows for specialisation of a particular element, adding a point to one of multiple pools, which gives some much-needed player customisation. In terms of additional DLC there is a pay-once and get an equippable item option that is worth doing in the games early stages, but leaving this too late into the game can make the action fruitless.
Erin is a hauntingly well put together package that has an interesting purchase system and a generous free demo for players to decide if they like the games mechanics or not before they buy. Whilst the gameplay can at times feel repetitive, it works very well in short bursts of one or two runs and provides an immense amount of content for such a small package size, because of this it won’t be for everyone. Importantly however, there’s an atmosphere to Erin that really draws the player in, and gives a simple running sprite all the personality and character of a high-budget movie. We recommend you download and test Erin out for yourself today.