An enjoyable shift in Social RPGs in recent months has been a growing trend in putting the focus on storytelling. Earlier this year we were pleasantly surprised with the amount of inter-character sequences in Dissidia’s mobile outing from Square Enix, Nintendo has managed to finally give ‘Fire Emblem: Heroes’ a compelling arc with its second chapter, and now we have Sdorica Sunset to add to the list of genuinely interesting narratives.
Unlike the other two titles mentioned above however, Sdorica isn’t a meshing of multiple RPG characters into a shared setting and instead weaves its own original story. Weaving political themes, amusing characters and action sequences with a deftness that’s usually reserved for non-freemium titles.
Graphically, Sdorica Sunset is a mightily impressive title that utilises the visual aesthetic of a children’s story book that’s packed with paint-like textures and fluid animation. Locations are depicted in a side-scrolling perspective and feature multiple levels of parallax scrolling that give depth of field and allow the fantasy world’s limited exploration to feel much broader in scope. Characters themselves are the highlight however, with vividly defined characteristics that showcase interesting details and personal traits in how they walk, stand and fight. There are a lot of menus to plod through at times, but these are kept largely distanced from actual missions and can be quickly navigated once you’ve worked out what everything actually does.
Music is well implemented, though the game lacks a main theme with which to define itself and build an identity. The themes played are generally upbeat in nature and transition smoothly without being massively memorable, fading into the background of events. The games does feature some examples of Japanese voice acting, which whilst untranslated does give scenes a good flow, and sound effects are well directed throughout.
The narrative of the game follows a chapter based format reminiscent of a novel and focuses on different parties of characters in different formations as each individual character moves through the fantasy worlds they inhabit on their own personal journeys. This means that whilst initially you’ll be following the exploits of a princess and her guardians on a political mission to the kingdom of the bear people (yes really) you’ll soon be swapping out characters and seeing what else is going on in the capital city or the plains beyond it. This more adult format of storytelling allows for strong writing and deeper characters than shown in most Social RPGs, putting a strong focus on the game’s story. The writing and characterisation is strongly scripted and pulls the player into the linear world in a way that’s deeply enjoyable.
Gameplay is deceivingly simple. Selecting a mission from a menu based hub you’ll embark on a linear run left to right with your squad of three characters. Sometimes the plot will dictate who is on hand to act, whilst on other occasions you’ll be allowed to bring along a party of your choosing made up of one made, one mid-range and one melee character from the games pool of options. Holding the left and right hand sides of the screen makes your party run in that direction, and you can tab through dialogue with a finger to the screen at any time. Monsters are arranged across the length of the path and you’ll stop and have to engage them as you find them. Battles use a small grid and colour matching mechanic with you able to tap 1,2 and 4 embers at a time to trigger one of three attacks each corresponding character possesses. Monsters have an interesting variety of special rules and the slight size of the grid makes these short and tactical affairs that stay interesting throughout. Enemies will count down moves until they attack, asking you to focus on prioritising your targets. Additional options come in the form of a support character that can be used on a cooldown from both your own selection of party members and those of a guild you’ve joined. Missions come in a variety of flavours (escort, survival, etc) but really revolve around the same basic right to left concept at their core. Social elements come from Guild membership and taking part in larger events across multiple weeks in real-time, with daily events scheduled for item grinding. Smaller sub-stories told for limited periods of time are also available to beef up rarer characters or use those not yet drafted into the main campaign’s tale. All of the usual gattcha systems are in place here, though at launch the character selection isn’t so massive as to prevent anyone gathering a full set, but access to premium currency does slow down after the initial new-player rush period.
As a narrative driven experience, Sdorica is an attractive package, however the gameplay does hang on freemium conventions and the speed of storytelling could slow dramatically in order to pad the experience past the initially released chapters. If you’re willing to give the game the benefit of the doubt, it makes for a visually attractive and well written package. It’s true however that the gameplay loop does become repetative quite quickly. As a free title, we recommend you give it a download and test the waters for yourself.