The free-to-play sector is packed to the brim with straightforward match three puzzle titles, but Sony’s first foray into the microtransaction laden market is anything but accessible. While popular products such as Candy Crush Saga and Temple Run 2 rely on easy to communicate gameplay systems, it’ll take you at least a couple of hours to wrap your head around Lumines developer Q Entertainment’s latest PlayStation Vita release, Destiny of Spirits. With the application itself a complimentary download, though, is this role-playing game worth the initial time investment required?
As is common for titles of this type, the spiritual outing’s story is superfluous at best. It centres on an ethereal realm which has been corrupted by all of the sins that mankind commits. It’s not developed enough to be particularly religious, but there is probably a moral there if you look for it, with your overarching objective being to right the wrongs of your kin. As a master of this supernatural kingdom, you’re able to summon some of the remaining pure beings to fight for your cause, creating a party of mythical monsters to free the globe from the darkness that permeates it. It’s a predictable premise, then, but one that provides structure to your actions.
The gameplay itself works a little like Top Trumps – or any old-school turn-based RPG for that matter. Each of the Spirits that you summon has a specific element attached to it – Wood, Earth, Water, Fire, and Metal – which has both a designated strength and weakness. Combat is operated automatically courtesy of countdown timers, but you have control over both your target and Spirit Skills, which charge as you play. Striking an adversary that has a susceptibility to your unworldly ogre’s primary property will give your attacks an advantage, meaning that you’re more likely to emerge from the battle victorious.
You’ll need to complete multiple fights per area to clear them and accrue general player improvements – such as an increased party cost allowance and expanded friend list – while also working your way to the zone boss. You start out from your real world location, and work outwards to liberate the planet from its malaise. Your starting place will also influence the type of creatures that you can both hunt or summon, meaning that you’ll either need to take the title on your travels, or befriend some helpful overseas players in order to actually – as the old saying goes – catch them all.
Rather than gain experience points for each skirmish that you succeed in, you’ll instead need to merge your creatures to improve their statistics. Combining critters of the same element type awards you with boosts, so you’ll need to think carefully if you want to get the most out of your resources. Divine deities are obtained by trading with friends, winning battles, or spending Summoning Stones. These are obtained as you play, and are handed out as rewards for purifying Spirits and loaning out your party to fellow players while you’re away from the game. Are you keeping up?
Renting the support of sacred beings that you don’t own is pivotal to your success. Not only does this allow you to enhance your squad with specific critters, but if you’re friends with your kind benefactor, you’ll also obtain access to Support Skills, which can ultimately transform an agreeable party into an utterly devastating one. You’ll need to stump up Spirit Points for the privilege of this aggressive advantage, but these spherical cents are so plentiful that you’ll almost always feel comfortable stumping up the virtual cash. Sadly, you’re less likely to feel that way about the Destiny Orbs, which represent the release’s real payment model.
While you’ll earn some of these at the start of the game and through consecutive logins, you’ll ultimately need to pay for them in packs from the PlayStation Store if you want to get the most out of the title. It’s worth stressing that you’ll never truly need to pay a penny, but doing so will not only accelerate your progress, but also provide you with access to the best Spirits. For example, while you can summon new creatures with the abovementioned Summoning Stones, using Destiny Orbs will allow you to perform an Advanced Summon, improving the quality of your character drop. You can also expand your friends list and party size with the costly accoutrements.
The most frustrating of all, though, is the way in which you’ll need to cash out in order to revive your party. Misjudge a battle and you’ll need to wait 15 minutes before your character revives – or cough up some orange spheres in order to try again immediately. It’s a common mechanic in a microtransaction obsessed world, but it’s no less frustrating. The arcade age taught us to insert a quarter each time that we encountered a ‘Game Over’ screen, but consoles have gotten better at putting us straight back into the action once we make a mistake. Having to wait for your best beast to return is the release’s greatest irritation.
It’s not helped by the fact that you’ll also need your party to regenerate their health, too. You’ll be able to use any fallen critters once the 15 minute revival period has expired, but it’ll take longer for their entire life bar to replenish, as all of your Spirits will obtain health every five minutes. This is less noticeable between battles as you’ll likely be swapping characters in and out, while also spending significant spans of time micromanaging your party – but it’s really irritating when you want to take out a boss and you’re forced to wait. Of course, it’s all designed to prompt you to pump real money into the release, and it’s successful in that regard. You’ll need patience to play for free, though.
However, assuming that you can stomach the additional expenditure, the title is quite moreish. Sluggish menus and an always online requirement hurt its portability a little, but it’s a great game to play as a side distraction, as it doesn’t require your full attention a lot of the time. That’s not to say that the gameplay isn’t engaging, it’s just simple enough once you’ve wrapped your head around the initial learning curve to keep you tapping away at the screen, building the ultimate party of magical monsters. It’s one of those titles that will consume a lot of your time if you allow it to.
And part of that’s facilitated by the title’s service-like approach. The platform holder’s promising regular time limited promotions, in which you’ll be able to accrue super rare critters, and that provides the encouragement to keep you coming back. Chain your logins and you’ll also garner in-game bonuses, which are displayed upfront each time that you play so that you know exactly what’s coming up next. It’s constantly dangling a carrot in front of you to keep playing – and as a consequence, casually steering you towards purchasing a pack of the abovementioned Destiny Orbs from the PlayStation Store.
Whether or not you opt to spend money on it, though, the presentation remains fairly pleasant throughout. The menus can be a little convoluted, but the artwork employed to distinguish the actual characters is likeable, while the jubilant Celtic music fits the old fashioned fantasy theme. It’s not exactly pushing Sony’s pocketable platform from a pure hardware perspective, but it is putting a fair bit of strain on the system’s connectivity features, which is perhaps responsible for the release’s rather shaky maintenance sessions so far. Extended periods of downtime have prompted the moderators to offer some apologetic awards, so hopefully things stabilise from here on out.
Destiny of Spirits is less inviting than a longform Biblical analysis at first, but the game gradually gets its hooks into you once you traverse its steep learning curve. A divine art style and heavenly soundtrack augment the outing with some presentational personality, though the time-based microtransaction model will irritate impatient players. There’s an entertaining experience sitting behind this title’s multitude of currencies and menus, but much like religious studies, it won’t appeal to everyone.