Pocket RPG - Review  

Pocket-Sized Ideas
by Michael A Cunningham

Less than 20 Hours
+ Quick stages
+ Three unique classes
+ Dual stick combat easy to manage
- Levels & weapons don't carry over
- Level design is a little too simple
- Presentation is lacking
Click here for scoring definitions 

   Pocket RPG was initially a small, inexpensive title for mobile, but has now made the shift to Vita. This new version doesn't have any in-app purchases or other trappings that are often associated with mobile games. There are still design choices from the original game that are in place here that might not appeal to some. It's not that these features are inherently negative, but they add up to an odd experience.

   The adventure begins by selecting one of three classes with which to battle through sets of randomly generated dungeons. Players get to choose from the bow wielding Dark Ranger, magical Battle Mage, and dual wielding Blade Master. Each handle differently enough that it would benefit players to try each to see which is a good fit, though the core gameplay is the same regardless. The control layout is a twin stick setup where the left stick handles movement and the right is used to attack. Some of the Blade Master's special melee attacks require the X button, but that's about all. The game controls aiming as long as the attack stick is pressed in the appropriate direction. It's a fantastic system, especially for the Dark Hunter, who best takes advantage of it with his bow. The supporting elements of Pocket RPG are the questionable ones.

Hittin' from a distance! Hittin' from a distance!

   In each stage, characters find weapons and accessories much like a standard third-person looter. What's different is that at the end of each stage players lose all of their loot and start over with no items in the next stage. Characters also revert back to level one at the start of a new area, but are given the chance to purchase perks between stages. These perks could be a boost in the strength of healing potions or new combat skills. The healing potion boost is helpful, because the game doesn't offer any sort of healing spells, so players will need to find and make use of potion drops to stay healthy. Thankfully, when leveling up, characters are boosted back to full health, and this happens often enough to be a life saver.

   While character don't actually progress via persistent levels, they do grow and improve as the game goes along. As for loot, players get to train to use certain weapons which means those will be added to future loot drop tables randomly through levels. It's an odd system, but it works well enough to be functional. That said, it also means that it is hard to develop any sort of attachment to any of Pocket RPG's characters.

   That's likely for the best, as the game's story is also rather nonexistent. There's a short blurb detailing what sort of theme the next area has, but it's all completely superficial. Areas are just collections of corridors that lead to more enemies and more miscellany to smash for loot. There's typically a mid-boss and final boss for each area, both of which are generally damage sponges with a few special moves and lots of smaller foes around it. Boss fights do require more strategy than normal battles, but are still easily manageable. The entire game follows this pattern, simply adding more powerful enemies as it goes along. There are a couple memorable level traps, but they are too few to make much of an impact.

Shirtless smash! Shirtless smash!

   Pocket RPG's art style and music are both as lacking as the game's story. The character designs are interesting, but monsters are lacking in style and variety. It doesn't hinder the gameplay experience much, but it doesn't help the game stand out at all. There are also a few typos in what little dialogue there is in the game. Again, it's nothing crushing, but it was noticeable. The overall presentation might not be a problem if players are having fun, but it will likely be a deterrent that keeps many away.

   The most painful aspect of Pocket RPG is the fact that the developers were clearly onto something with this game's design. It's fun to actually get into combat and smash enemies, with the Dark Ranger being the clear highlight. It's just sad that the rest of the package isn't up to the same level of quality as the combat. Restarting at level one each time and losing all loot works within the confines of the game, but makes everything feel like a wash after one level. With some tweaks and polish, I think Tasty Poison Games could really do something special with this format, but it's not quite there yet.

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