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Review: Gashapon Gambling Mega Bundle

This is a bit of an untraditional review. Since a bundle of games I’m interested in are too small to be reviewed individually, I’ll be reviewing 4 mobile games of the same genre. The games I’ll be reviewing here are Fate/Grand Order, Fire Emblem Heroes, Food Fantasy, and Darkness Rises. Additionally, this serves as a sort of a tie in for our September meeting of Video Game Scholarly Interest Group where we’ll be talking about currency in games, including these games (and a couple more not mentioned here).

Genre: Gacha/Freemium Mobile Games

A quick summary of Gacha games is necessary here as a backdrop to the reviews to come. Gacha games are called such because of the presence of gashapon gambling. This term is a Japanese onomatopoeia for the sound that the crank of a toy machine would make when it dispensed a random toy in a capsule. The genre consists of games that sometimes have rich story and enjoyable gameplay but are ultimately infamous for being shallow games without much to them besides gambling and being an excellent example of conspicuous consumption. In these games a majority of profit comes from the very small minority of players who each spend thousands on these random draws, and these players are called “whales.”

Also of note: “Freemium” is a portmanteau of “free” and “premium” as all of these games are free but also offer in-app purchases that typically end up totaling over what any given non-free app may charge to buy it up front. Free “premium” content. As such, in the recommendation of each of these reviews has the “wait for a sale” option crossed out since free is basically already on sale.

Title 1: Fate/Grand Order

By: Delightworks (developer), Aniplex (publisher)

Producer: Atsuhiro Iwakami

Grade: A-

In a Nutshell: Fate/Grand Order is tie-in game for the anime and game series Fate that brings together characters from every iteration of this transmedia universe. In short, you are a mage who summons legendary (frequently gender-bent to make male heroes into sexy women because it’s anime) heroes from the past to help you time travel to and resolve “singularities” that would drastically mess with time as a whole.

The Critique: This is one of the most (in)famous gacha games as it has one of the most reported on whales: a man who spent roughly 70,000 USD to get enough copies of his favorite servant to max out her stats. This game is pretty bad in a few ways, but they’re mostly not gameplay related. For example, there is what I’ve come to call the process of “thot-i-fication”: the game slowly takes away clothes from almost all of the female servants (including the children) as you level them up to certain milestones whereas the male servants mostly gain clothes. If the presence of one (pretty rare) loli-type character is a deal-breaker for you, then this isn’t for you. However, that part is pretty easily avoidable. That, along with a number of weird and creepy flirty side quest dialogue sets, is largely skippable and not very relevant to the core game.

However, this game is very free-user friendly. While it’s in-game currency is more expensive than most with what amounts to a single 10-unit batch gacha pull being roughly 20 dollars, it is easy and fun to play this game without spending a dollar. The game doesn’t push you to purchase in-game currency at every screen like others in this genre are notorious for doing.

It’s fun because it has a good combat system. That’s a bit of a cop-out as far as explanations go, but it’s a bit hard to explain succinctly, so check out the game’s explanation if you want details: https://bit.ly/2wUs3HH .

Buy it Now, Wait for a Sale, or Just Watch a LetsPlay: Whether you’re playing for the Fate tie-in story, just for the waifu’s, or just to have a game with a fun combat mechanic to play in your spare time, check it out and see if you enjoy it.

Title 2: Fire Emblem Heroes

By: Intelligent Systems and Nintendo EPD (developer)

Producers: Masahiro Higuchi; Yu Sasaki; Hideki Konno.

Grade: B

In a Nutshell: Fire Emblem Heroes is also a mobile game tie-in to a larger transmedia world. This game features collecting heroes from the games and comics of the world(s) of Fire Emblem. You are a summoner who uses their bow to summon heroes in your mission to defend the welfare of the many different worlds of the Fire Emblem multiverse from a rival faction that is bent on corrupting or destroying as many realities as possible by controlling the minds of the characters we know and love.

The Critique: The gameplay has been slammed for not being as deep or complex as the previous Fire Emblem games. While this gameplay certainly isn’t the same thing as the deeper strategic play from the previous handheld titles, it is basically a simplified version that is friendly to newcomers and brutal for those who really want a challenge. While simplified in comparison, this is much more strategic than most games of this genre and will make you really think at the higher levels. For those that want to go deep into it, you can create a perfect character by pulling a good character then inheriting the skills and weapons of other characters onto whichever you’d like.

This game is also friendly for free users. While it’s easy to be tempted to do more gacha pulls, they have instituted a couple systems that make it a little less predatory: if you’re not getting any rare units for a long enough time, the rates for pulling higher quality units actually go up so that you’re not burning in-game currency for nothing. With a huge number of quests available that give currency after beating them on each of three difficulties and with more quests being released on a regular basis, it’s easy to get enough currency to build an impressive collection of units without spending a cent.

Small note, this game is less egregious with the hypersexualization, but this is something Fire Emblem has always been a bit guilty of as long as they’ve existed. However, at this point, it’s fair to expect most games have the weirdly exposed female armor that is somehow so normal.

Buy it Now, Wait for a Sale, or Just Watch a LetsPlay: It’s great for burning free time if you’re waiting for something but don’t have enough time to do anything else but still don’t want to just sit there doing nothing. Give it a try if you want a free game that’ll make you think a bit more than most.

Title 3: Food Fantasy

By: Elex (developer), Funtoy Games (publisher)

Grade: C+

In a Nutshell: The story is non-sense: you are the “master attendant” who uses food personified (food-souls) to fight of an invasion of “fallen angels” (personifications of usually unpleasant food-related things) while you also run and staff a restaurant for which you’re constantly developing and upgrading (non-personified) food to serve. Confused? Me too. Don’t worry, that doesn’t matter.

The Critique: I have no idea why I love this game. I downloaded it because friend recommended it because she thought it was funny and I like food. While the combat system is forgettable, it does have some interesting mechanics: food-souls’ powers are unlocked by bringing them into battle with logical food pairings. For example, for Black Tea and Milk to get their ultimate abilities, they have to go into battle together. This also goes for Coffee (with Milk) and Chocolate (with Coffee).

The game doesn’t thrive for its combat though. It lives and dies on its characters. They have one-dimensional characters developed for each food, and let me tell you, the one or two voice lines they have will be cool twice and then will begin to bother you as they repeat them over and over. That said, I do like having a suave manifestation of Chocolate greet me when I log in. I am weak.

The majority of this game is managing timers and cooldowns. Various aspects of the restaurant need to be set and refreshed at regular intervals to keep money coming in so you can fund powering up the pets the food-souls use; you can farm the pets every day twice a day to keep getting material to upgrade them; and of course there is stamina that limits how many things you can do at any given time. If you’re thinking that sounds tedious, you’re right. I have no idea why I enjoy and regularly play this.

Also of note: there’s a surprisingly cool community of players for this game on a few message boards.

Buy it Now, Wait for a Sale, or Just Watch a LetsPlay: If you enjoy this type cooldown/timer management of thing, and especially if you have a soft spot for food and like the idea of food personified, this might be for you. Otherwise it’s a forgettable gacha. Probably just don’t download it.

Title 4: Darkness Rises

By: Nexon (publisher)

Grade: D- (It will become clear that I sort of strongly dislike this game.)

In a Nutshell: You’re one of four classes: Knight, Mage, Berserker, or Assassin. The kingdom is under siege by orcs and goblins and dark forces, and you happen to be there with a sword(or)staff(or)axe(or)daggers. You fight (aka, smash “hit” button), then you learn how to mind control some of the monsters you kill, and then you save someone important who is imbedded with a dark crystal at the last moment so then you fight to figure out how to fix that, and then {fill in the blank} so then you fight to fix that . . . .so on and so forth. Fight, cutscene, fight, repeat.

The Critique: For a game that frequently brags of a “deep story,” it’s forgettable and bland. It’s as if you pulped a bunch of other stories of a similar setting and this is what was left after you threw away most of that pulp. I hope you like super manly men and hypersexualized women fighting the forces of evil because that’s literally all this is.

If it didn’t brag about the “deep story”, I would have thought it wasn’t the point because nothing really points towards that being the main thing as there are more prominent features to brag about. The game is beautiful for a mobile game. That is the main draw. It’s just a hack and slash game where you tap a button and watch violence happen. It looks uncommonly good for a mobile game (that means it’s a HUGE download, but still) and I’ll admit I was wowed by that at first until I realized how bored I was playing it. You would think that the combat would be fun because of that, but nope. It hands you so much stuff initially that you can pull a good weapon and upgrade it to the point that you’re so powerful that the first several chapters just have bosses that die with one special move until suddenly they don’t. When things suddenly don’t die immediately, it expects you to have learned to fight as if you had weapons that were properly proportionally scaled to the previous levels, but nope. So when you have to face any real challenge, you’re hard pressed to very quickly figure out what you were supposed to slowly pick up as you fought through the previous levels instead of setting it on auto and watching everything die with nothing more from you than a mean look.

But wait, there’s a multiplayer. Maybe that’s where the combat is good! Nope. The 1v1 combat is one of the most obvious instances of how this game is centered towards making you feel bad if you don’t have the best gear so that you’ll buy currency to gacha until you’re so powerful that you win. In the matches I played, I either won easily to people who didn’t bother to equip new gear at all or I was stomped by someone wearing sunglasses, colorful armor, and using a swordfish on a stick as axe.

That said, this game is unique as it is one of the rarer “weapon gachas” that allow you to personalize a character then gacha pull weapons and armor to use on your personalized avatar as opposed to being either a mostly invisible mysterious hooded figure (a la Fire Emblem Heroes) or a bland fill-in (a la Fate/Grand Order). I like the idea of this system, allowing the unique and weird dynamics of character/avatar identification to mix with conspicuous consumption in a new and interesting way.

This game, instead, is a let down that has the most egregious “BUY CURRENCY” set up I’ve ever seen. I wish I was exaggerating when I say that switching between any tab pops up an ad for a currency and armor bundle literally every time. When they give you a free gacha, they delay the ad long enough for you navigate to the free draw and then pop the ad up with the buy button over the exact spot where the free draw button was located. Several times this specific screen has triggered Apple to ask me to confirm a purchase 20-40 dollar purchase I didn’t want (that I quickly declined).

Buy it Now, Wait for a Sale, or Just Watch a LetsPlay: If you really need a pretty looking hack and slash mobile game, go for it. If not, stay far away from this exemplar of the negative gacha stereotype.

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