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Link of Hearts (Android) artwork

Link of Hearts (Android) review

"Call it the best '2' you can play without rounding to '3'! Uh, that's not actual praise, is it?"

It's a lot easier to play Link of Hearts than it is to write about it. This is my third or fourth attempt to sum up the short Kemco JRPG, which was developed by World Wide Software. I'm now at the point where the only thing I can think to do is throw out a bunch of comments and opinions and hope it all somehow winds up making sense.

First, I should note that I'm a huge fan of the genre. And while Link of Hearts isn't particularly good, it at least does an adequate job of connecting the dots. I enjoyed myself while I played it. Combat is easy and dungeons are short and simple, which means the title worked well on nights when I was looking to relax after a mentally draining day at work. Is that a sign of quality, though, or just a sign that I'm going out of my way to find a way to compliment a game that doesn't actually deserve it?

I'd like to say it's the former of those things, but then I remember End of Aspiration. You see, Link of Hearts is my third exposure to the huge library of games that World Wide Software has developed on Kemco's behalf. My first encounter, Symphony of Eternity, was a lot of fun and showed real potential. It was challenging, but not frustrating, and offered an adventure spanning roughly 20 hours of play. For a cheap mobile game, that merits praise. End of Aspiration, on the other hand, was extremely short and felt like it was rushed out the door the minute the developers finished tending to the bare-bones essentials.

When I reached the end of Link of Hearts, I felt like I had just played through a somewhat more polished take on End of Aspiration. Both games are short, both start with two separate parties that merge to form one around the midway point and both rely on tiny, linear dungeons that are loaded with random encounters. The major difference between the two titles is that Link's battles utilize the first-person perspective popularized by Dragon Quest, rather than the old school side view traditionally featured in the likes of Final Fantasy.

The game begins by introducing the first of the aforementioned two groups, which currently occupies a small village. A young girl, Lily, wakes up from a dream in which the goddess of the planet warned of a future calamity. After a talk with the mischievous, adventure-loving Daichi, the heroes decide to see what they can do about the looming disaster. These early efforts quickly gain them an ally in the form of a sentient robot they name Mole. Meanwhile, in another land, the king and his shady adviser also fear a troubled future. They command an elite soldier named Mars to investigate, which he does with the help of the fan service-providing Venus. And there you have it. I've just described the "personalities" of the cardboard cutout characters in a single paragraph. Good for me!

Anyway, both groups soon go on their merry way. Circumstances demand that they eventually meet. By that point, they are all working to prevent a volcano from erupting violently and destroying the planet. To do so, you must guide them through dungeons so they can gain the means to fly to the island where the natural hazard resides. Then they realize that normal people aren't able to survive within a volcano, so they hit up more dungeons in search of gear that will let them block the intense heat, along with a device that could prevent the eruption. Naturally, there's opposition along the way; both the king's adviser and a mysterious robotic being frequently attempt to sabotage your efforts. It wouldn't be an RPG if everyone actually supported the heroes' attempts to save the world from catastrophe, now would it?

Working in the game's favor is a decent attempt at character customization. Every party member has a skill screen, and can equip new abilities as they gain levels and find scrolls in shops or treasure chests. Some skills link to others, imbuing them with additional might. Special attacks gain extra power, or healing spells target the entire party or add buffs. A player could conceivably spend a fair bit of time settling on combinations that maximize party effectiveness.

Alas, the game isn't actually tough enough to warrant such in-depth strategy. All you really need to do is get your healing spells to affect everyone and add a few buffs to your favorite special attacks and from there, you're unlikely to find anything that presents a challenge. The game isn't mindlessly easy, but if you execute even the most basic of strategies, you should reach the end without much trouble. Even bosses are more notable for their large health meters than they are their attacks. As long as you're able to chip away at them for a dozen or so rounds, you're good as gold.

Speaking of gold, you'll find that this game functions like most of Kemco's releases. There are in-app purchases, including extra characters, dungeons and game-breaking items. In a pleasant surprise, I was even able to easily figure out how to access that content. You receive 30 free points upon starting your quest, and from there earn more points when you kill large numbers of monsters. I was easily able to buy the first of two extra characters. Though I didn't purchase the second one, I have a pretty good idea who it is, since one prominent NPC mysteriously vanished from the game once the option to purchase another unknown character became available. If you want to experience all of the game's extra material, you'll have to spend real cash at some point, unless you have the patience to fight hundreds upon hundreds of random battles. At least there is the option to earn the virtual currency by playing, though.

What makes Link of Hearts tricky to review for an RPG addict like me is the way that it does something right to balance out virtually everything it does wrong. That tendency leads to new strengths and weaknesses. On one hand, short and linear dungeons are boring. On the other, you can stuff a lot of them into a short game, with the result feeling like a proper 20-hour game that has been condensed into a fast-paced adventure of 7 hours or so. And although the characters are one-dimensional tropes, their very lack of development allows some plot twists to come across as a greater surprise. You're expecting lazy storytelling by that point, so some moments feel more inspired than they probably are.

That all leads to this verdict: Link of Hearts is a decent RPG for RPG addicts on the go. The short quest with a relative lack of challenge suits the mobile platform well, and makes for a solid investment if you're a die-hard genre fan. It's not a great game, and it has more in common with the dregs of Kemco's library than it does any standout titles. But if you can snag it during one of the company's 99-cent sales, as I did, odds are fair that you'll have a good enough time with it to justify that expense.


overdrive's avatar
Staff review by Rob Hamilton (February 23, 2016)

Rob Hamilton is the official drunken master of review writing for Honestgamers.

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