Asdivine Hearts (Android) review
"Possibly as close to legitimately good as Kemco can get."
Over the last few years, Kemco's strategy has been to keep its four development teams working in concert, so that a new RPG can arrive on the mobile marketplace roughly every month or two. This tight schedule, as I've mentioned when reviewing previous games from the publisher, encourages the various teams to recycle monster designs, dungeon tiles and various gameplay mechanics. Each new offering from any one of the individual groups tends to feel somewhat similar to the one that came just before it.
Exe-Create, one of the four teams in the rotation, has been especially quick to recycle assets. On a purely technical level, the team tends to deliver some of the best experiences that Kemco publishes. Titles regularly feature animated monsters and sometimes even three-dimensional battles, rather than simply mimicking the limited viewpoints and design elements common to Final Fantasy, Dragon Quest and Breath of Fire games from the SNES era. Exe-Create also is the most prolific of the teams, and responsible for six of the publisher's eight games released in 2016. That works out to a lot of decent but not great games that could leave some frequent players wondering if they aren't just playing through the same adventure on repeat.
With that said, if I were to recommend any one Exe-Create game to players who are interested in trying one of the developer's mobile RPGs, it would be Asdivine Hearts. I consider the title the pinnacle of the team's work with Kemco, better than anything that preceded it, and arguably superior to any subsequent efforts. Part of me wishes that I'd played it before working my way through Alphadia Genesis and Fanatic Earth, since those other titles repeated a number of this game's more memorable qualities and that may have blunted my enjoyment here.
Perhaps the neatest thing about Asdivine Hearts is that, for once, a Kemco team seemed to want to create more than just another short, disposable RPG. I spent 35 hours getting through the robust main quest, and that's not even counting the time I devoted to the usual post-game activities that led to the true final boss. There also are numerous side quests to clear along the way, a couple arenas, relationship meters that you can fill to experience multiple endings, monster-slaying jobs to undertake and so forth. Alphadia Genesis showed me that Exe-Create aspires to go above and beyond "typical Kemco", but the team came a lot closer to realizing those ambitions here.
A good portion of that success is thanks to the plot, but I can't say much about it without potentially spoiling things. The general setup is that Zack, the main character, lives at an orphanage with a number of other young acquaintances, including long-time pal Stella. The game opens as the pair of young heroes are preparing to release a recuperated wildcat into the woods. Their good deed is complicated by an ongoing conflict between the deities of Light and Shadow. Stripped of power and desperate to escape doom, the Light Deity senses power in Zack and attempts to possess him, but screws up and instead winds up inside the feline's body (much to its chagrin). Hilarity ensues.
No, really. Asdivine Hearts excels in part because the humor it presents actually works. The Light Deity is an arrogant god, which places it at odds with Zack (who is surprisingly nonplussed that the orphanage's unofficial "pet" is now talking and giving orders). Not believing any of the cat's claims, Zack and Stella simply dub it "Felix" and occasionally send it flying across a room when it becomes overly demanding. However, after visiting the kingdom's castle and meeting with a priestess, they come to realize that Felix is housing an actual god. They then embark on a quest to find out just why the Shadow Deity is so set on removing its counterpart from the equation.
Though Felix's body houses a god, that doesn't prevent him from serving as the butt of many jokes throughout the game. One party member, Celine, is terrified of living animals. This leads to a running gag, where the Light Deity regularly attempts to snuggle up to her and is catapulted across the screen. Powerful though the Light Deity may be, it is still trapped in feline form, and the party members use that to their advantage by tempting the feline with catnip or fish whenever it becomes too overbearing. This isn't the first Kemco game to rely on humor to punch up the narrative a bit, but it might be the first time that approach legitimately worked for me. A quality (if not perfect) translation, combined with lighthearted physical humor revolving around the physical and psychological abuse of a deity is cool by me every time!
The adventure works well for other reasons, as well. A person could probably call this game Exe-Create's Best Ideas and not be far from the truth. The company used its two-dimensional battle engine this time around, but gave it a huge overhaul. Most enemies are well-animated, and there are some decent spell effects on display. The resulting game looks as good as anything Kemco has recently released. There is a small price to pay, in that the couple hundred monsters that constitute the bestiary seem to be devised from only a couple dozen designs that are then palette-swapped repeatedly. That's par for the course with Kemco projects, but it's more noticeable here because the majority of the game feels like the recipient of legit development effort.
Barrels and boulders also are present to provide obstacles, with some barrels housing monsters and some boulders holding items, including the game's IAP currency. Such points are rather rare, so I was glad none of the stuff sold in the in-game store was necessary to actually progress through the main quest. A part of me would have liked to purchase the optional bonus dungeon, but that desire wasn't significant enough for me to consider opening my wallet.
In many Exe-Create games that I've played, characters possess proficiency in a particular type of magic, and gain various skills and spells over the course of the game. Supplementing that here is the Rubix system, where you routinely receive groupings of blocks that can be placed in a cube (or rectangle) to give a character extra types of magic, stat boosts, more experience per battle and other bonuses. Basic upgrades come in simple Tetris-like form, while the more rare and powerful ones take on bizarre shapes that can be quite tricky to fit into a Rubix (at least if you want to maintain any number of those other bonuses). It was a new system for me, but was apparently used previously in Illusion of L'Phalcia.
As I mentioned before, there is a ton of stuff to do in Asdivine Hearts. After beating the game, you don't just have the usual post-game stuff. There also are hordes of foes scattered all over the world, each of them more challenging than anything you likely faced in the main quest. You may have encountered some of them early in the game, though, when you got access to an airship. The map always displays the location you should visit next as you work through the campaign. However, an adventurous soul may decide to land on one of the smaller islands that are scattered across the world. Such a choice can quickly lead to an encounter against amazingly powerful beasts that slaughter your party before you can take even a single action. After beating the game, though, you might be an even match for those guys and other powerhouses hidden throughout the world.
Except for its similarities to other Exe-Create games you might have played, Asdivine Hearts has relatively few weak points. One of its greatest flaws is the campaign's length, which does feel excessive by the end. There only are so many monster designs and dungeon tile-sets to cycle through, after all. The difficulty levels also could have been a tiny bit more balanced. I mainly played on the "Normal" setting, which worked out well until I neared the final areas and ran into a tough boss. By that point, I was suffering from "ending fatigue" and didn't want to gut it out, so I dropped the difficulty setting to "Easy" and promptly slaughtered that boss in a single turn. On that setting, everything up to and including the final boss goes down without much of a fight. At times, "Normal" requires a decent amount of grinding and strategy. "Easy" practically begs you to abuse the auto-battle feature, because nothing will actually ever challenge you.
In spite of my mild complaints, Asdivine Hearts is the best Kemco RPG that I've encountered since subjecting myself to my "Kemco Khallenge." My biggest regret is that I didn't play the game sooner, when some of Exe-Create's ideas would have felt fresher. The game features an entertaining quest with quality humor, good production values and a ton of stuff to accomplish. That's good enough for me to hand out a strong recommendation, one that becomes stronger still if you're less familiar with Exe-Create's other work than I was.
Staff review by Rob Hamilton (December 15, 2016)
Rob Hamilton is the official drunken master of review writing for Honestgamers.
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