Not every genre in video games is easy to pick up and play. Take JRPGs (Japanese Role Playing Game), a genre that hasn’t seen much exposure as of late but dominated the console wars of the 90s. In fact, some of the greatest video games ever made were JRPGs (check lists for Chrono Trigger and Final Fantasy I – IV. I bet they’re in the top 10). But JRPGs weren’t for everyone. Complex character development and combat systems kept most people at bay. And even those who were able to understand the systems might have found themselves leaving the game for something with a faster pace and more action. The role-playing genre traded fast-pace action for character development and story. It was like reading a novel compared to watching an action movie with other genres like the classic beat ‘em up. Fast forward to today and the roleplaying genre finds itself in the shadow of more popular games like Call of Duty and Fallout. So where does that leave the gamer who wants to learn more about RPGs? One only has to look towards the App Store for Steven Universe: Attack The Light.
A RPG for Beginners – Gameplay
Steven Universe: Attack the Light takes the core elements of old-school JRPGs and distills it into mobile form. Combat is turn-based, with players asked to manage character actions based on available Star Points. Character attacks require different amounts of Star Points so it is up to you to determine who attacks and what attack they use. Each character has different strengths and abilities, similar to a job or class system that you would find in traditional JRPGs. For example:
The Gems: Amethyst, Garnet and Pearl
- Garnet is your physical attack powerhouse
- Amethyst attacks target multiple enemies
- Pearl provides support with status attacks (i.e. poison an enemy or stun them)
The combat adds a level of depth by including a timing system similar to the PS1 JPRG, Legend of Dragoon. Whenever a character attacks, a star forms around the enemy. Hitting the star at the right moment causes your character to attack twice, sometimes landing critical hits. When your character is on the defensive, tapping the star that forms around your character will cause the gems to protect themselves against hard hitting enemy attacks. It’s a system that adds some variety to combat as you have to be prepared to deliver maximum damage while mitigating enemy damage to your team.
Then there’s Steven, who serves as the team’s medic and inventory. Steven doesn’t have any attack moves but can heal/revive the gems, relieve any status effects as well as boost character stats. Steven is also the only character who can use items. The game is over if all three of the gems die on the battlefield.
A RPG for Beginners – Difficulty and Character Development
Steven Universe is primarily designed for children and adults who are fans for the show. The game is more about fan service to fans and old gamers than it is for hardcore RPG fans. Attack the Light isn’t a difficult game. There are certain levels that are meant to be challenging, but once you get the ebb and flow of combat, the game can become rote, especially during long play throughs. And while this might deter those of us who grew up on the genre, it’s perfect for people who’ve never played a RPG. The combat is designed for new players to learn traditional RPG strategy without being severely punished for mistakes. Players can learn item management, attack patterns, and character builds in an environment that grows with them. It is the chance to learn the fundamentals of a genre that make the game special. And for those who have played RPGs during the golden age, there is something for you as well. The dialogue in the game is direct fan service for old players. From discussions about secret areas to audio when characters level up, it’s all fan service to those old games.
Steven serves as the groups medic and item manager
One of the areas of RPGs that could truly upset players is character development. In RPGs the goal of fighting enemies is to gain experience so characters can ‘level up’ and earn new abilities. Different abilities were available based on a character’s class or skill tree. For example, if I played a game that had a mage class (someone who can use magic) I can travel down various skill trees within that class. I could have a character that focused solely on healing magic, or white magic. Or I could have a character that focused on elemental attack magic or black magic. The complexity of character development systems varied based on the game. Some were easy to understand while others had layers of complexity that left veteran players scratching their head. Fortunately for Steven Universe, the character development is streamlined. Each time you level up, you get three choices: two status upgrades or an ability upgrade. You don’t have to worry about a skill tree, you simply have to decide if you want a gem to have increased health, luck or defense and weigh if that is more important than earning a new ability. And if you skip learning an ability, you can always select it later the next time you level up.
There is also a badge system where you can assign special abilities to characters. Similar to the esper system in Final Fantasy VI or the materia system in Final Fantasy VII, certain badges provide certain bonuses to character attacks and defense. For example, I equipped Amethyst with a flame badge that added fire element to her attacks. Now when she attacks she has a chance to burn enemies which would inflict extra damage after our team’s turn.
The Good, The Bad, The In Between – Summary
A great game for beginners
Steven Universe: Attack the Light is a great game for RPG novices. It’s designed to allow people to learn the fundamentals of the RPG genre without the harsh punishment that you might find in traditional RPGs and JRPGs. If you’re a fan of the show there’s something for you here as well. Attack the Light doesn’t spend much time explaining the origins of the characters or their dynamics, for that you need to watch the show. And for the hardcore…well, that depends. Traditional RPGs are hard to come by and the game’s design is a homage to the genre’s humble beginnings. It’s a good refresh back into a world that most of the gaming industry has forgotten. There’s enough winks to remind you why you enjoyed the genre, but because the game was designed more for the beginner the game can grow old. By the time you’ve reached the third world you’ve pretty much seen all there is to see. Which is disappointing but understandable.
Verdict: Steven Universe is worth the buy for the beginner or someone who is looking for a light-hearted, old-school JRPG/RPG. Just don’t expect the depth and story of the glory days.