By Jaime Skelton (MissyS)
If video game art styles were reported like fashion, pixel would be “in” this season. Pixel art has this cool retro vibe, while advancements in graphics since pixels were first gracing our screens have allowed us to have more depth of design. So it’s really no surprise that one of the current game waves hitting mobile right now are pixel-styled side-scrolling games. Though there are many in this current race for top downloads and highest ratings on the app stores, Crusaders Quest from Toast/NHN stands above the rest. With fast-paced action, complex team management, and a wide range of play options, this is one game I won’t be uninstalling any time soon.
“Impossible. The ugly cannot beat the fair.”
Before I jump into the details, let’s talk a moment about Crusaders Quest’s style. Like many games hitting the market, Crusaders Quest tries to hit on the nostalgia of older gamers by opting to use pixel art and animation. Almost the entire game is rendered in this retro-style look, including some of the menus, but with enough detail and depth that the game doesn’t feel like a 16-bit eyesore. The exception to the little blocks is in the character art that appears on screen during dialogue, JRPG style.
While Crusaders Quest’s music goes beyond your average chiptune – and is rather catchy and energetic, if not eventually repetitive – you’ll still catch some familiar sounds, particularly the old Sonic ring sound during battle. It’s just enough throwback to be charming, while the game’s overall design and interface remains modern and easy to use on mobile.
“You must gather your party before venturing forth.”
Crusaders Quest brings a full cast of characters to meet and recruit. The most important of these, of course, are the heroes. Like in other mobile RPGs, heroes can be recruited through premium tickets, but can otherwise be randomly recruited through story and dungeon missions, as well as rather random evolution paths. Heroes come in six different classes: Warrior, Paladin, Archer, Hunter, Wizard, and Priest. Each class has its own unique set of skills and weapons, and while some roles overlap (Paladins, for example, act as both melee fighters and healers and can substitute for a Warrior or Priest), each is still an important long-term member of your party. Some challenges, especially the weekly changing dungeon which often limits certain classes from entering, will make you want to keep one of each class well-trained, even though only three heroes can be in a party at one time.
Each hero has their own level and stats, which increase automatically as they gain experience in battle. Heroes can also equip their class-specific weapons, found as loot when questing, and these can in turn be upgraded to offer bonus stats. Each hero may also equip skills through the “Skill Transfer” system. Here, skills that you’ve unlocked through gameplay can be equipped onto a hero for use in battle. Heroes can also be trained using bread – a consumable item which you can bake yourself as well as find as loot and rewards. Eating bread increases their training level, and completing each stage of training for a hero unlocks an additional 10% stat boost. Unfortunately, while bread is plentiful, training itself is quite costly, and will frequently leave you broke if your impatience leads you to dipping into the lower tier breads too often.
When a hero reaches their maximum experience level, and has been fully trained, they can be promoted. You’ll notice that each hero has a “star” ranking. Promotion increases the hero’s star ranking by one. For heroes rank 1 and 2, this grants the player a new random hero of one star rarity higher. For a hero of rank 3 promoting to rank 4, players will find a new hero that will be able to progress in a chain to rank 6. There are also special legendary heroes – including your starting hero – which progress from rank 1 to 6 without changing into another hero type. As you can imagine, building a team of powerful heroes takes time and effort, so be prepared to sink your resources into your favorites. Though the tactic of widespread leveling may be less effective in getting the ultimate PvP stomp party, it will occasionally unlock new skills and higher tiers of existing skills that can be used by your A-team to become even stronger.
There’s one final party member: the Goddess. Along your journey, you will encounter six different goddesses who will become your allies. Each goddess has their own unique ability, and while early on you will be limited in who you take with you, you will want to become very familiar with each of their skills as time goes on and change according to the situation. Goddesses cannot be damaged and do not gain experience; instead, they offer you their one boon on a limited basis in battle.
“Soon everything will be corrupted. Including you.”
Your heroes’ primary mission as they quest throughout the story is to purge the land of corruption, and there’s only one way to do that: beat creatures up until they submit to the power of love and peace. The battle system in Crusaders Quest is one of the most engaging features about the game, despite its surface simplicity.
After choosing your team of heroes, you’ll head into an automatically scrolling quest in which your heroes will face waves of enemies, including the stage’s boss(es). Your heroes will move forward automatically and auto attack enemies. As they advance, “block skills” will appear along the bottom of the screen. These are your heroes’ basic skills, and can be combined in chunks of up to three to increase their effect. Using these skills also charges each hero’s special attack, which will appear as a circle instead of a block.
Above these skills will also be a charge meter representing your goddess’ power. This is filled by using block skills (combos fill it faster) as well as suffering damage. You can store up to three charges of her power, and use her power by tapping on the general combat screen. These are powerful utility skills, so save them for when you’re in trouble. As you progress in the game, you can unlock six goddesses that each offer unique tactics worth experimenting with in different situations.
Overall I’ve been incredibly impressed – perhaps even a little hooked – on the battle system. Unlike similar games where skills have a slower charge, or combat is completely automatic, Crusaders Quest has a constant flow of skills. You must always be thinking about how to use and combo your skills to press the advantage and to make sure that skills don’t go to waste. Using skills when no enemies are in range, letting the block queue fill up too long, unleashing combos when enemies are resistant to your damage type, or not watching for opportunities to use support skills can make a real difference, especially in hard modes and PvP.
“Are you a bad enough dude to rescue the president?”
While progressing through the story chapter by chapter is what any true RPG fan will be after first, there’s more to Crusaders Quest than just clearing stages. When story isn’t enough, you can really test yourself in three other challenges: Dungeon, World Boss, and Colosseum.
The Dungeon is, as it sounds, an instance where you head off with your party to face off with a series of monsters and a bad-ass boss that guards the loot. While a dungeon plays much like a regular stage, there are three key differences. The first is that dungeons take keys, a specific energy system which limits how many dungeons you can run over a period of time. Secondly, dungeons are both repeatable (with the greatest reward only on the first completion) and changeable (rotating out after so many days to a new challenge). Finally, some dungeons place restrictions on your party composition. Each dungeon will ‘ban’ certain classes from partaking. While some dungeons may let you slide in with your best party, others will take from you your ability to bring in support or defense. In order to partake in dungeons, you must prepare to have a wide range of characters trained and ready for battle. Its worth noting that some will even throw unique stipulations at you such as only being able to land 3 block combos to damage foes.
If the Dungeon doesn’t challenge you enough, take it one step further and tackle a World Boss! These enemies are incredibly powerful but also drop impressive loot, including six-star weapons. Like dungeons, World Bosses rotate weekly. They also have specific loot for specific classes, and offer four difficulty modes with different rewards. What’s particularly unique about World Bosses is that they require two players to battle. In order to battle, you must either join with another player by arranging a meeting in a waiting room, or connect with a random player. Just because you’re not alone, don’t think you can slack off and just get carried: the MVP of the fight gets two chances at loot! Advanced players spend a lot of time working with partners to fight against these bosses.
The Colosseum is, as it sounds, the PvP area of the game. Here, you can enter friendly duels (non-ranked) with other players to test your skills in real-time combat. The real action, however, is in the AI controlled Versus arena. The ranked arena uses its own energy system, Tickets. Tickets work differently than other energy systems: while you only have three available, using one allows you access to arena battles for an hour, until you gain 10 wins, or until you’re defeated in battle. Whichever of the three comes first.
This lets you spend a lot of time in PvP, rather than be limited to only a few battles per day. When you enter, you can choose from one of two player teams to battle. Combat is the same as it always is, but in a smaller battlefield. As you rank up each week, you can gain multiple rewards, and the top three teams of the week will be displayed in everyone’s base. This is one of the most rewarding and engaging PvP modes I’ve run across in a mobile RPG, and it’s easy to dump hours into it. On the plus side, if you do dump hours into it and win a few matches in a row, you can earn bonus food and honor medals to speed up your PvE progress and hero evolution at the same time! So even if you’re not usually into PvP, this isn’t a mode you’re likely to skip.
Final Verdict: Stop the Mumblin’ and Start the Rumblin’
Really, if you’ve read through this review and haven’t yet installed Crusaders Quest, you should get that tablet or phone out and start downloading. Sure, CQ isn’t perfect: it could offer more in terms of hero customization, for instance, and no one could argue that more soundtrack variety would also be nice. Late game, too, can sometimes become grindy. What the game does offer, however, is active and engaging combat, multiple game play modes, a fair energy system, a well-told story, and some of the best 2D PvP on mobile. With constant updates, including a recent story chapter addition and new heroes, Crusaders Quest has just about everything good you could ask for in a mobile RPG. The only real downside of concern we care about now is the extended initial loading time involved with opening the game that will get on your nerves once the addiction sets in. You’ve been warned!
Overall Rating: Great (4/5)
- Graphics: 4/5 – Retro, but not overdone.
- Controls: 5/5 – Active, responsive, and intuitive.
- Features: 4/5 – Multiple game modes to keep you playing for hours.
- Customization: 3/5 – While you can build a team to your liking, your only real customization comes in the form of special skill and weapon selection.
- Community: 4/5 – Helpful, active, involved.