Q Entertainment (Lumines, Rez) tend to make games that aren't quite... ordinary. True to form, their new Vita exclusive Destiny of Spirits is pretty darn hard to put into a box. Free to play, it's a little bit Final Fantasy, a tiny bit MMORPG, and quite a lot of Pokemon. I had a crack of it at E3 this week and, well... I think I liked it. I think.
The gist of it is simple enough; summon monsters, level them up, and fight other monsters. To summon them in the first place, you need to use one of the game's three forms of currency. Two of them are earned by playing, while the other - called "gold" here - is purchased using real money, which is how the game (which is otherwise free) pays the bills.
If you're nervous about microtransactions (the price of which have not yet been set), the Sony rep I spoke to assured me that the game can be played fully without spending a cent - it will just take longer.
You can, for example, use gold to recover your team's health instantly - something that otherwise happens slowly over time. To encourage you to spend money, there will be special boss encounters and so on that appear from time to time, and you might then decide to spend some coin to ensure you're in a good position to have a crack at them while they're around.
Other currency is earned through a number of in-game and out-of-game activities; winning, for example, seems to earn you some cash, while traveling a lot with your Vita in your bag also earns you points to spend (much like the way in which the 3DS rewards you for walking around with it.)
The game is also globally connected, which manifests itself in gameplay in a number of ways. For example, different monsters appear only in certain parts of the world; to get some from somewhere else, you'll need to either go there (physically, on a plane) or trade with someone from the region. As the game is launching in all territories simultaneously, this alone could well provide an interesting hook for completionists.
Another feature driven by the game's region-awareness is that the missions you'll initially have access to are based on your real-world location. As you start to complete various goals nearby, you'll be able to take on tasks from further afield.
The gameplay itself largely consists of watching your summoned monsters go up against enemy monsters. It's turn-based, but the creatures will take turns automatically if you don't take charge. Control is a simple matter of tapping your creature (the whole game is controlled via the touch screen) and then selecting a move from the list that appears.
In the version I played, my creatures were all super low level, and therefore my options were limited at this point, but as you grow in strength, presumably you'll also get access to more (and better) abilities.
As it was, I was able to perform a number of different attacks (depending on my chosen monster) which varied from single target debuffs, to direct damage abilities and even area attacks that damaged (in this case, killed) all the monsters on the screen. Everything is, of course, on a cool down, so strategy is key.
Initially confused by the game, as understanding dawned on me I became strangely compelled to continue to progress my characters. The battling is simplistic, but the idea of battling, capturing (how that part works wasn't clear, but it's a focus of the title), and merging monsters together to increase their powers is just as appealing here as it is in the likes of Pokemon.
How it turns out in a decent length session, whether it becomes repetitive, or if the microtransactions (which are yet to be priced) are too expensive - it's far too early to tell. But the preview did make me want more of it, so as first impressions go, that's pretty good.
The Good: It's good to be free
The Bad: Hard to explain
The Ugly: Microtransactions