In an increasingly expected move, KEMCO has once again ported one of its mobile games over to PC and consoles, this time with Chroma Quaternion, which makes up for its daunting, befuddling title. Borrowing all of the best mechanics and characterizations from the studio’s other series (but without the baggage of poor writing), this is absolutely a stand-out game for anyone who enjoys JRPGs or fluffy dogs.
Chroma shares a lot with Asdivine Cross, the most recent KEMCO title, but with a few changes and improvements and an entirely different story. If this is an indication of the road down which future studio titles will travel, you’ll find no complaints here. A fine time is to be had, and there are still plenty of genre improvements here that other studios should be imitating.
STORY – ‘TIS THE SEASON
First of all, let’s discuss that title. It’s actually a reference to quaternion poetry, which is a sort of poem that is divided into four parts. This theme arises in the plot of the game in the form of kingdoms defined by the four seasons.
The game is split into four kingdoms that each eternally reflect their designated season: Spree (spring), Sama (summer), Otom (autumn), and Wint (winter). Each land is home to a Quadeity, who created the world, and the springizens, who are the regular citizens. Everything is peaceful until the events of the story.
There aren’t very many aspects of the narrative that will hook or enthrall players. The characters react with over-the-top emotions to every conversation, and in that way, everything is very reminiscent of previous KEMCO titles such as Asdivine or Ruinverse. Princess Eara is once again a ditzy princess with mystical powers, and the way that her maid is amorously obsessed with her provides much of the comic relief.
What’s refreshing about this particular story, however, is that characters aren’t so overly stereotyped or sexualized as in other games. There aren’t any slimy old innkeepers or comically large breasts to be found. Could this be a much-needed step forward in how indie JRPG titles are written going forward? One can only hope.
But minor content improvements aside, there still just isn’t a whole lot of meat on this bone, partly due to the lack of real story implementation. Each kingdom’s signature season is merely an aesthetic change; that is, you won’t suffer from frostbite damage in Wint or be buffeted by sand storms in Sama.
This lack of world-building leaves everything feeling sort of bland and neutral. Nothing really shines or stands out, other than Foure, the big adorable puppy. Any time Foure shows up; everything just seems to feel better.
GAMEPLAY – ANOTHER NEW GRIND
Chroma borrows much of the quality-of-life improvements that have come to define modern KEMCO titles, such as auto-battling and encounter rate options. These are large options that have been included due to the original mobile releases of the studio’s titles because who wants to play an RPG on their phone for 45 hours?
One of the big draws of this title is the implementation of Roles, which can be assigned to each character. Roles provide different skills depending on which ones you bring into battle, up to three per party member. Ranging from the classic “Evil Hunter” to a “Fisherman” to even just “Barrel” (it’s Foure stuck in a barrel), there are dozens of different Roles to mix around and experiment with.
This mechanic helps to express and normalize some of the more zany aspects of the narrative, such as encountering grassroots pop stars or making it feel perfectly plausible to fight a surfing gorilla. I really preferred this sort of entertainment as opposed to relying on the crutches of genre tropes, and these mechanics are what pulled me in the most.
None of this is to make light of the difficulty ramp, however. A JRPG is a JRPG, after all, and the grind is absolutely there. Auto-battling, battle speed, and the ability to skip definitive win encounters all help to make the process much more bearable, but you’re still going to have to put in the work to max out your Roles and outfit the party with some good loot.
The back half of the title is where I really started to encounter some friction, but in the case of a game over, Chroma offers a chance to restart the battle or cop a party revive (for a price). It’s still up to you if you want to play through in a “classic” manner or embrace some of the new options, but it’s there if you need it.
Some hold-overs from the mobile market have, of course, remained, including the roulette wheel, which can be spun three times per real-life day to gain reward items, and the Recycle Jars, which turn unwanted equipment into better equipment. These aren’t often things that you’d see in a traditional role-playing game, but here they are bonus screens that can be used if you so wish.
Again, I didn’t find any of these “improvements” to be detrimental to my time with the game. If anything, I’ve been known to fully embrace this sort of new-wave RPG mechanics. Life gets busy, after all. But the fact that the development team has continued to include these changes as optional choices shows that this sort of title can be for any sort of player, and that’s wonderful.
GRAPHICS/AUDIO – PLAYFUL PIXELS
The first time I booted up Chroma Quaternion and saw it in motion, I got really excited. The title really feels like the perfect implementation of a “retro” aesthetic that doesn’t look overly produced. The 3D background of battles isn’t jarring against the pixel art of the character sprites, and menu bars and text boxes aren’t some weird combination of sleek words versus chunky artwork.
But as much as I’m praising the implementation of the graphics, I’ve got to give it up for the art style. The heavily outlined sprites a la Fire Emblem really helped to showcase the specifics of each character and helped make everything pop. Each party member’s dialogue portraits were well-designed and translated well to the sprite work, too.
The game’s audio, however, sort of fell apart on me. The sound effects are fine, and those don’t at all sound out of place. But the music honestly sounds like something I’d hear in a SEGA racing title. The tempo is so fast, and the drums are so full that it brings a huge sense of urgency and speed to battles and the overworld. Then, the driving tunes will be punctuated by a soft violin, which is played over fast drums, but slightly quieter. It was truly confusing.
Chroma Quaternion was reviewed on Steam. A key was provided by KEMCO.