KEMCO has done this same move a number of times over the past decade: release some semblance of a retro-inspired RPG on mobile devices, then spend the next ten years porting it to consoles. We’ve seen it happen with Ruinverse, and Crystal Ortha, and those are just from the past few months.
But there’s something special going on this time around, with Asdivine Cross. Maybe it’s because this is a mid-point in the Asdivine series (more on that in a bit); it’s not like there are any revolutionary mechanics being utilized. This title feels much more polished than other recent KEMCO titles, with more of a move back to traditional console-type gameplay, with fewer mobile gaming gimmicks.
If you’re into loads of sidequests and teenage angst, this is probably a review you should read, and a game you should probably check out.
STORY – PUNCHY AND PREDICTABLE
The Asdivine series first began with Asdivine Hearts for mobile platforms in 2014. The series, across its now seven separate titles, largely centers around the same general story. In the land of Asdivine, two kingdoms provide the balance between Light and Shadow, and there is sudden unrest. It’s up to the protagonist to travel the land and restore the balance that is so important.
In much the way that games such as Final Fantasy, Dragon Quest, or Fire Emblem will frequently have repeating themes and locations, that’s the case here. Asdivine always picks up a plot set in the same kingdoms, centered on a conflict between the Light Deity and the Shadow Deity, two spirits that gain power from the belief of citizens. In Cross, if belief in a deity drops, then the balance is destroyed.
Here, we follow the story of Harvey, a thief whose band of brigands steals from the rich and gives to the poor. During a job, Harvey is kidnapped and dropped into the middle of a plot against the king and queen. Along the way, he joins forces with the sheltered Princess Amelia (and a few others), to save the kingdom and prevent a continental war between nations.
The story seems almost generic, which means that there is an added focus on the characterization of your party members. If there isn’t much there in terms of the overall plot, then surely a fleshed-out narrative can be found in conversations, right? Well, not exactly.
Each character falls back onto a specific stereotype of the genre, with Harvey filling the role of the strong, angry, teen leader, and Amelia as the ditzy and clumsy healer. The remaining party members (there are two, and this review is avoiding spoilers), are portrayed as incredibly hot-headed and mysterious, respectively.
Honestly, the women are pretty great. Every female character is depicted as being astonishingly strong and despite Harvey’s numerous attempts to demean and harass, they stand up for themselves every time. Harvey’s written almost like a satire of the cool jock from an ’80s movie: argumentative, bored, etc. At this point in playing these types of games, his personality is just tiring. Give me a silent protagonist any day; at least they won’t tell women they’re dumb all of the time.
The story of Cross does the job it set out to do, but it falls short of what it could have been. Given the setting and the different arcs we see as the game progresses, there are a lot of great chances to do something really impressive, narratively, but the game just never swings for it. With hidden family members, found family tension, betrayed parents, even talking cats, there’s still a lot of space that I would have liked to have seen filled with paralogues and sidequests that engaged the supportive characters in a more meaningful way.
I understand that this isn’t meant to be one of those games, and I understand the exact flavor of RPG that KEMCO is delivering with these mobile-to-console titles. But this feels like they’re getting closer and closer to really providing a solid experience that’s not a quick cash grab, so it’s disappointing to see the weak spots.
GAMEPLAY – ADD-ONS OPTIONAL
To the surprise of no one, Cross plays like a classic Final Fantasy title. Much like its recent brethren that the publisher has put out recently, it’s a top-down role-playing game with random encounters, equipment, magical abilities, and an active time battle system.
This is all a bit old hat to long-time fans of the genre, and it’s not the least bit complicated to pick up for newcomers. The concern with a title such as this – that is, one that was originally designed for mobile phones – is that the entirety of play will be marred by the looming suggestion of microtransactions.
Like the overgrown hedge on your shared property line, or the carton of milk left out on the counter, microtransactions can at times be seen as microaggressions against the player. It’s a real concern, given that so much revenue is obtained in the mobile space from additional purchases. For a game such as Cross, downloadable gameplay features are an easy way to passively recoup some development costs for players who don’t want to grind.
In this Xbox version, there are a number of add-ons available for purchase in the Microsoft Store, but they are buried a few menus deep, and thankfully are not discussed by characters. A common trope in modern titles in this genre is having the characters speak either to each other or (breaking through the fourth wall) to the player in order to explain things such as combat mechanics or quest logs. That practice is on display in Asdivine Cross, but I liked that I didn’t have to sit through the party telling me that I could triple my EXP gain for $4.99.
The actual combat is a lot more involved than, say, Ruinverse, which is one of the more hands-off representations of this RPG-lite genre. Equipment can be obtained from battles or through town shops, and in addition to weapons and armor, there are even slots for attribute crystals.
The big hook is that you can create your own combos, which cost a lot of points to execute but allow you to chain numerous attacks or buffs together into one move. This is a handy feature, and once I unlocked this ability, it helped during dungeon difficulty spikes. Instead of losing against a boss and grinding the dungeon a few more times, I was able to just wreck the monster.
GRAPHICS/AUDIO – SOMETHING’S OFF
Asdivine Cross still doesn’t quite achieve the level of beauty that we saw in classic titles of the genre, but it gets a lot closer than other KEMCO titles. There’s a supreme level of respect that I have for amateur pixel artists, but that’s still the level of polish we’re getting, not top-tier artwork.
As usual, characters look like they were pulled from a generic anime title you’ve never heard of. One of the characters is a teenage girl dressed in bright pink with color-coordinated pigtails and can literally turn into a cat. There’s not much depth or detail to any of the graphical elements, which probably worked fine for mobile titles; modern consoles require a higher level of definition in the art style.
The soundtrack is, at times, frustrating. For the most part, the tunes in the background work well, but every now and then certain samples sound too much like sound effects. Notably in seaside towns, the sound used for the snare drum sounds like the physical attack tone, and my brain kept getting confused.
Asdivine Cross was reviewed on Xbox One. A key was provided by KEMCO.