In a world where humans, dwarves, elves, and beasts all struggle with cohabitation, where their creation stems from a battle between seraphs and demons, it’s actually hard to tell if Ruinverse is spread too thin or if it’s just not sure how to address any specific storyline.
The mechanics all work well enough, and I will always speak highly of my experience with KEMCO’s repeated use of options to make play easier for those with limited time; there is again the issue of a weak story without many interesting beats to pull players in. Let’s dive in and breakdown what it’s all about.
STORY – A TALE OF TWO SOULS
I will give it to developers EXE Create; this plot is wild, even if it is kind of a stereotypical one. You play as Kit, a boy who is fond of plants, helps his grandmother around her inn and works as a transporter (a person who uses warp magic to move people and items around the kingdom). His best friend Allie is a hunter and the more daring of the two.
While out on an exploration adventure one day, the pair encounters a mysterious stone tablet that causes a man’s soul to enter Allie’s body, resulting in both souls sharing her one body. I do respect that instead of leaning in on what could easily be misguided or accidental transphobia, Alvyn (the male soul) has no memories and is pretty horrified about suddenly appearing in Allie’s body. While this thankfully doesn’t result in any moments where Alvyn is inappropriately using Allie’s body, I can’t speak to the topic of misgendered bodies and souls, so I won’t dive into that here.
A few more characters join the party pretty early on, with relatively varied degrees of success. The elf doctor, Lexor, is pretty horrifying. In exchange for performing a simple checkup on Allie to determine what the heck is happening with her soul, he requires in return that Kit let him inspect his bones whenever he wants. This leads to a lot of dialogue where Lexor is harassing this child and forcing himself on him, and it came across as really gross. Even without a sexual element, a grown elf demanding that a teenager hold still while he inspects different bones and yells about how wonderful they are is not a good take.
On the flip side of this, the two other party members, Toto and Nana, are in a similar situation. Toto is a beast who tries to con anyone he meets into signing fake contracts in an attempt to get rich. Nana is a dwarf soldier who is obsessed with petting and touching Toto’s fur. When we first meet her, it’s obvious from the start that she’s not so much interested in bringing an end to his criminal endeavors as she is just getting her hands on him. To mirror the dynamic of Kit and Lexor, we often see Nana holding Toto down while he protests.
There are actually plenty of scenes where both of these situations are playing out simultaneously, as a beleaguered Kit and Toto complain about their similar, unwanted situations. The comedic tone that the game is going for doesn’t land, however, when it goes all out on these instances of nonconsent. The punchlines never land on Lexor or Nana for being inappropriate, and there’s no consequence (thus far) for their behavior.
I did enjoy that certain parts of Kit’s personality made it into the game mechanics. His affection for plants is reflected in the ability to grow trees, allowing you to harvest skill points and berries to boost your stats. Allie’s duality means she can switch souls mid-battle depending on the approach players want to take. She is stronger at physical attacks, while Alvyn is better with magic. Having these little twists on gameplay tied the narrative into what I was doing, without going with a really typical presentation (female archers, brooding thieves with knives, etc.).
The overall “RPG plot” is strong, as with other titles from this publisher, so it’s almost hard to critique. There’s lots of magic, there are brushes against class and racial tension, and a scrappy team of misfits ultimately takes on a Big Bad that threatens the world that they know and love. Much of the attempts at humor stem from zany antics, but that always works best when the subject of a joke is clear and when the odd characters are limited. How many touchy-feely party members do we really need?
GAMEPLAY – TURN DOWN FOR WHAT
Ruinverse is a pretty straightforward RPG. Players move a party through an overworld with various “dungeons” (forests, caves, etc.) with random encounters being the basis for level progression and item collection. The actual battles are strategic, requiring you to balance effective attacks and magic while also ensuring proper party formation on a 3x3 grid.
The formation decisions you make really just impact what sort of party you run. Heavier hitters should go in the front, at the cost of defense, while your more fragile squadmates will get a defense boost by riding the back row. Aside from that, it’s really all about how you want to fight. Each character has a skill tree and can use magic as well as physical attacks, which makes the whole thing easy to get the hang of.
As mentioned above, the ability to switch Allie and Alvyn mid-battle is a unique one, but not something I ever really had to do. Instead of continually riding the line between each soul, I simply found myself putting more skill points into physical attacks and sticking with Allie instead of bothering to change. The big gimmick of the game isn’t very impactful when you can avoid it altogether.
The elements of mobile gameplay that got pulled over from the initial release are really similar to those in other games, like Crystal Ortha. As I mentioned in that review, auto-battle mechanics and speed adjustments in encounters is a big plus for someone without a lot of time to sink into a lengthy title. There’s also the option for permanent EXP boosts, double damage, and the elimination of skill costs (for a price), but I never found myself wanting to make those real purchases.
Something that sets it apart from that previous KEMCO game is that this time around, there really are usable items, meaning that this is a more involved title. Players will be able to restore their health and revive party members in-battle by using potions and elixirs, so this isn’t that big of a departure from the formula you’d expect.
GRAPHICS/AUDIO – TWICE AS NICE
Graphically, everything looks fine. That is, it looks how it should, which is not dissimilar to a flash game from 2007. You won’t see any absolutely stellar pixel art or sprite work, but what is there gets the job done. Only the main characters ever have portraits, and those don’t change very often, so the little presentation boost they give is sort of pointless.
The soundtrack is clearly anime-inspired. Lots of electric guitar licks, a steady drum machine in the background, and a ton of dramatic fanfare whenever something happens. It loops well and is consistently provides the synth sounds that fit so well with swords and shields.
Ruinverse was reviewed for Xbox One. A key was provided by KEMCO.