Partia’s credits screen tells you everything you need to understand the game. It’s developed by a small team with a negligible budget, sometimes sourcing free pixel art and music from the internet. “Credits” is spelled wrong (since resolved in an update, but first impressions…) in an unnecessarily lo-fi font. And, most importantly, there’s a thank you directed to “Shouzou Kaga and his team”. If you have to hit Wikipedia to figure out who that is then I can tell you outright that Partia is not targeted at you.
Shouzou Kaga was the creator of Nintendo’s premier strategy RPG series: Fire Emblem. Familiarity with those games is taken for granted in Partia. There is no guide or tutorial to the system here, something that Fire Emblem – the eighth game in a series – had. In Partia I struggled to figure out how to equip armour, and had it not been for the big “You got a key” popping up on the screen after felling a foe I likely never would have opened that door or treasure chest. The UI is often unclear and clumsy, but if you have the slightest sense for game design conventions of the 16-bit era you can manage. But that’s the problem with Partia: why should you?
Partia is an exercise in emulation. All the parts of Fire Emblem are there: the permadeath, the near identical classes, actions, and equipment, and the story of a continent in conflict. But rather than feeling nostalgic, Partia feels retrograde. The interface was designed around an imitation of a two-button controller which, on portrait view, takes up a third of the screen real estate. You can use touch but it’s no less clunky. In battle, to move and attack an enemy you have to tap the screen (be it map or menu) about eight times. Then you watch a quick battle animation, watch the life points tick away, and you’re done with that character for the turn. Now repeat this a dozen times for every other unit on the battle field. Worse yet, the numerous bugs in the interface sometimes force you to quit out. Since the game only allows one save in battle, and only if you manually “suspend” the game, you can often lose your progress half way through a chapter. Having to repeat all the above, multiple times, is tiring.
This tediousness underlies all aspects of Partia. The player phase is a constant one-by-one confirming of every character’s actions. The enemy phase is a slow cycle through every enemy combatant, the majority of which don’t do anything. Indeed, for most battles the enemies stand still unless specifically required to by the plot. Most often they only attack your characters after you move them into their range. This can lead to some hilariously boring situations. In one chapter you start with your party spread across several houses, two of which have treasure chests, while some bandits attack from the outside. Rather than having an army carrying keys, which are a waste of an item slot, I brought one thief with a single key (thieves’ keys aren’t wasted after using them). Being the completionist, I wanted those chests but I ignored them at the start as I used my army to kill all the bandits save for one straggler: an archer. I placed my most evasive unit close to it and for ten turns straight that archer attacked the same soldier, missing every time, while I moved my thief around the map to get everything. Every other unit stood still.
That situation typifies the AI. Unless you are outnumbered by strong units you never feel threatened. Any chapter can be won by simply exploiting the AI via careful positioning of your best fighters. There is never the sense that you’re making tactical decisions against a canny opponent. Sometimes the game will throw a surprise your way by popping up a whole slew of mages in front of your army unexpectedly and you might suffer casualties then, but it always feels like a cheap shot. When they do die they die for good – a Fire Emblem staple – but even then it’s hard to care unless it was a strong unit. The tale meanders around so much it’s hard to keep track of the setting and its people. All the characters are so peripheral they might as well be nameless.
It’s hard to fault Partia for its ambition: it is clearly a labour of love done on a shoestring budget by a tiny team in Waterloo, Ontario. Perhaps if their Kickstarter campaign had succeeded they might have had more time and money to smooth out the rough edges. The foundation that they built is good and with more love given to its interface and AI, it can be a nice game by the time Partia 3 comes. But even at its best it won’t be anything but a tribute band version of Fire Emblem. A Fire Emblem fan would be better off waiting for the real thing this February on the 3DS, and if you’re somehow a Fire Emblem fan without a Nintendo device, or just want something to carry on your phone, Partia is the closest you will find on iOS. Still, why see “Duran Duran Duran” when you can see “Duran Duran”? Despite the convenience, nostalgia could never be satiated by an imitation.
1 out of 5
- iOS Universal edition: Partia, $3.99