Review: RPS Saga02 Mar 2017 1
Review: RPS Saga
Released 15 Feb 2017
I remember vividly as a child playing Alex Kidd in Miracle World. It was the first game I ever played by proxy of being built into the first console I ever owned, the Master System. In the game you battle bosses through the rather unconventional format of jan-ken-pon, better known to western audiences as rock, paper, scissors. With victory your opponent turned into a rice ball. On reflection, the game is kind of mental, but it was also my first introduction to the world of RNG – something I would not begin to understand till many years later.
You see random number generators are the blight of so many people that have played video games through the years. The sheer frustration of having your success determined by the luck of the algorithms, rather than your own skill can be a massive turn off for players.
This brings us to RPS Saga, a game that takes the concept of rock, papers, scissors, and stretches it out over the duration of its campaign. Describing the gameplay is going to be difficult for a whole review, because, well… it’s rock, paper, scissors. But developers Magic Cube do attempt to add a few bells and whistles.
Starting off in the overworld, you can pick between different opponents to face. They serve as the ‘end of the boss’ of a set of enemies who you face one by one. Between each fight you can upgrade your chosen character – leveling up stacks between characters using gold coins, but special moves are specific and use a different currency, which, as you can imagine, you earn a lot slower and can be purchased with real money.
The in-game mechanics work like a card game: there are three or four cards to pick from, which will either have rock, paper, or scissors, and you pick one the one you want to play. On the other side of the screen your opponent’s cards are laid out, giving you a fighting chance of deciding what they might play. This is where the two layers of RNG come into action, and what the foundation of the gameplay relies on. The problem is, an inherent issue with designing a game based around luck, and perhaps a bit of psychological warfare, is that creating an environment where playing against the AI feels like playing against a human is not easy - and if you want to argue that you don’t need the game to feel like playing against a human, fine, but then you’re playing against an algorithm - one that constantly seems to know what you are going to play, with victory most of the time coming from brute forcing your way through.
The cards laid out are random, fully eliminating any chance of building a strategy. You may be onto a winner, only to see three rock cards laid out for you, and three paper cards for your opponent. It is a frustrating experience that divulges quickly into hammering any cards you feel like, because none of it matters. There is no penalty for losing, so you can just start the fight again, choosing any card at random, and by the law of averages you will eventually win. RPS Saga is a game that strips the notion of consequence.
The one area where RPS Saga attempts to teach an old dog new tricks is with the aforementioned special moves. Each character can learn unique abilities, ranging from regenerating health to doubling up attacks. These abilities have a cool down period, so depending on their usefulness they can take anywhere from three moves and upwards to charge. With ten playable characters, you have plenty of room to find the playing style to suit you – not that it is saying much, as the core gameplay is mundane enough that it really doesn’t make much difference who you select. The cubes you need to obtain to purchase these skills take a while, so it makes the most sense to pick one character and put all your resources into them.
Magic Cube attempts to shoehorn a storyline into RPS Saga, establishing the main hero of Ashtan, as he tries to recruit his old friends to eliminate an ominous dark energy. The plot is woven into the gameplay between battles, with narrative that has not had the most efficient localization job. It doesn’t rival Zero Wing, but it does provide a few unintentional laughs along the way.
The game does have a few positives: graphically, Magic Cube flexes their muscle, showing off an area where they know a thing or two. Using a pixel-art aesthetic, the character models look great, the backgrounds have some nice touches to them, and the UI pops out. The whole thing costs less than a dollar/pound/euro, and does not feel designed in a way that pushes you towards its IAPs. There is a survival mode, which works pretty much how you would expect: you try to survive waves for as long as possible, gaining a little bit of health back after each win.
RPS Saga is by no means a bad game – it’s just a limited one… and dull. Magic Cube have attempted to do what they can to expand the mechanics of jan-ken-pon, but within ten minutes of booting up the game, you’ve seen everything that it has to offer. For its paltry cost, and if you are morbidly curious, perhaps it might be worth a look. Though considering we’ve already seen some excellent releases so far, you might be better off looking elsewhere.