Title: Billion Road
Developer: Bandai Namco Entertainment
Release Date: April 16, 2020
Reviewed On: Switch
Genre: Party Game/Board Game
One of the best things about video games is how they can bring people together. Sometimes, however, they can also tear people apart. Board game-esque video games such as the Mario Party series are notorious for tearing apart friendships through the way they pit players against each other, giving everyone a singular goal: victory.
A new game with friendship ending potential is Billion Road; a board game inspired party game. While similar games usually give the objective of having the most stars or winning the most mini-games, Billion Road sets players loose in Japan to get the most money possible.
The main difference between Billion Road and its contemporaries is that while they all could end friendships, you’ll at least have fun with Mario Party; I can’t say the same is the case with Billion Road.
Similar to the iconic board game Monopoly, Billion Road’s main gameplay mechanic is investing in property across a large map. Instead of a big circle with fictional locations, however, Billion Road’s map is a mini version of Japan. While traveling around the country, players can invest in shops and restaurants across real-world locations such as Akihabara or Toyota.
The game’s map is split into a few different kinds of spaces. There are spaces that give you a random amount of money, make you lose a random amount of money, give you a random item, give you a random monster, or let you invest in property. In the grand scheme of things, there really isn’t much variety with here, which is apparent after landing on the exact same type of space for five turns in a row.
As the game progresses, players will gain items that they can use to help themselves or hurt other players. With 30 different items available, deciding when to use them can really turn matches around. Some are pretty basic, such as giving you a random monster or allowing you to roll more than one dice. In contrast, others are a bit more unique, like one that averages everyone’s money and evenly distributes it among the players.
What makes Billion Road stand out from similar table-top games, however, are the monsters scattered across the board. While moving from space to space, players will encounter a different monster that will join their team. These monsters have a wide range of effects, some granting extra money over time, some punishing other players, and others providing high attack values to be used against enemy monsters. These monsters add a layer of strategy to the game as having the right monster at the right time can be crucial to victory.
Billion Road takes place over several years, with each round of turns taking up one in-game month. As time progresses, several random events will occur to spice up gameplay. The events don’t really affect the game all that much, usually giving a random player a small amount of extra money.
The most significant event that occurs in Billion Road is the appearance of nemesis monsters. These are giant kaiju that rampage and destroy all properties in their paths. Players are usually given around three turns to destroy the nemesis using their own monsters before the rampage begins. Nemeses typically take a large amount of attack power to take down, meaning multiple players will have to team up to save the city.
Billion Road does put random goal points on the board for players to race to. Whoever gets to the goal first is rewarded with a large amount of money and, occasionally, a follower monster that grants gifts and bonuses. While you don’t have to make it to the goal to win, it certainly helps. If you happen to be the player furthest away from the goal when it is reached, you will be cursed with a bad follower monster that will continuously take money, items, and monsters from you until you can find some way to get rid of it.
That’s the gist of how a typical Billion Road game goes. It can take a while to understand how to play, especially if you try and play it with people who aren’t well versed in gaming. This would be fine if the game were actually fun after the tutorial, but sadly, it isn’t.
More often than not, a typical game of Billion Road gets boring pretty quickly. Unlike other similar games that add mini-games or interactive events to keep players invested in the game, Billion Road doesn’t have anything like that. If the idea of rolling dice and hoping you land on the right spot to invest some of your money into a ramen shop for a meager profit doesn’t sound exciting to you, that’s because it really isn’t.
Games of Billion Road can drag on for hours. The shortest game that you can play lasts for three in-game years, which should take about an hour to finish. While this doesn’t sound like much, trust me, it feels like so much more. The monotony of the gameplay gets old quickly, making turns drag on and blend together with very few standout moments.
The longest game that you can play takes place over 99 years, which would take an estimated 55 hours to finish. Billion Road does allow players to save games and come back to them later, but I have no idea who would want to play the game for that long.
Billion Road’s saving grace is its art style. The map and world are incredibly cute and charming, with little details spread throughout to pay homage to the real-life areas of Japan. Furthermore, the monsters are perhaps the best part of the entire experience. There are over 50 different monsters, and each with a distinct personality and a fantastic design. Discovering new monsters during a game was always exciting.
The soundtrack is nothing to write home about. It isn’t bad, per se, but it sounds generic. When you think “happy music,” “ominous music” or “victory music,” the first thing that pops up in your head is probably very similar to what you’ll be hearing in Billion Road.
Another issue making Billion Road slightly more challenging to enjoy is its technical issues. Whenever something unusual happens, the frame rate will usually massively drop for a few seconds. The load times are also absurdly long whenever you go to start a new game.
Billion Road has a lot of potential to be a great party game. While it can be fun in short bursts, it quickly becomes dull due to a lack of variety. One can only walk to and from the goal so many times before thinking, “could I be doing something better with my time?” Though it can be slightly more enjoyable in groups, it won’t take long for a game to become boring, no matter how many people are playing.
Though there technically are a few different game modes in Billion Road, they’re all just slight variations of the same thing. If you don’t enjoy the main gameplay loop, there isn’t much else for you to do.
Sadly, the charm isn’t enough to carry a game. Though Billion Road clearly has a lot of love put into it, the monotony of gameplay leads to a tedious and boring experience, the opposite of what a party game should be. A few extra features or a little more development time could have fleshed Billion Road out. If you’re looking for something to invest your time in, you might want to look elsewhere.
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