Release Date: July 1, 2020
Reviewed On: iOS
Publisher: Square Enix
Genre: Gacha RPG
A narrative in mobile games isn’t really seen as thought-provoking or even necessary. Still, I find myself wanting a decent plot with my gacha addiction. When I first started SINoALICE, I was greeted by two creepy puppets that gave me chills from their illustrations and voice over.
I then prepared myself for a story-driven gacha game that could potentially do more for me than empty my wallet. Developed by Pokelabo, along with lead writer Yoko Taro, known for his work on the Drakengard and Nier series, SINoALICE delivers on the dark and intriguing stories of some familiar fairy tales.
SINoALICE follows the intertwined stories of some characters from your childhood, such as Snow White, Little Red Riding Hood, Alice from Alice in Wonderland, and a few others. Each of these characters resides within the “Library,” which appears to be run by two nightmare-inducing puppets named Parrah and Noya. These characters all wish to have their authors revived – like Lewis Carroll, the author of Alice in Wonderland – for their own personal reasons. However, the catch is that they’ll need to kill each other for this to happen.
Throughout the game, you’ll learn more about each fairy tale through character monologues, but these aren’t the prettied up Disney versions. The monologues are well written, and voice acted, and they provide a real feel for the depravity, depression, sadness, and anger that each fairy tale has gone through. For example, the SINoALICE iteration of Red Riding Hood is basically a crazed serial killer who only gets enjoyment out of inflicting pain and suffering on others. She even punts the head of a poor Sleeping Beauty who’s just trying to get some sleep.
Future acts and fairy tale characters will be released in future updates to dive more into their journeys and how they work together or tear each other apart. While a lot of the contemporary storytelling is rather vague, it fits well with the overall bleakness of the setting and even had me wanting to read the original stories of these characters.
As great as it is to see how the writing of SINoALICE shines, the same can’t exactly be said about the gameplay. Encounters have you face waves of enemies in some simple real-time combat by using a variety of weapons at your disposal. You’ll also be paired with four other CPU controlled fairy tales of actual players to help you along the way.
The cool thing is, there’s a co-op system that allows anyone to hop into your battle at any time, and everyone gets the same awards after the win. However, the actual battles aren’t as intricate as they could be since what you’re doing is selecting from a rotating hand of “cards” that have your weapons on them. You get your weapons through the gacha pulls, which are the main priority – not pulling the fairy tale characters.
Selecting a weapon card has you attack, heal, buff, or debuff depending on the weapon’s abilities. You do have to think about things like your weapon’s element versus the element of your enemy, managing your SP meter, which your weapons are tied to, and if you have to use a weapon that heals you after an attack. You can level up your weapons and fairy tale characters using them, making up for an overall gear score, which indicates your power.
It’s more or less reminiscent of elements that many old school RPGs feature, but instead of selecting attack or magic a bunch of times, you tap on weapons. You can also summon “nightmares” that give various buffs to your team during a fight. Again, not the most exciting system, but it’s serviceable enough. I understand gacha games aren’t always known for triple A levels of gameplay, but I was still disappointed overall with these offerings. There just seems to be a lot of room to add more robust systems to SINoALICE. At the very least, the game has fun ways to regain stamina to play more in the form of a swiping minigame. However, the system doesn’t translate well to the Colosseum guild battles.
Colosseum uses the same battle system, except imagine having ten players providing additional support for your top five players. The five highest guild score members act as the primary attackers against the opponent. The remaining members stay in the backline where they can attack, heal, and summon nightmares the same as the frontline but from a safe distance. Your guild’s main goal is to break through their team to get to their guild battleship and start smashing it up and gain points—the team with the most points after 15 minutes of furiously selecting weapons wins.
At first, it may seem like furious button mashing, but you really have to be observant about what your team needs at almost every second. If you see one of your frontline guild members with low HP, hopefully, you and some other guild members are prepared to pump that person with healing immediately. Or you might want to buff them with physical and magical defenses.
Also, during the fight, if your own SP gauge runs out, you can quickly fill it up by jumping into a quick minigame of killing nightmare dolls. Because the battles are so long, you can actually plan out how to approach the entire fight with the rest of your team, thanks to the in-game chat (which is rare in a gacha PVP game). These battles can get intense, and I only wish the same level of intensity could be brought toward the main campaign.
SINoALICE gives us a rather gripping narrative that mobile fans may not be accustomed to. The dark fairy tale themes are very much from the mind of developer Yoko Taro, and it works exceptionally well with the presentation. Unfortunately, that same genius isn’t found in the battle system outside of the standout online Guild Battles. It’s unlikely the current gameplay formula will change, but the game’s story and characters will surely keep you invested across future updates.
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