Hortensia Saga
(2015)

[オルタンシア・サーガ -蒼の騎士団-]

Hortensia Saga (2015)

Publisher: Sega
Developer: f4samurai
Platform: Android/iOS

Overview:
A young lord and an incognito princess posing as his retainer work to uproot corruption in the Kingdom of Hortensia and unlock the mysterious power of Magonia.

Gameplay:
The core gameplay revolves around an active battle system, but the game encourages you to have it on auto, so the only thing you really need to do is swipe to activate the characters' special attacks when they become available. Modifiers in the queue like increased damage or extra gauge mix things up a bit. Honestly, more than the combat, the focus is on developing your characters. Characters come in five tiers: N, R, SR, SSR, and UR. They don't earn XP from battle but rather have to be leveled by feeding them other cards. You gain rank, which results in more AP and BP, and the characters get what's known as Episode Level. You see, each character has five Episode Levels that unlock Knight Story chapters and open up upgrades. (Interestingly, the Episode Level is shared by the different tiered cards for a single character block, which means you can ditch the lower tier cards when you get higher one without impacting your progress.) The Knight Story episodes are much like the Fate Episodes of Granblue Fantasy that provide characterization the main story doesn't have time for. Besides the character's default special, which may be an attack, buff or debuff, you can add up to two additional abilties and upgraded characters can have other character assigned to them as retainers for stat boosts and in-battle buffs.

Your party consists of four of your own characters plus a guest character taken from other players on a 3x3 grid. Different formations have to be purchased separately, but the default is usually sufficient. There are four types of attackers, which I'll just call slash, thrust, bash and range for simplicity's sake. Slash hits everyone in the front row, thrust hits a column, bash a 2x2 square in the front, and range the back row. This is were the formations can have an impact, but more than tactics, just brute-forcing it seems to be as good a way to go as any.

For single player, you've got the main questline and gaiden chapters, plus the Knight Story episodes, daily quests (which yield rewards for upgrades), and a special quest section for grind fodder (that requires special keys to unlock). The multiplayer consists of the arena, where your party goes up against that of other players, and the guild battles, which is like the arena but with teams that you form with other players. By and large, the multiplayer is garbage with horrible matchmaking. Even though your party strength is ranked, you aren't set up with someone at a similar level. You're either wildly outclassed or curbstomping hapless noobs. If it wasn't for the participation rewards, I'd eschew the multiplayer altogether.

Lastly, there are special limited quests that show up every week or two. Some can be simple battles with a story attached to it, but others do more particular things such as the poker tournament when I first started. The limited units you can earn are usually worth your time, and there are enough rewards besides to give you incentive to play.

The gacha system is fairly generous, but that's in part because the most effective way to break through the level caps is to merge two of the same card, so it can afford to toss out URs fairly easily. The cheapest draws are done with Knight Points, but you usually only get Ns and the occasional R. (Once a day you can spend 5K points for a guaranteed R and up, but my experience is that five regular draws will net you more.) Using crystals, you have the regular rare gacha and select gacha featuring particular units. The most effective use of your crystals I've seen is to wait for a step gacha, which not only tends to lower the usual 50-crystal requirement for several steps but also lets you pick an SSR on Step 3 and a UR on Step 6. Particularly as crystals become harder to come by, it's the way to go for free-to-play gamers.

As for other currencies, you get Knight Medals for guild battles, which can be used for another set of limited run cards, and Arena Medals for the arena, which I tend to use for upgrade fodder. And then there's of course gold for just about anything else (part of the requirement for character upgrades and for upgrading your guild's castle).

Story/Characters:
I'd heard this was a fairly plot-heavy game and that was one of the main things that drew me to it. I was impressed with the story in Granblue Fantasy and was hoping for something similar here. I wasn't disappointed. Now, while I like the main story and the core cast quite a bit, the supporting characters are more of a grab bag. Some are interesting and others are one-note jokes that fall flat. Thankfully, few of them have much impact on the story, so if you don't dig a particular side character, they're probably not going to bother you too much. If you're a Granblue player and you find Bee annoying, you'll find Kuu is much the same, only he isn't voiced as much. On the other hand, if you happen to like a particular side character, most of their characterization is going to be relegated to their Knight Story episodes.

While the lead (default name Harry) is a little bland at first, he does at least have some characterization, unlike the total cipher that is Gran/Djeeta from Granblue. He mostly serves as a board for the other characters to bounce off. There's a good dynamic in the core group of Marius, Deflotte, Maurice and Nonnoria and I'm a pretty big fan of Adelheid, too.

Graphics:
The main combat graphics are solid and appropriate for the mobile platform. We get simple SD characters that kinda look like Flash puppets. By and large, I rather like the character design, though some characters look a bit off (particularly Nonnoria). It would seem that there are different illustrators working on different characters like most card-based games, but the overall aesthetic is generally more unified than most other examples. Some character designs aren't really my cup of tea, but there are some really impressive illustrations out there.

Music/Sound:
The music is pretty solid and there are a few tracks I really like. While you have big-name seiyuu cast as a number of the characters, most of the voicework is limited to a few clips. Quest dialog is left unvoiced, to the point where some of the voices like Deflotte's feel off because I'm not used to hearing it and have already applied a different voice to the character in my head. If you're expecting as much voicework as Granblue Fantasy, you're not going to get it here, sadly.

Conclusion:
I really like this game for the main story, but the annoyances of the multiplayer section dampen my enjoyment overall. I'm not a huge fan of how character growth is handled either. These complaints aren't enough for me to discourage anyone from trying it, but I can't recommend it as much as I would like. Definitely give it a play if you want a mobile RPG that actually delivers a plot, but a lot of the Japanese mobile game trappings might turn you off a bit. Caveat emptor and all that.

Rating:
Play It


Gab