Black Stone, the debut game from developer Studio JwP, is a valiant first effort. Hardcore fans of RPGs and adventure games will undoubtedly find the game’s presentation tantalizing, from the featherhaired warrior adorning its app icon, to the neoclassicist JRPG art style, to the lush fantasy world that is expertly depicted on the game’s title screen. Unfortunately, the game very quickly fails to deliver on these early promises.
The game establishes its story very quickly, and it will be familiar to any gamer with a passing knowledge of the genre: adventurer sets off to recover a magical item in order to save the world. Along the way, he meets a variety of colorful characters who join him in his quest. Each character in your party has unique melee and magic attacks, different strengths and weaknesses, and customizable equipment and stats. During battle, players will control one character in real time, using the standard “three button + analog stick” touchscreen display for attacks, magic, and item use. Your other party members are controlled by the game’s AI, governed by a “gambit” system similar to that found in Final Fantasy XII or the Dragon Age games where a character’s action profile is set to attack, defend, or something more complex. As you slice through hordes of enemies, you can gain experience points to unlock new character abilities, and uncover loot and equipment to help you weather the constant onslaught.
Atmosphere and world building are essential to the role-playing experience, and Black Stone succeeds in these areas — mostly. The background art and character design, while not cutting edge, are vivid, dynamic, and rooted in the traditions of classic JRPGs, as is the music, which is exciting and quite diverse from level to level. Combat is intuitive, fast-paced, and mostly satisfying, if limited. What’s more, the stat building and loot collecting aspects provide a solid foundation for replayability. These attributes, however, are entirely eclipsed by a number of fatal flaws, most notably the unintentionally hilarious localization.
The localization is not just bad; it is sub-Google Translate broken English, ripe with would-be memes. Even the advertising for the game makes Zero Wing’s “All your base are belong to us” look Shakespearean in comparison. For example, the official Black Stone Google Play page reads: “Defeat the enemies and the behind to weather crisis.” Here’s the first line of text from the game: “The heart of the dragon had been extinction now never lose vitility (sic).” The translation problems would be nothing more than running comic relief if not for the fact that these issues spill over into the user interface, rendering the intuitive and simple design into an incoherent mess. While loot is plentiful, what should be the simple process of outfitting your characters with your newfound swag is excruciating.
Black Stone is also bogged down by problems that are endemic to the Android RPG landscape. Repetitive levels, uneven difficulty that ramps up at random intervals, and the frequent, glacial load times begin to grate the nerves midway through Stone’s 40 level campaign. On the other hand, it’s hard to really call the game an RPG, with virtually no exploration of the game world, no shops to visit, and unchanging environments. Instead, Black Stone is structured as a series of slash-fests, with unintentionally non-sequitur laced dialogue scenes and narration. In fact, you can actually choose for your main character to be controlled by the game’s AI along with your party members, essentially letting the game entirely play itself. So much for role-playing.
When you get down to the bare bones of Black Stone, it’s apparent that the game was made by developers whose vision extended beyond their technical capabilities. Beyond the shiny exterior, what you’re left with is a below-average hack and slash with mild RPG elements. If you don’t mind the shoddy localization and a near total lack of variety, you might find just enough depth to boot it up once in a while. It’s a very appropriate 10+ age rating as Black Stone may hold some appeal for younger gamers making their first foray into the world of RPGs. For the rest of us, there’s not much here to recommend.
Is it Hardcore?
Not at all.
What could be a simple hack and slash RPG with interesting visuals and compelling mechanics is completely ruined by poor localization and numerous technical flaws. There are enough incomprehensible menu screens, repetitive levels, and visual glitches to make Black Stone a hard pass.