There’s been an upswing of hybrid video games in recent years, which all aim to combine multiple genres or gameplay concepts into a singular experience. Sometimes, much like your mother’s tuna surprise casserole recipe, the medley turns out to be all hype. However for every disappointment, there exists a substantial amount of games that get the recipe just right.
Going into Crowntakers, I had hoped it would be one of those successes. Its promise of combing the rogue-like genre with a turn based strategy experience similar to Final Fantasy Tactics was a tantalizing notion. Properly done the resulting experience could be something truly great.
I’m happy to report then that Crowntakers does much to realize the full potential of its ambitious pedigree.
Understanding how the game plays is quite simple if you are at all familiar with its influences. Much like FTL, you are set forth on a multipath journey, where time is a resource and each stop can bring about a random event, a shop or service to use your accumulated funds at or a battle with all manners of foes. Those battles play out much like the aforementioned classic Final Fantasy Tactics in that you maneuver your characters around a battlefield and make use of their unique abilities to win the day, or at least survive to see another.
Where this time tested method of strategy gaming gets to shine-through is in the inclusion of those rogue-like elements. Each step of your journey can bring with it an unexpected occurrence for both good and ill, and should you be unable to meet the challenge that shows itself and your hero falls, the game is over. That’s right. All the resources, levels, companions and skills you’ve acquired along the way will prove to be for naught, as you start from the beginning of the game with nothing you didn’t have the first time you booted the app up.
Well…maybe. This is because Crowntakers makes the interesting decision to two difficulty levels. One starts you from the beginning of the game at level one, and the other allows you to start over with everything you earned. It’s an obvious attempt to not scare off new players with the imposing notion of losing everything, and while the fact the easier setting is optional means it doesn’t greatly hinder the experience, I couldn’t possibly recommend the easy version of Crown Takers to anyone but the incredibly nubile or timid. Playing without the fear of true consequences ruins much of the appeal of playing this game at all.
But in its proper perm-death state, Crowntakers is a true joy. Your journey through its cartoony medieval world (which is visually pleasing, if not overtly impressive) has all the epicness of an RPG, but the gameplay isn’t nearly as tiresome as some of the more traditional RPGs can sometimes become. Every step of your journey feels fresh, and it is truly addictive to attempt to overcome the odds in order to see the game through to its multiple endings.
Yet, for all of Crowntakers brilliant choices of inspiration, disappointingly the one it failed to draw sufficient influence from, is Fire Emblem.
Whereas both Fire Emblem and Crowntakers both present a likely SRPG world where death looms around every corner and cannot be undone, only the later makes full use of those traditional rouge-like elements. While the unpredictable nature of those elements can be intoxicating, it does mean that Crowntakers is much more heavily dependent on luck to survive. The right series of events can propel a player to victory on their first attempt, whereas the wrong roll of the dice along the way can undue it in an instant.
It’s that element that gives these games their gambling-like addictiveness, but when compared to a SRPG masterpiece such as Fire Emblem you do lose some of that emotional investment and those moments where you are forced to use true strategic wit to make sure your companions live, or decide if one must die in order to find victory. The lack of a proper story in Crowntakers doesn’t really help the matter, as the brief narrative interludes do nothing to make you feel connected to this world or your characters, nor put much thought into their demise beyond the annoyance of starting over. Crowntakers is very much like an arcade strategy game in that way. You can almost see the burnt in “Insert Quarters” screen with each failed attempt.
While you might make a sound argument that the two titles are too different to compare in this manner, consider, when you do, that the comparison does aptly highlight how luck based Crowntakers can be at times. It’s hard to not find some of the interactive elements of the game to be a veil for what really fuels the experience. There were many times, especially during the combat sequences, where I found myself wishing I could be just a bit more of a master of my own fate, rather than an RNG servant.
If you know what you get out of the rouge-like genre, and have been looking for something to make you stray from Out There from time to time, Crowntakers is a worthy experience. The games flaws are mostly tied into the limitations of the genre itself, and its attributes make it a mobile experience that is equally compelling for pick up and play gamers, and those looking for an app to devote the foreseeable future of their mobile gaming time to.
If you’re the type of gamer that doesn’t mind your success hinging upon a heavy dose of luck, Crowntakers will prove to provide an addictive and irreplaceable addition to your Android library.