There is no rough too deep or too dark that we at Hardcore Droid will not dig into to find an Android gaming diamond. While many are satisfied perusing the top 100 downloads section of the Play Store to see what’s new, we like to go a little further in our attempt to expose titles that may otherwise never see the light of day.
I can think of few games in recent memory that demonstrate that commitment more than Lanterna. It’s a game so obscure, typing “Lanterna Google Play” into your favorite search engine doesn’t even take you to the game’s listing.
That’s a shame too, as the listing is quite entertaining on its own right. Written by the title’s developer, it does everything from question whether the word “replayability” is real (it isn’t), to admitting to the game’s incredibly short 2-4 hour runtime. It’s a description almost completely lacking in professionalism and confidence, yet is so personal and heartfelt that it bears a certain peculiar charm of its own.
Appropriately, that’s actually not a bad summary of the game itself. Billed as a throwback to the PC RPGs of floppy disk days gone by, Lanterna tasks you with creating a character based on several classic role-playing archetypes, then setting them forth in the world on a quest to rescue their missing sister. Along the way you’ll level up, meet new party members, acquire new items, complete a side-quest or two, participate in some conversations and of course lay that medieval-fantasy smackdown on foes of various pedigrees via a turn-based grid battle system.
Where Lanterna first falls flat on its face in trying to nostalgically invoke the greatness of those games gone past, is in its presentation. You may have noticed that this game is by no means a looker, but in and of itself that’s not necessarily a bad thing. However, what is inexcusable is the way the presentation severely harm the gameplay.
See, most of the pertinent information in the game is relayed via text. In conversations this is appropriate, but when it comes to the game’s battle system trying to decipher your character’s health or exactly how much damage you are doing with only the aid of a miniature text box is damn near impossible. Many of my deaths were the result of the game not giving me any kind of real way to quickly reference my character’s current stats. Imagine playing Dragon Warrior without having your character’s stat box on-screen during battles, and instead having to rely solely on the combat text field for all your vital information. Then add several more party members to the mix to keep up with and you’ll begin to understand just how frustrating the combat in this game can be.
What makes that shortcoming all the more frustrating, is that there are aspects of the game’s combat system which are actually quite brilliant. By and large it’s your basic turn-based grid movement battle system, but certain aspects like the diminishing ability of range attacks based on enemy proximity or the generally competent nature of the enemy A.I, make it obvious that beneath that rough exterior lies gameplay of potentially significant merit.
And yes, the lackluster presentation admittedly does hurt the game on a more superfluous level as well. The biggest example of this is the music. At first I thought the game had none. I then discovered that it actually did, but had to be manually activated via the option menu. Curious why the music would be set by default to off, I turned it on and was greeted by a series of generic bleeps, bloops and the occasional five second repeating audio track of no notable merit. At that moment I not only understood why the music is off by default, but actually became grateful for the effort.
While the combat does make up the vast majority of this roughly three hour experience, the segments that don’t consist largely of inventory management, leveling up and interacting with the locals. The former two are both incredibly basic, but the latter is actually somewhat intriguing. The writing on display in the game’s dialogue is a step up from the “See Me After Class” second grade essay quality you see too often in lower production mobile games, and the interactions even feature moments where your skills and personality alter the options available. They’re actually highly reminiscent of the conversations found in Fallout 3. Granted, they are nowhere near as deep or satisfying as the ones found in that game, but it should say a lot that there is even a comparison to be made.
Actually, I have to say that what’s most impressive about Lanterna, is the obvious love that went into crafting it. Oh sure the combat is awkward, the menus should be much smoother in terms of navigation and displaying information cohesively and the overall game is most generously described as rough, but unlike a title like Wasteland Survivor (*shudder*) Lanterna feels like it was spawned out of genuine passion rather than an intense desire to cash in on this mobile gaming thing ASAP.
It’s a passion that only reveals itself only in small corners of the game such as the dialog or the little winks and nods to the more infamous parts of the genre itself, but it’s evident enough throughout to keep me from being too harsh on what is an individual’s reasonable effort to make a video game they can call their own.
That’s not to say Lanterna is brilliant, or even worth your $0.99. For many it will likely not be. However, die hard RPG fans willing to look past some, admittedly unfortunate, rough spots, may just find that Lanterna’s merits ultimately lead to a worthwhile experience.
While incredibly rough, Lanterna’s heart elevates it to a higher level.