Remember when we still liked J-RPGs?
Over the course of the past console generation, we’ve seen Japanese RPGs, including the once mighty Final Fantasy series, slowly fade from view. The genre that once helped to push Sony to the forefront has once again returned to nerdy niche status. And yet those classic RPGs from companies like Squaresoft, Enix, and SEGA are still remembered fondly. Re-releases of Chrono Trigger and the early Final Fantasy games have been tearing up the Android sales charts despite unusually high prices, and an original retro-style Final Fantasy has somehow managed to command a shocking $29 price tag. Clearly the classics of old are as in demand as ever, even as their modern descendents fade from view.
Enter Kemco. The once-proud 8-bit publisher has been making moves in the mobile space during the past few years, with a rapid release schedule of old-school RPGs designed to look and play like lost Super Nintendo cartridges. Although similar, each of these releases has had its own twists, and we’ve seen gradually more polish with each game they publish.
End of Aspiration marks their latest and perhaps most Final Fantasy-like quest yet. You’re going to find just about every J-RPG trope and cliché you can name here, and that seems to be very much to the point. End of Aspiration has little interest in updating the formula, preferring instead to be a portal into the childhoods of aging 30-somethings with fond memories of the SNES.
The story of a young traveler and his new companions trying to stop the revival of an ancient technology will likely seem unidentifiably familiar, but in fairness, there aren’t many games with truly original stories. The translation, too, is a bit dry, but mercifully free of much of the awkwardness the genre suffered from in its heyday. Some of the choices seem a bit peculiar, like the gang of Mohawked punks called the “Mafia” or the “Atomijems” they use to power the robots built by the ancient civilizations, but if you can get past the nomenclature, the worst crime you’ll find is a few clichés.
Most of the graphics maintain an old-school, tile-based pixel art style that instantly brings back memories of the 16-bit era. Some of Kemco’s past games, like Symphony of Eternity struggled a bit with this, and sported some pretty janky tiles at times, but End of Aspiration manages to look at least as good as most of the mid-‘90s games it imitates, if not quite reaching the heights of Tales of Phantasia or Final Fantasy VI. It does take a few liberties, with high-res battle sprites and backgrounds, as well as detailed character portraits during dialog, but the intended aesthetic is still clear. Likewise, the MIDI-style soundtrack is a pitch-perfect imitation of the sort of tunes you would expect.
The gameplay likewise offers no surprises, and for most that will largely be a good thing. The random encounters and turn-based battles will likely be immediately familiar to anyone with any experience with the genre. End of Aspiration’s lone twist on the formula is a “BP” gauge that can be used to summon “familiars” to perform very powerful attacks or support moves. This bar is charged by attacking and by taking damage, in much the way a fighting game Super Meter works, and each character can store up to three of these opportunities before the bar is maxed. This comes in addition to the usual magic, defense, and attack options you would expect, and simply serves to give you one more tool in your box.
These familiar attacks seem largely overpowered. Right from the start of the game, two of your characters have the ability to fully heal the entire party with one of these moves. This is consistent with the rest of the game’s balance, which seems unusually skewed in the player’s favor for such an old-school game. Death will be a rare sight, indeed, with characters that are all capable of both healing and attack spells, and seem to level up every few battles. This might be a good or a bad thing depending on how much nostalgia you have for knuckle-biting boss fights, and long nights of level grinding.
And then there’s the matter of in-app purchases. Littered across the game’s world, you’ll find various special areas, guarded by a bouncer who will chew your ear off with a sales pitch about all the wonderful things within, and direct you to the game’s shop where you can buy access. While these areas are hardly vital to the game, and basically amount to DLC, the way they’re advertised in-game seems a bit tacky.
Without a doubt, End of Aspiration knows exactly what it wants to be. Anyone browsing through the Play Store can take one glance at the screenshots, and get a pretty good idea of what to expect. Kemco’s latest is indeed their best yet; a game that neither surprises, nor disappoints. It’s a credible imitation of a dying genre’s glory days, sure to please anyone looking for a new quest in the grand old tradition.