You can either look back and sigh with longing for bygone days, or cringe and hope to forget. Tales of Illyria 3: Destinies is like an old familiar friend you should be ready to welcome back into your home (or onto your phone). Part traditional turn-based RPG, part Oregon Trail-like survival game, Tales of Illyria keeps what made the first two games innovative while offering new ways to deepen player engagement. Like that old friend, Illyria 3 has grown in all the right ways.
Previous Illyria Android RPGs placed players as predefined main characters with their own linear stories. This time, players are free to design their character and make their own choices. Once I chose my gender, head, basic skills, alignment, and named my hero, I learned about my main quest to track down my (or my character’s) father. From there I was free to roam, and I did, visiting every place in town, gathering resources and side quests. I had to fortify myself against the challenges of the long journey ahead. And I do mean long.
The main addictive mechanic in the Illyria games is the journeying. You have to bring enough food and water to survive, and furs too for winter or you’ll risk freezing to death. When you choose a location from the massive world map, the game tells you how many days it will take to get there, so you can plan accordingly. A couple of times I miscalculated and ended up going thirsty and hungry, and freezing for a few days. I was lucky enough to reach the next town where I replenished my stores before Death caught up with me. This mechanic should be familiar to anyone who’s ever played Oregon Trail.
This is one of the cleverest ways I’ve seen of dealing with the travel inherent in most fantasy role playing games. Older games from a bygone era showed your little icon moving around a static map until a random encounter popped up and pulled you into combat, instead Tales of Illyria keeps you engaged. While combat uses the familiar turn-based structure your with four rows of combatants and upcoming moves displayed to the right, Illyria’s style of travel is a better, more engaging option than the static map. You travel through an environment with which you can still interact, snatching plants and hunting animals in the back- or fore-ground with a tap on the screen. Like a traditional RPG, whether you actually grab anything is determined by your avatar’s stats, in this case Alchemy and Hunting respectively.
The travel aspect shows off Illyria 3‘s successful combination of an interactive open world environment and the hand of fate played out here, as usual by way of the almighty RPG dice. As time passes and the seasons change, the environment will become less yielding – prey and wild edibles become nearly nonexistent. Even warm weather has its own pitfalls as extreme heat makes you thirsty, and you go through more water than usual. You even have to be careful about refilling your water stores in the wilderness — the water may be contaminated and make you sick. These are just a few examples of the detail used in Illyria 3’s survival system – it’s not as simple as an apple a day to keep the doctor away. As in other Illyria android RPGs, the survival system ultimately serves as a unique and compelling layer that keeps players both engaged and constantly thinking ahead.
The roads are a dangerous place, and I found myself rubbing my hands together in glee anticipating all kinds of odd encounters with every long journey. In addition to encounters at fixed map points, random encounters still pop up and they range beyond broken axles and discarded wagons (although your horse can break a leg, and you do find abandoned cottages) — there are over 900 instances; enough to feel endless.
Encounters can be hilarious or terrifying in turns; one moment your cat is scaring off another little kitty that tried to hone in on your affections, the next you’re getting hit in the face by the world’s most annoying jester. Out on the road you might contract the Black Death from a stranger you tried to help — or rob.
Because, you could be that kind of guy; the kind of guy that goes around stealing from the weak and kicking kittens. Tales of Illyria gives you the choice to be karmically good or bad. There’s so much freedom here you can take just enough rope to hang yourself.
You can gain party members, most of whom have their own opinions and quests. What’s more, sometimes your behavior affects their moods in unexpected ways – what increases your morale, like helping a stranger, might lower the morale of one of your evil companions. If most of your party is good, you’ll need to find a way to boost that evil one back into a good mood or risk piss-poor combat performance. Often enough that means dishing out some hard-earned gold in a brothel.
Which brings to mind one of the only possible downsides of Tales of Illyria 3: Destinies—the difficulty of keeping a single gold piece in your pocket. As in almost every RPG anywhere, food, armor and weapons all cost money, as does training in the disciplines that let you get by with a little help from your friends (alchemy, hunting, discernment, scouting, engineering, etc.). Rewards are scarce and, as I said, the road is a hard place. That’s where the in-game store comes in. Everything is vastly easier if you can buy a full suit of super armor or a handful of bombs that kill in one hit with a dollar of real money.
Easier, mind you. Not just plain easy. Even after I treated myself to a suit of armor for every character, three parcels of bombs, and 1,000 gold coins, I still came across moments in the game where I had to carefully monitor combat to survive the fight, and later I ran out of money. I can only imagine that fight would have been impossible without the added edge I got from the store, and life on the road would have been much harder without the skills I bought with that 1,000 gold. Illyria 3’s difficulty could seem blistering to the casual gamer, but that difficulty can be nearly negated with a trip to the in-game store. It puts the game almost in reach for players that weren’t raised on a diet of tabletop RPG campaigns and classic computer games. Nothing costs more than one dollar, but keep in mind, nothing there will completely save you, and some of the special items can be found in-game as rewards, or purchased with in-game gold from special vendors.
Without the in-game store crutches, you’ll have to be way wilier to live and keep all of your party members on the up-and-up. The game auto-saves every time you leave town, but make sure you manually save at the midway mark on journeys. You’ll thank me later.
Notice I haven’t focused much on the graphics and sound. The latter is not offensive – it punctuates what it should and is otherwise unremarkable. The graphics, being unavoidable, are deserving of some comment – they look like they were drawn by an artist with potential but no professional training, though it doesn’t end up mattering much. Illyria 3 is not the game that you pick up to satiate your eye’s sweet tooth. There are prettier games out there with licensed music, and flawless framerates. Prettier mobile games rarely possess this kind of depth. Survival in Illyria 3 is addictive; the encounters are so varied that you feel hard pressed to get the same instance twice, and the environment is yet another challenger. Add to that the game’s well-written quests, the quests of your companions (there are 12 possible in the game, including a talking demon dog) as well as the four expansions available at launch, and players can expect an experience to rival any classic CRPG for depth and breadth.
In the course of my life, I’ve waded through a sea of mediocre games that rest the heft of their laziness on the back of some preexisting property or other. While Illyria 3 makes its inspirations clear, it is by no means lazy. If anything, I offer applause to developer Little Killerz and Project Lead Chad Mannicia for making use of a mechanic I remember fondly and producing a game that adds a nostalgic note to the modern turn-based RPG without over-doing it. Thanks to the variety of the environments, the changing seasons, and the colorful characters you encounter along the way, Tales of Illyria 3 proves itself a lovingly crafted nearly-never-ending journey through a massive open world that doesn’t rely on superficial graphical nuance to support it. It’s just a big, fun, challenging game. If you love RPGs, get it.
The huge world map makes Oregon Trail envious, and the organized inventory system puts Skyrim to shame.