"Combat is simplistic, but the customisation options for cards and characters provide greater depth for dedicated RPG fans. It's not the sort of game you would sit down and play for hours at a time, but Elune Saga is a fun RPG to play on the go."
Editor's Note: This review was written in March, 2015. Elune Saga may have been updated with new events and features since.
By now, I think most of us would agree there is a stigma surrounding mobile-based free-to-play titles that offer in-app purchases — often for valid reasons. Of course, that hasn't stopped hundreds of millions of people flocking to them daily and spending upwards of $100 on in-game items and other content. Fortunately, and perhaps surprisingly, Elune Saga is fun to play whether you spend a cent or not.
Elune Saga is a casual turn-based RPG that features card-collecting mechanics. There are a number of different modes you can play, but the game is primarily driven by the adventure mode: a series of battles with a light story thrown in. The adventure takes place over 29 levels, each featuring between 3-8 individual combats. Battles are quite straightforward, as you simply select your party of up to 4 characters and choose which attacks to use (based on cards you have equipped) until your enemies have no HP left. There's a rock-paper-scissors-rhythm to the elemental attacks, but otherwise the mechanics are fairly basic. You can speed up battles by selecting a "x2" speed button, or even let your party fight for themselves with "Auto". The AI is not particularly intelligent, but I found it useful when I was over-levelled or doing something else at the same time as playing. The real depth, however, comes from character and card customisation.
There are initially 4 heroes that you can buy for your party using gold, the regular currency, or earn through adventure mode. Another handful are also available for purchase with the premium Soulstone currency, which is given out fairly regularly for completing in-game achievements, or you can buy it using real money. Aside from attractive designs, the extra heroes aren't noticeably better than the default 4, so buying them is completely optional. As heroes level up, their stats increase, and you can buy costumes (some with gold, others with Soulstones) to give them extra abilities. However, their true power comes from the cards you have them equipped with.
Cards in Elune Saga are much like your traditional trading cards (though they can't actually be traded); each has an elemental alignment, attack power, health, and ability. Instead of using them to fight, you can bind cards to each of your heroes to grant them the card's stats and powers. As heroes level up, they unlock additional slots for binding cards to, and certain costumes have different elemental alignments that further increase the power of matching cards. By the maximum hero level of 50, you can have 6 cards bound per character: 3 primary cards that bestow all stats plus abilities, and 3 secondary cards that provide only their stat bonus. It's a great system, because it forces you to carefully consider which cards you want to take into battle in which slots.
New cards are added every week, and there's currently a solid selection to choose from. Cards are ranked from 1 - 6 stars in rarity and have levels that can be increased by feeding them other cards. Low rank cards can be won from adventure levels, which are great for powering up the rarer, more powerful cards you pull from Soulstone packs. They have fairly varied abilities from outright damage to healing to buffs and debuffs to elemental alignment changes. Cards have a maximum level, and once they have reached it, you can Awaken them into a more powerful (and higher ranked) version of themselves. For example, a maxed out 3-star card, when combined with the required materials, can be turned into its 4-star version. Not all cards can be Awakened, but it's a great way to work towards rarer cards instead of relying on a lucky pull from a pack.
It's worth noting that Soulstones are fairly easy to obtain as long as you're playing regularly. If you log in a few times each day, you have a chance at winning some in the lottery, and you can earn them by beating bosses in adventure mode or by unlocking achievements. Across a solid couple of weeks of playing, I earned enough Soulstones to buy a new hero, a costume, pull around 20 premium cards, and increase the maximum number of cards I can store. Eventually, many of my regular sources of Soulstones will dry up, but that would require months of investment that few players are likely to put in.
In addition to the previously-discussed adventure mode, dungeons also provide PvE content. Each day, a dungeon associated with a particular element is opened to explore. Aside from aesthetic differences, it follows the adventure mode's design of progressing from battle to battle. To open the doors of each dungeon, you require keys, 6 of which are given to you for free each day. Additional keys can be purchased with Soulstones. 6 keys is plenty to delve into 1, maybe even 2, dungeons to farm materials needed for Awakening, but unless you're lucky with drops, it's not enough to upgrade multiple cards. Still, the dungeons cycle weekly, so you can be patient and try your luck again next time.
There's enough content in dungeons and the adventure mode to keep you enthralled for months, but the Arena provides additional PvP challenges to truly test your skills. By using an arena ticket (earned by clearing adventure mode levels), you can engage in combat against another player's team. When you win battles, your weekly rank increases, and your score at the end determines the prizes you can win. Unfortunately, you are always paired against players with a similar ranking, not against a similar level. As a result, it's fairly common to be forced into a fight against players with characters 5, 10, 15, or even 20 levels higher than yours. Without a surrender button, it's depressing to watch your team get helplessly slaughtered.
Aside from arena battles, all combat depletes a portion of your stamina meter. Usually a hindrance and annoyance in free-to-play titles, the stamina meter in Elune Saga rarely interrupts your play. Early levels require very little stamina to play, and the game hands out Stamina Stones that recharge the meter far more regularly than you'll ever need them. As a result, you might need to occasionally stop to refill the meter, but I always had dozens of Stamina Stones on hand to do so.
Elune Saga is bright and colourful, with a vibrant atmosphere. Each party character has a unique and interesting design, and although palette swaps are not unusual, you still find a decent variety of enemies to fight. Card art is by far the standout, and they feature numerous beautiful designs. Most are human- or elf-like creatures, and while there are a few that sport evocative poses, they're generally more tasteful than many other mobile games in the genre. The art changes as you Awaken cards too, and it's fun to see what each new stage looks like. The game's sound design is far less impressive, with mediocre tracks and grating sound effects, though due to its mobile nature, I rarely had the sound up anyway.
Even if the free-to-play models of mobile RPGs have turned you away before, Elune Saga is a great game to engage with. While there are plenty of in-game items to spend real money on, Elune Saga never pushes them on you and dishes out enough premium currency so you can still see and enjoy all the game has to offer. Combat is simplistic, but the customisation options for cards and characters provide greater depth for dedicated RPG fans. It's not the sort of game you would sit down and play for hours at a time, but Elune Saga is a fun RPG to play on-the-go.