Across Age is an original action RPG for the iPhone and iPod Touch inspired by classic Japanese RPGs such as Ys. The game features an intuitive GUI, fun gameplay, pretty graphics, solid music, and a traditional storyline that I would expect to see on the DS or PSP rather than the iPhone/iPod Touch. Across Age is certainly not perfect by any means, but it is an enjoyable game and one of the better original RPGs on the iPhone and iPod Touch.
Gameplay and Control
Remember those old (and some new) Ys titles where Adol dispatched enemies by ramming into them? Remember how he could inflict more damage, and sustain less, if he rammed them from an angle? Well, that's how the battle mechanics work in Across Age. The main character, Ales, may technically be a swordsman, but like Adol in the Ys games, he charges enemies like a bull in Pamplona, Spain. But Ales can easily switch off with his female mage companion Ceska who learns a variety of projectile attacks.
Puzzles are another component to the gameplay. Along with the requisite block and switch puzzles are those that require Ales and Ceska to help each other with their unique field skills, like in The Lost Vikings. Because Ales and Ceska often need to exercise teamwork to use their special skills to the fullest extent, switching between them and/or making them separate from one another is a mere button press away. One of my favorite things was to make Ales pick up Ceska and toss her to less accessible places.
The gameplay is nothing new beyond the requisite town-field-dungeon formula. The field and dungeon areas are not at all complicated to navigate, though return trips to town can sometimes be cumbersome, unless you have a warp item. Character growth is not complicated either, using the traditional system of upgrading equipment at shops, fighting for experience (whomever is in the lead gets more EXP per battle), and learning skills through level-ups, items, and plot devices.
The GUI and menu system are quite intuitive. Menus effectively utilize the touch screen, and the GUI has a virtual cross pad and action button on the touch screen, making it feel more like a Game Boy game. There are also some nice conveniences, such as anywhere saving, a "memo" menu selection to remind you of your objective, and the option to retry from the screen where you died when the enemies got the upper hand and killed you.
The original 1.0 release of the game suffered from very loose, slippery controls and twitchy touch screen response. Sometimes it felt like I was fighting with the controls, especially during puzzles requiring pinpoint accuracy and during the requisite ice dungeon where I was skidding all over the place into danger. The deadliest enemy was often not some terrifying creature, but those corners I'd accidentally back myself into. There were a few times I was just about ready to flip because of the control.
The current 1.1 release features noticeably tighter controls. Sure no virtual D-Pad on the iPhone/iPod Touch is perfect, but the 8-way control offered here is an upgrade from Zenonia's 4-way D-Pad and superior to the sluggish response I experienced with Vay. With the tightened control, the difficulty feels more balanced and players will experience fewer cheap deaths. Yes, care still needs to be taken when making Ceska explore by herself during the early stages since she is a physically weak mage, but aiming her projectile attacks is easier, particularly with the auto-aimer item found partway through the game.
Graphics and Sound
The graphics are brightly colored, high-definition, 16-bit style 2D graphics optimized for the iPhone and iPod Touch. This is probably the best looking iPhone RPG to date. There are semi-animated cinematic cutscenes for the opening and ending, and both look terrific. The sprites are classic "deformed" sprites with big heads and squat bodies. Environments, particularly the lush green outdoor locales, offer a Secret of Mana or The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past vibe and feature cartoony looking enemies. The art accompanying major characters' dialogue boxes is a blend of Eastern and Western design. The character art looks appealing, though some of the female characters are a tad too fanservicey for my tastes (i.e. the headmistress of the magic school having an impossibly large bosom and wearing little more than a bikini.) It's par for the course for JRPGs, sure, but does it necessarily have to be?
The music is just as lush as the graphics. There is a wide variety of music from soaring guitar-driven pieces to more orchestral pieces to more retro-sounding MIDI pieces. Every piece is well composed and works within its intended context. The music may not necessarily pass the "remember the melodies" test, but I think the gut response from anyone who plays the game will be, "Yeah, this music is pretty good."
The story is, for all intents and purposes, a basic "find a bunch of ancient artifacts and use them to defeat an evil villain who is terrorizing the world with an equally ancient power he stole." What gives it some distinction is the buddy story angle featuring a straight-laced young knight named Ales and a somewhat flighty and rather insecure mage girl named Ceska. I thought the best parts of the story were the interactions between Ales and Ceska, but their development could have been deeper and less predictable. Then again, a game like this is anchored more by its gameplay than its story, so the story got the job done.
The dialogue is free of technical errors and shows distinct character personalities, but it sometimes reads a bit stiffly and formally rather than like fluid conversation. In addition, though the text is clear and legible, the font is a tad small. Given the sheer amount of real-estate left in the dialogue boxes even during the wordiest of conversations, a larger font could definitely have been used.
The final verdict is that Across Age is a solid little RPG. It's pretty to look at, fun to play, has great music, and even despite the slippery controls, Across Age may make you wish your daily commute was longer so you could play it longer. If you own an iPhone or iPod Touch and enjoy games like Ys, then the game is worth checking out.