The most egregious flaw inherent to the mobile gaming platform is neither a dearth of high-quality titles nor the frustration that comes from grappling with slippery virtual buttons; it’s a failure that stems from the way most smartphone games are fundamentally designed. The free-to-play model leverages addictive behaviors by urging players to continue feeding coins into a figurative slot machine for just one more SSS-class rare item, and another, and perhaps another after that. It is for this reason that I rarely seek out smartphone games. Yet occasionally I am lured by the promise of a particular developer’s pedigree, which is exactly what piqued my interest in Egglia: Legend of the Red Cap. A Mana-adjacent storybook adventure with beautiful audiovisual design, Egglia promises a fully-featured game at a premium price, but curiously falls back on free-to-play timer mechanics to supplement its soporific gameplay.
The player takes the role of the titular redcap, an amnesiac demon named Chabo who awakes in the only remaining corner of a world shattered into egg-like pieces. Shorn of the bloodlust typically attributed to his race, Chabo falls in line with an altruistic elf, Robin, and begins rebuilding their world piece by magical piece. Their tiny village quickly begins to expand with the arrival of more fairytale creatures (orcs, dwarves, giants, fairies, gremlins, you name it), all of whom ignite some manner of misadventure for Chabo to embark upon. Egglia’s story is almost entirely comedic in nature, mixing slapstick with the occasional piece of expositional dialogue. It’s thin, and I found the game’s fixation on wacky hijinks tiresome; its saving grace is a superbly written script that gives each character tremendous flavor with unique accents, speech patterns, and verbal tics. My (red) cap is off to the localization team on this one.
Egglia’s resemblance to PS1 classic Legend of Mana — or was that Magical Starsign? — could not be more apparent, from its earthy, rustic character designs to a customizable world map that might as well be a facsimile of LoM’s. It is awash in verdant green, its illustrations sumptuously adorned with fine details that bloom into a distinctly Mana-inspired aesthetic. Even veteran Mana composer Yoko Shimomura returns to score a portion of its soundtrack. Ping me when it’s available on CDJapan, please.
Yet while Egglia is pretty to look at, it is virtually bereft of compelling interaction. Exploration is limited to small board game segments, wherein the player rolls a die and moves Chabo along a hexagonal grid toward an exit space. These maps are cramped and have few divergent paths. Tapping an adjacent object, like a tree, will collect it as a resource (more on that in a moment), while tapping an enemy will damage it in accordance with the number the player rolls on a given turn. That’s it. The only other way to influence the outcome of an excursion is to arrange a team of three elemental spirits beforehand; these grant access to a handful of spells and resistances to enemy attacks. There is only a modicum of strategy once Chabo is in the thick of things, which leads to a lot of mindless tapping on the screen to advance.
The braindead nature of Egglia’s combat is exacerbated by the baffling inclusion of time-waster mechanics endemic to this platform. Companions can accompany Chabo on his outings to assist him in gathering materials, but they function like passive abilities (i.e. you never see them) and each has a “morale” resource that regenerates in real time. In town, Chabo can grow plants and gather ore; these, too, replenish in real time. The aforementioned spirits can be persuaded to join Chabo by cooking them food using materials gathered in the wild, but — you guessed it — they require a certain amount of real time to pass before they appear, and you never know who you’re going to get, as they ascribe to a seemingly arbitrary hierarchy of rarity. This adds a totally unnecessary element of randomness that artificially extends the length of the game. There are also boring fetch quests to undertake, if delivering large quantities of miscellaneous detritus to dopey townsfolk is your thing. Hey, at least you can decorate Chabo’s house in the meantime. You’ll receive no tangible benefit for doing so, of course. This is Egglia we’re talking about.
That pervasive feeling of emptiness more or less encapsulates Eggliain a nutshell — er, eggshell. Lovely art and localization aside, it just feels like there isn’t much game here. I have an aversion to mobile games precisely because so many are built around waiting for things to happen (or worse, paying money to make them happen faster). I hoped Egglia, backed by an experienced team of talented creators, might buck that trend. It doesn’t. I was right to be wary.