When I was younger, I distinctly remember watching my older brother play video games for hours on end. I didn’t get a lot of opportunities to play, mostly because he could beat me up if he wanted, but I sure did watch in amazement as the story unfolded before my eyes. The one game that never fails to excite these memories for me is Final Fantasy Tactics, which is highly regarded as a pinnacle of Turn-Based Tactical RPG. Needless to say, when I was presented with the opportunity to review Hellenica, I felt that I was well equipped to adequately handle the task with zeal.
When it comes to the tactical gameplay, Hellenica lives up to the billing.
Each battle scenario the player is presented with has unique obstacles and goals that can be overcome and accomplished to progress the story. A lot of these goals encourage the use of the environment, and that almost gives off the impression of a puzzle type game instead of an RPG. This isn't a negative though, as it adds a layer past the grind-ey feel that many RPG’s have. This battle system is the strength of the game, and ultimately is a band-aid for other elements of gameplay at times.
To aid in the completion of the goals presented within the battle system, the main characters have abilities that can be combined to create a very cohesive and satisfying experience. Each character that joins the party within the game can take advantage of earned experience (which seems to be doled out to the party as a whole, and not character individually), to expand upon their existing skillset. Although there is a limited amount of these skills to be earned per party member, they are versatile and can certainly be useful as the game progresses.
I didn’t get the chance to test the scalability of this system as the game unfolds into later stages, but a concern of mine would be that if the battle scenarios do not stay fresh, it will quickly become a monotonous routine of using the more powerful skills to accomplish every mission. The lack of individual weaponry that can be customized is also noteworthy, as gear is a very traditional barometer of success within the roleplaying genre.
So far, the positive barometer of my experience within the game has come from the graphics though, which makes the lack of gear more of an irritant than a flaw. From the opening sequence where Diona, the Arktos (and main character) sits alone at a campfire in the forest as the music introduces the game, to the battles where she transforms to and from a bear to attack enemies, I am transfixed. This is not a graphically intensive game, but the sprites for each character are rendered beautifully, and the small movements they exhibit while simply standing still and breathing offer a little bit of realism to each of them.
The developers of Hellenica boast a, “labyrinthine branching story,” that has the ability to shift based upon conversational choices throughout the gameplay. This is a true statement, as the story progression mechanic is a branching chapter based system that shows ‘unlocked’ paths as you complete conversation with tertiary members of each city your party arrives at. The details are so dense and the story so branching though, that it is hard to follow and actually pretty boring. After the first few battles I found myself clicking as fast as I could through the dialogue just to get to the summary of what each path entailed and into a battle. This is really unfortunate, because there are cool elements integrated such as a clickable text system within every conversation that contextualizes key characters and locations; the story is simply not paced in a way that encourages natural progression.
Fundamentally, Hellenica is good. I actually think it represents the genre pretty effectively, especially because it fits neatly into a spot somewhere between the classic tactical RPG’s that have been around seemingly forever, and the new wave of casual story driven RPG’s that are so popular today.
I am sure that many people will find the storytelling to be engaging and effective in ways that I did not, and that will round out the experience for them. As for me, I will just be sitting here clicking through each path in the storyline so that I can unlock enough skills to test out all of the fun battle mechanics. There are worse ways to spend my time, that is for sure.