Japanese and Korean role-playing games have always been a breed apart from their western counterparts.
Not only do they elicit a Marmite reaction from gamers across the board, but it’s not cut and dry even for the people who purport to love the things.
Some love the top-down variety, others swear by side-scrollers, but the thing all of them love most is the granite-carved certainty that they’re getting the same game they’ve been playing since childhood, only prettier.
So how do you innovate in one of the few genres where the slightest change to an established formula is seen as heretical?
Easy: you don’t. You just make sure to burnish the requisite lush anime visuals and polish the mechanics until you can see yourself in them.
A fraying yarn
To people not yet inured to the eastern RPG trope that the plot is window dressing for the addictive mechanics, don’t bother trying to follow it. We defy you to try to find a single strip of plot that hasn’t been worn ragged in too many games to count.
If there are Zenonia-style genre jokes and clever fourth wall breaches in Illusia, they sailed right past us.
Suffice to say there’s an evil looking tower choc-full of evil chaps in the distance, you’re heading there, and you’d better bring a sword. Everything else is mostly filler.
There are two classes for intrepid young adventurers to choose from, and the snappy rate of leveling means you can start a new game with either magic-user or warrior and quickly have a pretty good idea of the skill tree.
A hop and a skip
Your avatar’s movements are controlled using a Zenonia-style virtual D-Pad, packing in a few subtleties that you ignore at your peril.
These come in the form of two very well defined virtual buttons for jumping and attacking on the right hand-side of the interface.
This doesn’t exactly lead to deep or subtle combat - you generally just mash the 'attack' button and remember to tap some of the special moves you’ve hopefully set to some of the empty slots around the screen.
The major addition to the core RPG gameplay - platforming - works well for the most part, although the level design isn’t nearly as forgiving of touchscreen controls as it needs to be. One wrong move on the last jump and the last five minutes of careful planning become meaningless.
You could call that old skool, but we just call it frustrating, especially since the occurrence is anything but rare.
Bog-standard Sunday School JRPG design is the order of the day here, but that sounds a lot harsher than it is because bog-standard for JRPGs means a beautiful and vibrant world, exquisitely detailed and filled with hundreds of monsters and dozens of swirly, magical ways to murder them in.
Illusia has that in spades, and while it brings nothing incredibly new to the genre it does further the cause of the serious gamer in the Android Market while getting all the fundamentals right.
The platforming and general lack of innovation mar the appeal somewhat, but Illusia still manages to offer up a lush and expansive RPG experience that is often lacking on the Android platform.