With its fast-paced battles and rich, engaging lore, Punishing: Gray Raven isn’t just another cookie-cutter anime-style gacha game on mobile. The action-packed JRPG blends adrenaline-pumping hack-and-slash missions with a fascinating narrative hook - all complemented by character design and world-building that just looks hella cool.

The story of Punishing: Gray Raven

In Punishing: Gray Raven, humanity is locked in a desperate battle to take back the planet from the Punishing virus, a deadly disease that turns Mechanoids hostile against any form of human consciousness. The Post-Pandemic Age has seen the rise of both the Corrupted machines and the Constructs - humanity’s last hope. Constructs are cybernetically augmented for battle using a human mind base and a reconstructed body, with the Ego Ocean system in place in each Construct frame to keep the Punishing Virus at bay.

You play as the Commandant of a group of elite Constructs called Gray Raven, with team leader Lucia, healer Liv, and ranged DPS Lee. As you go on dispatched missions from HQ, you discover hidden truths about the world around you and the so-called trustworthy systems in place, learning more about your team’s past and the mysterious group of Ascendants in the process.

To say that I’m heavily invested in the game’s story is a total understatement - not only do the gacha rolls take a backseat for me, but I also can’t bring myself to hit that Skip button because every scene is just that engaging. As a narrative-driven gamer, the story (set in such a deep mythos) is what really drives me forward. Of course, it definitely helps my overall enjoyment of the game to see just how awesome each character looks both in and out of battle.

Combat system

Yes, you really will be tempted to spend every last dollar on the characters you pull, with their many, many cosmetics (or Coatings) and their ultra-slick moves on the field. The well-developed combat system ensures that every unit is just an absolute joy to play as. Hitting opponents earns you blue, red, and yellow Orbs, which you can use to chain various combos to maximize damage and boost survivability against the Corrupted.

You can also switch between party members on the fly, with each character unleashing their Signature Moves and Passive Skills on cue. There’s a level of strategy involved here as opposed to just button-mashing, but thankfully, you can get the hang of your fave character’s moves in the game’s Training missions.

Campaigning in Punishing: Gray Raven

That said, battling through the main campaign isn’t all there is to the game. You can farm materials in various dungeons to level up your units, as well as complete mission favors from the Constructs who need a little bit of assistance. Daily quests and login bonuses reward you with tons of goodies as expected of the genre, along with story quests for each Construct that you can unlock as you progress through the chapters.

For instance, unlocking Lucia’s story quest lets you play through her traumatic childhood to better understand her past - fair warning, though: her story isn’t exactly all sunshine and butterflies, which is exactly in sync with the game’s dark and twisted world.

Speaking of heartwrenching stories, progressing through the main campaign unlocks Hidden Chapters as well, where you can play through past missions from a different perspective - in particular, from the often-tragic point of view of the bad guy.

A well-written villain story and motif

 A good villain will always be driven by his or her own motivations, and no villain ever thinks that they’re the villain. The Hidden chapters will put you in the shoes of past missions’ big bosses because the game just wants to up the level of tragedy every chance it gets.

If you do ever get tired of all the hacking and slashing (which I’m pretty sure you won’t), you can always take a breather in the Dorm. Here, you can decorate the Consturcts’ dormitories with all kinds of fun and quirky stuff, sending them off on Chores or keeping them satisfied during their downtime as they’re chilling out. You can tailor-fit your decorations to suit each character’s moods, needs, and requirements, and when you keep them happy (you can even Pet them, for goodness’ sake), they’ll offer you Dorm Coins you can spend to prettify the place.

Tasks and gifts in Punishing: Gray Raven

Accomplishing tasks in the Dorm also rewards you with Gift items you can present to your Construct assistant in the main menu, which will raise their affinity level for you to unlock Secrets, Voice Clips, and special Story files. I’ve recently found myself obsessing over my cafe-themed Dorm room so I can raise my Lucia-Dawn’s affinity for me and find out more about her checkered past - it probably isn’t a very healthy thing to obsess about, is it?

Overall, Punishing: Gray Raven has impressed me in more ways than one, and if it weren’t for an arm injury, I wouldn’t be able to pry myself away from this game. The global version is in CBT at the moment, and if you’re a fan of JRPGs or simply looking for a change of pace from your run-of-the-mill gachas, suffice it to say that you’ll totally be missing out if you don’t download the game as soon as it launches officially.

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