After almost two decades of playing JRPGs, it's amazing how upsetting it is to see your party on the left side of the screen instead of the right.
But Dungeon Hearts doesn't care how upsetting it is. It puts your party on the left, offers no apologies, and starts chucking runes at you.
In many ways, this is the game's way of telling you to check whatever you know of JRPGs at the door, buckle in, and make sure your iPad is secure on your lap.
Otherwise, both you and your tablet will be in for a bumpy ride.Run, runes, run
Dungeon Hearts belongs to the emerging sub-genre of match-three / RPG mash-ups similar in description to Pixel Defenders Puzzle, but far more frenetic in its pacing.
You control four generic RPG hero archetypes (Knight, Wizard, Healer, and Archer) who face off against an enemy on the far side of the screen.
Your heroes attack when you tap a rune of the corresponding colour - red for Knight, green for Archer, and so on. Sometimes, Dungeon Hearts is generous and sends actual runes at you, but more frequently you'll need to create them by matching three circles of the same colour.
These circles and runes shoot down four lanes toward your party, in a style rather reminiscent of Theatrhythm Final Fantasy.It takes four to tango
But unlike in Theatrhythm, there's no rhyme or reason to the pacing of the runes. Worse still, enemies will attack you if a grey rune strikes a member of your party.
Tapping on a blue, green, red, or orange rune that's on the same lane as grey rune will destroy it, so there's a good amount of strategy to the game's punishing pace.
Still, more often than not you'll find yourself muttering "oh God oh God oh God" as grey runes bear down on your party.
Another unwelcome departure from Theatrhythm or any other match-three RPG is the fact that Dungeon Hearts does not give you a break.
After each battle, you're shunted off to a 'level-up' mini-stage that functions exactly like the combat levels of the game, except that there's no enemy to attack you.
Once these mini-stages are cleared, you're tossed unceremoniously into the next, and more difficult, battle.
This would be fine if there were a reliable way to pause Dungeon Hearts so you could take a break and lower your blood pressure a bit, but any attempt to exit the app causes it to crash and erases your progress for a given run.Dungeons and drag-ons
If you're content diving into an unrelenting frontal assault of fast-paced match-three gameplay that looks dangerously close to a rhythm game, then Dungeon Hearts is exactly what you've been waiting for.
But if you have more delicate constitution, it might be worth waiting to see whether an update resolves the gameplay-transforming instability issues.