Tales of LINK - Day Seven
| Tales of LINK

I've never played a Tales game before, but that hardly seems to matter with Tales of LINK.

It's quite a departure for Bandai Namco's long-running JRPG series. It's a free to play mobile spin-off that swaps out the real-time combat for a turn-based match 3 system.

Its set up is also about as by-the-numbers as JRPGs come, so there should be no problems getting to grips with what's going on.

I'll be embarking on a quest (and no doubt gritting my teeth through infuriating dialogue) for the next week, and will report back with my findings every few days.

First impressions

Straight off the bat, you're smacked about the face with a load of bizarre and unintelligible exposition.

Baddies are called Ruinators, you're told. They grow from seeds, attack (and sometimes possess) people, and contaminate nature.

This scourge can be combated using Stonecanting, summoning warriors through Hero Stones that only saviours - big brave types like you, natch - are capable of possessing.

Oh, and your self-named character has amnesia. Obviously.

So far, so JRPG. But anyone even vaguely interested in playing Tales of LINK will likely have a high tolerance to this kind of nonsense, and I'm no exception.

But it's the combat that stands out. The idea of a matching puzzler-JRPG hybrid isn't a new one - Puzzle & Dragons is an obvious example - but the system here is nuanced enough to keep things interesting.

Party members represent different elemental strengths and abilities, and can be levelled up along the way. Linking two or more combatants of the same colour results in a combo attack, dealing damage dependent on the length of the chain and the element it represents.

It's too early to see if the system hides any true complexity, but for the first few quests it's at least satisfying to set off a chain of attacks, your diminutive matchbox heroes politely queuing up to whack a nasty beast in the face.

But a day's not long at all when it comes to JRPGs, so has Tales of LINK got enough under the hood to remain entertaining for the next few days? Only time will tell.

Day 3 - Toughening up

I'm starting to get it now, I think.

It begins to sink in when you go into a battle ill-equipped for the first time, whether it's with an unbalanced party or one that's insufficiently levelled, and get unceremoniously munched.

Tales of LINK's extremely gentle beginning doesn't do the game justice - it feels like you can get through by mindlessly matching colours.

But when you get deeper in, facing down enemies with layered shields that can only be broken by certain colours and damaging attacks that necessitate strategic use of healing units, you start to see the long-term appeal of the combat.

And it runs deep. You can summon new characters and gear using in-game currency - which, in typical Japanese F2P fashion, is given away in large quantities - and upgrade them as you go along.

Characters have their own passive skills, and can be equipped with different gear to alter certain stats. Gear itself can be upgraded and fused together to make its effects more potent on the battlefield.

When you begin to understand all of this, it makes the combat feel all the more satisfying. You start saving up your big combo for a behemoth, rather than wasting it on smaller enemies.

It's becoming clear that Tales of LINK is not just some throwaway spin-off - it's a proper JRPG, just one with a slightly unusual combat system.

That combat system, however, needs to continue being fun for the game to maintain interest for the long haul. Let's give it a couple more days and see how it goes.

Day 7 - Needs a spark

A week in, and there's still enjoyment to be had from Tales of LINK. I'm still checking in every day, matching a few colours, and thwacking a few monsters.

I'm realising that this enjoyment would be increased tenfold, however, if I were a fan of the Tales series.

Because this isn't really meant for a series novice like me. Where I see Generic JRPG Character #39, a Tales fan sees a beloved friend they've shared hours with before, making every random character roll an even more tantalising prospect.

My only question would be how well these characters are represented in battle. In a game like Star Wars: Galaxy of Heroes, for example, having Darth Vader in your deck means he's on screen slicing enemies to ribbons.

Here, your band of adventurers are arranged in a 3x3 formation and, as long as you've got a reasonable balance of elements, perform almost exactly the same as any other party you could have put together.

Savvy use of elements makes your attacks more powerful, but there's no visual feedback for that besides the enemy's health meter depleting by an extra centimetre or two.

Each party member also has a special ability that can be selected from the bottom of the screen, but they're all rather pedestrian - an attack buff for a certain element, or the power to swap all units of a certain colour for another.

The lack of wow factor is the problem, and one that goes to the root of Tales of LINK.

Nevertheless, there's plenty to like here - especially if you're a series fan - and even F2P naysayers would be hard pressed not to appreciate the rate at which Bandai Namco chucks hard currency and gifts your way.

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Tales of LINK - Day Seven

A lightweight JRPG with basic puzzling combat, Tales of LINK is fun, generous, but might not set your world on fire