Terra Battle Preview

This Terra is my Terra.

Mistwalker Corporation has developed several beloved role-playing games since its formation and those immediate hits probably didn’t surprise gamers familiar with the studio’s founder, Hironobu Sakaguchi. As the creator of the Final Fantasy series, Sakaguchi’s credits as a game developer followed him to his latest endeavor though the team is switching gears to focus on a new mobile game called Terra Battle, blending RPG elements with fast mechanics for strategy on-the-go.

While many mobile games focus on quick gameplay loops, Terra Battle seems to go out of its way to provide whatever a player can squeeze in while on the train or waiting for a commercial break to finish on TV. Players will start the game and learn how its tile-based combat works while unlocking new characters, new abilities, new attacks, and more importantly discovering new strategies to eliminate the evil that waits just ahead.

Sakaguchi started by playing a video the team prepared for PAX Prime 2014, detailing the plans for updating their mobile game in the days, weeks, and months following launch. To that end, they’re incentivizing several major updates to the game by tying new music and game scenarios to the number of downloads Terra Battle gets both in Japan and in the US. One of the first milestones offers a new musical track for the game from Final Fantasy composer Nobuo Uematsu. With Terra Battle free-to-play on iPhone and iPad, I only really needed to see a few minutes of gameplay and gorgeous art before learning that the team is already anticipating these updates and has started work on two multiplayer expansions to the game.

Still, the battle system’s interesting mix of strategy and role-playing elements intrigued me. You’ll take six-character parties into battle (and select from several teams you set up before launching a mission), but the tile-based combat works a bit more like a board game than it does typical turn-based combat. Once you touch the character you want to move, you’ll have a few seconds to push them into other party members in order to deal the most damage. In order to attack at all, two characters have to surround an enemy and aligning your entire party will offer an opportunity for combined damage and effects.

One early level featured a few lava-tiles that would damage a character if you pulled him or her over them. Other tiles might offer enemies a power-up or poison your team, so thinking carefully about moves and then executing will result in faster battles and less chance for failure. Sakaguchi controlled the battle and used one character to push three others into a line. Then, he positioned the character on the opposite side of an enemy and in the same row as the two remaining characters in his squad. By using one to move the others into place, Sakaguchi was able to string all six character’s attacks together and get bonus healing afterward to recover from previous enemy damage.

The key here was knowing which teammate to use and how to align him or her so that the right bonus abilities would trigger. Players can dig into every character’s backstory with a lengthy biography detailing strengths, weaknesses, and whether or not they have a relationship with another character who might boost their effectiveness in battle (should they be teamed up). In these character screens, Sakaguchi could add attacks and buffs like one character’s ability to levitate (and therefore avoid damage from the flame tiles I mentioned earlier or remain invulnerable to an earthquake attack). Sakaguchi said that the game offers a comprehensive tutorial and that the 30 chapters are broken up into battles so there are plenty of opportunities to introduce elements gradually.

You won’t be up against a massive two-by-two sized boss in your earliest battles, even though it seemed like Terra Battle doesn’t sugar coat its mechanics for the mobile market. While the game’s character designs and world map looked beautiful, the tile-based combat gameplay will likely have a few scratching their heads as the difficulty mounts. One later boss battle cursed Sakaguchi’s team and gave him just 25 turns to defeat a horde of enemies. Another level featured enemies that could coordinate and create walls of heavily-damaging fire. Terra Battle won’t leave players wanting for variety.

While I told Sakaguchi that I’ve been steadily losing interest in mobile games, Terra Battle doesn’t really look like anything else in the market and its gameplay seems wholly unique to the role-playing genre too. With the caliber of design talent working on the game, it’s no surprise that Mistwalker’s mobile RPG looks exceedingly polished with a gorgeous soundtrack to back up its visuals. While I’m interested to see how the game plays at home, it’ll be difficult not to download at launch and get into the battle system before the title receives major updates or opens special event scenarios. Even in a full Fall lineup of blockbuster video games, I thought Terra Battle looked unique and engaging in a way that other mobile games repeatedly fail to.

Terra Battle is currently slated for release in October. Stick with GameRevolution for more coverage soon.