PREVIEW: Twenty Hours with the Princess Connect! Re:Dive Mobile Gameby Richard Eisenbeis,
Over the past week, I've spent easily 20 hours plowing through the smartphone game Princess Connect! Re:Dive. And despite giving it my all, I am nowhere near the current endgame—as you might expect from any mobile game with a “stamina” system that regulates how much you can play the game per day (without paying extra). That said, if the worst thing I can say about the game is that I'm annoyed I can't play more of it, that should give you a hint as to how much I have enjoyed it so far.
Now, Princess Connect! Re:Dive is not the first plot-heavy smartphone RPG I have played. I still log on to Fate/Grand Order daily—and have ever since the time of its Japanese launch. Over the years, I've dipped my toe into any number of other similar games and it's clear that Princess Connect! Re:Dive learned from the mistakes of many of them to make a much more user-friendly experience at launch.
The basic gameplay loop is simple: you play the main quests until you can't win anymore. Then you farm gear for your party by doing the quests you already completed again and again. As you do this, your characters will not only be earning experience points to level up their basic stats but also gaining mana—which is mainly used to level up your various characters' skills. Once you have the best gear you're able to wear and have your skills leveled up, you simply go back to working through the main quests.
Of course, there are other ways to strengthen your party. You can collect a full set of gear and rank up a character—merging the gear with their base stats which allows you to equip more gear. Do this enough and you can unlock new skills for each character, drastically improving both their utility and power.
On the other hand, you can roll the “Premium Gacha” to get new characters and build a party with better synergy. You can also collect “Memory Fragments” which, in large numbers, can increase the rarity (and stats) of one of your characters. But perhaps the most enjoyable way to make your party stronger is to watch the numerous in-game cutscenes.
Outside of the tutorial, gameplay and story are kept almost completely separate. By completing the main quests, you unlock more of the main story in the story viewer. However, that's not the only way you unlock cutscenes. As you use a given character, your bond with them levels up. Each level gives you a new cutscene about them specifically. Viewing these cutscenes almost always boosts the base stats of the related character.
Which brings us to the story. I'm no stranger to the fantasy world of Princess Connect! Re:Dive (having reviewed the anime adaptation here on ANN last year) but I was honestly surprised at how little of the story I had seen before. Everything but the very start of the main story was new to me and most of the things I did recognize from the anime came from Pecorine, Kokkoro, and Karyl's character bond cutscenes (and other unlockable, guild-centric cut scenes).
A cool aspect of the story is the way in which it is told. Basically, Yuuki (the player proxy character) wakes up with amnesia and begins life in the city of Landsol. The main story takes place a month later. All the character bond scenes take place during the missing month, in the rare times when his aid, Kokkoro, wasn't with him, and it's a running joke throughout the game that Yuuki somehow managed to become deeply involved with over 40 women in a single month. The character stories also reveal a major truth about what's going on that completely changes your perspective on things happening in the fantasy world.
But for the most part, it's all very cute and silly. Honestly, the best thing about the story—and maybe the game as a whole—is that every character in every one of the myriad of cutscenes is voiced. And this is a game with more than 40 characters at launch. In this regard, what I've experienced in similar free-to-play titles pale in comparison.
The other thing that sets the game apart is all the little quality-of-life tweaks that optimize your playtime and keep things quick and simple. For example, if you get bonus stamina (from daily missions or leveling up) it simply ignores your maximum stamina cap and adds it to the pile regardless. In addition,
- You constantly get tickets that allow you to instantly complete a battle—which is very useful when you need 15 of the same item and don't really want to wait through a two-minute battle you're guaranteed to win a billion times in a row.
- You only lose 2 stamina when you lose a battle, giving you a lot of freedom experimenting with various party compositions.
- There are several things you can do when you run out of stamina (and therefore can't do normal missions) like dungeons, grove quests, and the battle arena.
- Gear in shops is marked with a pink diamond if one of your characters currently needs it.
- Not only can you check if it's currently possible to get the gear a character needs from the equipment menu, but you can also see where that item drops as well with just a touch.
On the other hand, there's one big aspect of the game that takes away some of the fun: battles are rather boring. Before it begins, you choose five characters to fight. However, on the battlefield, they act alone. They chose their own targets, attack when they want, and use their skills when they want. The only thing you have direct control over is when they use their “union burst”—their ultimate abilities—which happens once or twice per character each battle. Sure, there is some strategy involved, but 99% of the time you can simply set the union bursts to auto (i.e., have them go off automatically the moment they can) and leave the game to play itself for a few minutes.
As mentioned above, this is a game that literally awards you tickets that let you skip the battle system. That kind of implies it's more often a chore than something fun. Most of the strategy is done before battle, picking and training up a team that works well together. The battles are just you finding out in an extended fashion if your preparation works out.
When reviewing a mobile game such as this, I always ask myself one question: will I continue to play this game even after the review is done? The answer at this time is a tentative “yes.” I have enjoyed learning more about each character and would like to see the main story through to its current conclusion. Moreover, there are characters from the anime I would love to have in my party—namely Christina—and I may keep playing just to hoard free gacha gems to get her when she inevitably arrives. However, will I be playing this game six months from now? Probably not. There's just nothing in the game that hooks me to that extent.
Princess Connect! Re:Dive was released in English globally on January 19, 2021 for iOS and Android.
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